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The Louisiana Purchase

Grades 7-8 | Argumentative | Source-Based

Source Lexile®: 1150L-1230L

Learning Standards





Prompt: Research the legality of the Louisiana Purchase. First, examine the map provided (“Map of the United States in 1803 Including the Louisiana Purchase”). Then, read the two secondary sources (“Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase” and “The Louisiana Purchase Constitutional Concerns”). After reviewing these sources, imagine that you are a Democratic Republican who supports the Louisiana Purchase.  Based on the evidence presented in the text, write a speech to present to President Jefferson and Congress declaring the reasons to approve the Louisiana Purchase.  Provide support from each source within your speech and acknowledge any counterclaims to your position.





Source 1

Map of the United States in 1803 Including the Louisiana Purchase (Secondary Source)




“Map of the United States in 1803 Including the Louisiana Purchase” by is licensed under CC 3.0 Unported.





Source 2

Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase: A Summary (Secondary Source)


  1. Thomas Jefferson had always feared the costs of loose construction of the powers delegated to the national government in the Constitution, and the Constitution was silent about acquiring lands from other countries. Jefferson urged bringing the issue to the people to approve with a constitutional amendment, but Congress disregarded his draft amendments. The Senate ratified the Louisiana Purchase Treaty in October of 1803. While Jefferson did his best to follow what he believed was proper constitutional procedure, not enough of his contemporaries agreed with him and he eventually assented. 
  2. France had given up all of its territory in North America by the end of the French and Indian War (1763). But Napoleon had plans to re-establish the French empire in North America. In 1801, America learned that Spain had agreed to return Louisiana to France. Jefferson had always looked upon France as a friend in the world, but he knew this was a potential crisis. The new nation depended on New Orleans for its economic survival. 
  3. In early 1803, Jefferson appointed James Monroe as a special envoy to France. Monroe and Minister to France Robert Livingston would try to buy land east of the Mississippi or in New Orleans itself, or, if all else failed, to secure U.S. access to the river. Jefferson authorized them to negotiate up to $10 million. Monroe and Livingston learned that Napoleon had given up his desire to recreate an empire in North America. France offered the U.S. the entire Louisiana territory—more than 800,000 acres from Louisiana to the Rockies and beyond—for $15 million.  The two American ministers seized the opportunity, going beyond their mandate. They negotiated a purchase treaty and returned to the U.S. in time for an announcement to be made on July 4, 1803. 
  4. The Louisiana Purchase Treaty would not be final until it was ratified by the Senate, funded by the House of Representatives, and signed by the President. While the incorporation of these new lands into the United States was a momentous opportunity, Jefferson had reservations about its constitutionality.  Jefferson had always stated his strong belief that the federal government’s powers should be interpreted strictly. Article IV of the Constitution said new states could be added, but made no provision for taking on foreign territories, so Jefferson argued that a constitutional amendment was needed. He wrote in 1803, “The General Government has no powers but such as the Constitution gives it… it has not given it power of holding foreign territory, and still less of incorporating it into the Union. An amendment of the Constitution seems necessary for this.” 
  5. Jefferson drafted an amendment that would authorize the purchase of Louisiana retroactively. But Jefferson’s cabinet members argued against the need for an amendment, and Congress disregarded his draft. The Senate ratified the treaty in October of 1803. 
  6. Jefferson may have had to compromise his most sacredly-held principles for the Louisiana Purchase to go forward. But he later described the Purchase as a “great achievement.” He wrote in 1810, “It is incumbent on those who accept great charges to risk themselves on great occasions.” President Thomas Jefferson doubled the size of the United States and set a precedent for the acquisition of new lands through means other than war and conquest. France turned New Orleans over to the United States on December 20, 1803.  





Source 3

The Louisiana Purchase Constitutional Concerns (Secondary Source)





  1. Leading up to the Louisiana Purchase, there had been several philosophical debates about how to interpret the Constitution.  Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists believed in a loose interpretation of the Constitution, while Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans believed in a strict interpretation. 



Constitutional Concerns  


  1. ...There was a certain amount of hypocrisy on both the Jeffersonian and Federalist sides as ratification of the treaty was debated... Gallatin biographer Raymond Walters Jr. wrote: “On January 10, 1803, the day the Senate approved the nomination of James Monroe to negotiate with France for the purchase of New Orleans and perhaps Florida, Attorney General [Levi] Lincoln submitted an ingenious proposal to the President. To conform to the strict states’-rights construction of the Constitution which he knew the President favored, he suggested that any agreement with France be so worded as to make it appear that the United States was merely altering its boundaries to include the area purchased.”   
  2. On January 13, Gallatin, on the other hand, argued: “If the acquisition of territory is not warranted by the constitution, it is not more legal to acquire for one State than for the United States; if the Legislature and Executive established by constitution are not proper organs for the acquirement of new territory for the use of the Union, still less can they be so for the acquirement of new territory for the use of one State.” He argued: “The existence of the United States as a nation presupposes the power of every nation of extending their territory by treaties, and the general power given to the President and Senate of making treaties designates the organs through which the acquisition may be made.” Several weeks later, Jefferson responded: “I think it will be safer not to permit the enlargement of the Union but by an amendment of the Constitution.”  
  3. Jefferson needed to be persuaded by reason and reality that the Constitution was not to be an impediment to ratification of the treaty… Historian Forrest McDonald wrote that Thomas Paine made a persuasive argument to Jefferson: “The cession makes no alteration in the Constitution… it only extends the principles of it over a larger territory, and this certainly is within the morality of the Constitution.” According to McDonald, “That cut to the heart of the matter, and in that spirit Jefferson abandoned his reservations.” McDonald wrote: “President Jefferson and his intimates, taking the grander view, rose above the mundane considerations as they rose above the paranoid fears. From their vantage point, it was clear that acquiring New Orleans and the Louisiana territory had secured the frontiers of the United States to the west, the northwest, and the southwest, and had reduced the likelihood of war with France to almost nothing.” It was easier to buy Louisiana than to fight for it. 





  • hypocrisy- the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one's own behavior does not conform; pretense 

  • ingenious- clever, original 

  • organs- a department or organization that performs a specific function 

  • presupposes- to suppose or assume beforehand 

  • impediment- obstruction or obstacle 

  • mundane- common or ordinary 











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