Thomas Jefferson (1801) narrowly squeaked past Federalist attacks to become the third president. This election marked the first change in political parties for the United States and was an important landmark for peaceful political transition. Jefferson believed in small government. He reduced government programs, pardoned the martyrs to the expired Alien and Sedition Acts, and had the government return many of their fines. A new naturalization act again let immigrants become citizens after only five years.

In 1804, Alexander Hamilton was killed in a duel with Jefferson's Vice President Aaron Burr; Burr fled the country.


Question: What was Thomas Jefferson's political approach?

Answer: Jefferson reduced the activities of the federal government.

Empowering the Supreme Court

During his last days in office, Adams had appointed a new chief justice of the Supreme Court, John Marshall. Marshall had only six weeks of formal legal training; he was President Adams's last choice after three other men couldn't take the job. President Jefferson didn't like Marshall's strong-government views but couldn't get rid of him.

John Marshall had suffered from hunger and cold as a soldier at Valley Forge; he knew governments had to be strong enough to deliver for their people. Marshall's first landmark case was Marbury v. Madison (1803). In rejecting an appeal from a fellow Federalist, Marshall overturned a previous law as unconstitutional because it didn't agree with the 15-year-old U.S. Constitution. This set the precedent that the Supreme Court can review all laws for their constitutionality.


Question: What was the importance of the case of Marbury v. Madison?

Answer: This decision gave the Supreme Court the power to review all laws for their constitutionality.

Jefferson's small-government followers tried to strike back by filing impeachment charges against a judge they didn't like. Congress dropped the charges, and the principles of independent judicial review and separation of powers became the law of the land.

The Louisiana Purchase

In France, Napoleon Bonaparte had two troubles on his mind: He was fighting almost every other country in Europe, and he had just lost a war to an island of slaves. Haiti was a rich sugar island where thousands of slaves had risen up in revolt against their French masters. Napoleon's troops could shoot their way in, but diseases and guerilla warfare meant they really couldn't stay. Napoleon needed money and wanted out of the New World.

Jefferson had sent negotiators to France to try to buy New Orleans. They had authorization to pay as much as $10 million (half a billion dollars in modern money) for the city. Napoleon surprised them by offering all of France's holdings in North America, from the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean, for $15 million. What the heck? They bought a wilderness to get a city.


Question: What was the background of the Louisiana Purchase?

Answer: The Louisiana Purchase resulted from Napoleon's loss in Haiti, opened the whole trans-Mississippi area, and showed Jefferson's flexibility with his own strict-constructionist views.

The Lewis and Clark expedition

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark (1804) explored the new territory with the help of the American Indian woman Sacajawea. They wouldn't have survived without her. By traveling with a woman and her child, Lewis and Clark showed the American Indians that their expedition wasn't a hostile war party. Their two-and-a-half year adventure pointed the way west for future settlers. Other early explorers, including Zebulon Pike (1805), brought back reports of the immense and unknown new territory of the United States. Pike showed the value of publicity; although Pikes Peak was only one of over 50 tall mountains in Colorado, it became the one everybody knows.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >