How did Jefferson violate his claim to be a “strict constructionist” of the Constitution in the two cases mentioned below?
Some historians say he contradicted himself in his handling of the Louisiana Purchase and his prosecution of Aaron Burr on treason charges. Why would a “strict constructionist” not have handled these two incidents as Jefferson did?
Thomas Jefferson was a person who believed in a strict interpretation of the Constitution. However, there were times when Jefferson didn’t act as if he was a person who believed in a strict interpretation of the Constitution.
One of those instances was with the Louisiana Purchase. Jefferson hesitated to make the Louisiana Purchase because there is nothing in the Constitution that says the President can buy land. Jefferson had to be convinced that making the deal with France was in the best interests of the country. After much thought and consideration, Jefferson agreed to the Louisiana Purchase even though the Constitution didn’t specifically give him the power to do this.
Another example of Jefferson acting unlike a strict constructionist of the Constitution was with the trial of Aaron Burr on charges of treason. Jefferson took a personal interest in this case. He was unhappy when John Marshall ruled there could be no charge of treason issued. Jefferson seemed intent on securing a conviction of Aaron Burr for his actions. However, he refused to turn over letters when he was subpoenaed to do so. Jefferson was very unhappy when Burr was not convicted of the charges against him. Jefferson didn’t seem to respect the concept of separation of powers when he expressed his unhappiness with John Marshall’s actions in the trial. He considered requesting a constitutional amendment to reduce the power of the courts. These actions weren’t one of a person who believed in a strict interpretation of the Constitution.
A strict constructionist is a person who believes in following the Constitution to the letter and does not think that the government should do anything that the Constitution does not specifically allow it to do. Jefferson violated each of these ideas in the two cases you mention.
In the case of the Louisiana Purchase, Jefferson bought Louisiana from France even though there is nothing in the Constitution that says a president can do this. In the case of Aaron Burr, Jefferson and his administration pursued a treason case against Burr even though Burr could not have been convicted of treason under the wording of the Constitution. In doing these two things, Jefferson was going against his own strict constructionist beliefs.