The Louisiana Purchase

Start Free Trial

Why did the Federalists oppose the Louisiana Purchase?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

As seems to happen so often in politics, the Federalists opposed the Louisiana Purchase not on principled grounds but because they thought it would hurt them politically.  They claimed to oppose the Purchase because it was unconstitutional.  But they really opposed it because they thought that the states that would be made out of the Purchase would be more Democratic-Republican than Federalist.

In general, the Federalists were an elite party of New England merchants.  They had some support in other states, but almost solely among the upper classes.  The Federalists reasoned that the states that were made out of the Purchase would be settled by small farmers, a class that was solidly in favor of Jefferson's party.

The Federalists claimed they opposed the Purchase on constitutional grounds.  They said the Constitution did not give the president the power to do things like buying territory.  This was somewhat hard to believe, though, since the Federalists were the party that was in favor of interpreting the Constitution broadly.  Because their complaints about the Purchase were so contrary to their usual beliefs, historians believe that their real motive was the fear of losing political power.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Federalists opposed the Louisiana Purchase, as it was an expression of Jefferson's radical Republican ideology. He believed that the purchase, and the inevitable western expansion that would follow, would strengthen his ideal of a nation where ultimate sovereignty resides with the states. The expansion of the United States into the West would serve to undermine the political authority of Jefferson's Federalist opponents, whose main power base was among the banking and commercial elites of the East Coast.

Federalists were concerned that the Louisiana Purchase would undermine their whole project of centralizing government power, a project they felt was essential to establishing the United States as a serious player on the international stage. As well as giving more power to the individual states, the purchase would shift the center of gravity in the American economy from commerce and banking towards agriculture. This is precisely what Jefferson hoped for; he believed that the tradition of republican liberty, as set down in the Declaration of Independence, required for its protection the existence of a class of landowners with an attachment to their native soil. Land was the ultimate source of wealth for Jefferson, hardly a surprising attitude when one considers that Jefferson himself was a substantial owner of land. His vision, both political and economic, was diametrically opposed to that of the Federalists. The Louisiana Purchase would add greater substance to that vision, and both Jefferson and his Federalist opponents knew it.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team