Instructions: The year is 1803. You are a clerk to Levi Lincoln, the Attorney General under President Thomas Jefferson. You are asked to address five issues in no more than 1,000 words.
The year is 1803. President Thomas Jefferson sent two ambassadors to France, with instructions to purchase the city of New Orleans for up to $10 million. However, the ambassadors soon learn that Napoleon, the Emperor of France, wanted to sell the entire Louisiana Territory—stretching from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains—for only $15 million. The ambassadors worried that Napoleon, who was embroiled in costly European wars, would revoke the offer if they didn’t immediately agree. Attempting to communicate with the President back in the District of Columbia could take months. Without express approval from President Jefferson, the ambassadors decided to sign a “Treaty Between The United States of America and the French Republic” on behalf of “The President of the United States of America.” President Jefferson would only learn of the Treaty, which became known as the “Louisiana Purchase,” several months later.
- Did the ambassadors have the authority to sign the Treaty without first seeking President Jefferson’s express approval? Please discuss all relevant provisions of the Constitution that may, or may not, grant such authority.
President Jefferson doubted whether the Constitution gave the federal government the power to acquire new property. He questioned whether a constitutional amendment was necessary.
- Does the federal government have the power to acquire new territory? Please discuss all relevant provisions of the Constitutions that may, or may not, grant such authority.
Ultimately, President Jefferson relented, and submitted the Treaty to the Senate, which promptly provided its advice and consent. Article III of the Treaty provided that “the inhabitants of the ceded territory shall be incorporated in the Union of the United States and admitted as soon as possible according to the principles of the federal Constitution to the enjoyment of all these rights, advantages and immunities of citizens of the United States.” At the time, the Louisiana territory was occupied by French subjects, as well as people of African descent, both free and enslaved.
- Does the federal government have the power to grant citizenship to all of the inhabitants of the Louisiana Territory? Please discuss all relevant provisions of the Constitution that may, or may not, grant such authority.
Soon, the former-French subjects begin to sell imported slaves in New Orleans at extremely high rates. The House and Senate promptly pass a bill that imposes a maximum price for the sale of male slaves in the Louisiana Territory. President Jefferson, who doubts the bill’s constitutionality, asks you for advice on whether he should sign it.
- Does the federal government have the power to enact this bill? Please discuss all relevant provisions of the Constitution that may, or may not, grant such authority.
By 1805 the Louisiana Purchase had been completed. President Jefferson drafts a constitutional amendment, which would give Congress the express authority to acquire new territory. The Attorney General advises the President that such an amendment would, without question, provide the federal government with authority to make future acquisitions of territory. But, he explained, ratifying this amendment could place doubts on the Louisiana Purchase’s validity. “Why would an amendment be necessary in 1805,” the Attorney General asked, “unless the federal government lacked such a power in 1803?” President Jefferson asked you for advice on whether he should transmit his proposed constitutional amendment to Congress.
- Discuss the pros and cons of President Jefferson’s decision to transmit his proposed constitutional amendment to Congress?