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Thomas Jefferson: Reputation and Legacy

By Francis D. Cogliano | Go to book overview

Chapter 8
America and the World

I

In April 1809, one month into his retirement, Jefferson wrote to his friend and successor in the White House, James Madison, concerning the international situation. Despite wartime restrictions on American trade imposed by the major European belligerents, Britain and France, Jefferson was fairly sanguine about the state of affairs. He felt that the United States was in an especially strong position vis-a`-vis Napoleon. Believing that the French emperor depended on American trade, Jefferson wrote:

He ought the more to conciliate our good will, as we can be such an
obstacle to the new career opening on him in the Spanish colonies. That he
would give us the Floridas to withhold intercourse with the residue of
those colonies cannot be doubted. But that is no price, because they are
ours in the first moment of the first war, and until a war, they are of no
particular necessity to us. But, altho' with difficulty, he will consent to our
receiving Cuba into our union to prevent our aid to Mexico and other
provinces. That would be a price, and I would immediately erect a column
on the Southernmost limit of Cuba and inscribe on it a Ne plus ultra as to
us in that direction. We should then have only to include the North in our
confederacy, which would be of course in the first war, and should have
such an empire for liberty as she has never surveyed since the creation: and
I am persuaded no constitution was ever before so well calculated as ours
for extensive empire and self government.1

The passage is notable for several reasons. It shows that Jefferson, far from being a 'half-way pacifist', accepted war as a legitimate means for the United States to expand its borders and defend its interests. Further, rather than speak in generalities, Jefferson demonstrated that he believed that East and West Florida, Cuba and Canada should be added to the United States, alongside the recently acquired Louisiana Territory. Further, he advanced the view that the Constitution ensured that republican principles and geographic expansion could go hand in hand.2

-230-

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