Americans began the nineteenth century hotly contesting the core principles of U.S. diplomacy. Thomas Jefferson, newly arrived in the White House in 1801, resumed his attempts to revive the practice of international relations. He continued his advocacy of free commerce as a universal pursuit that could draw together the common interests of the world community. His approach embodied the old standard that dictated a departure from existing European practice in favor of American innovation. Conversely, Jefferson also embraced the concurrent standard that measured the young nation's vitality and security in terms of its ability to expand. At the root of his thinking, Jefferson believed America could only preserve its liberty with the resources gained from the frontier.
Jefferson's election, the so-called Republican “revolution of 1800, ” was produced by the Federalists' missteps of the late 1790s. The war scare of 1798, the Alien and Seditions Acts, arguments over military readiness, and the need to increase taxation to rearm for war prepared the way for the first Republican administration. Jefferson's vision, as expressed in his inaugural address, was to use government to “restrain men from injuring one another.” 1 This sentiment was essentially reflected in his foreign policy. Shortly after becoming president, Jefferson said that “We are firmly convinced, and we act on that conviction, that with nations, as with individuals, our interests soundly calculated, will ever be found inseparable from our moral duties.” 2 Jefferson saw in this principle a guiding light for American diplomacy and a first step toward a new universal standard for international relations.
In the meantime, he looked to the west. There, he envisioned a landed frontier that would offer America its best chance of preserving the prosperity and liberty of its people. To confirm his belief, Jefferson dispatched Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore this unknown territory. He requested extensive reports on the nature of flora and fauna, information on Native Americans, and maps of navigable river systems. The mission was a success. Lewis and Clark planted