Events That Changed America in the Nineteenth Century

By John E. Findling; Frank W. Thackeray | Go to book overview

The Louisiana Purchase,
1803

INTRODUCTION

When Thomas Jefferson was elected president in 1800, the change to Republican control meant a change in foreign policy from Alexander Hamilton's tough realism and commercial orientation to Jefferson's nationalistic assertiveness. Jefferson and his secretary of state, James Madison, took seriously any slights to U.S. national dignity and had confidence in the nation's ability to defend itself. In power, Jefferson and Madison sought to implement an ideal, based on a moralistic approach of American concepts of what was right and wrong, with the assumption that these American concepts were universally valid. It was a distinctive approach to foreign affairs--a blend of high purpose and selfish national interest.

The first test of Jefferson's foreign policy came in 1802, when the president decided to confront the Barbary pirates, who stopped ships in the vicinity of their ports on Africa's Mediterranean coast and demanded a payment called a tribute. Although this practice had been going on since at least the 1780s, Jefferson considered it an affront to American honor and sent U.S. naval vessels to the area to protect U.S. commercial shipping. A naval battle at Tripoli, one of the pirate ports, resulted in the destruction of several enemy ships, but when an American ship ran

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