During the Presidency of Thomas Jefferson, America would undergo what would be described as “defensive expansion.” America was less than half a century removed from its independence, and the war for empire was still occurring in Europe. France and England were at what seemed to be constant warfare with one another, and Napoleon’s Empire now conquered everything it set eyes on, marching through Europe and defeating country and country. France’s enemy, Britain, was conquering in a similar, though smaller-scale fashion with preventative and defensive attacks against powers that pledged to remain neutral as a way of creating a buffer zone and tactical positioning against Napoleon. American shipping suffered as well, with each nation’s navy preying on merchants from America to prevent them from trading with their respective enemy.
As both the British and French empires encroached on American shipping, Americans came to fear for their independence, a fear that was only exacerbated by the party politics in America. Federalists were believed to be too pro-British because of the favorable terms towards Britain in Jay’s Treaty, which many Americans were embarrassed by, and by the mobilization of the army and navy to stand against the threat of war with France. On the other hand, Democratic-Republicans such as Thomas Jefferson were see to be pro-France, though Jefferson himself did all he could to prevent American foreign policy from being involved in what Washington once called “entangling alliances.” Jefferson’s embargos against both the warring nations nearly bankrupted the American economy.
Jefferson began to encourage Americans to look westward toward the frontier, including Ohio into these territories in 1803. During this “defensive expansion”, or acquiring more land as a buffer defense against invasion, Jefferson was able to acquire the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon, who was in need of money to fund his war against England. More importantly, in the Louisiana Territory was the important city of New Orleans and American control over it meant gaining control of an important trade center.
Louisiana, however, was frontier land and was not well kept in terms of law and order. Aaron Burr, who lost the presidential election of 1800, attempted to create an independent republic in Louisiana instead of allowed it to remain under the control of America. Burr wanted to offer the land to the indirect rule of Great Britain, but the man that Burr hired to help him carry out this plot, James Wilkinson, betrayed Aaron Burr and Burr was arrested, foiling his plot against America. Burr, on trial for treason, was acquitted by the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, John Marshall, who was placed by former President John Adams to hinder a lot of what President Jefferson attempted to do. Once acquitted, which occurred only to get under the skin of Jefferson. Burr, then Vice President under Jefferson’s first term, a man who also killed Alexander Hamilton in a dual, fled America to return a decade later.
Forrest McDonald’s “The Presidency of Thomas Jefferson”