At the dawn of the 19th century, the continent of North America did not all belong to the United States. As a matter of fact, a huge region, spanning from Canada to Mexico divided the continent right down the center; this region was controlled by the French. The British were not the only European nation that had attempted to settle or colonize parts of North America; The French, Spanish, Dutch, and others all established footholds here. By the early 1800s France was not in the position to adequately maintain their hold on this territory, and then-President Thomas Jefferson negotiated the purchase of this territory.
What is perhaps most interesting about Jefferson’s move to purchase this land for the U.S. was that he did not actually have the Constitutional authority to do so. Jefferson was a staunch anti-federalist, yet when it came to this decision he chose to expand the reach of the federal government and of the presidency. This established a precedent for many presidents to come, as one or another of them has taken on greater powers than earlier presidents had. In recent months, as the scope of the NSA and its domestic spying programs have come to light, many Americans are realizing that the “War on Terror” has been used as an excuse by both President George W. Bush and Barack Obama to expand the reach of the government. It also shows that presidents may profess to one set of beliefs, but once in office they may choose differently. It was true in Jefferson’s day, and it is still true today.