Jefferson's dilemma over the constitutionality of the Louisiana Purchase is telling, in that while he jumped at the chance to expand the nation, he also maintained a reverence for his roots as a strict constructionist. He decided against attempting to amend the Constitution for a number of reasons. He feared that the time it took to amend the Constitution would allow Napoleon to change his mind or somehow alter the bargain in France's favor. Additionally, he feared that the longer it took to ratify the treaty delineating the purchase, the greater the chance would be for the Federalists to mount opposition to ratification. Most Federalists disliked the Louisiana Purchase because they believed the expansion of the nation would dilute the political power of their strongholds on the eastern seaboard. Jefferson's consistent assertion that the farmers were the backbone of America and would benefit from this expansion of arable land did not help to assuage these fears. Thus what little debate there was over ratification centered largely on the assertion on the part of the Federalist minority that no new states should be created in the Louisiana Territory without the consent of the original thirteen. The Republican majority easily rebuffed this claim, and the treaty was easily ratified.

The appeal to states' rights by the Federalists seems anomalous considering it had been the Republican opposition during John Adams' presidency which had brought the issue to the fore, and the Federalists who had consistently advocated for a strong central government. Historians point to the debate over ratification to argue that perhaps the states' rights doctrine was less of an ideological cornerstone for the Republicans than a universally useful defense mechanism raised by those out of power against those in control of the national government.

Popular pages: The First Years of the Union (1797-1809)