Thomas Jefferson


April 30, 1803: United States acquires the Louisiana Territory

 Everyone who’s had an American history course recalls (at least if reminded) that the purchase of the Louisiana Territory nearly doubled the size of the United States, adding some 800,000 square miles of land from the Mississippi to the Rockies and the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border for the bargain price of $15 million. For a map showing the purchase, see here

Less well known is the fact that President Jefferson offered the governorship of the Territory to the Marquis de Lafayette, one of the last surviving generals from the Revolutionary War and a good friend from Jefferson’s time in Paris as minister to France. “I would prefer your presence to an army of 10,000 men to assure the tranquility of the country,” wrote Jefferson to Lafayette. “The old French inhabitants would immediately attach themselves to you and to the United States. You would annul the efforts of the foreign agitators who are arriving in droves.”

Lafayette had seen his hopes for American-style liberty in France crushed by the horrors of the French Revolution in the 1790s, and only in 1797 had been released from years in a foul Austrian prison. In 1803 he was living circumspectly in France under the rule of Napoleon, who had sold the Territory to the United States to gain money for his military incursions in Europe.

Lafayette replied to Jefferson:

You, my dear friend, have seen my hopes for French and American liberty; you shared those hopes. The cause of humanity has been victorious and been reaffirmed in America; nothing can stop it anymore, or displace it or tarnish its progress. Here, it is deemed irrevocably lost, but for me to pronounce this sentence and to do so through expatriation goes against my hopeful character. I cannot see how, unless some force place me in physical constraints, I could abandon even the smallest hope … I tell myself that I, the promoter of the revolution, I must not recognize the impossibility of seeing reestablished, during out lifetime, a just and generous liberty, American liberty. - Lafayette

The Jefferson and Lafayette quotes are taken from Harlow Giles Unger’s Lafayettea thoroughly researched and very readable biography. Unger unapologetically regards Lafayette as a hero.

New York has 2 statues of Lafayette, both by Bertholdi, who designed the Statue of Liberty. One is at Union Square and East 16th St. The other, in which Lafayette is shown meeting George Washington, is near Morningside Park (114th St. and Manhattan Avenue, at Morningside Ave.). The Union Square Lafayette is discussed in Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan. To read about Lafayette and the abortive invasion of Canada in early 1778, and see an image of the Lafayette at Union Square, click here.

For more on this sculpture, see Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan and the Guides Who Know Monuments of Manhattan.

Favorite Jefferson Quotes

Some favorite lines from Thomas Jefferson (4/13/1743-7/4/1826):

In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.

When angry count to ten before you speak. If very angry, count to one hundred.


Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.

The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.


Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.

Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the form of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.

A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.

It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes. A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world.

To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.

No man will ever carry out of the Presidency the reputation which carried him into it.

I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion.

And of course, the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable Rights; that among these, are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness; that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.