Toward A New Narrative

The Empire of Liberty Expands


North America 1753, with the claims of three main powers. Native peoples, however, still maintained degrees of dominance within them for some time to come.

The expanse of the ‘Empire of Liberty’ was loosely defined by Jefferson. He never quite grasped what was on the other side of the Rockies and had relatively flexible ideas about this side. In 1804, he said: “I confess I look to this duplication of area for the extending of a government so free and economical as ours, as a great achievement to the mass of happiness which is to ensue…. Whether we remain in one confederacy, or form Atlantic and Mississippi confederacies, I believe not very important to the happiness of either part.” In 1809, he sent a note to James Madison: “…We should then have only to include the North [Canada] in our confederacy…and we should have such an empire for liberty as she has never surveyed since the creation: & I am persuaded no constitution was ever before so well calculated as ours for extensive empire & self government.”


USA just before the Louisiana Purchase

Jefferson’s close assistant in arranging the Louisiana Purchase was James Monroe, who later, in 1816, became the 5th President of the U.S.  Monroe first served as a diplomat in Europe, and  initially supported the French Revolution. He was also a slaveholder known for treating his slaves harshly and often selling them to clear his debts. He directly felt the impact of ‘Gabriel’s Rebellion’ in 1800 in and around Richmond, VA. When it was suppressed, he saw to it that Gabriel and 25 other rebel enslaved people were hanged. Despite this, he often claimed to oppose slavery as an economic trap imposed on the country by Great Britain in the colonial period. Near his death, he wished he and other enslavers could send the enslaved back to Africa after being compensated for their loss by the federal treasury. But he never did anything to oppose slavery’s persistence, save for helping to initially draft the Northwest Ordinance, which excluded slavery in the Northwest Territory, and reluctantly signing the Missouri Compromise, which, except for Missouri, banned slavery above 36′ 30″ latitude.

Monroe was said to have had two great political fears. One was a class insurrection of the poor laborers, which he witnessed in the ‘excesses’ of the French Revolution. The other was a racial and servile insurrection, which he saw in Richmond and through his knowledge of the Haitian revolution. At the same time, in a conflicted consciousness, he held the wars for independence (and slave abolition) across Spanish America, primarily led by Simon Bolivar, in a favorable light.

Monroe Expands the ‘Empire of Liberty

Monroe was most interested in opportunistically taking advantage of Spain’s difficulties to seize Spanish Florida. He sent Andrew Jackson to take most of it militarily, waging war with the Seminoles, who were joined by the escaped slaves who lived with them, and with Spanish troops. Spain finally gave up all of Florida in a treaty, which they hoped giving up the East would better define and secure the western border of New Spain in Mexico and the Southwest. Next Page