Defining Terms: Empire of Liberty

Thomas Jefferson—like many other Republicans—had a vision of an America composed of many, small, land-owning farmers and expanded popular participation in elections. The Louisiana Purchase (1803) allowed Jefferson to implement this vision through what he called the Empire of Liberty. He did not view this as an empire of conquest (like the empires of Spain, France, and England). The terminology “empire of liberty” comes from the notion that the United States can spread liberty to other places through its territorial expansion. This ideology was not much different than colonization.

The paradoxical side of this expanded liberty was—of course—the removal of Native peoples from their lands. The removal of this time was was not the same kind which would happen later during Jackson’s presidency. It was like a prequel with the same general overtones. Clashes between settlers and Native tribes were frequent. Slowly but surely these white settlers pushed many Natives out of their ancestral homes—more often than not with the backing of the Federal Government.

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