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The Louisiana Purchase and National Health Care Reform: Constitutional Challenges and Lessons

By firefox9 May 20, 2013 2485 Words
The Louisiana Purchase and national health care legislation were two historic events in the history of the United States. Both were huge steps forward for the county in different ways and both raised questions and controversy about the authority of the President of the United States or Congress. For the Louisiana Purchase, those opposed to the purchase and the treaty with France to make it possible for the United States to buy the land, claimed that the Constitution did give the President the authority to admit a new state to the Union, without the agreement of each state and the approval of Congress. The Louisiana Purchase was unconstitutional, but was never challenged because it benefited the country. On the national health care law, many states have started lawsuits claiming that Congress did not have the authority to require citizens to buy insurance, an important part of the law that was passed to make sure that all people have access to health care. National health care reform may also prove to be an historic advance, but the United States Supreme Court will soon decide if the law is constitutional or whether Congress exceeded its authority in passing the law.

Throughout the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, economic imperialism became a popular method many European countries used, in which power was gained through wealth. A common tactic countries would use to gain wealth was through conquering territories and reaping the benefits of the resources that came with them. France completely adopted the idea of economic imperialism, and under the leadership of its Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, France controlled territories all around the world by the beginning of the nineteenth century. However, Napoleon found that maintaining control and power in the many territories that France had obtained, was far more difficult than gaining the land itself, especially when it came to the land France controlled in North America. French resources were spread thin already, and the Louisiana Territory being an Ocean away did not help either. When Napoleon heard that the United States population was growing rapidly, he knew it was only a matter of time before the Americans would start spilling over into the French territory, and there was little that he could do to stop them. A successful uprising in Haiti, formerly controlled by France, was the final event that convinced Napoleon to re-evaluate his priorities and tactics he would use to maintain the Empire that he had worked so hard to build.

Napoleon decided to focus his resources on dominating Europe, and to cut his losses for the territories in North America. By selling the Louisiana territory not only would Napoleon have one less region to worry about and be able to strengthen his forces elsewhere, he would also be quickly acquiring money, which was exactly what he needed to finance his endeavors in Europe. The land that Napoleon would sell to the United States, in what is known as the Louisiana Purchase, was 828,000 square miles. It later would become all or part of 15 of the United States and two Canadian provinces. The land covered all or part of the following states: Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota west of the Mississippi, most of North and South Dakota, northeastern New Mexico, northern Texas, part of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Louisiana. Altogether, the Louisiana Purchase covered land that is now about 23% of the United States. The United States paid France $11,250,000 for the land, in addition to canceling $3,750,000 in war debts that the French owed the United States. The total cost of the land came out to be $15 million.

This was an incredible deal for the United States; however, it did come with some complications. Thomas Jefferson knew that if he did not act quickly, Napoleon would take the deal off the table and France would become a military threat to the United States. The treaty was signed on April 30th, 1803 by Secretary of State James Monroe as he was instructed by President Jefferson, who announced the treaty to the rest of the country on July 4th of that year, but there was a problem. To save time, President Jefferson did not address the situation with Congress; he simply decided to make the deal. The Constitution did not state any specific grant of power to the President to purchase land, moreover, in it was written that “no new state shall be formed or erected…without the consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as Congress,” (Article Four, Section Three, United States Constitution). Article Four also gave to Congress, not the President, the power to “dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States.” (United States Constitution) Even preceding the Constitution, the Articles of Confederation stated that, “no other colony shall be admitted into, and entitled to, all the advantages of the union, unless such admission be agreed upon by nine states,” (Everett Somerville Brown, The Constitutional History of the Louisiana Purchase) which reflects the historical intention of how new states should be admitted.

Thomas Jefferson felt President Jefferson was known for being a die-hard Anti-Federalist in favor of strict interpretation of the Constitution, but he also felt strongly that this purchase was necessary if the United States had any hope of developing into a world power, so he did what to do to make the purchase happen. Originally, he drafted an amendment to the Constitution to allow him to make the purchase, but in the end, he decided to do without it. After the treaty was signed, President Jefferson declared that it was the “noblest work of our whole lives…From this day the United States take their place among the powers of the first rank.” (page 54, Mr. Jefferson’s Lost Cause: Land, Farmers, Slavery, and the Louisiana Purchase).

The land the United States purchased from France averaged out to about three cents an acre and it doubled the size of the country, but despite what this purchase meant to the future of the United States many people, opposed it for various reasons. Federalists were angered because, “[Anti-Federalists] had passionately denounced the argument of Alexander Hamilton and other Federalists that there were implied powers in the Constitution that entitled the government to take action in areas not covered in the text of the national charter,” (Thomas Fleming, The Louisiana Purchase). Some even went as far as to call President Jefferson a hypocrite for working around The Constitution. Other Federalists opposed the purchase because they felt it might send the wrong message to Britain, who at the time was at war with France. Another huge issue was that due to the Third Treaty of San Ildefonso between France and Spain, France was not legally allowed to sell the territory to a third party. As Henry Adams said:

“"The sale of Louisiana to the United States was trebly invalid; if it were French property, Bonaparte could not constitutionally alienate it without the consent of the Chambers; if it were Spanish property, he could not alienate it at all; if Spain had a right of reclamation, his sale was worthless." -Henry Adams, Habits of Empire: A History of American Expansionism Whether or not the sale was worthless, if it went through it could cause tension between the U.S. and Spain and the last thing any Americans wanted was to start an unnecessary war with Spain. Others were wary about the Louisiana Purchase because of concerns about allowing all those living in the territory to become citizens, including foreigners and freed black slaves. Finally, there was concern that by increasing the number of states that had slaves, it would add to the tension between the North and the South.

Soon after the purchase was signed, the House called for a vote to deny the request for the purchase, but it failed by two votes, 59–57. The Federalists even tried to prove the land belonged to Spain, not France, but available records proved otherwise. However, despite their attempts, the Louisiana Purchase was ratified with a vote of twenty-four to seven on October 20. On the following day, it authorized President Jefferson to take possession of the territory and establish a temporary military government.

President Obama soon after he was elected decided to make expanding access to health care insurance one of the main goals and accomplishments of his Presidency. In 2010, approximately “49.9 million Americans did not have health insurance.” (Common Wealth Fund Blog) This affects many Americans who are not poor enough to get insurance from the government, but cannot afford to buy health insurance for themselves, and/or their children. Twenty-seven percent of people with incomes below $25,000 did not have health insurance in 2010, which means that they often delay getting health care or don’t see a doctor when they need to because they cannot afford to pay for medical care.

President Obama proposed national health care legislation in order to end the worst abuses of the insurance industry, with strong consumer protections. The law would be a major step forward to making sure that everyone has health insurance, which is the case in most advanced Western nations, except the United States.

The national health care legislation contains hundreds of provisions, including a requirement that individuals purchase health insurance so that not only sick individuals would buy insurance. In the public debate, this has been called the “individual mandate.” The legislation would prevent insurance companies from denying insurance to people who already have a serious illness, called a “pre-existing condition.” It would also keep the cost of insurance down and allow parents to include their children on their policies until the children become age 26. National health care legislation was also passed to make it more affordable for people to buy insurance so that if they lost a job or changed jobs they would be able to get a new insurance policy. In order to make it possible to put these changes in place, the legislation included the individual mandate.

Since the national health care legislation was passed, March 10, 2012, twenty-six states have brought lawsuits claiming that the law is unconstitutional because of the individual mandate. The case is now before the United States Supreme Court which heard arguments for three days in March, 2012 and is expected to provide a decision this month. The Supreme Court has a majority of members appointed by Republican Presidents who are likely to be affected by their own political views as they decide the case. In fact, the members of the Supreme Court appointed by Republican Presidents seemed to agree that the individual mandate would violate the Constitution when they heard arguments about the case in March.

Opponents of the law claim that Congress exceeded its authority and violated individual rights by requiring individuals to buy health insurance. They say that it would lead to unlimited government authority if government could force individuals to spend money to make themselves healthier, arguing that for instance, government could make people get a membership at a gym or eat broccoli. During the arguments before the Supreme Court, the justices asked if Americans could be forced to buy cell phones or burial insurance.

Those who support the individual mandate argue that government has the authority to regulate commercial decisions under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution and already regulates many decisions that people make for their own good and the benefit of others, such as requiring people to wear seatbelts, buy car insurance, attend school until age 18. These decisions also limit individual choice. Those who support the law also argue that when people do not buy health care they affect everyone else in society who must pay for the hospitals and doctors that treat people without insurance.

The Louisiana Purchase and the national health care legislation are very different in pieces of legislation, but the opposition they faced despite how revolutionary they are makes them very similar. The Louisiana Purchase has completely shaped what America is as a country today. If our country was the same size now as it was in 1803, it never would have been able to become the world power it is today. Maybe Jefferson worked his way around the Constitution a little bit, but he did it with good intentions. In addition, in doing so he did not put the rights of individuals in jeopardy. If an opportunity like the Louisiana Purchase, that will undoubtedly bring a plethora of benefits to the country, presents itself, our president should be allowed to use his judgment and exceptions that need to be made, should be.

As far as Obama Care goes, it is unclear to me why so many people have such a big problem with it and its constitutionality, when we already are required to buy car insurance. What is so much worse about being forced to buy health insurance than being forced to buy car insurance? The answer is nothing, so I do not understand why people have made such a huge deal about being required to have one type of insurance when we are already required to have another.

The United States Supreme Court decision should uphold the national health care legislation and recognize the power of elected representatives –the President who proposed the law and Congress who adopted it—to take this dramatic step to make health care more available to all Americans. The President and Congress, as elected representatives should have broad power to act in the public good, so long as they do not violate the civil rights of individuals. The right not to buy health care insurance, but still get health care when you need it, is not a right that should be protected by the Constitution. Instead, just as the Louisiana Purchase shaped our country as a nation, Congress and the President should be allowed to take the historic step of making health insurance available to all Americans.  

Works Cited
"Blog - The Commonwealth Fund." Blog - The Commonwealth Fund. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 June 2012. . Brown, Everett Somerville. The Constitutional History of the Louisiana Purchase, 1803-1812,. Berkeley: University of California, 1920. Print. Findling, John E., and Frank W. Thackeray. Events That Changed America in the Nineteenth Century. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1997. Print. Fleming, Thomas J. The Louisiana Purchase. Hoboken, NJ: J. Wiley, 2003. Print. "Home | HealthCare.gov." Home | HealthCare.gov. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 June 2012. . Kennedy, Roger G. Mr. Jefferson's Lost Cause: Land, Farmers, Slavery, and the Louisiana Purchase. New York: Oxford UP, 2003. Print. Nugent, Walter. Habits of Empire A History of American Expansionism. N.p.: Random House, 2009. Print. United States. The Constitution of the United States of America. Washington: U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1976. Print.

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