Of Salt Mountains, Prairie Dogs, and Horned Frogs: The Louisiana Purchase and the Evolution of Federalist Satire 1803–1812
Abstract

In November 1803, President Thomas Jefferson presented to the United States Congress a report on the newly acquired Louisiana Territory. The report offered a wide-ranging description of the territory, including geographic boundaries, accounts of the various inhabitants, and the natural resources contained within the region. For Jefferson and his supporters the news of the salt mountain and the other natural wonders contained within the Louisiana Territory provided cause for celebration. For some members of the Federalist opposition, however, these natural wonders offered grist for the political mill. While this back and forth is colorful, historians often treat it as little more than an interesting aside in studies of the Federalist response to the Louisiana Purchase, focusing instead on larger issues of constitutional authority, the extension of slavery, and even northern secession. Yet to relegate these “curiosities” to a secondary role misses an important moment in the development of American politics. More than simply serving as entertaining political banter, the Federalist critique of the Louisiana Purchase became an essential piece of minority party’s on-going satire of the Jefferson administration. These efforts became a form of shorthand that made up a key part of a moderate Federalist identity as they sought to navigate a shifting political landscape in earliest decades of the 19th century.


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