Wednesday, November 10, 2010


I read recently that Rand Paul and other Tea Party members newly elected to Congress want to return to a literal reading of the Constitution and eliminate a number of Federal departments and functions: Education, I believe, is one; Housing and Urban Development another. There must be more, but I can't keep up.

At first I was alarmed. It's going to be hard enough losing NPR, public television, and school lunches, which I'm sure are on their list. But then I sat back and thought about it for a while, and came to the conclusion that they weren't nearly ambitious enough. When I was putting together my edition of the Lewis and Clark journals I read up on the Louisiana Purchase, and learned all about Thomas Jefferson's struggle with his own conscience about the Constitution and its interpretation when Napoleon offered him the Louisiana Territory. Jefferson could not find the authority anywhere in the Constitution for him to buy the Territory, and he didn't have time to go to Congress and obtain that authority because Napoleon wanted a decision, and the money, right away, so he could resume his war with Great Britain. Jefferson made the purchase, but suffered a great deal of anguish in the process. He did indeed violate the Constitution, which nowhere gives a President the right to buy land and double the size of the country. Don't think the country was thrilled by it, either. Whole sections, especially in New England, objected to it. As they saw it, Jefferson had overstepped his authority, and the move must inevitably diminish their own power as population and opportunity shifted west.

Now the Tea Party seems to have the balance of power; therefore now, if ever, we have a chance to redress the wrong Jefferson did to the Constitution. I suggest that we offer to sell all that land back to France. I'm quite serious about this. I can see all kinds of benefits.

A/ We could sell it back at the same price, but with interest. The money must come to several billions by now, and we could put that toward reducing the national deficit.

B/ The move would immediately save us billions as well in the agricultural subsidies we now pay to farmers in what would become, once more, French territory. I haven't looked closely at a map, but I believe that would encompass all of Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, North and South Dakota, Montana, Colorado--all the lands, in short, drained by the Missouri River. Plus Louisiana, Arkansas, and the City of New Orleans. Just think of it: next time a hurricane blows into New Orleans and drowns it, the problem wouldn't be ours. Nor would Midwest droughts. The French are famous for subsidizing their own farmers, and protecting their interests with high tariffs on imported farm goods; they've been doing that since Jefferson's time.

C/ By eliminating so much of the so-called Heartland, the sale would move the location of the "real" America and "real" Americans, with their "real" values, which appear to have relocated to the Midwest sometime in the nineteenth century, much closer to the East Coast again, making those of us who live there feel authentically American again.

D/ It would move French influence, French culture, French educational savoir, not to mention French food, much closer to us, with results that could only be beneficial. French schools, for example, are rigorous about spelling. There would be no more embarrassment about the signs that show up at Tea Party rallies, which must inevitably raise difficult questions about the intelligence and sophistication of Tea Party members.

E/ Closer means easier to reach. It would take a while for French cities to spring up in Kansas or South Dakota, but I can foresee a future in which Americans, who would now all be living east of the Mississippi or West of the Rockies, would find a place like Des Moines very attractive, if only for its three- or even four-star restaurants. Turn a French chef loose on a good Midwestern steak and who knows what new levels of culinary pleasure might emerge.

F/ And the French are known for not being obese, even though they eat so well, and so much cheese. Again, it might take a while, but surely French influence would work miracles on the current level of obesity, and all the costs associated with it, now found in the Midwest. And speaking of health, I'm sure the Midwest, instead of losing population, would gain; people would emigrate just to get in under the French health care system, one of the world's best.

G/ Last but not least, millions of the residents of this territory would learn French. It's an elegant language, an advantage in itself, but more than that it has been known ever since the Enlightenment as the language of Reason (yes, with a capital R). These new French citizens would be encouraged to read the Enlightenment philosophers, up to and including Jefferson himself, and learn something about the principles on which the United States of America, their former homeland, was founded.

But overriding all these considerations, however beneficial, is the fact that the move would correct one of the major historical errors in American history and return the Constitution to its proper place as the sole source, the only guide, by which the country can be governed. Not only would this return us to a state of absolute purity, it would make the current members of the Supreme Court supremely happy.