In 1783, France ceded Louisiana to Spain only for Napoleon Bonaparte to ask for it back in 1800. Spain, by complying with Bonaparte's request, placed the U.S. in a very difficult position. If France controlled the important trade routes in New Orleans, this would jeopardize national security and the economic advancements of the new nation by forcing the U.S. to align itself with Great Britain. Jefferson knew that the U.S. had to purchase New Orleans and Florida from France. After gaining approval from Congress, Jefferson sent James Monroe and Robert Livingston to negotiate a deal with Talleyrand, Napoleon's minister of foreign affairs. The negotiations were waning until Napoleon, against the advice of Talleyrand, decided to sell the U.S. the entire Louisiana Territory for $15 million, or less than 3.5 cents per acre to fund his other crusades in Europe.
Livingston and Monroe were immediately placed in a difficult situation because they were not authorized to make territorial arrangements. Likewise, Jefferson was not authorized by Congress. Nonetheless, Livingston and Monroe made the deal fearing that if they waited to speak to Jefferson, the generous land deal would not hold (something inconceivable in today's highly technological world). After hearing word that the U.S. would be doubling in size, Jefferson experienced mixed emotions. He was elated but torn because he knew the agreement violated his interpretation of the written law. The deal was in the best interest of the U.S.; however, discretion was exercised without the proper administrative authority granted to the federal government. Jefferson knew there would be a backlash on grounds of constitutional immorality, but agreed to the purchase anyway.
Abraham Lincoln faced a similar situation during the American Civil War when he decided to suspend the writ of habeas corpus without constitutional authority. Jefferson's and Lincoln's quandary are not unique, but rather examples of leadership in the face of extenuating circumstances. Both realized that the implied power of government afforded them the latitude to make significant changes that could not have come from any one sector of a nation. It was their job to combine the interests of many and proceed to make the tough decision.
This is not unlike the energy sustainability issues facing the U.S. today. There is little doubt that energy supply is one of the largest challenges facing the U.S. and perhaps the world. Energy policy, however, no longer stands alone. Pressure from the world to address energy supply within the context of global warming is the accepted condition. We can choose to deal with this issue in a number of ways with varying degrees of assertiveness and innovation, but disregarding it completely is no longer viable.
As Senator John Lieberman (D-Conn) stated when referring to energy and alternative fuel legislation introduced in November, "This is not a liberal or conservative issue. Energy independence is a bipartisan goal." Additionally, House Representatives Jack Kingston (R-Ga) stated something similar after introducing his bill, which "is a plan to help America realize its fuel independence from Middle East oil by 2015." Both plans agree that energy and environmental policy must be dealt with simultaneously as methods in achieving a common goal.
As we look into 2006, it is fair to question whether we are prepared. Thomas Friedman begs this question, albeit from a larger context, in his national bestseller "The World is Flat." With India and China positioned to have a seemingly endless supply of highly educated laborers, (India graduates 10 times more engineers than the U.S.), off-shoring will only increase. This will raise the economic status of developing nations and create more buyers, placing even more pressure on energy and the environment. The U.S. must be equipped to deal with the social impacts from this type of change because, as stated by Friedman, it happens fast.
Delaying a response would be analogous to Livingston and Monroe walking away from the negotiating table without a deal. Without the Louisiana Purchase, the U.S. would have been forced to go to war with France. This would have changed the course of history, much like energy and environmental issues have the potential to do today.