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Jeffersonian Republicans and Federalists

The Jeffersonian Republicans are often categorized as strict constructionists who were opposed to the broad constructionism of the Federalists, but to some extent this generalization of the Madison and Jefferson parties were inconsistent. In the form of the Louisiana Purchase, the Embargo Act, and the War of 1812, the Jeffersonian Republicans can be seen as broad constructionalists, the opposition of the war, in the form of a two-thirds majority to declare war, and Madison’s vetoing of the Internal Improvement Bill can make the Federalists seem as if they were the strict constructionalists. Through an analysis of these topics, it is easy to see that both parties crossed their political lines to some degree throughout this time period.

In the election of Thomas Jefferson, the world was about to experience a new era of national and political authority. The ideals of Thomas Jefferson were very different from the previous President; Jefferson sought a peaceful and constitutionally strict way of life for his political party. As Jefferson began his presidency he claimed that his election was a recovery of the original ideals of the American people. Jefferson’s true ideology was one that believed in a small, weak central government, and that a small central government was the only way to flourish in these times. In truth, Jefferson had felt that the safety, and health of the nation, that he now ran, was somehow inversely related to the power the federal government had. In the letter to Gideon Granger, one of Jefferson’s future cabinet members, he wrote on the note of the preservation of the constitution of America, and the ideals, and principles that created said constitution. “Our country is too large to have all its affairs directed by a single government.” This was unquestionable proof that Jefferson felt that a smaller central government would be more beneficial in the eyes of the nation’s domestic policies and issues, as for the foreign policies, that stronger central power may have been a more proper means to follow.

Thomas Jefferson was a man of a very unique sense of religion. Throughout his life as public figure, Jefferson would see that his lack of “religious ground” would prove to be a major threat to his party, for instance, his idea of a complete separation of church and state. The letter sent to Danbury Baptists, proves that Jefferson thought that the separation of church and state was something that Jefferson saw as a crucial point to help further the Nation. He made such statements as “a wall of eternal separation” which show that he felt that there was no reason for the Church to be intertwined with the government of the nation. Jefferson would also write a letter to Samuel Miller, a Presbyterian minister, that would further the religious grounds of Thomas Jefferson. He would say that he believes that there should be now binds between the United States constitution and the religious institutions, their doctrines, or exercises.

A very important measure of Jefferson’s true character comes from the Louisiana Purchase. While this is seen as one of, if not the most notable achievement of Jefferson, there are some missteps in logic. The idea that there should be no change in the Union was a moral supposedly followed by Jefferson. Jefferson would go on to say that this change should be proven true by a constitutional amendment, but since the process of amendment was slow, Jefferson basically said that there was no time for the ideas of strict constructionalism, the same ideals that his party and his ideals were based on… this showed the people of his party that there was some “elasticity” with this idea of strict constructionalism.

All of the hype, all of the popularity that Jefferson had gained throughout his first term as president soon passed as he began his second term. Jefferson’s second term was much less bountiful in the eyes of political and national advancement. One of the most disappointing ordeals originated from the Napoleonic wars, the naval blockades that were rampant in the Atlantic and Caribbean waters. These blockades would devastate the American trade companies and would pressure the US to take sides in a war that was not even ours. The response to this naval war was the blockade was the Embargo of 1807. This embargo did not do much for the colonies except virtually close down every American port to all foreign countries. To enforce this act, the use of the coercive powers that Jefferson opposed were needed, i.e., a strong central government which went against the principles of Jefferson. The political cartoon, made by Alexander Anderson in 1808 depicted a snapping turtle biting the nether regions of a man attempting to smuggle American goods to a British ship, with the word Ograbme written in an air bubble. (Ograbme was a political cartoonist’s way of saying Embargo.) The creator of this cartoon is none other than a Federalist portraying the views of the distaste towards the Embargo Act. The feeling that came from the violation of his own principles rang rampant and spread like wild fire throughout the country. The Federalists used this opportunity to mudsling the president and to proclaim this Embargo unconstitutional, and used it as a springboard to elect Madison as president.

James Madison, the president who came after Jefferson, was seen as the only man that could carry out the ideals of the Federalists in this time period. The first thing that Madison took on as president was the repeal of the Embargo Act. The time that Madison was president, was one controlled by the continued tension between the USA and the French and British governments. The Embargo Act was soon changed to the Non-Intercourse Act, which was a way to limit the trade to the European powers, but America soon realized that it had no effect on either Great Britain or France, this act was soon repealed, and trade among the three began again. In Madison’s effort to find a new path to peace with the European nation through commercial retaliation, it became increasingly more impossible to do so. With the new War Hawk elected into the seat of Congress, and the British arrogant assaults on American ships, Madison asked for a declaration of war in June 1812. Madison, who was a devoted republican, had a very tough time building and manning a formidable navy and army during this time of peace. Because of the Federalists up in New England, who had their trade basically destroyed, the United States was driven into war. This army was extremely weak and Madison needed a way to increase it. In Webster’s speech on a conscription bill to the House of Representatives, he said that the administration under Madison did not adhere to the ideals of strict constructionalism when they forced men to join the war for the Government. In 1814 both of the Americans and the British grew tired of war and signed the Treaty of Ghent, which ultimately brought peace and a new hope to the war stricken countries and insured independence among the Americans.

The War of 1812 was one that produced economical and political effects. Since the threat of disunion coming to an end, westward expansion was on the way, which also brought a sense of new confidence to the nation as per security. Madison had felt that he had needed to respond to this new nationalism. The Federalist Party had seen their imminent demise because of the opposition of war that they had shown. Although the Jeffersonian Republicans saw this downfall as an advantage to win the seat again, there was an internal weakness among the republicans. In actions to stimulate the economy, Madison threw out some of his own Republican ideals about weak government in favor that he so strongly discouraged and opposed years ago. By 1815, Madison had developed a new wave of domestic programs to better the nation. One major recommendation was a charter for a National Bank, and a tariff to help protect small industries that were just beginning to prosper. In a speech to the House of Representatives John Randolph implied that Madison had given up all of his republican ideals and motives to emulate a more federalist point of view. Madison’s actions did not adhere to his original ideas of government.

Madison would also recommend the federal support of roads and canal making. This funding of roads and canals went against what Madison would have agreed to in previous times. The last major act as president was the vetoing of the Internal Improvements Bill of 1817. In Madison’s message to congress vetoing and Internal Improvements Bill, Madison said, “The power to regulate commerce among several states cannot include a power to construct roads and canals” Even though Madison set aside many of his political policies and republican ideals, he would still oppose internal improvements.

Jefferson and Madison, although both were destined to follow and obey the ideals of the Jeffersonian Republicans, they were both compelled to act accordingly to the problems at hand, even if that meant compromising some of their own beliefs. In the years 1801 to 1807, Jefferson and his policies would emulate the true republican priorities, meaning that federal powers would be decreased. By 1807 Jefferson contradicted many of his prior beliefs about a small Central Government for the future of the nation. From 1808 to 1807 domestic, political, and nation threats were on the door steps of Madison, and although he seemed to veer away from his true, original ideology the he initially spoke of, he did it for the future of the nation. Both men shown here, exhibited a true conflict between their ideas and their practices of said ideas.

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