Jeffersonian Republicans Vs. Federalists
As the young colonies of America broke away from their mother country and began to grow and develop into an effective democratic nation, many changes occurred. As the democracy began to grow, two main political parties developed, the Jeffersonian Republicans and the Federalists. Each party had different views on how the government should be run. The Jeffersonian Republicans believed in strong state governments, a weak central government, and a strict construction of the Constitution. The Federalists opted for a powerful central government with weaker state governments, and a loose interpretation of the Constitution. Throughout the years, the political parties have grown, developed, and even dispersed into totally new factions. Many of the inconsistencies and changes can be noted throughout the presidencies of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
When Thomas Jefferson entered office in 1800, he came in with lots of new ideas and goals as the president. Jefferson believed in a smaller central government with stronger state governments. He was a Republican and favored the view of strict construction. He believed that, "Our country is too large to have all its affairs directed by a single government…" (Document A). Jefferson and his Republican party believed in a government that was going to work for the people and that was going to have them at its best interests. That is why they believed in having stronger state governments, they were closer to home and to the people they were governing, therefore they knew more of what the public needed. Document B also refers to strict construction and Jefferson's beliefs. It talks about the freedoms that were stated in the constitution, mainly, the freedom of religion. Jefferson believes that the federal government should not have any say in dealing with religion of the people. The Republicans believed that any law stated in the Constitution should be strictly followed.
As Jefferson's presidency wore on, the Jeffersonian Republican beliefs began drifting farther away from the original ideals they began with. Some of the decisions made by Jefferson proved to follow the loose construction of the Constitution of the Federalists. When he made the decision to purchase the Louisiana Territory, he never obtained congressional approval. He followed loose construction and federalist ideas by going against the Constitution. He made the purchase because he thought he was doing what was good for the country. Also, when Jefferson passed The Embargo Act, he was going against the Republican Party beliefs. Supported by Document C, the Embargo Act was a great upset to the American public. No where in the listing of the presidential powers did it state that a law such as the Embargo Act could be passed. When Jefferson passed this Act, he may have had the good of the country at heart, but he was following the Federalist principle of power in the central government and a loose interpretation of the powers in the Constitution. As the Jeffersonian Republicans grew together and learned a great deal more about their nation, they realized that some of their principles had to change. The country would never stay united if the country kept advancing and the government stayed in the same spot. As Jefferson once wrote, "…I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind…institutions must advance also and keep pace with the times." (Document G). Jefferson realized in this letter to Samuel Kercheval that, sometimes, people's ideas and beliefs must grow and change in order to make things better and stay with the times. The Jeffersonian Republicans also realized this. That is why as the nation progressed they obtained more of the ideals of the Federalists.
James Madison was a great president of his time; he made many excellent decisions, many of which were inconsistent with his beliefs. Madison was also a Jeffersonian Republican who was a strict constructionist. Madison once said, "Who will show me any constitutional injunction which makes it the duty of the American people to surrender everything valuable in life, and even life itself…" (Document D). Seeing as the Constitution said nothing in accordance to drafting people for the army, Madison believed that it should not be done. Document D could also
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