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Jeffersonian Republicans vs. Federalists

In regards to the United States constitution, Jeffersonian Republicans have been known as strict constructionists who had a narrow interpretation of the constitution following it to an extreme power.This was in opposition to the Federalists who had often followed a loose construction policy.And to a certain extent, the characterization of both of these parties was for the most part accurate during the presidencies of both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

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Though these parties stay pretty true to popular beliefs, with Jeffersonian Republicans being strict and Federalists being loose, at time this was proven to be in fact false.

Thomas Jefferson and the Jeffersonian Republicans had become widely known as a strict constructionists even prior to the election of Jefferson. This is shown in a letter that Jefferson wrote to his colleague, and future cabinet member Gideon Granger which shows his true support for power to the states (Doc A. ) The letter states his strong feelings against the power that the federal government held because he was fearful that if the federal government gained too much power and the states had too little power, then we would almost be creating a monarchy in the United States like Great Britain had done.

Another prime example of his ideas of stronger state governments were stated in his letter to Samuel Miller in 1808 (Doc B. ) Jefferson firmly believed that he had no business in involving himself with religious activities as president as the Constitution had made no mention of such activities and therefore followed his strict construction principle by delegating those powers to the states. However, though Jefferson was a man who was mostly stuck to his principles of strict construction, there were often times were he would abandon his beliefs for what he believed was better for the nation.

A prime example of such was during the Louisiana Purchase. Jefferson had to make the final call on whether or not to take this giant mass of land and double the size of the United States, though he faced one major problem. Nowhere in the constitution did it state that Jefferson could solely purchase land for the country without consent, which forced him loosely interpret the constitution and use the “elastic clause” because this was believed to be necessary and proper for the nation.

During Madison’s presidency, he also was able to stick to his principles of Jeffersonian Republicanism to a certain extent. In 1817, James Madison had addressed Congress following his vetoing of an Internal Improvements Bill due to his views of strict construction (Doc H. ) He believed that though this bill would in some respects help the country, the president was not given direct consent by the constitution to create roads and canals and control commerce.

His belief in strict construction had forced him to make the ultimate decision of vetoing the bill. Henceforth, though Jefferson and Madison did mostly follow closely to the beliefs that Jeffersonian Republican party were founded on, they did not fully carry them out with some actions not corresponding to the initial ideals. The Jeffersonian Republican party was not the only party that had to wiggle their way around their initial ideas as the Federalist party was also partially facing difficulties at times.

In 1814, when Congress was discussing a conscription bill that would enforce a draft of all men into the army, Daniel Webster (federalist) had violated his loose construction policy in an effort to fight this bill (Doc D. ) Webster had argued that nowhere in the constitution was it stated that a draft could be created and if such a law was passed, Congress would also have the power to create a dictator as well.

Though he did believe in the idea that all Americans followed that went against a dictatorship, he abandoned his federalist ideas of loose construction in order to avoid a draft, even though it may have been “necessary and proper”. Federalists were also having troubles in their party when they publically made their troubles clear during the Hartford Convention in 1815 (Doc E. ) Federalists had almost clearly trashed their party ideas and sided with the Jeffersonian Republicans when in many of their remarks they had called for a weak central government.

For example, when the Embargo Act was destroying the American economy, the Federalists wanted to take away power from Congress by creating an amendment which would take away all embargos and any trade with any foreign country without a two-thirds majority of both houses. Usually they would be against this as they believed in a strong central government, but they completely contradicted themselves at the Hartford Convention making no progress and eventually the downfall of the Federalist party.

Therefore, the Federalists had an extremely hard time staying true to their own ideals. The Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans had developed a polar opposite view of the constitution and government. One had devoted their views to strong state government and the other to strong central government. Jeffersonian Republicans (led by Jefferson and Madison), though wanting to stick to their ideas, faced much adversity when wanting to remain strict constructionists.

Yet fortunately for them they proved the characterization of their party to be for the most part accurate. The Federalists did face much more problems as they would often contradict themselves and abandon their policies of loose constructions as shown during the presidencies of Jefferson and Madison. It is almost impossible to follow a party’s principles to an extreme extent, as seen by both parties, so it is necessary for both to adjust to find a balance that would ultimately benefit the people of the nation.

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