Throughout the period 1801-1817, the government was ruled by the Jeffersonian Republican party, whereas the Federalist Party began to slowly fade away from public view. The Jeffersonian Republican party, led by Thomas Jefferson, professed to favor a weak central government through the support of more states’ rights, “…that the states are independent… to…themselves…and united as to everything respecting foreign nations.” (Document A). On the other hand, the Federalist Party, previously led by Alexander Hamilton, espoused the idea of a strong central government.
The characterization of these two political parties during the presidencies of Jefferson and Madison were inconsistent with the professed position in the 1790’s.The Jeffersonian Republican party was founded on specific principles, presented and created by Thomas Jefferson’s ideal of the perfect government. The nation was thus divided into two ideals – the Jeffersonian Republicans and the Federalists – but as Thomas Jefferson rose to power, the Federalists ideals and influence began to fade. During the Tripolitan War, Jefferson used mostly the navy to fight and win the war, because of Jefferson’s belief of a strong standing army was an invitation towards dictatorship.
Specifically, the “mosquito fleet” was used because of its size and maneuverability. The “mosquito fleet” was also lightly funded because of the Jeffersonian Republicans’ belief in a minimal navy, but it provided sufficient protection for the American shores. Three years after the Tripolitan War, the Embargo Act was enacted to avoid yet another war, which was the reason for Jefferson’s pressure on Congress to pass it. The Embargo Act, however, was an example of Jefferson’s Jeffersonian Republicans’ “strict constructionist” ideal because a compromise in the Constitution stated that Congress had the power to regulate foreign trade. Jefferson’s main goal was to avoid war, but the Embargo Act only delayed what seemed to be the inevitable. The Embargo Act caused a complete boycott of British and European goods, and it was supposedly an ultimatum for the discontinuation of British and European harassment of American ships. The Embargo Act in turned backfired, because it hurt the merchants through the discontinued trade with superpower, Great Britain and other European countries, and was three times more costly than war itself. On the other hand, the Embargo did have positive attributes because the merchants began to develop domestic manufacturing, which slowly made the United States economically independent from other countries’ economies. Ironically, Jefferson’s Embargo Act did cause an economic ripple in Europe, but the American people were too impatient to reap its “bountiful” yield.
The Federalists obtained the title of being “loose constructionists.” The Jeffersonian Republicans’ rational of the Constitution was if it did not grant, it forbade. President Madison vetoed the Internal Improvement Bill (soon to be known as the American System) because “…seeing that such a power is not expressly given by the Constitution.” (Document H) President James Madison further defended his position by stating the success of the Constitution depended on the cooperation of the federal and state governments. (Document H) Thus President James Madison upheld the ideals of the Jeffersonian Republican of a strict interpretation of the Constitution and the conservation of states’ rights, even though he was the person to first propose/develop, the soon to be known, American System – later made popular by Henry Clay in 1824. The Jeffersonian Republicans wanted to avoid the Federalist ideals of “Congress has power to create a dictator,” but the pressure from the American people and being the President of the United States caused certain members of the Jeffersonian Republicans to be steadfast on only several governmental and national topics. (Document D)
As certain members, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, of the Jeffersonian Republicans rose into a higher leveled power, their ideals began to fade and mix with Federalists’ views. During Jefferson’s second term as president, Jefferson’s “reasons” “…tells me that civil powers along have been given to the President of the U.S…” (Document B). In four years time, Jefferson switched from his Jeffersonian Republicans’ view to the Federalists’. Furthermore, as Jefferson urged the removal/impeachment of Supreme Court justice, Samuel Chase, Jefferson was – at the same time – further empowering his own governmental position. The Embargo Act postponed America’s war with foreign European nations and developed the United States’ domestic manufacturing. On the other hand, the Embargo Act was quickly pushed through Congress by Thomas Jefferson, but the Embargo Act was never approved by the individual states. So, the Embargo Act was a federal policy and not a policy passed by the states. The abolition of the slave trade also expressed Jefferson’s indirect favoritism towards the Federalist policies.
The method of which Jefferson obtained the abolition of the slave trade was against the Jeffersonian Republicans principles. The states did not have representation in the decision upon which to abolish the slave trade because Jefferson pushed the policy through Congress for a permanent ban on the slave trade. Similarly, the War of 1812, occurred during Madison’s presidency, was not supported by all American, and therefore was one of the many factors that caused America to suffer one of its most humiliating defeats. John Randolph, who was a Democratic Republican, began to state the obvious near the end of Madison’s presidency, “…the present government have renounced the true republican principles of Jefferson’s administration.” (Document F) The Jeffersonian Republicans were feeling the pressure of addressing national issues at different angles and they could not remain solid on their original ideals, “Their (Jeffersonian Republicans) principle now is old Federalism.” (Document F) In a sense, Thomas Jefferson was slowly replacing his own political party ideals with Federalist ideals. The Jeffersonian Republicans was not the only political party to sway from its ideals.
The Federalist, Daniel Webster, stepped aside from the common Federalists ideal. In Daniel Webster’s speech to the House of Representatives on the conscription bill, he strongly opposed the conscription bill. (Document D) What was his reason for such opposition, even though he was a Federalist? Thus, the Jeffersonian Republicans were not the only political parties to lean away from their political ideals, Federalists did also. The Louisiana Purchase further exemplified Thomas Jefferson’s growing detachment from his Jeffersonian Republican ideals. Where did it strictly say in the Constitution that Jefferson could buy land? It did not. Thus, Jefferson adopted the Federalist ideal of “loose construction” through buying land to expand America’s power, even though Jefferson contemplated if the purchase was unconstitutional.
Similarly, the Federalists were also changing views, for the Federalist opposed the Louisiana Purchase – even though it would increase the federal government power. The underlying purpose of the Federalists’ opposition towards the Louisiana Purchase was mainly on political grounds. Through the United States doubling in size, the influence of the much faded Federalist ideals would further weaken because the Federalists were already out of office and faced steadily diminishing influence in American society. Thus, in a respect, the Federalist ideas did not begin to fade from public view after John Adams was voted out of office, but instead was expressed to the public through the opposing party’s top officials, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
The characterization of the two parties did not remain accurate during the presidencies of Jefferson and Madison because of the pressure during the possession of the high powered position changed the views of the Jeffersonian Republican leaders, “laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind.” (Document G) During Jefferson’s and Madison’s term as president, the single-minded ideal of the Jeffersonian Republican did not withstand the influence of the Federalist ideas on several government issues. Thus, Jefferson’s and Madison’s term as president was a melting pot of both Jeffersonian Republican and Federalist ideas. None of the two presidents were able to continually uphold the Jeffersonian Republican idea through their presidency. However, the War of 1812 – known as the Second War for Independence – would cause an upsurge of nationalism in the upcoming years during James Madison’s term as president and bringing America closer.
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