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The Federalists and The Constructionist Views During The Years of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison

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The premise of strict construction versus loose constructionism was a prominent view of the Constitution which would ultimately split the nation into two separate political entities. The Federalists were champions of a strong national government with a loose interpretation of the Constitution, whereas the Republicans were champions of state and local governments with supposedly strict interpretations of the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison terms as president were often characterized by these strong democratic views that would oppose the primary political views of the Federalists. However, this characterization of Jefferson and Madison’s presidencies were not entirely definite, as both presidents would exercise power that would go beyond this established profile of Jeffersonian Republicans. Federalists were also not excluded from this deviation from core ideals. The characterization of the two political parties during the presidencies of Jefferson and Madison were not entirely accurate as shown by the deviation of character by Jefferson’s actions as president, Jefferson utilizing both ideals, Madison’s administration exercising powers beyond the Constitution, and what the Federalists accomplished at the Hartford Convention.

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Despite being characterized by his strict constructionist policies, Jefferson would deviate from this policy in many areas. During the later years of Jefferson’s presidency, tensions had begun to arise between the British and French in the Napoleonic Wars. The Chesapeake Leopold Affair, which was the capturing of American citizens by a British naval ship would lead to Jefferson imposing the Embargo Act of 1807 (Document C). Not only would he impose the Embargo Act, but he would soon impose the Non-Intercourse Act to punish the actions of the French and British. Jefferson’s response to the foreign problem was very uncharacteristic of him and demonstrated his following of loose constructionism, as the Constitution only allows Congress to regulate commerce. Furthermore, Jefferson states “…laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also and keep pace with the times” (Document G). Jefferson recognizes that times change, resulting in a change of ideas, and ultimately “changes in laws and Constitutions”. Therefore, because the Constitution cannot always be accurate with the times, it must change accordingly–demonstrating the premise of loose constructionism.

Jefferson accomplished a presidency of showing both loose and strict constructionist views of the Constitution. Jefferson’s views of strict constructionism is demonstrated in his letter to Gideon Granger in which he says, “our country can never be harmonious and solid while so respectable a portion of its citizens support principles which go directly to a change of the federal Constitution” (Document A). Jefferson is stating that the idea of the Federalists to be able to loosely interpret the Constitution will cause fo the country to not be harmonious and successful, displaying his strict view of the Constitution. Furthermore, his strong beliefs prevented him from giving a prayer like his predecessors. He states that, “I am aware that the practice of my predecessors may be quoted…civil powers alone have been given to the President of the U.S. and no authority to direct the religious exercises of his constituents” (Document B). Jefferson has such strong views of strict constructionism he wouldn’t even follow something previous presidents practiced because of the separation of church and state. These documents showed Jefferson’s strong dedication to strict constructionism, but Jefferson was not perfect in following through, such as when he followed through with the Louisiana Purchase. Realizing that despite the Constitution not allowing the federal government to purchase land, Jefferson still followed through, applying loose constructionism and purchasing land from the French. His willingness to do so was promoted by economical and geographical benefits, and demonstrates that Jefferson’s presidency was not limited to the Jeffersonian Republicans view of strict constructionism.

Madison being a strong advocate of Jeffersonian Republican ideals would also stray away from a strict constructionist policy when needed. Daniel Webster addresses the Madison presidency by stating “The [Madison] administration asserts the right to fill the ranks of the regular army by compulsion…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). Webster is complaining that Madison’s administration, one that stresses the idea of strict constructionism is doing something that is completely against that policy. Nowhere in the Constitution allows for the conscription of troops for the army, and utilizing this policy only contradicts the views of a Jeffersonian Republican. Another instance in which Madison opposes and deviates from party views. John Randolph criticizes Madison of the proposed tariff from Madison’s administration, he states, “I am convinced that it would be impolitic, as well as unjust, to aggravate the burdens of the people for the purpose of favoring the manufacturer; for this government created and gave power to Congress to regulate commerce…” (Document F). Randolph, a Democratic Republican is criticizing Madison’s lack of commitment to the party and its core ideals of strict constructionism. He says, “Their principle now is old Federalism, vamped up into something bearing the superficial appearance of republicanism…” (Document F). Madison’s proposed tariff being indicated as a principle of old Federalism shows that the characterizations of the various parties were not true as Madison did not completely enforce this idea throughout his presidency.

The Federalists were not exclusively limited to only demonstrating a loose constructionist view. The Federalists congregated to form the Hartford Convention that would propose amendments and policies that would oppose the War of 1812 along with the Republicans. One of the resolutions that the Federalists established were that “No new state shall be admitted into the Union by Congress, in virtue of the power granted by the constitution, without the concurrence of two thirds of both houses” (Document E). This application is Constitutional, as Congress is the only body capable of admitting statehood. This counters the characterization that Federalists believed in broad constructionism, they were not exclusive to affirming the idea of strict constructionism. The purpose of these documents, ironically, was to protect the Federalists from the Republicans that were abusing their powers from aspects of loose constructionism. Federalists, just like the Republicans used both elements and views of the Constitution during their times of presence.

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The characterizations that Federalists were broad constructionists whereas the Jeffersonian Republicans were strict constructionists were not entirely accurate. Both political parties demonstrated the usage of both types of views on the Constitution in order to solve and fix the individual issues presented to each party. To limit and solidify these parties on these individual ideals is not accurate, both parties needed to deviate from their core beliefs in order to adapt with the time, much like how modern-day Democrats supported going into the Middle East after 9/11. Situations call for different actions than the party’s or individual’s beliefs.

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