With respect to the federal Constitution, the Jeffersonian Republicans are usually characterized as strict followers of the Constitution and opposed the broad constructionist of Federalist presidents such as George Washington and John Adams. In the time frame of 1801-1817, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, the Republican presidents of the time demonstrated the differences of the Republican Party in several aspects involving the interpretation of the Constitution.
Thomas Jefferson and his Republican followers envisioned a society in vivid contrast to that of the Federalists. They dreamed of a nation of independent farmers living under a central government that exercised a minimum of control over their lives and served merely to protect the individual liberties granted by the Constitution. Jefferson, in his dialog with Presbyterian minister Samuel Miller, demonstrated that the government will only be ruled by the Constitution, and not even God would have a say. (Document B) That vision proved to be a mirage, and Jefferson was to preside over a nation that was growing more industrial and urban, which seemed to need an ever-stronger hand at the presidential “tiller.”
Jefferson, like Washington, was no “War Hawk.” In order to prevent the cry for war, he established the Embargo Act, which forbade ships from leaving the port for any foreign destination, thus avoiding confrontations with hostile vessels. The result was economic depression, particularly in the Northeast, as depicted in Alexander Anderson’s political cartoon of “OGRABME, or The American Snapping-turtle.” (Document C) This proved to be his most unpopular policy during both terms in office, which resulted in the third proposed amendment of the Hartford Convention, January 4th 1805: “Congress may not establish an embargo for longer then sixty days.” (Document E)
As Washington continued to move closer to Federalist Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton's...
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