Strict Constructionism vs Broad Constructionism

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By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Republicans and Federalists had developed into two distinct political parties. The controversy over the constitutionality of the First Bank of the United States gave rise to two different interpretations of the Constitution. While the Jeffersonian Republicans held a strict-constructionist view of the Constitution, the Federalists took on a broad-constructionist view of the Constitution. These became defining characteristics of the two political parties. However, during the presidencies of Jefferson and Madison, the desire of one party to dominate over the other caused both parties to stray away from their original philosophies of government and resort to the other party’s principles. Although the Republicans and Federalists largely stayed true to their respective interpretations of the Constitution, they increasingly embraced the other party’s principles to achieve their goals between 1801 to 1817.

In establishing Republican dominance in government, Jefferson determined to use strict constructionism; yet, with regard to westward expansion, Jefferson resorted to broad constructionism. Upon his inauguration in 1801, President Thomas Jefferson promulgated his belief in a limited government. Congress, under Jefferson, restricted federal government by repealing all international taxes. In doing so, Jefferson reduced government spending, thus successfully limiting the power of the federal government. Similarly, the Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin limited the military by cutting army and navy budgets significantly. These acts of frugality demonstrated the use of strict constructionism to assert Republican dominance. Jefferson’s interest in expanding westward prompted him to purchase the Louisiana Territory on the basis that he was protecting the nation. Jefferson believed that the results of this broad constructionist view would benefit America by encouraging economic development. Thus, Jefferson embraced both...
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