Jeffersonian democracy

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Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale in 1800.

Jeffersonian democracy, named after its advocate Thomas Jefferson, was one of two dominant political outlooks and movements in the United States from the 1790s to the 1820s. The term was commonly used to refer to the Democratic-Republican Party which Jefferson founded in opposition to the Federalist Party of Alexander Hamilton. The Jeffersonians believed in a republic, as form of government, and equality of political opportunity, with a priority for the "yeoman farmer", "planters" and the "plain folk". They were antagonistic to the aristocratic elitism of merchants and manufacturers, distrusted factory workers, and were on the watch for supporters of the dreaded British system of government. Above all, the Jeffersonians were devoted to the principles of Republicanism, especially civic duty and opposition to privilege, aristocracy and corruption.

Positions[edit]

Jefferson has been called "the most democratic of the [Founding] fathers."[1] The Jeffersonians advocated a narrow interpretation of the Constitution's Article I provisions granting powers to the federal government. They strenuously opposed the Federalist Party, led by Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. President George Washington generally supported Hamilton's program for a financially strong national government. The election of Jefferson in 1800, named by him as 'The revolution of 1800,' brought in the Presidency of Thomas Jefferson and the permanent eclipse of the Federalists, apart from the Supreme Court.[2]

Politics[edit]

The spirit of Jeffersonian democracy dominated American politics from 1800 to 1824, the First Party System, under Jefferson and succeeding presidents James Madison and James Monroe. Prominent spokesmen for Jeffersonian principles included Madison, Albert Gallatin, John Randolph of Roanoke,[3] Nathaniel Macon, John Taylor of Caroline,[4] James Monroe, John C. Calhoun,[5] John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay (with the last three taking new paths after 1828). After 1830 the principles were still talked about but did not form the basis of a political party. Thus editor Horace Greeley in 1838 started a magazine, The Jeffersonian, that he said "would exhibit a practical regard for that cardinal principle of Jeffersonian Democracy, and the People are the sole and safe depository of all power, principles and opinions which are to direct the Government."[6]

Core ideals[edit]

Jeffersonian democracy is characterized by the following core ideals, which Jefferson and his followers expressed in their writings, speeches and legislation. "Jeffersonian democracy" is an umbrella term, and some factions favored some positions more than others. In terms of actual policy-making, sometimes different principles conflicted. Furthermore the Jeffersonians changed over time as new issues emerged, such as how to fight a major War of 1812 with a weak central government and militia that refused to leave their state:

Factions[edit]

The Jeffersonians occasionally split into factions. John Randolph, after leading the party in Congress, formed the "Old Republicans" or Tertium Quids or "Quid" faction, saying Jefferson had strayed too far from the core values of republicanism.[26] Jefferson never trusted Aaron Burr, who became his vice president. They split and Jefferson put Burr on trial for treason (he was acquitted and left the country). After the Madison administration experienced serious trouble financing the War of 1812, and discovered the Army and militia were unable to make war effectively, a new generation of Republican nationalists emerged. They were supported by President James Monroe, an original Jeffersonian, and included John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun. Adams defeated Andrew Jackson, who had support from the Quids, in 1824 and in a few years two successor parties had emerged, the Democratic Party, which formulated Jacksonian democracy and which still exists; and Henry Clay's Whig Party. Their competition marked the Second Party System.[27]

Westward expansion[edit]

Territorial expansion of the United States was a major goal of the Jeffersonians because it would produce new farm lands for yeomen farmers. The Jeffersonians wanted to integrate the Indians into American society, or remove further west those tribes that refused to integrate. However Sheehan (1974) argues that the Jeffersonians, with the best of goodwill toward the Indians, destroyed their distinctive cultures with its misguided benevolence.[28]

The Jeffersonians took enormous pride in the bargain they reached with France in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.[29] It opened up vast new fertile farmlands from Louisiana to Montana. Jefferson saw the west as an economic safety valve which would (at least in the foreseeable future) allow those on the Atlantic coastal states living in poverty to move to what seemed like infinite available land place where they could subsist.[30] However, established New England political interests and many in the Federalist Party opposed the purchase.[citation needed] Jeffersonians, however, thought the new territory would help maintain their vision of the ideal republican society, based on agricultural commerce, governed lightly and promoting self-reliance and virtue. [31]

Jefferson was forced to go against his strict construction ideals in order to make the Louisiana Purchase, because nowhere in the Constitution does it state that you are able to obtain land by purchasing it from another country.

Economics[edit]

Jeffersonian agrarians held that the economy of the United States should rely more on agriculture for strategic commodities than on industry. Jefferson specifically believed, "Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God, if He ever had a chosen people, whose breast He has made His peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue."[32] However, Jeffersonian ideals are not opposed to all manufacturing; rather, he believed that all people have the right to work to provide for their own subsistence and that an economic system which undermines that right is unacceptable.[33]

Jefferson's belief was that unlimited expansion of commerce and industry would lead to the growth of a class of wage laborers who relied on others for income and sustenance. The workers would no longer be independent voters. Such a situation, Jefferson feared, would leave the American people vulnerable to political subjugation and economic manipulation. The solution Jefferson came up with was, as scholar Clay Jenkinson noted, "a graduated income tax that would serve as a disincentive to vast accumulations of wealth and would make funds available for some sort of benign redistribution downward."[34][35]

Limited government[edit]

While the Federalists advocated for a strong central government, Jeffersonians argued for strong state and local governments and a weak federal government.[36] Self-sufficiency, self-government, and individual responsibility, were, in the Jeffersonian worldview, among the most important ideals that formed the basis of the American Revolution. In Jefferson's opinion, nothing that could feasibly be accomplished by individuals at the local level ought to be accomplished by the federal government. The federal government would concentrate its efforts solely on national and international projects.[37] Jefferson's advocacy of limited government led to sharp disagreements with Federalist figures such as Alexander Hamilton. Jefferson felt that Hamilton favored plutocracy and the creation of a powerful aristocracy in the United States which would accumulate increasingly greater power until the political and social order of the United States became indistinguishable from those of the Old World.[36]

After initial skepticism, Jefferson supported the ratification of the United States Constitution and especially supported its stress on checks and balances. The ratification of the United States Bill of Rights, especially the First Amendment, gave Jefferson even greater confidence in the document.[36] Jeffersonians favored a strict construction interpretation of federal government powers described in Article I of the Constitution. For example, Jefferson once wrote a letter to Charles Willson Peale explaining that, although a Smithsonian-style national museum would be a wonderful resource, he could not support the use of federal funds to construct and maintain such a project.[37] The 'strict constructionism' of today is a remote descendant of Jefferson's views.

Jefferson and Jeffersonian principles[edit]

Jeffersonian democracy was not a one-man operation. It was a large political party with many local and state leaders, and various factions, and they did not always agree with Jefferson or with each other.[38]

Jefferson was accused of inconsistencies by his opponents.[39] The "Old Republicans" said that he abandoned the Principles of 1798. He believed the national security concerns were so urgent that it was necessary to purchase Louisiana without waiting for a Constitutional amendment. He enlarged federal power through the intrusively-enforced Embargo Act of 1807. He idealized the "yeoman farmer" despite being himself a gentleman plantation owner. The disparities between Jefferson's philosophy and practice have been noted by numerous historians: Staaloff proposed that it was due to his being a proto-Romantic;[40] John Quincy Adams claimed that it was a manifestation of pure hypocrisy, or 'pliability of principle;'[41] and Bailyn asserts it simply represented a contradiction with Jefferson, that he was “simultaneously a radical utopian idealist and a hardheaded, adroit, at times cunning politician.”[42] However, Jenkinson argued that Jefferson's personal failings ought not to influence present day thinkers to disregard Jeffersonian ideals.[43]

Kuehnelt-Leddihn, a European nobleman who opposed democracy, argues that "Jeffersonian democracy" is a misnomer, because Jefferson was not a democrat but in fact believed in rule by an elite: "Jefferson actually was an Agrarian Romantic who dreamt of a republic governed by an elite of character and intellect."[44]

Historian Sean Wilentz (2006) argues that as a practical politician elected to serve the people Jefferson had to negotiate solutions, not insist on his own version of abstract positions. The result, Wilentz argues, was "flexible responses to unforeseen events...in pursuit of ideals ranging from the enlargement of opportunities for the mass of ordinary, industrious Americans to the principled avoidance of war."[45]

Historians have long portrayed the contest between Jefferson and Hamilton as iconic for the politics, political philosophy, economic policies and future direction of the United States. Wilentz in 2010 identified a scholarly trend in Hamilton's favor:

"In recent years, Hamilton and his reputation have decidedly gained the initiative among scholars who portray him as the visionary architect of the modern liberal capitalist economy and of a dynamic federal government headed by an energetic executive. Jefferson and his allies, by contrast, have come across as naïve, dreamy idealists. At best according to many historians, the Jeffersonians were reactionary utopians who resisted the onrush of capitalist modernity in hopes of turning America into a yeoman farmers' arcadia. At worst, they were proslavery racists who wish to rid the West of Indians, expand the empire of slavery, and keep political power in local hands -- all the better to expand the institution of slavery and protect slaveholders' rights to own human property."[46]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Michael Kazin, et al. eds. The Concise Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History (2011) p 149
  2. ^ James J. Horn, Jan Ellen Lewis and Peter S. Onuf, eds. The Revolution of 1800: Democracy, Race, and the New Republic (2002)
  3. ^ Randolph was the Jeffersonian leader in Congress from 1801-5; he later broke with Jefferson because he thought the president no longer adhered to the true Jeffersonian principles of 1798. David A. Carson, "That Ground Called Quiddism: John Randolph's War with the Jefferson Administration," Journal of American Studies, April 1986, Vol. 20 Issue 1, pp 71-92
  4. ^ Benjamin F. Wright, "The Philosopher of Jeffersonian Democracy," American Political Science Review Vol. 22, No. 4 (Nov., 1928), pp. 870-892 in JSTOR
  5. ^ Calhoun was "a representative of South Atlantic republicanism" and closely followed Jeffersonian themes says H. Lee Cheek Jr. Calhoun and Popular Rule: The Political Theory of the Disquisition and Discourse (2001) p10; see also pp 38, 40.
  6. ^ Editorial, The Jeffersonian 1838 vol 1 p 287
  7. ^ Lance Banning, Jeffersonian Persuasion: Evolution of a Party Ideology (1978) pp 79–90
  8. ^ Noble E. Cunningham, The Jeffersonian party to 1801: a study of the formation of a party organization (1952)
  9. ^ Sean Wilentz, The Rise of American democracy (2006) p 138-39
  10. ^ Jeffrey L. Pasley, "'A Journeyman, Either in Law or Politics': John Beckley and the Social Origins of Political Campaigning," Journal of the Early Republic Vol. 16, No. 4 (Winter, 1996), pp. 531-569 in JSTOR
  11. ^ Elkins and McKitrick. (1995) ch 5; Wallace Hettle, The Peculiar Democracy: Southern Democrats in Peace and Civil War (2001) p. 15
  12. ^ Banning (1978) pp 105–15
  13. ^ Philip Hamburger, Separation of church and state (2002)
  14. ^ Robert Allen Rutland; The Birth of the Bill of Rights, 1776–1791(1955)
  15. ^ Banning (1978) pp 264–66
  16. ^ Banning (1978) pp 255-66-3
  17. ^ Jefferson letter to James Madison, September 6, 1789 | http://odur.let.rug.nl/~usa/P/tj3/writings/brf/jefl81.htm
  18. ^ Roy J. Honeywell, "A Note on the Educational Work of Thomas Jefferson," History of Education Quarterly, Winter 1969, Vol. 9 Issue 1, pp 64-72 in JSTOR
  19. ^ R. Kent Newmyer, John Marshall and the Heroic Age of the Supreme Court (2001)
  20. ^ Robert W. Tucker and David C. Hendrickson, Empire of Liberty: The Statecraft of Thomas Jefferson (1990).
  21. ^ Lawrence S. Kaplan, Entangling alliances with none: American foreign policy in the age of Jefferson (1987)
  22. ^ Todd Estes, The Jay Treaty Debate, Public Opinion, and the Evolution of Early American Political Culture (2006)
  23. ^ Michael Hardt, "Jefferson and Democracy," American Quarterly 59.1 (2007) 41-78, quote on p 63
  24. ^ Merrill D. Peterson, "Thomas Jefferson and the French Revolution," Tocqueville Review -- La Revue Tocqueville, Jan 1987, Vol. 9, pp 15-25
  25. ^ Banning (1978) pp 292–3
  26. ^ Noble Eballs. Cunningham, Jr., "Who Were the Quids?" in The Mississippi Valley Historical Review Vol. 50, No. 2 (Sep., 1963), pp. 252-263 in JSTOR
  27. ^ Richard P. McCormick, The Second American Party System: Party Formation in the Jacksonian Era (1966).
  28. ^ Bernard W. Sheehan, Seeds of Extinction: Jeffersonian Philanthropy and the American Indian (1974)
  29. ^ Junius P. Rodriguez, The Louisiana Purchase: A Historical and Geographical Encyclopedia (2002)
  30. ^ The Lewis & Clark, Fort Mandan Foundation. "Show 1048 - Redistribution." The Thomas Jefferson Hour. Prairie Public Radio: 27 October 2013. Web. 30 October 2013.
  31. ^ White, Richard (1991). "It's your misfortune and none of my own" : a new history of the American West. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 63. ISBN 0-8061-2366-4. 
  32. ^ Thomas Jefferson (1900). John P. Foley, ed. The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia: A Comprehensive Collection Of The Views Of Thomas Jefferson Classified And Arranged In Alphabetical Order Under Nine Thousand Titles Relating To Government, Politics, Law, Education, Political Economy, Finance, Science, Art, Literature, Religious Freedom, Morals, Etc. Funk & Wagnalls company. p. 323. Retrieved 26 March 2010. 
  33. ^ Jenkinson, Becoming Jefferson's People, p. 27
  34. ^ Jenkinson, Becoming Jefferson's People, p. 26
  35. ^ Jefferson, "The Jeffersonian cyclopedia."

    "These revenues will be levied entirely on the rich .... The Rich alone use imported article, and on these alone the whole taxes of the General Government are levied. The poor man ... pays not a farthing of tax to the General Government, but on his salt; and should we go into that manufacture also, as is probable, he will pay nothing."

  36. ^ a b c Ketcham, 259
  37. ^ a b Jenkinson, Becoming Jefferson's People, pp. 36–38
  38. ^ Padraig Riley, Northern Republicans and southern slavery: Democracy in the age of Jefferson, 1800-1819 (2007) p 161
  39. ^ Robert M. Johnstone, Jefferson and the Presidency: leadership in the young Republic (1978) p 44
  40. ^ Staaloff, Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson, p. 285–292
  41. ^ Bernard Bailyn, To Begin the World Anew: The Genius and Ambiguities of the American Founders (2004) p. 38
  42. ^ Bailyn, p. 45
  43. ^ Jenkinson, Becoming Jefferson's People, p.  8
  44. ^ Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn. Liberty or Equality: The Challenge of Our Time (1952) p. 7
  45. ^ Sean Wilentz, The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln (2006) p 136
  46. ^ Sean Wilentz, "Book Reviews," Journal of American History Sept. 2010 v. 97# 2 p 476.

References[edit]