The origins of the Federalist and Democratic-Republican parties can be traced back to the early 1790s. Initially, the Federalists, or broad constructionists, favored the growth of federal power and a strong central government. The Federalists promulgated a loose interpretation of the Constitution, which meant that they believed that the government could do anything by the implied powers of the Constitution.
On the contrary, the Democratic-Republicans favored the protection of states’ rights and the strict containment of federal power. The Democratic-Republicans were strict constructionists and they believed only in the enumerated powers of the Constitution. Up until 1800, these descriptions of the two political parties were very accurate. However, the Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe presidencies reveal that these characterizations were accurate only to a certain extent. However, it is important to note that these characterizations were only inaccurate mainly because of the presidencies themselves.
During their presidencies, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe were forced to compromise their political views in the face of war, economic pressure, and threats to the Union. Therefore, these labels can only be considered true to a certain extent. The Election of 1800 or “The Bloodless Revolution” marked a watershed in U. S. history. This non-violent transfer of power from the Federalists to President Thomas Jefferson and his Democratic-Republican party signified a fundamental change in U. S. politics.
In the beginning of his first term as president, Jefferson made it clear that he would do anything to uphold the Republican principles he held dear in his heart. Jefferson believed that the preservation of the Constitution was essential if Americans wanted to live in a “harmonious and solid country. ” Unlike the Federalists, who believed in the implied powers of the Constitution, Jefferson did not want to change the Constitution into something that gave the federal government too much power. Adhering to his views on the protection of states’ rights and a system of checks and balances, Jefferson decried the Federalists’ wishes to “sink the tate governments” and claimed that a single, consolidated government would not be the solution to the nation’s problems.
In 1808, President Jefferson refused to issue a proclamation calling for a national day of prayer or fasting because he believed that the federal government did not have any right to interfere in the religious affairs of individual states. The president’s refusal to “intermeddle with religious institutions” demonstrated Jefferson’s determination to weaken the powers of the federal government and his adherence to the enumerated powers of the federal Constitution.
However, Jefferson went against his own word when he signed a treaty with the Kaskaskia Indians in the western territories that provided money to support the tribe’s Roman Catholic priest and church. The treaty also provided money in support of sectarian Indian education administered by religious organizations. Now, it seemed that Jefferson’s characterization as a staunch Republican appeared to be somewhat inaccurate. In his second term as president, Jefferson faced many challenges to U. S. neutrality.
Initially, Jefferson and the other members of his Democratic-Republican party condemned the excesses of the Revolutionary War and believed in a small peacetime army and navy. Jefferson tried to avoid a second war with Great Britain in 1807 by passing the Embargo Act. As an alternative to war, Jefferson prohibited any American merchant ships from sailing to any foreign port. Jefferson’s hope was that Great Britain would stop violating the rights of neutral nations but Great Britain retaliated by substituting South American goods for American supplies. As a result, the plan backfired.
The “Ograbme or the American Snapping-turtle” (embargo spelled backwards) bit the Americans in the butt and caused a deep depression, especially for the New England merchant marine and shipbuilders. The Federalists were disgusted with the Embargo Act and they believed that since the Act demonstrated the federal government’s power, Jefferson had violated his own strict views of the Constitution.
However, it is important to note that Jefferson only passed the Embargo Act and overstepped his boundaries because he did not believe that our country was prepared for total war with Britain. The Federalists only opposed the Act that gave more power to the federal government because it hurt them financially.
Again, the descriptions of the Republicans and Federalists can only be considered somewhat accurate. In the immediate years following the War of 1812, the Federalist spirit was bruised primarily due to the fact that they believed the war had hurt them financially. Similar to Document C, the Federalists express their resentment towards the Democratic-Republicans in Documents D and E. This resentment was fueled by the strains the US economy and military had experienced as a result of the detrimental War of 1812.
Daniel Webster, a Federalist from New Hampshire, criticized the Democratic-Republicans’ conscription bill. He went directly against the broad constructionist view of the Federalist party by claiming that President Madison had no right to enact a draft because this power was not explicitly stated anywhere in the Constitution. (Document D). However, it is important to note that this Federalist denounced his own broad constructionist views of the Constitution because many American lives were at stake. As stated previously, the Federalists were hurt financially by the War of 1812.
They were frightened by the havoc that Great Britain wreaked on the shores of New England. At the Hartford Convention, the Federalists resolved that the powers of Congress would be limited in the sense that Congress would only be allowed to enact certain proclamations with the approval of two thirds of both houses or for only a short period of time. (Document E). Even though the Federalists wanted to weaken the power of Congress, they were only concerned with the economic consequences of the War of 1812. Therefore, the descriptions of the Republicans and Federalists can only be considered somewhat accurate.
In the years 1816 and 1817, many Americans supported the movement of economic nationalism. In 1816, there were many heated debates over tariffs and internal improvements. President Monroe, a Democratic-Republican feared that Great Britain would dump their goods into the US markets. He enacted the Tariff of 1816 in order to protect American industries from European competition. Clearly, Monroe’s decision went against his views of strict interpretation of the Constitution. However, it is important to keep in mind that he only wanted to protect the US economy.
John Randolph, a Republican congressman from Virginia, opposed the tariff of 1816 because he believed that the Constitution did not allow for such programs as tariffs. He also believed that the new tariff would chiefly benefit wealthy manufacturers at the expense of the American people, which is most likely another reason he opposed the tariff. Unlike Randolph, Thomas Jefferson, supported the move towards economic nationalism. He believed that the laws and institutions of the US should evolve to fit the needs of the American people.
Therefore, it can be inferred that Jefferson was a proponent of Henry Clay’s American System, which included protective tariffs, the expansion of the national bank, and internal improvements. This clearly goes against Jefferson’s belief that the Constitution should be preserved for exactly what it is and against the beliefs that the government should base its decisions only on the enumerated powers of the Constitution since the Democratic-Republicans were against a national bank and internal improvements.
Unlike Jefferson, James Madison, a Democratic-Republican, opposed Henry Clay’s American System because he believed that the federal government did not have the power to provide money for the improvements and that the states should assume responsibility for their own internal improvements.
The political factions and sectional differences in the Republican party that dominated politics during Monroe’s presidency can explain this discrepancy between the political views of these two Democratic-Republicans. Evidently, the characterizations of the Republicans and Federalists can only be considered somewhat accurate.