Strict Constructionism vs Broad Constructionism

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.

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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 Republican and Federalists principles during his presidency. Seeing that Congress was dominated by Republicans, Chief Justice John Marshall appropriately adopted both strict and broad constructionism in his court decisions. In the Marbury v.

Madison case, Marshall ironically gained a Federalist victory by using strict constructionism. By ruling that the Constitution did not explicitly grant the Court power to issue writs of mandamus, Marshall gave the Court the greater power of judging the constitutionality of laws passed by Congress through the judicial review. In this way, Marshall expanded the federal government, producing a broad-constructionist victory. In the Fletcher v. Peck case, Marshall did not need to use strict constructionism to accomplish his goal of advancing the power of the federal government.

Instead, Marshall solely relied on broad constructionism to protect commercial and industrial interests and state federal supremacy in interstate commerce. In his court rulings, Marshall affirmed Federalist dominance in the Supreme Court amidst a Congress dominated by Republicans. By using both Republican and Federalist principles, Marshall elevated the Supreme Court and expanded the power of the federal government. The War of 1812 prompted President James Madison to turn to Federalist principles of broad constructionism to structure America’s economy.

Madison recognized the expediency of encouraging commerce and economic development as American nationalism emerged after the War of 1812. He concluded that state banks were insufficient in facilitating the economy and believed that a national bank could satisfy the needs of the country. Driven by a Federalist desire to stimulate economic growth, Madison allowed the charter of the Second Bank and the creation of protective tariffs. Republicans no longer deemed the national bank as unconstitutional because they recognized the importance of a bank that operated nationally.

Madison also oversaw the implementation of the American System, which contributed greatly to economic development by encouraging the domestic economy. The use of broad constructionism to create an economic program allowed Madison to successfully stimulate economic growth. Though both Republicans and Federalists largely held on to their own philosophies of government, they strategically used the other party’s principles to achieve their goals during the presidencies of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

Jefferson found it necessary to use broad constructionism in his decision to purchase the Louisiana Territory, but stuck to strict constructionism in shaping the federal government. Marshall successfully asserted Federalist dominance in the Supreme Court and protected commerce by using strict constructionism and broad constructionism, respectively. Madison effectively stimulated the American economy through Federalist principles. Between 1801 and 1817, Republicans and Federalists increasingly made their decisions by adopting each other’s principles rather than sticking to their own interpretations of government.

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Strict Constructionism vs Broad Constructionism. (2016, Dec 02). Retrieved from