AP US History: 1800s


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During the early 1800s, two parties were developed having different perspectives on government and the Constitution. The Democratic Republicans, led by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, were always characterized by following the strict construction of the constitution. The Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton, were characterized by following the broad construction of the constitution. The presidencies of Jefferson and Madison proved this characterization to be somewhat accurate. Although the Democratic Republicans and the Federalists did support their own ideas and views, they also did many things that contradicted them.
The Democratic Republicans started out by supporting their ideas fully and confidently. In Jefferson's letter to Gideon Granger (Document A), Jefferson displays his ideas on how the Constitution should be interpreted and how they oppose the ideas of the Federalists. Jefferson also tells Granger that he disagrees with the Federalists' ideas and that it would "sink the states' governments, consolidate them into one, and to monarchies that." He also believes in a weak central government, an idea of a Democratic-Republican, having the states be control of everything internal and only having the central government in charge of foreign affairs. In Document B, Jefferson's letter to Samuel Miller, Jefferson stated that the president has no authority over religious exercises. This was an exact belief of a Democratic-Republican. Not only did this document states that the central government should be weak, this also states the belief of a strict interpretation of the Constitution. Jefferson demonstrated his beliefs through the government primarily. After he was elected president, he started to "slim" things down, cutting taxes and the army and limiting the power of the government and eliminating Federalist power. During Madison's term, he also somewhat stuck to his principles. In Document H, he expressed his thoughts on the Internal Improvements Bill acknowledging the bill. Although he set aside some of his republic ideals, he still vetoed the bill under a constitutional amendment. Overall, he stuck with his principles of a Democratic Republican.
The longer Jefferson was in office, the more the Democratic Republicans started to go against their own principles. The acquisition of the Louisiana territory, in 1803, was the most notable achievement of Jefferson's presidency, yet it showed the inconsistency between his actions and his beliefs. Jefferson realized that there was no time for strict constructionalism due to the slow process of the amendment. This purchase violated his constitutional morals and his belief in a weak central government.

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Another one of his famous acts was the Embargo Act. According to the political cartoon by Alexander Anderson, (Document C) the Americans were greatly hurt by the Embargo Act. It nearly sent them into an economic depression. Jefferson helped pass this act, which went entirely against his belief of a weak government. By passing the Embargo Act, Jefferson demonstrated the federal government's power over the people and the states. Jefferson showed that a strong central government was needed, a belief of a Federalist, not a Democratic-Republican. In Document G, a letter from Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, he stated that he now believed as the human mind progressed so should the Constitution and as times change, so must the Constitution. This displayed his most recent thoughts and how the ideas of the Democratic-Republican were not as accurate as the Democratic-Republicans themselves. During the presidency of Madison, The Democratic-Republicans looked more like the Federalists than ever. After the war of 1812, Madison set aside his democratic-republic ideas to stimulate the economy. He recommended a charter of the national bank and a tariff to protect young industries. In Document F, John Randolph implies that Madison has surrendered his republican ideals and is emulating a more federalist point of view when the administration called for the tariff of 1816. In conclusion, Madison's actions did not coincide with the original ideals of the party.
The Federalists also were greatly confident in their views of the Constitution and the government. Once again, in Document A, Jefferson states that the views of the Federalists were wrong. By stating this, it simply displays the views of a Federalist. The letter shows that the Federalists had different perspectives and the disagreements the two parties had. During Jefferson's term, John Marshall became the most dominant Federalist figure in the federal government. Under Marshall's domination, the Supreme Court retained a Federalist outlook even after Democratic-Republican justices achieved a majority in 1811. The Court consistently upheld federal supremacy over the states and protected the interests of commerce and capital. Over the years, Marshall significantly increased the Supreme Court's power over the country, demonstrating the idea of a Federalist, the idea of a powerful central government.
Just like the Democratic- Republicans, the Federalists also had a hard time with their principles. In the speech by Daniel Webster, (Document D), the Federalist criticized the power of the federal government. He says that Madison and his administration could not make a law enforcing a draft because it was not in the Constitution. He stated that if the Congress could make a law like this then they also could create a dictator. Webster expresses his concern for a dictator but also his ignorance to the idea of a loose interpretation, an idea of the Federalist Party. In the winter of 1814-1815, at the Hartford Convention, the federalists made another complaint about their own idea, the power of the federal government. In Document E, at this time, the Embargo act deeply hurt them and they tried to get an amendment passed to take the power away from the Congress on the involvement of foreign trade. The Federalists acted as Democratic-Republicans in the idea of having a weak central government. The Federalists also wanted a small country and people like Timothy Pickering, a Massachusetts congressman opposed the Louisiana Purchase and urged the secession of New England. A desire of a weak government was a Democratic-Republic's desire, not a Federalist. In conclusion, the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans were not as accurate to their ideas and principles.


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