Interpreting the Constitution

Powerful Essays
When the Federalist party was organized in 1791, those people who favored a strong central government and a loose constitutional interpretation coagulated and followed the ideals of men such as Alexander Hamilton. The first opposition political party in the United States was the Republican party, which held power, nationally, between 1801 and 1825. Those who were in favor of states rights and a strict construction of the constitution fell under the leadership of Thomas Jefferson. These Jeffersonian republicans, also known as anti-federalists, believed in strict adherence to the writings of the constitution. They wanted state’s rights and individual rights, which they believed could only be granted under strict construction of the constitution. Thomas Jefferson, the third president, and James Madison, his successor, were close friends and lifelong political associates. Long regarded as advocates for liberty, Jefferson and Madison believed in the principles of government and sought to restore the spirit of the revolution of 1776. These republicans spoke out against anti-monarchial attitudes and opposed the aristocratic and elitist attitudes of the federalists (Peterson, 1975). A weaker central government by the people was the goal of the republican party. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, were two presidents who believed in the theory of the republican party, but due to circumstances within the parties and the increasing conflicts between Britain and France abroad, they found it increasingly difficult to act in a manner which coincided with their republican beliefs and at times had to reconcile their actions.

Jefferson’s victory in the presidential election is notable because this was the first transfer of national authority from political group to another that was accomplished by peaceful and strictly constitutional means. He began his presidency with a plea for reconciliation and described his election as a recovery of the original intentions of the American Revolution (Ellis, 2000). In his true ideology, Jefferson said that a republic did not require a powerful central government to flourish. In fact, he felt that the health of the nation was inversely proportional to the power of the federal government. ******In Document A, Jefferson writes of the preservation of the constitution and the princ...

... middle of paper ...

... 1801 to 1807, Jeffersons policies initially reflected these Republican priorities, which meant decreasing the power of the federal government and the army and navy, and ending federal taxation as well as placing the national debt on the road to extinction. By 1807, circumstances dictated that Jefferson take some actions which seemed to contradict his ideals. From 1808 to 1817, threats to the United States’s strength as a nation and domestic and political struggles, forced James Madison to also veer away from the ideology that he initially preached. Both men exhibited a conflict between idealogy and practice of that idealogy.


1. Ellis, Joseph. J, American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson.

New York: Vintage Books, 1996.

2. Ellis, Joseph. J; Maier, Pauline, et al. Thomas Jefferson: Genius of Liberty.

New York: Viking Studio, 2000.

3. Ketcham, Ralph. James Madison; a Biography.

Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1990.

4. Peterson, Merrill, D. The Portable Thomas Jefferson.

New York: Penguin Books, 1975.

5. Rutland, Robert A.,ed. James Madison and the American Nation, 1751-1836: An Encyclopedia.

New York: Random House, 1994
Get Access