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Loose and Strict Constructionist of the Constitution

Unlike the Federalists, who were broad constructionists, Jeffersonian Republicans are usually characterized as strict constructionists. With respect to the federal Constitution, Jeffersonian Republicans are for the “strict” interpretation of the Constitution, while the Federalist Party and its supporters are in favor of the “loose” interpretation. However, during the period of 1801-1817, this characterization of Jefferson’s and Madison’s views began to differ.

The Democrat Republicans almost switched their roles with the Federalists. In the early 1800s Thomas Jefferson envisioned American society as a nation of independent farmers living under the central government that exercised a minimum control over their rights and protected individual rights of the people granted by the Constitution. As stated in Document B, the government was to be ruled only by the Constitution. Jefferson wrote to Samuel Miller stating that not even God had any say of how to rule the government.

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He believed that religious exercise must rest with the states as much as it would be rested in any human. On August 13, 1800, Thomas Jefferson wrote to Gideon Granger, a future member of Jefferson’s cabinet, stating that United States can never be “harmonious and solid” if a portion of its citizens supports changes to the federal Constitution. Jefferson believed that the Constitution should remain unchanged and affairs that are not given the power to be regulated by the Congress should be regulated by individual states.

He believed that majority of the legislature of the U. S. must preserve the federal Constitution and states must preserve the rights they are granted. The strict interpretation of the Constitution by the Jeffersonian Republicans changed shortly after the Louisiana Purchase by Thomas Jefferson from France. Since the Constitution said nothing about purchasing foreign land, Jefferson hesitated over the purchase; however the deal presented by Napoleon was simply too good to pass up.

After considering an amendment, he agreed to purchase the land that would double the size of U. S, thus now using a loose interpretation. Federalists, normally loose interpreters, took a strict interpretation and opposed the purchase. The two parties made a full 180 degrees turnaround from their precious philosophical beliefs. The unconstitutional Embargo Act of late 1807 also changed the belief of strict interpretation by the Democrat- Republican party. It opened and reopened factories which helped promote industrialism.

This can be viewed of somewhat an irony, since Jefferson was always committed to an agrarian, while it was Hamilton, a Federalist, who was committed to industry. Doc E. gives an example of how Congress did not have any power to lay any embargo on the ships or vessels of the citizens of the United States, yet Jefferson issued it anyway. Madison, usually the strict interpreter of the Constitution, was asserting the right to full the ranks of the regular army by compulsion.

Since it was nowhere to be found in Constitution that Congress can simply take away men from their families to organize an army, Madison’s law was unconstitutional. (Doc. D) Together with Madison, Thomas Jefferson now came to the belief that Constitution is not something sacred that cannot be touched. Even thought they did not favor frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions, they believed that if laws and institutions make progress and new discoveries, then changes can be made depending on the circumstances. Doc. G) As the philosophical beliefs of the Democrat- Republican and the Federalist Party evolved, many changes sprung in U. S. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison became loose interpreters because of the different obstacles and opportunities they faced along their way. On the other hand, Federalists somewhat became strict constructionist because that is what benefited them at that time. The characterization of the two parties from the early 1800s was not any longer accurate and a new society evolved.


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