Jeffersonian Democracy Summary



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Jeffersonian Democracy Summary

Jeffersonian democracy is characterized by the following core ideals, which Jefferson and his followers expressed in their writings, speeches and legislation. Below is a bulleted list of Jeffersonian ideals:



The core ideals identified by historians are:

  • The core political value of America is republicanism; citizens have a civic duty to aid the state and resist corruption, especially monarchism and aristocracy.

  • Jeffersonian values are best expressed through an organized political party. The Jeffersonian party was officially the "Republican Party" (political scientists later called it the Democratic-Republican Party.)

  • It was the duty of citizens to vote, and the Jeffersonians invented many modern campaign techniques designed to get out the vote. Turnout indeed soared across the country. The work of John J. Beckley, Jefferson's agent in Pennsylvania, set new standards in the 1790s. In the 1796 presidential election he blanketed the state with agents who passed out 30,000 hand-written tickets, naming all 15 electors (printed tickets were not allowed). Historians consider Beckley to be one of the first American professional campaign managers, and his techniques were quickly adopted in other states.

  • The Federalist Party, especially its leader Alexander Hamilton, was the arch-foe, because of its acceptance of aristocracy and British methods.

  • The yeoman farmer best exemplifies civic virtue and independence from corrupting city influences; government policy should be for his benefit. Financiers, bankers and industrialists make cities the 'cesspools of corruption', and should be avoided.

  • The national government is a dangerous necessity to be instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people, nation or community; it should be watched closely and circumscribed in its powers. Most Anti-Federalistsfrom 1787–88 joined the Jeffersonians.

  • Separation of church and state is the best method to keep government free of religious disputes, and religion free from corruption by government.

  • The federal government must not violate the rights of individuals. The Bill of Rights is a central theme.

  • The federal government must not violate the rights of the states. The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798 (written secretly by Jefferson and James Madison) proclaim these principles.

  • Freedom of speech and the press are the best methods to prevent tyranny over the people by their own government. The Federalists' violation of this freedom through the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 became a major issue.

  • The United States Constitution was written in order to ensure the freedom of the people. However, "no society can make a perpetual constitution or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to the living generation."[22]

  • All men had the right to be informed, and thus, to have a say in the government. The protection and expansion of human liberty was one of the chief goals of the Jeffersonians. They also reformed their respective state systems of education. They believed that their citizens had a right to an education no matter their circumstance or status in life.

  • The judiciary should be subservient to the elected branches and the Supreme Court should not have the power to strike down laws passed by Congress. The Jeffersonians lost this battle to Chief Justice John Marshall, a Federalist, who dominated the Court from 1801 to his death in 1835.

The Jeffersonians also had a distinct foreign policy:

    • Americans had a duty to spread what Jefferson called the "Empire of Liberty" to the world, but should avoid "entangling alliances.

    • Britain was the greatest threat, especially its monarchy, aristocracy, corruption, and business methods; the Jay Treaty of 1794 was much too favorable to Britain and thus threatened American values

    • France, at least in the early stages of the French Revolution, was the ideal European nation. According to Michael Hardt, ""Jefferson's support of the French Revolution often serves in his mind as a defense of republicanism against the monarchism of the Anglophiles." Napoleon, on the other hand, was the antithesis of republicanism and could not be supported

    • Louisiana and the Mississippi River were critical to American national interests. Control by Spain was tolerable; control by France was unacceptable. See Louisiana Purchase

    • A standing army and navy are dangerous to liberty and should be avoided; much better was to use economic coercion such as the embargo.[30] See Embargo Act of 1807

    • The militia was adequate to defend the nation. During the Revolutionary War previously, a national conflict, in this case the War of 1812 required the creation of a national army for the duration of international hostilities.


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