Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Strict, Loose, or Shades of grey?

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With Jefferson in office, the Federalists feared the destruction of the federal Constitution, which would result in Jefferson establishing a radical social order. However, would Jefferson actually do this? Although the Jeffersonians followed their "strict" interpretation of the Constitution for a number of years, they began to stray from their once literal understanding of it. Madison, as well as Jefferson, cannot be characterized as following a strict or loose interpretation of the Constitution; instead, both Presidents changed their views according to what principles they benefited from.

The Jeffersonians were construed as following the Constitution precisely, yet they opposed the idea of a too centralized government. Jefferson believed in strong state and local government, because they were closer to the people. He felt as though one powerful central government would take away the power from the states. In document A, Jefferson wrote "It [our country] can never be harmonious and solid while so respectable a portion of its citizens support principles which go directly to a change of federal Constitution, to sink the governments, consolidate them into one, and to monarchies that. Our country is too large to have all its affairs directed by a single government." Here Jefferson makes his feelings clear regarding a too centralized form of government.

Regarding the Bank of the United Sates, both Jefferson and Madison "out federalized the Federalists." They were opposed to the idea of the Bank at first because it was against what they stood for, but they soon found out that the Bank was helpful. They then changed their minds and not only supported it, but reinstated the Bank. Later, Madison signed a bill to create a second Bank of the United Sates in the form of Hamilton's when the first one had expired.

Another area where Jefferson may have "out federalized the Federalists" involved the Louisiana Purchase. Even though, "Jefferson did not believe that the government had the power under the constitution to add new territory or to grant American citizenship to the 50,000 residents of Louisiana by executive act, as the treaty required." "Because what he called 'the good sense of our country' clearly wanted Louisiana, he decided to 'acquiesce with satisfaction' while Congress overlooked the 'metaphysical subtleties' of the problem and ratified the treaty." (Garrity pg.15) However, Jefferson clarified his actions in a letter to Samuel Kercheval.

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Within document G, Jefferson provides his explanation for being able to change the laws of the Constitution. Jefferson states, "Some men look at the constitution with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the arc of the covenant, too sacred to be touched." "I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions…But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions changed with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also and keep pace with the times." Jefferson loosely takes hold of the Constitution by saying that it must change to fit the times. He wants the Constitution to change only for what he believes will be beneficial and, due to a myriad of situations, it was practical.

Another issue where Jefferson took a loose interpretation on the Constitution involved the Barbary Pirates. Jefferson went to war without Congress declaring war, which the Constitution states must occur. The Constitution says, "The congress shall have power to declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make rules concerning Captures on Land and Water." (Constitution section 8) Jefferson disregarded this and instead did what he felt needed to be done.

Madison follows Jefferson's example by varying between a strict and loose interpretation of the Constitution. In document D, Madison is criticized for a loose interpretation of the Constitution. The document contains Madison's view on the draft. There is no place within the Constitution where it says that it is okay to draft people, yet Madison feels as though it is necessary to do so. The document is interesting because Daniel Webster, a Federalist who wrote it, wants Madison's administration to take the constitution more literally. Webster states, "The [Madison] administration asserts the right to fill the ranks of the regular army by compulsion…Where is it written in the Constitution, in what article or section is it contained, that you may take children from their parents, and parents from their children, and compel them to fight the battles of any war which the folly or the wickedness of the government may engage it?" Madison however, in a different document contradicts himself by assuming a strict interpretation of the Constitution.

Here Madison wrote a message to Congress regarding roads and canals. Unlike the issue concerning the draft, Madison says, "But seeing that such a power is not expressly given by the Constitution and believing that it can not be deduced from any part of it without an inadmissible latitude of construction and a reliance on insufficient precedents; believing that the permanent success of the Constitution depends on a definite partition of power between the general [federal] and the state governments…I have no option but to withhold my signature from it." (Document H) Madison does not feel as though he needs to sign this because it goes against the Constitution, yet with the draft, he needs more men to become a stronger army. With a stronger army he will then become a military hero. So Madison decided to stray from the Constitution only when he would benefit from it.

Regarding the Hartford Convention, the federalists felt as though the Jeffersonians were too loose now. In document E, the Federalists want the Constitution to become stricter, which happens to be quite ironic. Document E states, "No new state shall be admitted into the Union by Congress, in virtue of the power granted by the constitution, without the concurrence of the two thirds of both houses. Congress shall not have the power to lay any embargo on the ships or vessels of the citizens of the United States, …for more than sixty days. Congress shall not have power, without concurrence of two thirds of both houses, to interdict the commercial intercourse between the United States and any foreign nation, or the dependencies therefore." The Federalists show their views on what they believe needs to become stricter.

Whether or not Jefferson and Madison had a strict or a loose interpretation of the Constitution is a question that cannot be answered. Both presidents were neither one nor the other. They both changed their views on the Constitution according to what they felt was important, as well as what was beneficial.

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