US History/Jeffersonian Democracy

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The Election of 1800[edit]

John Adams' Presidency was plagued by several problems. Adams and Congress enacted the Alien and Sedition Acts, which restricted the First Amendment free speech rights of the opposing Republicans. In response, Anti-Federalists in Virginia and Kentucky passed the Virginia and Kentucky Resolves, which were written by Jefferson and Madison and tried to invalidate the Alien and Sedition Acts. Adams could not even control members of his own party, whom he alienated by disregarding his cabinet's advice. By 1800, Adams was clearly vulnerable.

Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr ran against Adams and his running mate Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. The original intention was for Jefferson to become President and Burr to become Vice President. However, the Electoral College vote was eventually tied between the two candidates. This occurred because the constitution originally called for the individual with the most votes to become the President and the candidate with the second most votes to become the Vice President. George Washington, who approved of this system thought that there should be no party politics but just efforts for the overall good of the country. This had previously (in the election of 1796) led to Thomas Jefferson becoming the Vice President under John Adams, rather than Thomas Pinckney, the candidate for VP who was favored by Adams.

Despite the original intention of the two candidates, the House of Representatives were to choose one or the other as President since neither candidate achieved a majority in the Electoral College. The House was controlled by Federalists, and it had to vote thirty-six times until Jefferson finally became President. (Aaron Burr, who became Vice President, resented Alexander Hamilton, who finally agreed to vote for Jefferson as President; Burr eventually killed Hamilton in a duel in 1804 when the two were running for Governor of New York.) Subsequently, a constitutional amendment was approved which led to separate balloting for President and Vice President in the Electoral College.

Revolution of 1800[edit]

Jefferson's first term was called the Revolution of 1800, because of the many changes to America. The peaceful transition of power effectively capped the demise of the Federalists, but not before the Federalists had established a strong, working central government structured and principled as described in the Constitution, instituted a sound financial system, and began diversifying the economy. An indirect legacy of the Federalists, via the Judiciary Act of 1801 and the ensuing Marbury v. Madison, was the doctrine of judicial review, or the power of the federal judiciary to invalidate federal laws on constitutional grounds.

Jefferson differed from the Federalists in that he saw government as a threat to individual freedom; the only protection against that threat was democracy and strong protections of personal liberties. He did not, however, reject wholesale the accomplishments of the Federalist administrations that preceded him, and his combination of them with his own beliefs came to be known as "Jeffersonian democracy."

Important Supreme Court cases[edit]

In 1803, the U.S. Supreme Court established some principles that would have a profound effect in the life of America. The first was the issue of judicial review and the second was the controversial trial of Aaron Burr. The first trial Marbury v. Madison dealt with the court packing policies of the previous president John Adams. This trial introduced the concept of judicial review to the political scene.

Louisiana Purchase[edit]

The Purchase was one of several territorial additions to the U.S.

The French province of Louisiana included present-day North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri as well as most of Kansas, the western part of Minnesota, the eastern parts of Montana, Colorado, and Wyoming, and, of course, Louisiana.

After the French and Indian War, France ceded all of Louisiana east of the Mississippi to Britain, except for the city of New Orleans. France gave New Orleans and the western part of Louisiana to Spain. By the Treaty of Paris, the United States received the British part of Louisiana.

Napoleon Bonaparte obtained the return of Louisiana from Spain in 1800, under the Treaty of San Ildefonso (Louisiana had been a Spanish colony since 1762.) However, the treaty was kept secret, and Louisiana remained under Spanish control until a transfer of power to France. The transfer finally took place on November 30, 1803, just three weeks before the cession of the colony to the United States.

The port of New Orleans was crucial to trade on the Mississippi. Jefferson, knowing this, sent James Monroe to Paris in 1802, seeking to negotiate a treaty with France that would allow the United States to benefit from New Orleans. Jefferson put forth four options: the purchase of only New Orleans, the purchase of New Orleans and Florida, the purchase of some Louisianan land allowing the US to build a port there, or the purchase of navigation rights on the Mississippi.

The French, however, rejected all four options. For them, it was all of Louisiana or nothing. Napoleon was preparing to launch an invasion of Britain and the faction in France who favored raising funds for the coming war were ascendant over those, such as de Talleyrand, who hoped for a French empire in North America. It is also possible that the French understood that Jefferson was prepared to go to war rather than tolerate a strong French presence in the region and this would have disturbed Napoleon's imminent launch of a global war. The US agreed to purchase Louisiana for $15 million. The Senate ratified the treaty in 1803, thus increasing the size of the United States dramatically.

Although Jefferson did buy the Louisiana Purchase, he had to stretch the Republican view of literal constitutionality. The president did not have the right to buy land in the constitution, but Jefferson rationalized that the land would greatly benefit Americans. The Federalists were particularly opposed to the purchase and reasoned that the conflicting interests of those settling the new States with the interests of the established States would threaten the Union.

The Lewis & Clark Expedition[edit]

Shortly after purchasing the Louisiana Territory, Jefferson sent two men, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, to survey the new land. In 1804, the two men (and forty or so others) set out from St. Louis and traveled northwest over the next two years. By December 1805, the party had reached the mouth of the Columbia River (which spilled into the Pacific Ocean) with the help of Sacajawea, a Shoshone Indian who served as their interpreter, and her husband Toussaint Charbonneau (a Canadian fur trapper). In 1806, the party split into two groups - one led by Lewis, the other by Clark - eventually reconvening in Fort Mandan (located in present-day North Dakota).

With journals in hand, Lewis, Clark, and the other members of the Expedition returned to St. Louis by September 1806 to report their findings to Jefferson. Along the way, they continued to trade what few goods they still had with the Indians and set up diplomatic relations with the Indians. Additionally, they recorded their contact with Indians and described (and at times drew) the shape of the landscape and the creatures of this western world, new to the white man. In doing so, they fulfilled many of Jefferson's wishes for the Expedition. Along the way, William Clark drew a series of maps that were remarkably detailed, noting and naming rivers and creeks, significant points in the landscape, the shape of river shore, and spots where the Corps spent each night or camped or portaged for longer periods of time.

The Pike Expedition[edit]

In 1805, Captain Zebulon Pike, a soldier, set out to explore the new territory as well. He started in St. Louis as well, but unlike Lewis and Clark, traveled directly west into the Rocky Mountains. He reached Santa Fe, where he was captured briefly by Spanish soldiers in the area. Pike returned to Washington in 1807 to report the number of Spanish forces in the region. More important, however, was his description of the area - he nicknamed the territory "The Great American Desert" due to its relative lack of vegetaion. Coincidentally, it was this nickname that would prevent settlers from "moving west" for the next thirty to forty years, but eventually the westward expansionist movement took full bloom.

Embargo and Non-Intercourse Acts[edit]

In 1807, Britain and France, frustrated with America's refusal to help either of them in the Napoleonic Wars, were constantly seizing American merchant ships and taking their cargo and sailors.

The Chesapeake-Leopard Affair[edit]

Britain disregarded American neutrality - among other things, it seized American ships and forced their sailors to join the Royal Navy, often without regard for the sailors' nationality. This was a practice known as impressment. In June of 1807, the British ship Leopard attacked the American Chesapeake in American waters because the commander of the latter ship had refused to let the British search the ship for British deserters. The Americans lost and four "deserters" were taken from the Chesapeake. Jefferson demanded an apology from the British and an end to impressment. While the British did apologize, they did not stop searching American ships or end the practice of impressment. The British claim that these impressed sailors were "deserters" was not subject to review, and these sailors were often not really deserters from the Royal Navy.Many Americans begin to get distraught by the British impressment of sailors. This became one of the deal breaker to beginning the War of 1812.

The Embargo Act and its aftermath[edit]

On June 22, 1807 Jefferson called an emergency Cabinet meeting to discuss sea trade with western countries. Americans urged Jefferson to go to war with France. In response to continued disregard to US neutrality, on December 22, Congress passed the Embargo Act. This law ordered that merchants could not trade internationally (at all, not just to France and Britain), in hope that it would protect the merchant ships and weaken the French and British economies. The embargo stopped nearly all trade between the US and Europe. The lack of trade severely damaged the United State's economy, and merchants, who were generally members of the Federalist Party, howled in complaint. Smuggling also continued.

The next year, 1808, the Democratic-Republican candidate James Madison, who was also a Virginian and had been Jefferson's Secretary of State, was elected President. However, the Democrat-Republicans suffered some reverses in the House of Representatives, a clear signal that the Embargo Act was unpopular and politically damaging. Congress modified the embargo with the Non-Intercourse Act in 1809, which made an addendum to the previous act: merchants were allowed to trade with any nation besides Britain and France. Although trade improved, British and French ships begin seizing American ships again. Overall, the Embargo Act was a failure because it did not bring either Great Britain or France to respect US neutrality and damaged the political fortunes of the Democratic-Republicans.

In 1810, a change to the Embargo and Non-Intercourse Acts was passed. It was called Macon's Bill No. 2. It said that if either Britain or France dropped trade restrictions against the U.S. and stopped seizing American ships, the United States would trade with them and not with the other. Napoleon, then ruler of France, agreed, meaning that the U.S. was allowed to trade with France and not with Britain.

War of 1812[edit]

The War of 1812 was fought between the United States of America, on one side, and on the other side the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and its colonies, especially Upper Canada (Ontario), Lower Canada (Quebec), Nova Scotia, and Bermuda. When the war had finished, 1,600 British and 2,260 American troops had died. The war was fought from 1812 to 1815 and involved both land and naval engagements. Britain was at war with France and to impede American trade with France imposed a series of restrictions that the U.S. contested as illegal under international law. The Americans declared war on Britain on June 18, 1812 for a combination of reasons: outrage at the impressment (seizure) of thousands of American sailors into the British navy, frustration at British restraints on neutral trade, and anger at British military support for Native Americans defending their tribal lands from encroaching American settlers.

Washington, Adams, and Jefferson had attempted to keep the United States neutral in the conflict between Napoleonic France and her allies and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Russia and their allies. France had been an ally of the United States during the revolutionary war, but the United Kingdom was extremely powerful.

Some historians, such as Robin Reilly, have argued that the declaration of war on Great Britain by the United States was a victory for French diplomacy, forcing Britain to divert its attention and some resources from continental matters. From a British perspective, there was certainly no reason to commence a war with the United States. Britain had been engaged in a desperate war with France since 1793 and depended on American supplies to maintain Wellington's army in Spain. Britain depended on the supplies such as beef and oak to feed troops and to build ships. Any combat in North America would merely be a distraction from the main effort to contain and defeat the French in Europe.

In 1812, Congress declared war against the increasingly aggressive United Kingdom. The United States' attempt to invade Canada by land was a miserable failure, but the US did win great victories at sea. In addition to the regular Navy, the US commissioned privateers to destroy British commercial ships. The British also used privateers. Privateers were private vessels entitled to attack and destroy enemy ships, and to take any goods they found on those ships. This was essentially legalized piracy.

Early in the war, the British could not spare many ships because of the threat posed by Napoleon in Europe. Once Napoleon was defeated in 1814, the British could concentrate their ships on the United States and the War of 1812. As the power of the British navy stationed near North America increased, British troops marched on Washington with the navy ready to lend support. The British burnt the White House, the Capitol, and the ships in DC. Due to letter Dolly Madison had received hours before the British arrival at the White House, she was able to protect the life-size painting of George Washington painted by Gilbert Stuart. Dolly Madison, President James Madison's wife, was responsible for the decor of the White House which was fairly new. The whole capitol city could have been burned down if it wasn't for rain that evening. As a result the entire library of congress was lost this led to the purchase of the Jefferson Library which consisted for 6,700 volumes of federal government for the amount of $23,950 in May of 1815.

Treaty of Ghent and the Battle of New Orleans[edit]

Neither side made significant progress. British victories on land were offset by American victories at sea and by American privateers, who threatened to cripple the British economy. However, by 1814 the blockade of American ports had tightened to the extent that the United States ships found it increasingly difficult to sail without meeting forces of superior strength. In August 1814, American and British negotiators met in Ghent, Belgium to discuss peace. The Treaty of Ghent ceased the war, but made no substantial changes to policies prior to the War.

Due to difficulty in communication, news of the Treaty did not reach the US for several weeks. This led to some famously pointless bloodshed. British generals attacked the American port of New Orleans, but suffered tremendous casualties due to the efforts of Major General Andrew Jackson. The British then secured Mobile bay and were victorious in the Battle of Fort Bowyer but had to simply march away afterwards.

Again due to difficulty in communication, New England did not receive news of the Battle of New Orleans, which was an American success. Pessimists feared the dissolution or conquest of the US. But when news of the Treaty of Ghent reached America in early 1815, most fears seemed allayed. Neither side could justifiably claim absolute victory in the War, but the Americans were encouraged that they did not falter against the mighty British.

American diplomacy was triumphant, as it had been in the Revolution and the Louisiana Purchase, stopping the war before the British could mobilise a hundred thousand veterans and the full power of the Royal Navy after the global conflict of the Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815. It can be noted that the United Kingdom and America have not engaged in armed conflict since the war.


Jefferson was very passionate about education that he pushed an amendment into congress that would legalize federal support for public education on December 2, 1806. Congress did not pass it, so Jefferson gave it to his home state of Virginia so that it could be used in their constitution. Jefferson made an understandable plan for education which included the elementary, high school, college levels.

Jefferson thought that elementary education was the most important form of education of them all. He had six goals for education that he hoped would make all people “productive and informed voters.” His goals are: to allow people to deal with their own business, give a person the ability to express their own opinions and ideas in writing, to better their thoughts and faculties through reading, to comprehend his duties and the duties of his neighbors, to know his rights and how to use them, and to use what they know in their social lives.

Constitution Early Years · War, Nationalism, and Division