s JeffersonConsensus historians paint Thomas Jefferson as the great father of democracy, referring to his election to the presidency as the revolution of 1800.
In actuality, Thomas Jefferson was an inconsistent man, who was philosophically against the Federalists, but who did not bring about any significant political or ideological changes during his presidency. Recently, revisionist historians have begun to question the notion of Jefferson as the representative of the common man. Many of these historians now agree that Jeffersons life was wrought with contradictions, and that his policies, as a president, actually reflected a synthesis of the Federalist and Republican ideologies. We are all republicans, we are all federalists, Jefferson stated in his first inaugural address. Many Americans were shocked to hear those words come out of the same mouth that had supported the bloody conflicts of the French Revolution years before. Jeffersons many political theories, and personal letters, sometimes reflected an interest in the common man and democracy, while his actual practices were drastically different.Politically, the Jeffersonian party was insecure and inconsistent.
After being elected president, Jefferson did nothing to increase the level of democracy in the government. Traditionally, the Jeffersonian movement and the Republican Party have been seen as anti-capitalist, promoting the interests of the common man, and favoring a strict interpretation of the constitution. The Hamiltonian movement and the Federalist Party represented the elite capitalist class, favoring a concentration of power in the State, and a loose interpretation of the constitution. Revisionist historians have argued against this view. They argue that the Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian movements are not significantly different, but rather each represents different factions of elites. There are numerous examples that show the accuracy of this revisionist view. In the election of 1800, the federalists were forced to vote for one of the two Republicans running.
Many of them favored Burr, as the less extreme of the two, until Hamilton convinced them of Jeffersons moderate intents. He Jefferson is as likely as any man I know to temporize- to calculate what will be likely to promote his own reputation and advantage; and the probable result of such a temper is the preservation of the systems, though originally opposed, which, being once established, could not be overturned without danger to the person who did it. The revisionist perspective that Thomas Jefferson did not represent the masses, but merely a different faction of elites, has much supporting evidence. Jeffersons interests in the common farmer were second to those of the Southern landowner.
Jefferson deviated even from this prospective, crossing the line on many issues into what would seem Federalist actions. One historian, Peter S. Onuf, went so far as to dub it Jeffersonian Federalism. One example of this is the Louisiana Purchase. Jefferson deviated from his strict interpretation of the constitution in order to purchase Louisiana, which would benefit land speculators and Northern capitalists, telling the Senate to ratify it with as little debate as possible, and particularly so far as respects the constitutional difficulty. Morton Borden points out in his essay, Thomas Jefferson: political compromiser, that Jefferson took a decisively Federalist approach to the military as well, contrary to what many Federalists thought would happen.
In less than three months after being elected, Jefferson attacked the Barbary pirates without asking permission from Congress. Many of Jeffersons political compromises were reflected in his economic decisions.One of the main contradictions of the Jefferson administration was its adoption of Federalist economic policies. Jefferson had no clear economic plan; he theorized about the adoption of a laissez-faire policy, and the destruction of the Hamiltonian system, but did nothing about this as president.
Jefferson, by and large, maintained the Federalist system throughout his presidency. One of the first things Jefferson did was to abolish the hated excise taxes on whiskey. In order to do this, he had to find another way to acquire funds. Thus he justified increasing protective tariffs.
This rendered the abolition of the whiskey tax merely cosmetic, as the direct tax was reduced, but the prices of all commodities were raised. Jefferson also had the national bank destroyed, but re-instituted it in 1816 in order to raise national funds. His partys legislature