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Constructionist DBQ
During the period of 1801-1817, the republican and federalist parties
were characterized by strict and loose construction of the federal
Constitution. The Republicans were usually characterized as strict
constructionists, which meant they believed in interpreting the
Constitution by the exact words presented by its framers. The federalists
were usually characterized as loose constructionists, which meant they
focused more on the intent of the constitution and its framers. During the
years 1801-1817 our nation witnessed a shift in the traditional policies of
the Republicans and Federalists, especially in their economic, military,
and judicial policies. Even though Jefferson and Madison encompassed both
strict and loose constructionist policies, during 1801-1817 they began to
“out federalize the federalists.”
With respect to economics, both Jefferson and Madison shifted their
constructionist policies. As evident in Doc A, prior to his presidency
Jefferson argued that the government should not assume any power unless
specifically provided for in the Constitution. However, once Jefferson
became president he compromised this view with the Louisiana Purchase.

America purchased Louisiana for a hefty $15 million; Jefferson did so even
though the Constitution did not provide him with the power to make such a
purchase. This purchase also contradicts Jefferson’s opinions in Doc B, in
which he believes that a government must do only that which is
“interdicted” by the Constitution. Another economic policy in which
Jefferson showed his tendency to shift towards a loose constructionist
policy when convenient is the Embargo Act of 1807. As evident in Doc C, the
embargo act was believed to be an overuse of power by the Federal
government. The constitution did not provide the government with the power
for an embargo, yet Jefferson used the Constitution loosely to validate his
implementation of the embargo on Britain. Jefferson placed the embargo on
Britain after Britain began to claim they had a right to search American
merchant ships. The embargo eventually turned into the non-intercourse act
once an American ship was fired upon by a British ship. These two acts
prove that Jefferson and Madison were willing to compromise their
traditional strict constructionist policies when it was necessary to do so.

Madison also had some loose constructionist economic policies. Prior to his
appointment to Jefferson’s cabinet Madison was considered a Federalist, yet
even though he became a republican with Jefferson, he still had loose
constructionist reservations. One such economic example is his creation of
the Second National Bank. This move can be considered hypocritical
considering one of the greatest differences between Republicans and
Federalists was the creation of a National Bank. The resentment towards
such an action is can be seen in Doc F, in which one democratic republican
is furious with the fact that a republican administration is undertaking
Federalist policies. This shows how Madison was willing to shift his
political values when it was convenient to do so.

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Jefferson and Madison also had strict and loose constructionist
policies with respect to military issues. As evident in Doc D, Daniel
Webster is upset that Madison has taken it upon himself to decide that the
Federal government has the power to have a military draft. While Madison
typically wanted to follow the Constitution word for word, when he needed
to raise an army to go to war he decided that he would merely interpret the
intent of the Constitution. He took it upon himself to assert the military
power of conscription. This use of loose construction in order to justify
war efforts is also evident in the War of 1812. Madison declared war on
Great Britain on June 12, 1812 mainly due to the impressments of American
soldiers by the British as well as many other disputes with the British.

His decision was extremely controversial at the time because no one was
sure as to whether his loose interpretation of his Constitutional powers
was correct. Madison’s decision to go to war, as well as his drive for
conscription are examples of his loose constructionist policies.

Strict and loose constructionist policies of Jefferson and Madison are
not more evident than in judicial issues. In the case of Fletcher v Peck,
the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the original land grant
was a valid contract despite the fact that it was corruptly passed by the
Georgia legislature. The Court said that the new Georgia legislature could
not void the land sale after the fact. The Court said that nothing in the
Constitution allows states to pass laws which void contracts or land grants
made by previous state legislatures. The Constitution prohibits states
from passing any “law impairing the obligation of contracts.” This decision
is a perfect example of strict constructionist policies in which Jefferson
and Madison had claimed to uphold. Fletcher v Peck would uphold the values
Madison claims to posses In Doc H, where he believes he cannot sign an
internal improvement bill due to the fact he was not given the power to do
so in the Constitution. Another monumental court case was Marbury v
Madison. In this case, President John Adams made a series of “midnight
appointments” to fill as many government posts as possible with
Federalists. One of these appointments was William Marbury as a federal
justice. However, Thomas Jefferson took over as President before the
appointment was officially given to Marbury. Jefferson instructed Secretary
of State James Madison to not deliver the appointment. Marbury sued Madison
to get the appointment he felt he deserved. The Supreme Court decided that
the federal law contradicted the Constitution, and since the Constitution
is the Supreme Law of the Land, it must reign supreme. Through this case,
Chief Justice John Marshall established the power of judicial review, which
is the power of the Court not only to interpret the constitutionality of a
law or statute but also to carry out the process and enforce its decision.

This decision corresponds with Doc G, in which Jefferson tries to imply
that the Constitution is not sacred and can be interpreted in numerous
ways. In Marbury v Madison, Jefferson tried to argue a loose construction
of the constitution in order to benefit himself. Jefferson did not want the
Supreme Court to be filled with Federalists justices. These court cases are
examples of the tip-toeing Jefferson and Madison did between strict and
loose constructionist issues.

The period of 1801-1817 can be considered one of fluctuation.

Fluctuations of personal opinions and political beliefs are evident in
Thomas Jefferson and James Madison throughout this period. The traditional
characterization of republicans being strict constructionists is not true
due to the fact that Jefferson and Madison followed strict and broad
policies during their time in office. The wavering of views is most evident
in economic, military, and judicial issues. It is obvious that both
Jefferson and Madison had no distinct political view when it came to the
interpretation of the Constitution.

Categories: Construction


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