Constructionist DBQ


Per 4


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.


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