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[Detail] Thomas Jefferson

Historical Analysis and Interpretation: Comparing and Contrasting Differing Ideas about Government

While the framers of the Constitution hoped to avoid development of political factions or parties by giving them no role in the Constitution, factions in fact grew around the debate over whether to ratify the Constitution. By the time President Washington left office, two political parties—the Republicans and the Federalists—had developed. The many disagreements between Jefferson, who was Washington’s Secretary of State, and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton traced the division of the two factions.

Analyze the dispute between the Federalists and Republicans during the early national period. Examine the Thomas Jefferson Timeline to identify disagreements between Jefferson and Hamilton. Read accounts of the differing political philosophies and explain the issues that divided the two political parties.

Read Jefferson’s “Introduction to the ‘Anas’.” The “Anas” was a collection of letters, notes, and reports written while he was Secretary of State but collected some years later. In the “Introduction,” written on February 4, 1818, Jefferson stated, “Could these documents, all, be laid open to the public eye, they might be compared, contrasted, weighed, & the truth fairly sifted out of them, for we are not to suppose that every thing found among Genl. Washington’s papers is to be taken as gospel truth” (page 627). Jefferson expressed concern over the way in which the Republican Party had been portrayed by Washington and the Federalists, and he attacked Hamilton’s financial program, which had been supported by Washington and largely enacted into law by Federalists in the Congress. Jefferson accused Hamilton and the Federalists of looking after self-interest rather than the public good: “That even in this, the birth of our government, some members were found sordid enough to bend their duty to their interests, and to look after personal, rather than public good” (page 628).

  • On what issues did Jefferson and Hamilton disagree? How did their disagreements reflect their differing political philosophies?
  • What was Jefferson’s perspective on George Washington? What did he say about the support that Washington gave to Hamilton and the Federalists?
  • What issues did Jefferson raise in the introduction to the “Anas”?
  • What were Jefferson’s apparent motives for compiling the documents in the “Anas”?
  • Can you see any parallels between the differences that separated the Federalists and the Republicans and the differences between political parties today? Explain your answer.

During the Adams administration, the Alien and Sedition Acts were passed with the support of the Federalists, who claimed these acts would protect the United States from seditious attacks. The Republicans opposed the acts as unconstitutional, claiming their intent was to protect Adams from criticism. Jefferson and James Madison developed a strategy for getting states to block the acts. Madison drafted resolutions to be introduced in the Virginia, and Jefferson did the same for the Kentucky legislature. Examine the Kentucky Resolution of 1798. Also look at the later “Declaration and Protest of the U.S. Constitution,” which voiced opposition to broad federal powers advocated by President John Quincy Adams in 1825.

  • How are the two protests against expansive federal power similar?
  • Why was the South antagonized by Adams’ support of the “American System,” an economic plan that involved (1) using funds generated from high tariffs to support such internal improvements as building roads and a national university and (2) a national bank to encourage economic growth?
  • How do the opposing positions on the expansion of federal power reflect the differing views of government that resulted in the original development of political parties?