The Democratic Republicans were almost always characterized as believing in following the strict construction of the constitution. They were opposed to the loose interpretation the Federalists used. The presidencies of Jefferson and Madison proved this characterization to be somewhat accurate. It is true that both Jefferson and Madison supported the ideas of the Democratic Rebublicans but, they also did many things that contradicted them.
In Thomas Jefferson’s letter to Gideon Granger, Jefferson shows his ideas on how the Constitution should be interpreted and how they oppose that of the Federalists. Jefferson tells Granger that he believes they will be able to obtain a legislature which will preserve states rights. He also states that he disagrees with the Federalists ideas, that would “sink the state governments, consolidate them into one, and monarchise that.” He also shows in this letter that he believes the theory of the Constitution is that the states should be in control of everything internal, and the central government should have control only of that which deals with foreign nations. In Jefferson’s letter to Samuel Miller, he states that the president of the United States had not been delgated any power regarding religious exercises. This is exactly what a Democratic Republican would believe. They wanted a smaller, weaker central government which gave more power to the states.
The longer Jefferson remained in office the more he went against the principles of the Democratic Republicans, he began to realize the importance of a strong central government. This can be seen in his Louisiana Purchase and in the Embargo Act. The Constitution does not specifically empower the federal government to acquire new territory by treaty. Even so, Jefferson purchased Lousiana from Napolean and it came into the United States possession on December 20, 1803. After the purchase Jefferson stated that he “stretched the constitution until it was cracked” this sounds like something a Federalist would say not a Democratic Republican or a strict constructionist. In 1807 , Congress passed the Embargo Act this act banned all trading with European nations during the Napoleonic Wars in an attempt to stay out of war. The cartoon by Alexander Anderson in 1808 shows how the Embargo affected the people. Jefferson was willing to do anything to keep the country out of war. This embargo greatly hurt the American people and sent them into an economic depression. By passing the Embargo Act Jefferson demonstrated the federal governments power over the people and the states.
In a speech on a conscription bill, to the House of Representatives in 1884, Daniel Webster a Federalist from New Hampshire criticized the power of the federal government. He says that Madison a Democratic Republican and his administration could not make a law enforcing a draft because it was not in the Constitution. He stated that if the Congress could make a law like this then they also could create a dictator. In January 1815, at the Hartford Convention, the federalists made another compaint about the power of the federal government. The federalists and New England were hurt the most from the embargo They tried to get an amendment passed to take the power of the Congress to restrict trade between a state a foreign country taken away. This does not support the characterizations at all. According to the characterizations, a Federalist would support something that would increase the power of the federal govenment and a Democratic Republican would be against it. In this case the situation it is completely opposite of what would be expected.
In 1816, in a speech to the House of Representatives, John Randolph, a Democratic Republican said that Madison’s administration was “….old Federalism, vamped up into something bearing the superficial appearance of republicanism….” He seems to be very angry and says that the government has changed it’s principles from those of Jefferson, with which they came into power, to those of Adams a federalist. He said this while protesting a proposed tariff. Madison also realized, as happened to Jefferson, that the United States needed a strong central government in order to maintain itself. In 1816, Jefferson stated his new policy in a letter to Samuel Kercheval he said that some men percieve the constitution as sacred and should not be amended. He now believed that as the human mind progressed so should the constitution and that as the times change, so must the constitution. Here, again the characterizations do not seem to be at all accurate.