chapter  V
26 Pages

V Jeffersonian Republicanism

The rivalry between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton was one of the most infl uential in American history. It was more than a mere political contest. It was a philosophical rivalry between two visions of the republic created by the Constitution. Although never president himself, Hamilton helped give shape and purpose to the new federal republic. Its strong national government, energetic executive, and vigorous economic policy owed much to Hamilton’s efforts. But when Thomas Jefferson became president in 1801, he brought a new political philosophy with him. He rejected the Federalist ideal of a powerful national state. He favored states’ rights on the ground that state government was closer to the people and therefore more responsive to their interests. The whole point of government, he believed, was to safeguard personal freedom while promoting the interests of the majority. Centralized power worked primarily for the benefi t of interest groups with the skill and resources to infl uence public policy from a distance. Hamilton’s funding of the public debt, for instance, had benefi ted wealthy bondholders and speculators with a windfall to be paid by taxing workers and farmers.