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How Jeffersonian Was Thomas Jefferson as President? Essay Example

Pages: 2

Words: 610

Essay

Thomas Jefferson was among the most important and significant men in U.S. history. Before the Revolutionary War, Jefferson’s ideas and ideals about the nature and purpose of government helped to underpin the growing commitment of the colonies to throw off the yoke of British rule. During and after the war Jefferson helped to determine the manner in which the fledgling national government would take shape and evolve; his power and reach as one of the great political minds of his day served not only as the basis for a political party that would form to bolster and promote his ideals, it also prompted the formation of a party dedicated to opposing those ideals. Jefferson was a staunch proponent of limited central government, and a strong advocate of the notion that the states should maintain power and control over most of their individual economic and political affairs. Jefferson’s ideals and beliefs often contradicted his actions and deeds; he was an advocate of a rural agrarian society, yet his decision to expand the nation’s available land was predicated on making a purchase of territory that was outside the scope of presidential authority as detailed in the Constitution. Jefferson was a vocal supporter of the ideals of freedom and personal liberty, yet he was a also a slave owner. Jefferson’s presidency helped to make clear just how difficult it can be to remain adhered to one’s principles while still trying to represent and promote the needs, concerns, and interests of all citizens.

While there are a number of decisions made and actions taken by Jefferson that demonstrate the often-contradictory nature of his Presidency and administration thereof, one of the most significant decisions he made was also one that best highlights these contradictions. Jefferson’s views on the idealized society of rural agrarian individuals serving as the basis of the nation’s economic and political structure required him to take a number of practical issues into consideration. In short, a nation built on farms rather than on cities needed land into which it could expand and on which it could grow. His decision to make the Louisiana Purchase ultimately provided a boon to the young nation as people began to develop these new territories; as such, the results of this purchase aligned neatly with Jefferson’s views on how the nation should function economically and politically. Concomitant with this, however, is that Jefferson’s decision to buy Louisiana from the French was a clear usurpation of powers that were not granted to him by the Constitution.

The disparities between Jefferson’s ideals and the actual manifestation of his political decisions and policies are not indications that he was unprincipled. They do show, however, that Jefferson sometimes knowingly made decisions that ran counter to his principles; they also show that the consequences and implications of some of his decisions simply could not be seen until these decisions were made and his policies. The question of whether Jefferson’s presidency was, in terms of how his decisions aligned with his principles, truly “Jeffersonian” is a difficult one to answer. What was made clear by his actions and decisions as President is that the new representative government over which he presided was designed to represent the will of the people to as great an extent as possible, and in many ways it lived up to that challenge both then and in years to come. In the main, however, the short- and long-term consequences of many of his actions and decisions as President would serve to strengthen the powers of the federal government; even if it was unintentional, in this sense Jefferson’s presidency proved to be less “Jeffersonian” than he would likely have hoped or expected.

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