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The Presidency of Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson is often considered a great President. This assumption, however, is often made because many confuse his actions as a patriot and a founding father with his legacy as a President. The reality of Jefferson was a brilliant man and a great patriot but only an average President. Keep in mind, that analysis is only mine and can be disputed!

I. The Presidency of Thomas Jefferson

A. Jefferson's Beliefs

1. He favored states rights over a strong central government. He supported the idea that states could nullify federal laws (nullification).

2. He was a strict constructionist - he favored a literal interpretation of the Constitution.

3. He wanted a smaller government with very little intervention in daily life.

4. He opposed tariffs.

5. He saw the country as a "nation of farmers." A simple land with simple, peaceful needs.

B. Jefferson's Domestic Changes

1. Tried to cut down costs of government wherever possible

2. Reduced the size of the army

3. Halted expansion of the navy

4. Lowered expenses for government social functions

5. Wanted to simplify the government's financial affairs and to tear down Hamilton's financial program

C. Jefferson's Foreign Policy

1. Wanted to follow Washington's foreign policy of neutrality.

D. Jefferson deals with crisis abroad

1. War Looms

a. When the war between France and England broke out he supported the French because they had supported us during the revolution. He felt we owed it to them.

b. Both England and France were seizing our ships and sailors and blocking American trade. A policy called impressment.

c. Jefferson sent a team to negotiate with the French. Three French officials, nicknamed X, Y and Z demanded a bribe from the Americans. This was typical in those days in European politics. Jefferson refused to pay the bribe. This became known as the XYZ Affair.

d. Jefferson eventually negotiated a successful treaty anyway but the French later violated the treaty.

e. As the conflict continued and US ships were at risk Jefferson ordered an Embargo. This hurt our economy because it halted trade. It slowed the tensions but made Jefferson very unpopular.

2. The Louisiana Purchase

a. As the War continued between England and France, Napoleon needed to raise money. He offered to sell the Louisiana Territory to America.

b. Jefferson wanted to buy the territory but was a strict constructionist who opposed the elastic clause. He saw nothing in the Constitution giving the President the power to purchase land.

c. Jefferson abandoned his strict constructionist principles and made the deal using the Elastic Clause. He put the needs of the nation above his philosophical beliefs.


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