Jeffersonian Democracy

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Jeffersonian Democracy is the set of political goals of the followers of American Thomas Jefferson. It comprises a major interpretation of republican values. It dominated American politics in the period of the First Party System, 1800-1820s, and continued influential into the 1930s. After 1860 it was part of the conservative beliefs of the Bourbon Democrats such as Grover Cleveland. In the 1930s the small government theme became a rallying point of the anti-New Deal Democrats associated with Al Smith and the American Liberty League.

Historians coined the term to link Jefferson with both popular democracy and "the Democracy" which was a synonym for the Democratic Party. It is contrasted with Jacksonian Democracy, which dominated the next political era, the Second Party System.

The most prominent spokesmen included Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Albert Gallatin, John Randolph of Roanoke and Nathaniel Macon.

In its core ideals it is characterized by the following elements, which the Jeffersonians expressed in their speeches and legislation:

  • The core political value of America is representative Democracy; citizens have a civic duty to aid the state and resist corruption, especially monarchism and aristocracy.[1]
  • The Yeoman Farmer best exemplifies republican virtue and independence from corrupting city influences; government policy should be for his benefit. Financiers, bankers and industrialists make cities the cesspools of corruption, and should be avoided.[2]
  • Americans have a duty to spread what Jefferson called the "Empire of Liberty" to the world, but should avoid "entangling alliances."[3]
  • The national government is a dangerous necessity to be instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people, nation or community; it should be watched closely and circumscribed in its powers. Most Anti-Federalists from 1787-88 joined the Jeffersonians.[4]
  • Republicanism, also known as representative Democracy, is the best form of government and representative democracy is needed to prevent the tyranny by the majority, as Madison explained in Federalist No. 10
  • The wall of separation between church and state is the best method to keep religion free from intervention by the federal government, government free of religious disputes, and religion free from corruption by government.[5]
  • The federal government must not violate the rights of individuals. The Bill of Rights is a central theme.[6]
  • The federal government must not violate the rights of the states. The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798 (written secretly by Jefferson and Madison) proclaim these principles.[7]
  • Freedom of speech and the press is the best method to prevent the tyranny of the people by their own government. Their violation by the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 became a major issue.[8]
  • A standing army and navy are dangerous to liberty and should be avoided; much better was to use economic coercion such as the embargo.[9]

See also



  1. Banning (1978) pp 79-90
  2. Elkins and McKitrick. (1995) ch 5; Wallace Hettle, The Peculiar Democracy: Southern Democrats in Peace and Civil War (2001) p. 15
  3. Hendrickson and Tucker. (1990)
  4. Banning (1978) pp 105-15
  5. Philip Hamburger, Separation of church and state Harvard University Press, 2002. ISBN 0674007344 OCLC: 48958015
  6. Robert Allen Rutland; The Birth of the Bill of Rights, 1776-1791 University of North Carolina Press, (1955)
  7. Banning (1978) pp 264-66
  8. Banning (1978) pp 255-66-3
  9. Banning (1978) pp 292-3