Jefferson, Madison, and the US Presidency

Essay by RaptorPilot319High School, 10th gradeA-, December 2004

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The interpretation of the constitution has been a topic of great debate since it's ratification in 1790. Some presidents, such as James Madison, preferred a broad construction and interpretation as to allow them to do whatever they feel they should be able to. Opponents to this idea acted entirely opposite, like Thomas Jefferson who preferred a strict construction as to eliminate any possible usurpation of powers. Simple messages or speeches made by these individuals to others indicated their stance for strict or broad construction. Even if these statements may not be a direct affirmation of their beliefs, it becomes obvious through their handling of certain situations how they feel about the issue. Through their strong presidencies, both Jefferson and Hamilton strived to achieve their differing goals with regards to the interpretation and structure of the constitution.

President James Madison, a member of the Federalist Party, sought a broad construction in the United States Constitution.

His beliefs that the national government would have been better supported with this type of structure. During his presidency, he used what vagueness the actual constitution already had to get out of performing simple acts for the states. For example, in 1817 he vetoed a bill which appropriated money to the states for the construction of new, and maintenance of existing, roads and canals. His veto of this bill was brought about by his personal feelings that the national government should shunt the responsibility for such projects to the state and local governments. In 1814, Daniel Webster, a federalist under Madison, even made reference to the constitution, when attempting to pass a bill authorizing the conscription of soldiers. This was typical of the federalists in that they felt that the constitution could be interpreted in many different ways.

President Jefferson's administration acted in an entirely...