America in 1815: The Jeffersonian Republicans

John Locke. By: Godfrey Kneller.

The Republican ideology, created and led by Jefferson, manifested itself in the generation after the Founding Fathers.

The Republicans had built on John Locke’s and others’ ideology and made it uniquely American. Jefferson and the Republicans insisted on the defense of liberty, as well as “popular virtue and free enterprise, in religion and politics as well as in economic undertakings; it expressed deep suspicion of pretensions to power and privilege.” Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America 1815-1848, 37-38; see also James Kloppenberg, “The Virtues of Liberalism,” JAH 74 (1987), 9-33; Joyce Appleby, Liberalism and Republicanism in the Historical Imagination (Cambridge, Mass., 1992).

This ideology resonated with Americans in the generation following the Founding Fathers, as religion was becoming more prevalent, as men got ahead through their diligence, and as men came to value discipline as a guide for success. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America 1815-1848, 38.

Despite this ideology, and the “political liberty that American institutions and ideology promised, . . . most lives were disciplined and limited by the economic necessities of a harsh environment and the cultural constraints of a small community.” Id. at 40.

While Jeffersonian Republicanism would not survive into the 1820s and 1830s, it was the fundamental political party in both state and federal politics in 1815. There was no question that the Republicans had monopolized politics. They had tapped into the spirit of Americans, who valued freedom and were suspicious of any overarching authority.

In 1815, in America, Republicans were the only players in town. When that changed in the 1820s with the emergence of the Democratic Party, there would never be a restoration of the one party system again.

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