Name That Candidate

He ran on a platform of change. He wanted to move beyond the culture wars of the previous decade by promoting national unity. He was attacked for his religious affiliations. He was criticized for being an intellectual who was out of touch with ordinary people. He sought to transcend political parties by running on ideas that all Americans could believe in. He won the election.

The answer: Thomas Jefferson

In 1800, Jefferson defeated John Adams (and Aaron Burr, the guy who was supposed to be his running mate and not his rival for the office) and initiated a new “American Revolution.” He firmly believed that the Federalists of the 1790s had betrayed the spirit of the American Revolution through their social elitism, support for big business and banking, a foreign policy that favored Great Britain, and the curtailing of certain individual liberties such as free speech. In his first inaugural address he avoided polemics and tried to bring the country together when he famously declared, “We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.”

We had fun today talking about Jefferson’s libertarianism, using Peter Onuf’s Jeffersonian America as our guide. My students seemed surprised that it was Jefferson, the forerunner of the modern Democratic Party (or at least the 19th century Democratic Party), who favored limited government and promoted “little republics” centered around strong family values (in an eighteenth-century understanding of the term), local government, religious belief, and voluntary societies. In this sense, Jefferson’s vision was in many ways an extension of the Anti-Federalists of the 1780. (I am finally getting around to reading Saul Cornell’s excellent, The Other Founders: Anti-Federalism and the Dissenting Tradition in America, 1788-1828 )

I think some of my conservative students have a new hero.