Talk:Jeffersonian democracy

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Unless anybody complains in the next couple days, I'm going to merge Jeffersonian political philosophy into this article. --GHcool (talk) 01:28, 10 June 2010 (UTC)

Good move, IMO.--JayJasper (talk) 19:15, 11 June 2010 (UTC)

Hmm, I would have done it the other way round. I know the phrase is "Jeffersonian democracy", but really it's a misnomer. Jefferson wasn't a democrat - the word appears twice in his writings, and does not appear in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Cagliost (talkcontribs) 14:35, 29 June 2010 (UTC)

Jefferson not a democrat?[edit]

I'm not sure that Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn's analysis is warranted here (or necessarily even correct). Can Cagliost explain his reasoning for this addition and maybe provide more detail? --GHcool (talk) 22:47, 29 June 2010 (UTC)

Whether it's correct is not relevant. What is correct is that it is what Kuehnelt-Leddihn thought, as can be verified in the first few pages of his book ([1]).

As for whether it is notable, I think it is, because Kuehnelt-Leddihn is notable. I don't think it's necessary to say much more in the article, but I do think it warrants a mention. I'll add a sentence to say why Leddihn thought so.

Leddihn :

"the expressions 'democrat' and 'democracy' hardly occur in the Monticello edition of Jefferson's works" [or indeed in the US Constitution or Bill of Rights].

"Jefferson actually was an Agrarian Romantic who dreamt of a republic governed by an elite of character and intellect...


"Every one, by his property, or by his satisfactory situation, is interested in the support of law and order. And such men may safely and advantageously reserve to themselves a wholesome control over their public affairs, and a degree of freedom, which, in the hands of the canaille of the cities of Europe, would be instantly perverted to the demolition and destruction of everything public and private."

"The natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift of nature"

cagliost (talk) 14:33, 1 July 2010 (UTC)

A few more quotes from the "Founding Fathers":

  • Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!-- Benjamin Franklin
  • Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. -- John Adams
  • Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their death. -- James Madison
  • We are a Republican Government, Real liberty is never found in despotism or in the extremes of democracy…it has been observed that a pure democracy if it were practicable would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved that no position is more false than this. The ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated never possessed one good feature of government. Their very character was tyranny…-- Alexander Hamilton


Does anybody have any ideas on how to make this article more complete? --GHcool (talk) 07:36, 6 February 2011 (UTC)

I just added the (much needed) "Limited government" section. --GHcool (talk) 07:32, 14 February 2011 (UTC)

Jeffersonian Economics in favor of redistribution of wealth?[edit]

I have to question the validity of the citation stating that Jefferson was in favor of a redistributive income tax. From his own pen:

“To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.” -Thomas Jefferson, letter to Joseph Milligan, April 6, 1816

From all I've read, the above quote falls squarely in line with Jeffersonian thought while the section in question seems to contradict this completely. Could someone please cite a quote of his to refute this? ~ Avi —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 02:17, 15 March 2011 (UTC)

To General Kosciuscko, 1811:

"These revenues will be levied entirely on the rich .... The Rich alone use imported article, and on these alone the whole taxes of the General Government are levied. The poor man ... pays not a farthing of tax to the General Government, but on his salt; and should we go into that manufacture also, as is probable, he will pay nothing."[2]

--GHcool (talk) 05:57, 15 March 2011 (UTC)

'Strict Interpretation' vs. 'living constitution'[edit]

The statement occurs twice in the article that Jeffersonians favored a 'strict interpretation' of the Constitution. It seems to me that some expansion is needed to avoid confusing the Jeffersonian idea of 'strict interpretation' with the modern 'strict constructionist' school of thought. Madison's idea of a 'living constitution' is diametrically opposed to strict constructionism. From my reading, it seems the main area where Jefferson was 'strict' was in opposing Hamilton's view that the Constitution gave the federal government 'implied powers'. Maybe 'strict interpretation' is too loaded, and should be replaced with another term, such as 'limitation of federal powers'. Editors, would it be appropriate for me to add a sentence or two to that effect? WCCasey (talk) 06:43, 4 May 2011 (UTC)

Sure. Thanks for your help.  :) --GHcool (talk) 16:59, 4 May 2011 (UTC)

Who coined the term?[edit]

It appears that 'Jeffersonian democracy' was not a term used by Jefferson or his contemporaries. Does anyone know who invented the term, and when? The earliest use I have found is in the title of the book An Economic Interpretation of Jeffersonian Democracy (1915), by Charles A. Beard. WCCasey (talk) 04:31, 6 May 2011 (UTC)

Found an earlier use of the term. An address delivered in 1881 by one Charles W. Jones was entitled Jeffersonian Democracy. WCCasey (talk) 06:40, 7 May 2011 (UTC)
the term became common after the Civil War but was in use before 1840s-- Google gives quotes before 1840 such as "identical with the principles of Jeffersonian democracy" (1836); "to act upon the principles ot Jeffersonian democracy" (1838); "the Jeffersonian [newspaper] recognized its principles as those of Jeffersonian Democracy, and ever after was their firm and consistent advocate" (1819); "he was brought into Congress upon the overwhelming tide of Jeffersonian democracy, from a district that had been thoroughly and exclusively Federal." (1839). and so forth. We also have "democracy = Democratic party. Thus: "was defeated by a strict party vote, the rank and file of the democracy following the lead of Mr. Jefferson," (1846); "attack the Republicans, and advocate the claims of modern Democracy, not the Democracy of Jefferson and Silas Wright, but of Cushing and Buchanan" (1860). Rjensen (talk) 18:07, 9 September 2011 (UTC)
This suggests that it came into use right around the rise of Jacksonian democracy (the 1807 reference is a publication date error). Prior to that time, there was no need to call "Democracy" (i.e. the Democratic Party and the ideas associated with it) "Jeffersonian" for much the same reason that there was no need to distinguish among World Wars until the second one happened. Sgelbman (talk) 18:46, 9 September 2011 (UTC)


Unless anyone objects in the next couple of days, I'm going to rename this article Jeffersonian political philosophy, and make appropriate changes. See the section "Merge" below. I think that despite "Jeffersonian democracy" being a well-known phrase, it violates NPOV.

As you can see above, they used to be separate articles, and Jeffersonian political philosophy was merged into this one. Having thought about it for a bit, I think it should have been done the other way round. cagliost (talk) 12:04, 31 August 2011 (UTC)

No objection here, the article is about a political philosophy after all. In the interest of symmetry among similar & related articles, the same should done with Jacksonian democracy.--JayJasper (talk) 16:19, 31 August 2011 (UTC)
Good idea. cagliost (talk) 13:44, 1 September 2011 (UTC)

Requested move[edit]

The following discussion is an archived discussion of a requested move. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section on the talk page. No further edits should be made to this section.

The result of the move request was: not moved. Favonian (talk) 16:49, 16 September 2011 (UTC)

– As described on the talk page, current title of article 1 violates NPOV. Title 2 should be changed for symmetry.Relisting. -GTBacchus(talk) 16:42, 9 September 2011 (UTC) cagliost (talk) 13:49, 1 September 2011 (UTC)

  • Support per given rationale. A sensible move.--JayJasper (talk) 17:02, 1 September 2011 (UTC)
  • Oppose Bad idea with no evidence presented that it is POV. Historians have used "Jeffersonian democracy" and "Jacksonian Democracy" for many decades as standard terminology with no hint whatever of POV. These are terms used in today's monographs and textbooks, Thus we have (from 1) The Intellectual Origins of Jeffersonian Democracy by Douglass G. Adair, Mark E. Yellin and Joyce Appleby (2000) [Appleby is past president of the American Historical Association; 2) Jeffersonian Democracy In South Carolina by John Harold Wolfe et al. (2011); 3) The Revolution of American Conservatism: The Federalist Party in the Era of Jeffersonian Democracy by David Hackett Fischer (1965) (Fischer won the Pulitzer Prize in History); 4) "JEFFERSONIAN DEMOCRACY" article in Dictionary of American History by Lance Banning (2003). Likewise for Jacksonian: 1) Franklin B. Pierce: The Twilight of Jacksonian Democracy by Thomas J. Rowland (2011); 2) Jacksonian Democracy 1829-1837 by William MacDonald (1905; reprinted 2011); 3) "The politics of past and progress in Jacksonian democracy" in ATQ (The American Transcendental Quarterly) by Naomi Wulf (2007); 4) Shapers of the Great Debate on Jacksonian Democracy: A Biographical Dictionary by Paul E. Doutrich (2004). When terms are very well established in the reliable scholarly sources, we keep them. "POV" is not at issue and has not been demonstrated. I think the misunderstanding comes from the use of "Democracy" which some editors might think is a non-neutral word. Not so: in the 19th century it was often used on all sides as a name of the Democratic Party [Safire's Political Dictionary p 149]. The Wiki rule is "Article titles should be recognizable to readers, unambiguous, and consistent with usage in reliable English-language sources....When the subject of an article is referred mainly by a single common name, as evidenced through usage in a significant majority of English-language reliable sources, Wikipedia generally follows the sources and uses that name as its article title (subject to the other naming criteria). Sometimes that common name will include non-neutral words that Wikipedia normally avoids (e.g. Boston Massacre, Rape of Belgium, and Teapot Dome scandal). In such cases, the prevalence of the name, or the fact that a given description has effectively become a proper noun (and that proper noun has become the usual term for the event), generally overrides concern that Wikipedia might appear as endorsing one side of an issue." The rule calls for keeping Jeffersonian Democracy and Jacksonian Democracy as titles.Rjensen (talk) 18:22, 1 September 2011 (UTC)
  • Support: While "Jeffersonian democracy" may be mainstream terminology, it is POV. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Cagliost (talkcontribs) 09:18, 2 September 2011 (UTC)
how is it POV in any way??? Rjensen (talk) 13:39, 6 September 2011 (UTC)
Because it's clearly not true. Because "democracy" is a POV word. "Political philosophy" is not.
"Democracy" is often used nowadays as a "hurrah" word, with little meaning. But as a descriptive word, it does have meaning. Not everyone is in favour of democracy. It is beyond reasonable dispute that Jefferson was not in favour of democracy -- in fact, he opposed it, as one can see in the article. Therefore "democracy" is not a neutral description of Jefferson's political philosophy.
One can argue that people use "Jeffersonian democracy" as a proper noun, but to admit that is to admit that the word "democracy" within the phrase has lost all meaning -- that it is just being used as a "hurrah" word. If on the other hand, we say that the phrase does have meaning -- and we should -- then it is POV.
The point is, there is a notable dispute between people as to whether "Jeffersonian democracy" is the right thing to call Jefferson's political philosophy. Wikipedia may be supposed to give the mainstream view more prominence, but it is not supposed to hold it.
The best solution is to rename the article to a neutral name, and make it clear in the article that his political philosophy is often called "Jeffersonian democracy", though some people have questioned this. cagliost (talk) 13:47, 7 September 2011 (UTC)
The POV argument does not hold water. 1) it's the common name and Wiki rules require that it be used. 2) The word "Democracy" in the 19th century actually meant the Democratic Party. 3) Critics indeed say he was inconsistent from time to time (most leaders get that criticism sooner or later); apart from one European nobleman they do not say he was undemocratic. 4) the title is JEFFERSONIAN democracy, not JEFFERSON'S democracy. TJ's followers called themselves Jeffersonians. Rjensen (talk) 14:26, 7 September 2011 (UTC)
1. Wiki rules do not require that it be used. "generally". 2, 3, 4: irrelevant. See section "Who coined the term?" above. I'm suspicious of your motivation, frankly. If this article had been merged with "Jeffersonian political philosophy" rather than the other way round, no one would be trying to move it here. Why so concerned? cagliost (talk) 10:38, 9 September 2011 (UTC)
My motivation is to get it right. an alternative like "Jeffersonian political philosophy" refers to something ELSE -- to TJ's PERSONAL political philosophy. "Jeffersonian democracy" refers to the large MOVEMENT involving thousands of people in all the states that dominated politics for decades. The party dimension is important and "philosophy" loses it. Rjensen (talk) 12:52, 9 September 2011 (UTC)
  • Comment - I'm relisting this discussion at Requested moves to allow more time for discussion. I've also notified five WikiProjects ([3][4][5][6][7]), seeking input from more editors. -GTBacchus(talk) 16:42, 9 September 2011 (UTC)
  • Oppose, especially in the Jacksonian case, due to the recognizability, naturalness, precision, and conciseness criteria for article titles. Sgelbman (talk) 17:48, 9 September 2011 (UTC)
  • Oppose Nobody has stated what POV is being conveyed by this traditional and extremely common term; to meddle with it to impose our own point of view, even if our point of view is anti-judgmentalism, is not neutral; we are not here to invent our own descriptions, but to explain what "Jeffersonian democracy" means. Even those who, like Charles Beard, say that Jeffersonian democracy was not interested in democracy, but in the interests of an agrarian or plantation economy, call it "Jeffersonian democracy". Similarly, we have an article called Boston Massacre, because everybody calls it that, even in making the (quite reasonable) argument that it was no massacre. Septentrionalis PMAnderson 01:46, 10 September 2011 (UTC)2011 (UTC)
  • Oppose Both terms are too deeply imbedded into the sources writing about this era for wikipedia to ignore them or minimize the usage of the terms. Whatever arguments there may be that Jackson or Jefferson or their followers deviated from a pure democracy should certainly be in the article, but I can't think of any practical application of democracy doesn't stray from the "ideal" of pure democracy. Tom (North Shoreman) (talk) 02:03, 10 September 2011 (UTC)
The above discussion is preserved as an archive of a requested move. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section on this talk page. No further edits should be made to this section.

In the opening[edit]

there is this parenthetical comment: "(for male citizens)". Is this actually necessary? Additionally, it is somewhat misleading because it seems to insinuate that the only requirement was being male. I would also question whether or not this is actually an espoused belief of early Jeffersonians or if it was more of a function of the society that they lived in. There is a difference between actively believing something and simply not having an idea occur to you. As I'm not strong enough of a student of history, I guess at the very least, the idea that early Jeffersonians specifically believed that women should be excluded from political equality should be sourced.

Additionally, including all of the groups that were functionally and philosophically excluded from the idea of political equality would bloat the opening and should, if the editors decide it warrants inclusion, be moved to either a section of its own or criticisms of early Jeffersonians. Maybe the best way to handle it would be a section discussing the evolution of the early ideas to now as this political philosophy is still alive and I highly doubt disenfranchising women is a current view. (talk) 18:43, 26 November 2011 (UTC)

There were prominent American supporters of female suffrage, but Jeffersonians were not among them. So it's not the case that the idea simply never occurred to them. The real problem with the article is the statement: "The Jeffersonians believed in democracy and equality of political opportunity". That simply is not true without qualification. The term "citizens" is also an important qualifier, because slaves were not citizens. WCCasey (talk) 22:33, 26 November 2011 (UTC)
Sigh. The New Jersey constitution of 1776, which actually conferred female suffrage, was largely written by a Jeffersonian. But this entire article needs a review. Septentrionalis PMAnderson 02:41, 30 November 2011 (UTC)
Perhaps I spoke too loosely earlier. Absence of active support is not the same thing as opposition, and even opposition is not necessarily a permanent opposition but possibly even a "not now" approach. To clarify what I mean: a father can easily oppose his 15 year-old daughter having sex, then a decade or so later encourage the act because he wants grandchildren. To throw away these possibilities without even a source is reckless and at least deserves further discussion beyond a loaded parenthetical comment that leaves out other barriers to exercising franchise (such as owning land).
Make no mistake, I'm not attempting to whitewash history by pretending universal suffrage was a state goal; however, granting and exercise of franchise was much more complicated than "for male citizens" especially when you start looking at how in some places that should actually read "for white male protestants who own at least so many acres of land upon which a house of x size is built". The current treatment ignores the other groups that did not receive franchise while singling out one which minimizes the injustice of denial of franchise to all of the affected groups that are not women.
Additionally, I agree with you that "citizen" is a key word there as well, but did not think about it until you brought it up, which brings me to another reason why this deserves more discussion if it is included: the requirements for citizenship were very different from what they are now.
I guess what I'm saying is, if we're going to include this, it is intellectually dishonest to not fully include it--a case of in for a dime in for a dollar, if you will.
But I've said my piece and if that doesn't convince you editors, then so be it. (talk) 05:25, 27 November 2011 (UTC)
I edited to fix my formatting and nothing else67.142.178.24 (talk) 05:27, 27 November 2011 (UTC)


The irresponsible quotation of Sean Wilentz, out of context, as though he supported a movement of which he strongly disapproved, has been discussed at some length at Talk:Alexander_Hamilton#Please.2C_no_quotations_out_of_context. The rest of the tags should be self-explanatory. Septentrionalis PMAnderson 02:53, 30 November 2011 (UTC)

The quote is exactly what Wilentz wrote, word for word, in a major journal. he says he is summarizing the consensus of most scholars (even though he himself has a different minority view). Rjensen (talk) 18:18, 3 December 2011 (UTC)
As for the dubious tags, all the cases are well known. Clyde Wilson (in his into to John C. Calhoun: American portrait by Margaret L. Coit) says Calhoun was the advocate "of what used to be known as Jeffersonian Democracy."; John Randolph was the Jeffersonian floor leader in Congress in 1801. As for John Taylor of Caroline see Benjamin F. Wright, Jr., “The Philosopher of Jeffersonian Democracy,” American Political Science Review vol 22 or the 2008 book entitled The liberal republicanism of John Taylor of Caroline by Sheldon. Rjensen (talk) 18:31, 3 December 2011 (UTC)

It is preposterous to give the final word on Jeffersonians in this article to Wilentz's renegade view, considered by nearly all historians to be a provocation. Jefferson, as is well known, was a convinced opponent of slavery and advocated its abolition, writing e.g. "there is not a man on earth who would sacrifice more than I would, to relieve us from this heavy reproach [slavery]." A responsible editor needs to remove the Wilentz quote. (talk) 12:55, 2 February 2012 (UTC)

to nail down a false & nasty characterization of Wilentz: Here's the opening of the review of his The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln in a leading journal: "In this magisterial volume, Sean Wilentz provides a detailed, dramatic, elegantly written, narrative interpretation of American politics from the Revolutionary Era to the Civil War....Accessible to the general reader, with brilliant cameos of major and minor figures, it offers a grand, Bancroftian synthesis...." [Altschuler in Reviews in American History 34.2 (2006) 169-175] Rjensen (talk) 00:29, 24 August 2012 (UTC)
Wilentz is a leading historian writing recently in a leading journal about the preponderant views of historians. seems to be angry with the RS, but Wiki rules require the editors follow the RS. does not reveal any of the RS he is using so his opinions remain personal POV. Rjensen (talk) 20:10, 2 February 2012 (UTC)
Preposterous. Jefferson loved slavery; he even impregnated his own slave. (talk) 09:18, 3 February 2012 (UTC)
let's read the quote carefully. "a) Jefferson and his allies, by contrast, have come across as naïve, dreamy idealists. b) At best according to many historians, the Jeffersonians were reactionary utopians who resisted the onrush of capitalist modernity in hopes of turning America into a yeoman farmers' arcadia. At worst, they were proslavery racists who wish to rid the West of Indians, expand the empire of slavery, and keep political power in local hands -- all the better to expand the institution of slavery and protect slaveholders' rights to own human property." sentence a) says historians depict Jefferson as a "naïve, dreamy idealist"--no one here objects to that. Indeed the quote above seems to confirm that judgment [TJ said: "there is not a man on earth who would sacrifice more than I would, to relieve us from this heavy reproach [slavery]." b) is not about Jefferson but about the millions of JEFFERSONIANS, who were indeed based in the white South. b) says what HISTORIANS in recent years say about these Jeffersonians. Now do we have another RS that denies any of this? citations to RS please. Rjensen (talk) 09:34, 3 February 2012 (UTC)

Blacks and Indians excluded[edit]

I believe the article needs to state that blacks or African slaves and Indians were not included in Jefferson's Democracy. His Democracy only included European descent people. Cmguy777 (talk) 04:32, 24 August 2012 (UTC)

Jefferson and many of his followers included Indians who had left tribal control and become citizens. Rjensen (talk) 05:03, 24 August 2012 (UTC)

It's boring.[edit]

I no find logic in the structure of the text. I lost so big time to find whether this is type representative democracy or not. I'll no say you the answer, because I'll let you found it yourself. Because it might be direct democracy, everything is possible.

Conclusion: It's boring. Do not delete text, but made it interesting to read it. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 19:06, 14 July 2013 (UTC)


The sentence in the lead about William Jennings Bryan is unsourced and seems unnecessary. I intend on deleting it unless a good argument and a source can be found to support its presence. --GHcool (talk) 05:51, 13 October 2014 (UTC)