Jefferson and Executive Power
37 Pages Posted: 15 May 2008
This paper argues that Thomas Jefferson was not the opponent of presidential power commonly assumed today. Jefferson is often thought to be a sharp critic of executive authority because he favored a national government of limited powers and because of his opposition to the Washington and Adams administrations. But as President, Jefferson expanded executive authority by resisting the courts, buying Louisiana, conducting foreign affairs, and managing legislation through Congress. Jefferson's actions as President did not contradict his positions in the opposition, as claimed most famously by Henry Adams, but were instead consistent with his earlier views on executive power. In fact, Jefferson supported perhaps the broadest conception of the Presidency in his belief in a Lockean prerogative that would allow the executive to act without constitutional authorization, so long as the people approved after the fact.
Keywords: Thomas Jefferson, presidential power, foreign affairs
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