The Jeffersonian Vision, 1801-1815, William Nestor

The Jeffersonian Vision, 1801-1815, William Nestor

This is the third in a series of books by the same author looking at the development of American power in the Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary period. This book focuses on the presidencies of Thomas Jefferson and his political ally successor James Madison, going as far as the end of the War of 1812 in 1815. Madison is often considered one of the worst presidents, Jefferson one of the better ones, but actually their policies were rather similar.

The author's main argument is that Jefferson's policies were actually disastrous for the United States. His belief that the 'government that governs least, governs best', combined with his dislike of merchants and manufacturers and preference for self sufficient farmers, greatly retarded the development of the American economy. This lead to a belief in rights without responsibilities and representation without taxation which affected the behaviour of the 'war hawks' during the War of 1812 - the most vocal supporters of the war were also very unlikely to actually fight in it, and were also opposed to raising taxes to pay for the war. His economic policies also led to the rather bizarre policy of trade embargos aimed at American merchants, in the belief that the British Empire would crumble if denied the raw materials produced in the United States. Instead British trade simply moved elsewhere while American businesses suffered massive losses.

It also becomes clear that Jefferson's main successes, in particular the Louisiana Purchase, which massively expanded the United States, came about when he was willing to bend or ignore his principles - in other areas he tended to believe that anything not expressly allowed by the Constitution wasn't legal, but there was no mention of expanding the United States by purchase.

We also look at some of the reasons for Madison's poor performance, with cronyism the main culprit - he seems to have preferred to have an inept member of his own Republican Party in a post rather than an able Federalist, a policy that even applied in the military, one body that should have been politically neutral.

From our point of view the War of 1812 is the main event and it is well covered here. Once again cronyism comes to the fore, with some truly dreadful political generals responsible for heavy American defeats. Republican faith in the militia was also proved to be false, with most militiamen refusing to cross the Canadian border (the same was true of Jefferson's naval theories - he preferred coastal gunboats to proper warships, but when war came they proved to be almost entirely useless).

Part 1: Jefferson, 1801-1805
1 - The Revolution of 1801
2 - The Battle for the Courts
3 - Thomas Jefferson and American Power
4 - The Louisiana Dilemma
5 - Squaring Off with Spain
6 - The Louisiana Purchase
7 - Where to Draw the Line?
8 - Rising Tensions with Britain
9 - To the Shores of Tripoli
10 - To the Ends of the Earth

Part 2: Jefferson, 1805-1809
11 - Faltering Steps
12 - The Fate of West Florida
13 - The Burr Conspiracy
14 - The ChesapeakeAtrocity
15 - Within the Turtle Shell
16 - Abolishing the Slave Trade
17 - Across the Wide Missouri
18 - Passing the Torch

Part 3: Madison, 1809-1813
19 - James Madison and American Power
20 - From Embargo to Non-Intercourse
21 - Florida Coups and Intrigues
22 - The Struggle for the Northwest Frontier
23 - Down the Slippery Slope
24 - Into the Abyss
25 - Second Thoughts
26 - Mustering the Nation
27 - The Great Lakes Front
28 - The War at Sea
29 - Staying the Course
30 - Paying the Piper
31 - Truth and Consequences

Part 4: Madison, 1813-1815
32 - The Politics of War
33 - The Lake Ontario Deadlock
34 - "We Have met the Enemy and They Are Ours!"
35 - The Red Stick War
36 - "Don't Give Up the Ship!"
37 - Groping for a Way Out
38 - Politics as Usual
39 - First the Good News
40 - The Rock of Sisyphus
41 - Moral and Diplomatic Dilemmas
42 - Indian Summer Campaigns
43 - Is Washington Burning?
44 - Conformists and Dissidents
45 - The Treaty of Ghent
46 - The Battle of New Orleans
47 - A Distant Mirror?

Author: William Nestor
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 280
Publisher: Casemate
Year: 2013

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