The Old Republicans: Southern Conservatism in the Age of Jefferson

The Old Republicans: Southern Conservatism in the Age of Jefferson

The Old Republicans: Southern Conservatism in the Age of Jefferson

The Old Republicans: Southern Conservatism in the Age of Jefferson

Excerpt

Jeffersonian Democracy was a political movement that may be described as liberal but not necessarily progressive. Carried to its logical conclusions, it was essentially negative. Fundamental to the political thought of the Jeffersonians was the compact theory of government with its corollaries of economy, simplicity, and severe limitations on the power of the central government. Though Jefferson's own faith in human nature lent an air of optimistic democracy to these ideas, in the hands of some of his followers these doctrines became powerful engines of conservatism.

The Old Republicans appeared as a reaction to the surge of nationalism that followed the War of 1812, but this group had ties, in personnel and in political principle, with both earlier and later conservative movements within the Republican party. This is a study of the conservative wing of Jefferson's Republican party, the men who took deeply to heart the compact theory of government and carried it to its logical conclusions. Since the Old Republicans were mostly Southerners, this study includes also the development of Southern conservative thought into a self-conscious sectionalism. The Old Republicans are thus the missing link in the conservative tradition between the Antifederalists of 1788 and the states' rights Southerners of the Jacksonian era.

The conservative tradition in America itself is a puzzling one.

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