COMPROMISING FOR THE SAKE
THE DEMOCRATIC-REPUBLICAN PARTY DOMINATED POLITICS DURING the first quarter of the nineteenth century, with Thomas Jefferson as its leader for much of that period. This era of seeming political tranquility was punctured by debates about whether slavery should extend west to the Missouri Territory. The Declaration of Independence figured prominently in congressional deliberations, forever altering understanding of the document’s central message and the country’s self-image.
Beginning with the first decade of the nineteenth century, Federalist political strategy deemphasized the Declaration of Independence in order to downplay Jefferson’s intellectual contribution to the Revolution. This was as much a swipe at Jefferson as it was a deliberate, but unsuccessful, attempt to draw support away from his Republican Party. In 1809, an author wrote that “no extraordinary ability was necessary” to enumerate accusations against King George III “and as to the principle, it is evidently taken from Locke, without the candour of an acknowledgment.” The acrimony was not about the significance of the Declaration’s central principles of self-governance and liberal equality, but about the status of