|About the Book|
So far this has been the one book in this series that has not been truly impressive. In The Jeffersonians the author tries to take the same in-depth, detailed look at administrative policy and process he did in The Federalists, but gets bogged down in minutiae. The process worked better for the earlier period, when there were only a few hundred members of the federal government, and the period in question only spanned a decade. Here, where there are thousands of federal employees in a period lasting over 30 years, describing many of them as individuals becomes more difficult and less fruitful.As usual his analysis of the relationship between Congress and the President are the best. White shows how Jefferson harnessed floor leaders of his own choosing, as well and the Republican caucus, which met in his Secretary of the Treasurys, Albert Gallatins, House, to control legislation. The Ways and Means Committee that Gallatin had made a permanent one in 1795 in order to have a congressional counterpart to Hamiltons Treasury, also, not surprisingly, came under Gallatins, and therefor the administrations, control after 1801.But all these tools turned against the President beginning with Madison. The floor leader was supplanted in importance by the Speaker, in this case Henry Clay, who organized Congress for warlike measures against Madisons wishes. The caucus itself became the locus of presidential nominations, and thus felt no need to pander to what some congressmen called their creation, and the standing committees truly became independent centers of congressional competence and power again. Madison and Monroe also believed in presidential deference to Republican doctrine, and therefore to the legislature, much more than that doctrines creator, Jefferson, ever had (at least in practice). When John Quincy Adams finally tried to recapture Congress he found it beyond his grasp.Some of the case studies are also superb. The descriptions of the fiendish difficulties inherent in the embargo are the best I have read yet. When Jefferson proposed the embargo has an idealistic substitute for war in late 1807, he had no idea what he was embarking upon. Soon he was individually reviewing every ship in the countrys permission to leave port, giving port collectors complete discretion to stop any ship they deemed suspect, putting inspectors on every ship loading goods of any sort, and forcing even small coasting vessels to get governors permission or posting huge surety bonds before delivering flour up or down a river. And yet all this had little result in stymieing trade, and less in punishing the British or the French.So, some good moments here, and perhaps a handy reference, but often a slog to get through.