Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Michal McMahon


The triumph of Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic Republicans in 1800 left the deposed Federalists aghast at what this Francophile, anti nationalist, reputedly atheistic president might do to the country. Despite Jefferson's impulses toward pacifism, national isolation, the diffusion of political power, and healing faction, the eight years of his two administrations were destined to be as calm as a hurricane. The turbulent situation in Europe had already made a mockery of Washington's advice to avoid entanglement, and during Jefferson's presidency, the dangers only increased.;Jefferson's ideas on national security were diametrically opposed to those of Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists. Jefferson was an advocate of states' rights, but Hamilton of centralized power. Jefferson wanted to avoid debt, while Hamilton thought debt was a positive and unifying factor. Jefferson believed in maintaining a minuscule standing military in favor of state militias, whereas Hamilton called for a huge, regular army and a sea-going navy. The debate was not an academic one: the young nation was literally surrounded by enemies and potential enemies. Spain had a stranglehold on New Orleans, and the slightest pressure there could (and sometimes did) throttle the entire economy of the American west. Britain, with a firm hold on Canada and total domination of the high seas, bullied the Americans with seemingly unfair commercial practices. When Napoleon began to restrict trade as well, Jefferson and his countrymen faced economic calamity and the threat of wars they would not likely win.;Jefferson introduced legislation that altered the structure of both the army and navy, established the military academy at West Point, and changed the political constitution of the defense establishment. He fought a long, frustrating war with Tripoli, fended off insults from Europe, and struggled to formulate an Indian policy that would protect native Americans while dealing with the reality and inevitability of white domination of the continent. Jefferson also pulled off the most spectacular land deal in history: the Louisiana Purchase---an accretion that doubled the size of the young republic and sowed the seeds for the eventual triumph of Jefferson's strategic calculations.;By the end of his second term, however, Jefferson's initial successes had been eclipsed by the disappointing results of his embargo against Great Britain. Historians roundly condemn the embargo as both ineffective and a direct violation of Jefferson's own ideas on governance. His handling of the military has also been criticized, particularly in the light of America's martial mediocrity in the War of 1812---shortfalls that can be partially attributed to Jefferson's underfunding of the army and navy.;This essay looks critically at the military and national security policies of Thomas Jefferson with a view to penetrating beyond traditional interpretations. By examining closely the political, economic, social, and military context of the times---especially the delicate domestic situation---it is possible to see Jefferson's policies with a new appreciation of how enlightened and ultimately effective they really were.