George Washington was elected unanimously as the first President of the USA in 1789. He would also be elected unanimously in 1792. He would soon establish a cabinet, which included Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State and Alexander Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury.
🎥Watch: AP US History - Washington's Presidency
The new government had to draft the Bill of Rights, as promised during ratification. The Bill of Rights was adopted in 1791, with the help of James Madison, and included the first ten amendments to the Constitution. There were initially twelve amendments proposed, but the ten that were ratified became known as the Bill of Rights. The Judiciary Act of 1789 was another law that would set the number of justices on the Supreme Court as well establish the district and appellate courts.
Alexander Hamilton, the new Secretary of the Treasury, undertook the formidable task of fixing the economic ills of America. The U.S. had accumulated about $54 million in debt that it had borrowed from other countries (France) and the states. There was also a problem with inflation.
As a leading Federalist, Hamilton wanted to find a way to bind the nation to the federal government better. Hamilton wrote a Financial Report with recommendations of action for the president and Congress. It included three principle ideas:
US government would take on the responsibility of paying the remaining state debts. US promised to fund its foreign and domestic obligations at full face value.
Protect the young nation’s “infant” industries and collect adequate revenues at the same time by imposing high tariffs on imported goods.
Create a national bank for depositing government funds and printing banknotes that would provide the basis for a stable US currency.
Of these, the only part that Congress would accept was the paying off of the states' debts.
🎥Watch: AP US History - Jefferson vs. Hamilton
It's important to understand what a tariff is because you're going to see them a lot of the course of history. The US didn't have income taxes until the early 1900s, so as a result, the federal government's chief source of income was tariffs. Tariffs are taxes on imports.
So basically if Great Britain sells tea to the US, the government places a tariff on it upon arrival. When the government raises tariffs, it discourages other countries from selling to the US, so industries in the US as a result, have the ability to compete with that product. No longer will US industries have to compete with goods being shipped in from another country, because that country doesn't want to pay the tariff.
One of the first challenges to Hamilton’s program was the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. Farmers in southwestern Pennsylvania protested harshly against the whiskey tax, which was the government's primary source of money. President Washington would send a militia to western Pennsylvania and squash the uprising. Federalists supported this action, while Antifederalists hated it.
These political differences within the U.S. would create informal political parties that differed in their view of government.
The differences between the above two parties were accelerated when the French Revolution erupted in France in 1789. Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans (Jeffersonians) were thrilled when the French masses overthrew King Louis XVI. Federalists were opposed to this “mobocracy” of people controlling the national, royal government. Governments around the world feared that their government might be the next victim.
In the early 1790s, Britain and France were locked into another war. America still had a military alliance with France from the Revolutionary War. Jeffersonians were very eager for America to support this alliance and go to war in helping the liberty-loving French defeat the British.
However, George Washington thought that honoring this alliance would not benefit America because we had too many domestic issues to stabilize. These concerns made him issue the Proclamation of Neutrality of 1793, which kept America out of the war and gave the U.S. time to build its nation.
The final foreign policy problem during Washington’s tenure was that of the British presence along the northern border. Britain had forts along the Great Lakes and was aiding Indians against America. All of this violated the terms of the Treaty of Paris in 1783. The British navy was also impressing American ships and sailors (basically forcing them to become British ships and sailors) in the British West Indies, in which they were illegally seizing both as their property.
Washington tried to use diplomacy to solve this problem by sending John Jay to London in 1794 in hopes of negotiating a favorable deal. The highly controversial Jay’s Treaty was the result. Britain rejected the neutral rights and they would continue to search American vessels on the high seas. In addition, there would be no compensation for ships confiscated until American debt to Britain was paid off. The results were not good for the U.S. The effects of this treaty further divided the two political parties in America.
Washington had successfully bid farewell to America in 1796 and established the two-term tradition in America for future presidencies. Washington wanted to set a precedent for a peaceful transition of power, rather than serving as president for life (which could have made the presidency seem like an elected monarchy). In his Farewell Address he urged America to:
Stay out of foreign alliances.
Not to get involved in political affairs.
Not to form political parties.
The year 1800 brought about a host of changes in government, in particular the first successful and peaceful transfer of power from one political party to another. But the year was important for another reason: the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (pictured here in 1800) was finally opened to be occupied by Congress, the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, and the courts of the District of Columbia. William Russell Birch, A view of the Capitol of Washington before it was burnt down by the British, c. 1800. Wikimedia.
In the election of 1796, Federalist John Adams narrowly defeated Thomas Jefferson in the new Electoral College as president. Because of the way the Constitution was at the time, Thomas Jefferson, in second place, automatically became the vice president.
The first issue that Adams had to manage was a conflict with France. France was upset at the results of Jay’s Treaty because it benefited their enemy, Britain. France started to seize many American merchant ships in 1797.
To resolve this, Adams sent three American diplomats to France to negotiate in 1797. France had deployed three secret diplomats, named X, Y, and Z, to the talks. These three men wanted expensive bribe money from the Americans for the mere opportunity to talk with France. Negotiations quickly failed, and the Americans returned home.
Americans were furious upon learning of these bribes and the disrespect of the XYZ Affair. Unofficial fighting with France was the result from 1798-1800, in a conflict known as the Quasi War. Private American ships fought the French navy.
However, no official, prolonged war took place under the leadership of Adams, who was credited with keeping America out of a war with France. Our military alliance with France ended under Adams. These results allowed America to grow and prosper as a nation.
Domestically, the Federalists and the Jeffersonians were accelerating their conflict with each other. The Federalists created the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, which slowed the naturalization process and restricted free speech. This was seen as a political attack on Jeffersonians, allowing the Federalist Party (which was in power at the time) to suppress political opposition.
Newer citizens tended to support the Democratic-Republican Party, so the Alien Act made it more difficult for immigrants to become citizens. The Sedition Act also made it a crime to publish false, scandalous, or malicious statements about the government or its officials. Critics argued that the Sedition Act was a violation of the First Amendment, which guarantees the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press. The only journalists who were prosecuted under the Sedition Act were editors of Democratic-Republican newspapers.
By 1800, America had faced and survived numerous domestic and foreign challenges to its future and prosperity. It had earned its freedom from Britain and was determined to establish a democratic example for the world.
Thomas Jefferson and James Madison responded to these acts with drafted documents. Jefferson secretly wrote the Kentucky Resolutions, and Madison wrote the Virginia Resolutions. Both of them were simply saying that the federal government had legally exceeded its power with the Alien and Sedition Laws. They argued that since the states created the Constitution, the states had the right to nullify, or not follow, any legislation that they deemed necessary.
After the Federalist Party lost power in the 1800 election, the Democratic-Republican Party, which was led by Jefferson, took control of the government. As part of its efforts to roll back the Federalist policies of the previous administration, the Democratic-Republicans repealed the Alien and Sedition Acts.