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Chapter 10 - Launching the New Ship of State


Major Themes

  • Fundamental disagreements over the functions and policies of the new national government laid the foundations of the American political system.
  • Defining a foreign policy based on self-interest was crucial to the survival of the new nation.

Major Questions

  • How critical was George Washington to the early years of the republic?
  • What practical & philosophical issues and concerns led to the formation of national political parties?
  • What were the overall aims of American foreign policy during the early years of the republic?


  • Are there any issues left over from the Revolutionary and Critical periods that might suggest continued conflict under the new Constitution?

Growing Pains

  • when the constitution was launched in 1789, the republic was continuing to grow at an alarming rate
  • America's population was still about 90 percent rural, despite the flourishing cities
  • People of the western waters in the stump studded clearings of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio were loyal


Washington for President

  • 1789 Washington was drafted as president by the electoral college
  • Washington commanded his followers by strength of character rather than by the arts of the politician.
  • April 30th, 1789 Washington took office on a crowded balcony overlooking Wall Street.
  • Washington established a cabinet, at first only having three department heads serving under him: Thomas Jefferson (Secretary of State), Alexander Hamilton (Secretary of the Treasury), and Henry Knox (Secretary of War).

The Bill of Rights

  • Many anti-federalists criticized the Constitution written in Philadelphia because of it's failure to guarantee individual rights such as freedom of religion and trial by jury though many states had ratified the Constitution under the understanding that those guarantees would soon be included in the Constitution.
  • Amendments to the Constitution would be proposed in either of two ways-by a new constitutional convention requested by two thirds of the states or by a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress. James Madison determined to draft the amendments himself due to the fear that a new convention might unravel the narrow federalist victory in the ratification struggle.
  • 1791, the first eten amendments to the Constitution (Bill of Rights) safeguard some of the most precious American principles. Protected freedom of religion, speech, press, the right to bear arms, right to be tried by jury, and the right to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances. It also prohibits cruel and unusual punishment and the arbitrary government seizure of private property.
  • Madison inserted a crucial ninth amendment, declaring that specifying certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people
  • The first congress also created effective federal courts under the judiciary act of 1789. The act organized the supreme court with a chife justice and five associates as well as federal district and circuit courts and established an office for an attorney general.

Hamilton Revives the Corpse of Public Credit

  • Alexander Hamilton: a native of the British West Indies whose genius was unquestioned, loved his adopted country more than his countrymen. He regarded himself as a kind of prime minister in Washington's cabinet and on occasion, became involved into other affairs of different departments, including his arch-rival Thomas Jefferson.
  • Hamilton set out immediately to correct the economic vexations that had crippled the Articles of Confederation. His plan was to shape the fiscal policies of the administration to favor wealthier groups in order to receive support from them.
  • His first objective was to bolster the national credit. he urged congress to fund the entire national debt at par and to assume completely the debts incurred by the states during the recent war
  • Funding par meant that the federal government would pay off its debts at face value plus accumulated interest.
  • 1790, congress passed Hamilton's measure, causing buying of paper holdings of farmers, war veterans, and widows.
  • 21.5 million assumed debt of the states
  • States burdened with heavy debts, like Massachusetts, were for Hamilton's plan unlike states with small debts such as Virginia, were more against. Virginia did not want the state debts assumed. The District of Columbia would gain commerce and prestige.

Customs Duties and Excise Taxes

  • The national debt had swelled to $75 million owing to Hamilton's insistence on honoring the outstanding federal and state obligations alike.
  • Hamilton's objectives were as much political as economic. He believed that national debt was positive in a way, the more creditors to whom the government owed money, the more people there would be with a personal state in the success of his ambitious enterprise. He wanted to make debt an asset for vitalizing the financial system as well as the government itself.
  • Hamilton used tariffs to pay interest on debt. Tariffs revenues depended on a vigorous foreign trade.
  • The first tariff law, imposing a low tariff of about 8 percent on the value of dutiable imports, was speedily passed by the first Congress in 1789 even before Hamilton was sworn in. Revenue was by far the main goal, but the measure was also designed to erect a low protective wall around infant industries which wanted more. Hamilton had the vision that the industrial revolution would soon reach America and argued for protection of well to do manufacturing groups, vital to his economic program.
  • Congress dominated by the agricultural and commercial interests
  • 1791, Hamilton secured from congress an excise tax on a few domestic items, notability whiskey. It was 7 cents a gallon.

Hamilton Battles Jefferson for a Bank

  • Hamilton proposed a Bank of the United States: powerful private institution--->gov't=major stockholder, federal Treasury-deposit is surplus monies; print urgently needed paper money, provide stable national currency
  • Jefferson insisted no authorization existed in Constitution for such a bank; powers not specifically granted to central gov't belong to states; states not Congress had power to charter banks
  • Hamilton argued national bank was proper and necessary; "implied power" by Constitution; evolved "loose construction" by invoking the "elastic clause" of Constitution
  • Washington agreed with Hamilton and signed bank measure into law;
  • Bank of U.S. created in 1791; stock open to public sale; lots of supporters

Mutinous Moonshiners of Pennsylvania

  • The Whiskey Rebellion in 1794 strongly challenged national gov't--->quite minuscule
  • Hamilton's high excise tax was a burden on an economic necessity and a medium of exchange for pioneer folk
  • Alcohol sold more cheaply than bales of grain; distillers erected whiskey poles, and tarred and feathered revenue officers
  • Washington called together militia of several states to stop rebels


The Emergence of Political Parties

  • Hamilton's financial successes created some political liabilities; his schemes encroached on states' rights
  • Personal feud between Hamilton and Jefferson developed into full-blown and bitter political rivalry
  • Newspapers spread Jefferson's and Madison's oppositional ideas among the people--->political parties began to emerge
  • two-party system has existed ever since
  • competition for power proved to be among ingredients of a sound democracy
  • Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans and Hamiltonian Federalists

The Impact of the French Revolution

  • American people overjoyed with upheaval of French people against Louis XVI
  • Federalists not happy
  • 1792: France declares war on Austria...hurls back invading foreigners...proclaims itself a republic...news reaches America, many Americans rejoice
  • French guillotine, Reign of Terror->Federalists frightened of Jeffersonian masses; Jeffersonians understood a few thousand aristocratic heads were a cheap price for freedom
  • earlier battles of French Revolution did not directly affect America, but then Britain became involved
  • conflagration spread to New World affecting the expanding young American Republic

Washington's Neutrality Proclamation

  • The Franco-American aliiance of 1778 was still in place.
  • Neutrality Proclomation issued in 1793.
  • This document proclaimed the government's official neutrality in the widening conflict but sternly warned American citizens to be impartial toward both armed camps.
  • Washington's method of announcing it unilaterally, without consulting Congress, infuriated the pro-French Jeffersonians, while pro-British Federalists were heartened.

Embroilments with Britain

  • Britain retained the chain of northern frontier posts on U.S. soil, which was in defiance with the peace treaty of 1783
  • British agents openly sold firearms and fire-water to the Indians of the Miami Confederacy, and alliance of eight Indian nations who terrorized Americans invading their lands
  • British ignored America's rights of neutrallity and siezed aroung three hundred ships, impressed scores of seamen into service on British vessels and threw hundreds of others in dungeons.

Jay's Treaty and Washington's Farewell

  • Washington sent Cheif Justice John Jay to London in 1794, in a last attempt to avert war with Britain.
  • British promised to evacuate the chain of posts on U.S, soil, although the British had said this before in 1783.
  • British also consented to pay damages for the recent seizures of American ships, but said nothing about the stopping of future maritime seizures and impressments, or about supplying arms to Indians.
  • Jay's Treaty outraged Jeffersonians because it seemed like an abject surrender to Britain.
  • Pickney's Treaty of 1795 granted everything the Americans demanded of Spain, including free navigation of the Mississippi and the largely disputed territory north of Florida.
  • In his Farewell Address, Washington stongly advised the avoidance of "permanent alliances" for "extaordinary Emergencies."

John Adams Becomes President

  • Alexander Hamilton was the best known member of the Federalist party, now that Washington had left, but his financial policies made him so unpopular that he couldn't hope to be elected.
  • Federalists turned instead to John Adams and the Jeffersonians rallied behind Thomas Jefferson.
  • The issues of the campaigns focused heavily on personalities, but the Jeffersonians assailed the too-forecful crushing of the Whiskey Rebellion and the negotiation of Jay's Treaty.
  • John Adams won the election, and Thomas Jefferson, as runner up, became vice-president.

Unofficial Fighting with France

  • French infuriated by Jay’s treated- condemned it as the initial step toward an alliance with Britain- violation of Franco-American Treaty of 1778
  • French warships seize American merchant vessels
  • President Adams tried to reach an agreement with the French
  • War hysteria swept through the United States- slogan “Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute.”
  • Federalists- delighted, Jeffersonian- shamed
  • War preparations pushed along even with Jeffersonian resistance in Congress- Navy Department created/expanded, Marine Corps established, new army of ten thousand men authorized
  • Bloodshed confined to the sea- 1798-1800 80+ armed French vessels captured, several hundred Yankee merchant ships lost to the French

Adams Puts Patriotism Above Party

  • France didn’t want war with the US, would only increase their enemy list
  • Because the conflict with the French was pushing the US and Britain closer, France stated that if Americans sent another minister, he would be received with proper respect.
  • Early 1799 Adams the name of a new minister to the Senate, enraging Hamilton and his faction, though favorable opinion- Jeffersonian and reasonable Federalists- wanted to try again for peace.
  • Convention of 1800 signed in Paris. France agreed to annul the 22-year-old marriage of inconvenience, US agreed to pay damage claims of American shippers

The Federalist Witch Hunt

  • Federalists capitalized on anti-French frenzy to push laws through Congress designed to minimize Jeffersonians
  • First law raised the residence requirements for aliens who wanted to become citizens from five to fourteen years- violated the traditional American policy of open-door hospitality, and speedy assimilation
  • Two additional Alien Laws- president empowered to deport dangerous foreigners in time of peace, and to deport or imprison them in the time of hostilities
  • Sedition Act- anyone who impeded the policies of government or falsely defamed its officials would be liable to a heavy fine and imprisonment- violation of freedom of speech, and freedom of the press.
  • Jeffersonian editors convicted under Sedition Act by packed juries and prejudiced Federalist judges
  • Supreme Court, dominated by Federalists, didn’t declare the Sedition Acts unconstitutional- law made to expire in 1801 so it couldn’t be used against Federalists if they lost the next election
  • Alien and Sedition Acts commanded widespread popular support- Federalists, riding a wave of popularity, scored the most sweeping victory of their entire history in the 1798-1799 congressional elections.

The Virginia (Madison) and Kentucky (Jefferson) Resolutions

  • Jeffersonians feared that in Federalists wiped out free speech/press, then they would then wipe out other constitutional guarantees- could lead to Jeffersonian party being wiped out- country might slide into dangerous one-party dictatorship
  • Jefferson wrote a series of resolutions, approved by the Kentucky legislature in 1798 and 1799, Madison drafted a similar, less extreme, statement adopted by the Virginia legislature in 1798
  • Jefferson and Madison stressed the compact theory- the thirteen sovereign states, in creating the federal government, had entered into a “compact” or contract, regarding its jurisdiction- states were final judge of whether the federal government had broken the “compact” by overstepping authority- the resolutions claimed federal regime had overstepped authority, and Alien and Sedition acts should be nullified
  • No other state legislatures agreed with Kentucky- some refused to endorse the Virginia/Kentucky resolutions
  • Federalists argued that people, not states, made the original compact, and the Supreme Court should be the one to nullify unconstitutional legislature passed by Congress

Federalist Versus Democratic-Republican

The Two Political Parties, 1793-1800               
Federalist Features          Democratic-Republican Features     
Rule by the "best people"        Rule by the informed masses       
Hostility to extension of democracy      Friendliness toward extension of democracy   
A powerful central government at expense of state's rights  A weak central government so as to preserve states' rights 
Loose interpretation of Constitution      Strict interpretation of Constitution     
Governments to foster business        No special favors for business; agriculture preferred   
Protective tariff          No special favors for manufacturers     
Pro-British          Pro-French         
National debt a blessing, if properly funded      National debt a bane; rigid economy     
An expanding bureaucracy        Reduction of federal officeholders     
A powerful central bank        Encouragement to state banks       
Restrictions on free speech and press      Relatively free speech and press       
Concentration in seacoast area        Concentration in South and Southwest; agricultural/backcountry 
A strong navy to protect shippers      Minimal navy for coastal defense     


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