The Federalist Presidents Introduction

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The Federalist Presidents
Following the adoption of the Constitution as the government of the United States, George Washington was unanimously elected as the President of the United States for two consecutive terms. During his presidency, Washington faced both domestic and foreign challenges and was able to exercise new powers, granted to him under our Constitution.
Domestically, Washington adopted Alexander Hamilton’s idea of assumption, whereby the National government would pay adopt (or assume) all of the outstanding state and federal debt and pay it off. That way the US would it’s creditworthiness (the ability to borrow/repay money). Washington also enforced the laws of the land in the face of resistance, such as in Pennsylvania’s Whiskey Rebellion, led by farmers upset over a tax on whiskey. Abroad, Washington was able to keep America neutral despite a French Revolution, which destabilized all of Europe. Through Jay’s Treaty and Pickney’s treaty, Washington showed it was now possible for the US to negotiate with foreign powers effectively.
Washington’s successor was John Adams. A qualified man, his presidency was monopolized by the war in Europe and France’s growing aggression towards the US. When Adams sought peace, the French insulted his peace commissioners by demanding a bribe. As the threat of war loomed, Adams signed the Alien & Sedition Acts, greatly violating the still-fresh Constitution. Ultimately, peace was found with France and war avoided, but Adams had angered his own party for not pursuing war with France and upset many American’s with the Alien & Sedition Acts. Adams was ultimately defeated for President by his former close friend and vice-president, Thomas Jefferson.
Washington & Adams helped America start off under the Constitution by strengthening the Federal government, ensuring a stable economy with a national bank and kept us out of foreign wars. However, their policies led to the formation of a second political party committed to fighting them, made the wealthy more powerful in government, increased tension between the States and the National government and trampled on the Constitution through the Alien & Sedition Acts.

Key Terms/Key Figures

You should be able to define, explain, and apply the following terms as necessary:



George Washington

John Adams

Alexander Hamilton

Thomas Jefferson

Plan of Assumption


Excise Tax

Whiskey Rebellion

Jay’s Treaty

Pickney’s Treaty

XYZ Affair

Alien & Sedition Act

Key Facts
Washington’s Presidency

  • Elected unanimously

  • Adams serves as President

  • Alexander Hamilton (Federalist) is his Treasury Secretary and adopts his plan of assumption

  • Thomas Jefferson (Democratic-Republican) serves as Secretary of State

  • Faces the Whiskey Rebellion

  • President at the signing of Jay’s Treaty; gives a lot of England and this is unpopular

  • Signs Pickney’s Treaty with Spain that opens up the Mississippi to Americans

Adams Presidency

  • Elected by 3 votes

  • A Federalist President; he as Thomas Jefferson (Democratic Republican) as his vice president

  • Presidency is defined by the issues of war with France

  • Peace commissioners to France are asked for a bribe to pursue peace; XYZ affair makes Adams very popular at home

  • Signs Alien & Sedition Acts, limiting free speech and targeting foreign aliens

  • Angers Federalists for not pursuing war with France

Key Themes
How did the domestic and foreign challenges facing Washington & Adams show the strength of the new Constitution?
Be able to explain the two political parties (Federalists & Democratic-Republicans), who were key leaders in these parties, what populations they represented and their opinion on foreign affairs
Be able to explain how Washington and Adams dealt with the European wars
Explain the Alien & Sedition Acts and how this worked against the Constitution; also be able to explain how this would benefit the Federalist Party.
Explain Hamilton’s plan of Assumption; what did it involve and how were Jefferson and his party brought around to accepting this deal

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