After mastering this chapter, you should be able to:
1. State why George Washington was pivotal to inaugurating the new federal government.
2. Describe the methods and policies Alexander Hamilton used to put the federal government on a sound financial footing.
3. Explain how the conflict between Hamilton and Jefferson led to the emergence of the first political parties.
4. Describe the polarizing effects of the French Revolution on American foreign and domestic policy and politics from 1790 to 1800.
5. Explain the rationale for Washington’s neutrality policies, including the conciliatory Jay’s Treaty and why the treaty provoked Jeffersonian outrage.
6. Describe the causes of the undeclared war with France, and explain Adams’s decision to seek peace rather than declare war.
7. Describe the poisonous political atmosphere that produced the Alien and Sedition Acts and the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions.
8. Describe the contrasting membership and principles of the Hamiltonian Federalists and the Jeffersonian Republicans, and how they laid the foundations of the American political party system.
To build your social science vocabulary, familiarize yourself with the following terms.
1. census An official count of population; in the United States, the federal census occurs every ten years. “. . . the first official census of 1790 recorded almost 4 million people.”
2. public debt The money owed by a government to individual or institutional creditors, also called the national debt. “. . . the public debt, with interest heavily in arrears, was mountainous.”
3. cabinet The body of official advisers to the head of a government; in the United States, it consists of the heads of the major executive departments as designated by Congress. “The Constitution does not mention a cabinet. . . .”
4. circuit court A court that hears cases in several designated locations rather than a single place; originally, in the United States, the higher courts of appeals were all circuit courts, and are still designated as such even though they no longer migrate. “The act organized . . . federal district and circuit courts. . . .”
5. fiscal Concerning public finances—expenditures and revenues. “His plan was to shape the fiscal policies of the administration. . . .”
6. assumption In finance, the appropriation or taking on of monetary obligations not originally one’s own. “The secretary made a convincing case for ‘assumption.’ ”
7. excise A tax on the manufacture, sale, or consumption of certain products. “Hamilton . . . secured from Congress an excise tax on a few domestic items, notably whiskey.”
8. stock The shares of capital ownership gained from investing in a corporate enterprise; the term also refers to the certificates representing such shares. “Stock was thrown open to public sale.”
9. medium of exchange Any item, metallic, paper, or otherwise, used as money. “They regarded [whiskey] as a . . . medium of exchange.”
10. despotism Arbitrary or tyrannical rule. “The American people, loving liberty and deploring despotism, cheered.”
11. impress To force people or property into public service without choice; to conscript. “They . . . impressed scores of seamen into service on British vessels. . . .”
12. assimilation The merging of diverse cultures or peoples into one; especially, the merging of a smaller or minority community into a larger one. “The drastic new law violated the traditional American policy of open-door hospitality and speedy assimilation.”
13. witch-hunt An investigation carried on with much publicity, supposedly to uncover dangerous activity but actually intended to weaken the political opposition by presuming guilt from the outset. “Anti-French hysteria played directly into the hands of witch-hunting conservatives.”
14. compact An agreement or covenant between states to perform some legal act. “Both Jefferson and Madison stressed the compact theory. . . .”
15. nullification In American politics, the assertion that a state may legally invalidate a federal act deemed inconsistent with its rights or sovereignty. “[The] resolutions concluded that . . . ‘nullification’ was the ‘rightful remedy.’ ”
In 1794, an uprising in Pennsylvania over a federal tax on whiskey is suppressed by the militia on orders from President Washington.
As secretary of the treasury, Alexander Hamilton has a profound impact on establishing policies that will determine the nation’s economic direction and growth. Deficit spending, initiated in large part by Hamilton, endures as an economic and political tool. (It was used most famously by FDR.) Students need a good understanding of these economic issues for the AP exam.
Politically opposed to Hamilton is Washington’s secretary of state, Thomas Jefferson, a staunch opponent of Hamilton’s brainchild, the Bank of the United States.
Despite Washington’s concerns about political party affiliations, the period witnesses the emergence of two political parties: the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans.
Washington warns the new nation about establishing alliances with foreign nations; the key to America’s future, according to the first president, lies in a policy of neutrality.
After Washington’s administration, the Federalists passed legislation that restricted civil and political rights. A response, in the form of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, offers a states’ rights challenge to questionable federal laws.
The American Revolution inspired France's Revolution. Thinking Globally (The American Pageant, 14th ed., pp. 208–209) looks at the similarities and differences between the two.
Take note of the following:
1. Debate continues over the distinction made by most historians that Jefferson and Hamilton represented opposing views: Hamilton, as an advocate of a strong central government, commerce, and manufacturing; Jefferson, as a supporter of states’ rights and an agrarian future for the nation. Some historians contend, however, that the two adversaries simply represented two types of wealth and class: manufacturers and planter-slaveholders.
2. Take note of the DBQ on Jefferson and philosophical consistency (13th ed., DBQ 3, pp. A108–A109/14th ed., DBQ 4, pp. A73–A75). Questions asking “to what extent” are common on the AP exam. Students need not fully support either the view that President Jefferson maintained his philosophy or the view that he altered it. Instead, they should discuss the degree to which he adopted one philosophical approach or another to governing.
Theme: Led by Washington and Hamilton, the first administration under the Constitution overcame various difficulties and firmly established the political and economic foundations of the new federal government. The first Congress under the Constitution, led by James Madison, also contributed to the new republic by adding the Bill of Rights.
Theme: The cabinet debate over Hamilton’s financial measure expanded into a wider political conflict between Hamiltonian Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans—the first political parties in America. Federalists supported a strong central government, a loose interpretation of the Constitution, and commerce (business). (Democratic) Republicans supported states’ rights, a strict interpretation of the Constitution, and agriculture (farmers).
Theme: The French Revolution created a severe ideological and political division over foreign policy between Federalists and Republicans. The foreign-policy crisis coincided with domestic political divisions that culminated in the bitter election of 1800, but in the end, power passed peacefully from Federalists to Republicans. American isolationist tradition emerges as a result of Washington’s strong neutrality stance and his farewell warnings about foreign alliances.
The fledgling government faced considerable difficulties and skepticism about its durability, especially since traditional political theory held that large-scale republics were bound to fail. But President Washington brought credibility to the new government, while his cabinet, led by Alexander Hamilton, strengthened its political and economic foundations.
The government’s first achievements were the Bill of Rights and Hamilton’s financial system. Through effective leadership, Hamilton carried out his program of funding the national debt, assuming state debts, imposing customs and excise taxes, and establishing a Bank of the United States.
The bank was the most controversial part of Hamilton’s program because it raised basic constitutional issues. Opposition to the bank from Jefferson and his followers reflected more fundamental political disagreements about republicanism, economics, federal power, and foreign policy. As the French Revolution evolved from moderation to radicalism, it intensified the ideological divisions between the pro-French Jeffersonians and the pro-British Hamiltonians.
Washington’s Neutrality Proclamation angered Republicans, who wanted America to aid Revolutionary France. Washington’s policy was sorely tested by the British, who routinely violated American neutrality. In order to avoid war, Washington endorsed the conciliatory Jay’s Treaty, further outraging the Republicans and France.
After the humiliating XYZ affair, the United States came to the brink of war with France, but Adams sacrificed his political popularity and divided his party by negotiating peace.
These foreign-policy disagreements embittered domestic politics: Federalists passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, to which Jefferson and Madison responded with the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions.
George Washington (1732–1799)
As both military leader of the Revolution and first president under the Constitution, Washington symbolized the republican ideal of Cincinnatus, the Roman citizen-soldier who only reluctantly abandoned private life to serve his country.
The only serious challenge to Washington’s leadership during the Revolution came in 1777 from the “Conway cabal,” a group of disgruntled officers, encouraged by some members of Congress, who plotted futilely to oust Washington from command.
In 1782, some Continental army officers proposed making Washington king of America; he was outraged when he heard of it and refused to allow anyone to mention the idea in his presence.
During his retirement from 1783 to 1787, his greatest interest was in linking the Potomac and Ohio rivers by road, and he traveled on horseback 650 miles to examine possible routes.
Quote: “My movements to the chair of government will be accompanied by feelings not unlike those of a culprit who is going to his place of execution.” (1788)
REFERENCE: Garry Wills, Cincinnatus (1984).
Alexander Hamilton (1757–1804)
Hamilton was the political and financial genius of the early Republic whose heroic postures, personal ambition, and taste for aristocratic government made many of his contemporaries fear him, even though everyone recognized his great talents.
Born on the British West Indian island of Nevis, Hamilton came to New York at age fourteen to begin his education. The unfair attacks on him as a “bastard” arose because his mother had not obtained a legal divorce from her previous husband before establishing her union with Hamilton’s father.
He became Washington’s aide-de-camp in the Revolution and rose to lieutenant colonel. Extremely hot-tempered and sometimes vindictive, Hamilton denounced Washington behind his back and resigned from his staff after Washington once rebuked him for lateness.
He feuded with Aaron Burr for years in New York and helped block him from the governorship and, possibly, the presidency. He tried to avoid Burr’s demand for a duel, but when Burr made Hamilton’s refusal a matter of public honor, Hamilton reluctantly accepted.
Quote: “The love of fame, the ruling passion of the noblest minds, prompts a man to plan and undertake extensive and arduous enterprises for the public benefit, requiring considerable time to mature and perfect them.” (Federalist No. 72, 1788)
REFERENCE: Gerald Stourzh, Alexander Hamilton and the Idea of Republican Government (1970).
John Jay (1754–1829)
Jay was one of the authors (with Madison and Hamilton) of the Federalist Papers. His negotiation of Jay’s Treaty with Great Britain in 1795 made him a hero to Federalists and a hated symbol of American humiliation to Jeffersonian Republicans.
Although somewhat humorless and vain, Jay had a very high sense of honor. At King’s College (Columbia), he was once temporarily suspended for refusing to reveal the name of a fellow student who had committed vandalism.
Washington offered him his choice of any position in the new government, and Jay chose chief justice of the United States. He carefully cultivated influential British citizens during the negotiation of the commercial treaty with Britain in order to obtain the most favorable terms, but to the Republicans, who burned him in effigy, these contacts were proof that he had sold out American interests.
Quote: “Further concessions on the part of Great Britain cannot, in my opinion, be attained. If this treaty fails, I despair of another.… If I entirely escape censure, I shall be agreeably disappointed.” (Letter, 1795)
REFERENCE: Richard B. Morris, John Jay (1975).
John Adams (1735–1826)
Adams was the Massachusetts Revolutionary and Federalist president whose public appeal never matched his political and intellectual talents.
He originally considered becoming a minister, but “frigid John Calvin” repelled him, and he turned to law. During his frequent missions abroad, he lived very frugally and constantly complained of the extravagance of his fellow diplomats such as Franklin and Jay.
He thought that Hamilton maneuvered to get him elected to the vice presidency, which he called “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or the mind of man conceived.” Although he was prickly and cold in most situations, his diaries and letters to his wife Abigail show his warm, anxious, and generous side.
He renewed his friendship with Jefferson after both left office, and they exchanged numerous letters until they died within a few hours of each other on July 4, 1826. Adams’s last words were “Thomas Jefferson still lives.”
Quote: “My reputation has been so much the sport of the public, for fifty years, and will be with posterity, that I hold it a bubble, a gossamer, that idles in the wanton summer air.” (Letter to Jefferson, 1813)
REFERENCE: Peter Shaw, The Character of John Adams (1976).
Aaron Burr (1756–1836)
Burr was the vice president of the United States who killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel and then organized a mysterious conspiracy to separate parts of the West from the United States.
A grandson of Jonathan Edwards, the Great Awakening preacher, Burr was charming and eloquent but always loved adventure and intrigue. He nearly joined the Conway cabal against Washington and helped organize the Tammany Hall political club in New York.
After killing Hamilton in the duel on July 11, 1804, he first fled but then returned to preside as vice president over the impeachment trial of Samuel Chase before embarking on his western conspiracy.
Burr’s plotting was so complicated and confusing that it is still uncertain whether he wanted to set up a new western nation under himself or to form a private army to invade Mexico. Although technically acquitted in his treason trial, he was completely disgraced. He fled to France, where he lived in poverty and tried to get Napoleon to endorse his schemes for an invasion of America.
Quote: “Political opposition can never absolve gentlemen from a rigid adherence to the laws of honor.…You have indulged in the use of language derogatory to my honor as a gentleman.…To this I expect a definite reply which must lead to an accommodation, or the only alternative which the circumstances of the case will justify.” (Dueling challenge to Alexander Hamilton, 1804)
REFERENCE: Herbert S. Parmet and Marie B. Hecht, Aaron Burr: Portrait of an Ambitious Man (1967).