Ratification of the Constitution

Washington and Adams Administrations

Those who favored adoption of the new Constitution were called Federalists. It was they who had  favored a strong central government. Those who wanted a decentralized federal system were called Anti-federalists. The Federalists had something of an advantage over the anti-federalists. They had been members of the Constitutional convention; knew the document well, and were more prepared to argue for it than those who opposed it. By and large, they were more articulate than their opponents.

Were founders motivated by statesmanlike or personal economic concerns?

Charles A. Beard's Economic Interpretation of the Constitution (1913) argues that members of the Constitutional convention were members of the elite, land speculators and holders of large amounts of paper money who would benefit from a strong government that could honor bonds and paper money.

Most historians agree that Beard’s thesis stopped the hero-worship so easily applied to the framers, but his argument about their self-interest dominating the constitution is probably exaggerated according to most modern historians.  James Madison, father of the Constitution, had no bonds or western lands; many who opposed the constitution did hold bonds and were western land speculators. There was probably some self-interest involved in drafting the document, but it is by no means the sole answer. The entire issue is much more complicated.

From Tindall and Shi: America, A Narrative History: (p.320):  "Charles A. Beard hardly made a new discovery in finding that people are selfish; but it would be simplistic to attribute all human action to hidden economic interest. One must give some credence to the possibility that people mean what they say and are often candid about their motives, especially in large matters of public affairs.  The most notable circumstance of the times in fact was that unlike so many revolutions, the American Revolution led not to general chaos and terror but to 'an outbreak of constitution-making.'  From the 1760's through the 1780's there occurred a prolonged debate over the fundamental issues of government, which in its scope and depth--and in the durability of its outcome--is without parallel."

The Federalist Papers.  Was a series of eighty five essays published as letters in New York Newspapers to urge ratification by New York. They were authored by Alexander Hamilton; James Madison, John Jay, but published anonymously, signed Publius. ("for the public") Hamilton was the chief instigator, and authored fifty of the essays.  Madison wrote thirty, and John Jay five. The essays defended the principal of supreme central government, and argued that the people and states need not fear tyranny and usurpation by new government.

 The most famous essay is Federalist Number 10: in it, Madison argues that very size of government would make it impossible for any one faction to gain control of the government. This directly contradicted the conventional wisdom of the day, which maintained that republican governments could only survive in small, homogenous countries.  Large countries with diverse populations such as the U.S. (it was large by European standards even with only thirteen states) would fragment into anarchy.  Madison's argument is that by "taking in a greater variety of parties and interests, you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens."

The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable
to spread a general conflagration through the other States. A religious sect may degenerate into a
political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source. A rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project, will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union than a particular member of it; in the same proportion as such a malady is more likely to taint a particular county or district, than an entire State. 

The Anti-federalists argued about the danger of a powerful government; similar to the British government from which they had just been freed. And also noted the absence of a Bill of Rights to protect the rights of individual citizens or of the states.  To them, the entire ratification process was irregular, if not downright illegal.  In fact, it was illegal under the Articles of Confederation.  Patrick Henry, who had refused to attend the Constitutional Convention, unsuccessfully attempted to have the convention investigated as a conspiracy.   

Among the Anti-federalists were Patrick Henry; Richard Henry Lee; Sam Adams, Elbridge Gerry, and Luther Martin. They were primarily men whose reputations and careers were established before the revolution.  The Federalists were primarily younger men (under forty) whose careers and reputations had begun during the revolution. 

    It is important to note that the disagreement between the Federalists and Anti-federalists was more over the means rather than the end itself.  Both sides agreed that a strong central government with an independent income was necessary if the country was to survive.  Both also feared absolute democracy, the "tyranny of the majority," which would show little or no regard for the rights of the individual, particularly those with minority views. Precious few of either side thought the Constitution was a panacea; and precious few of it's critics found it entirely objectionable. In fact, when it was ratified and the new government formed, few suggested completely undoing it. 

    Ratification gained momentum rather quickly, particularly among the smaller states. The first state to ratify was Delaware: December 7, 1787. (It's license plates read: "The First State." In ceremonial matters, Delaware is still the first state recognized.) South Carolina was 8th, May 23, 1788; the Ninth—which made it official, was New Hampshire, on June 21, 1788. A mere seven months was required to form the new government. Several states held out. Massachusetts was the sixth state to ratify, but the vote was close (187-168).  It's citizens were still closely divided over the outcome of Shay's Rebellion. Ratification came only after the Federalists dangled in front of John Hancock the possibility of becoming Vice President [he loved titles and was immersed in self-importance] and promising Sam Adams that the Constitution would be amended to protect human rights, and specifically reserve to the states all powers not granted to the federal government.  Virginia, the largest state, did not ratify until June 25, 1788. It was common knowledge that without the ratification of Virginia, the new government would not be feasible. Patrick Henry again supported the backcountry farmers who feared a strong central government.  The delegates who wavered were won over by the same strategy that worked in Massachusetts: a guarantee of a Bill of Rights. Notable among the converts to the cause was Edmund Randolph, who had refused to sign the original document. North Carolina did not ratify until the new government went into effect, and Rhode Island was the last, on May 29 1790, by a vote of 34-32, the closest vote of all.

The Confederation Congress selected New York City as new seat of Government when it was notified of the ninth state's ratification. It held its last meeting on October 10, 1788, and adjourned sine die.

Many had doubts government would survive: Washington told a delegate to the Convention: "I do not expect the Constitution to last for more than twenty years." Benjamin Franklin wrote to a friend, "everything appears to promise that it will last; but in this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes."

He was almost not far wrong: The failure of the Convention to address the slavery issue allowed it to fester for the next eighty years; when war was the only solution –although it is possible that if they had insisted on a solution to the slavery issue at that time, the Constitution may have never been ratified.

Statistics: In 1790, 80 per cent of American households were engaged in Agricultural production. Only a few cities had more than 5,000 people. The first census revealed 750,000 African Americans (one fifth total population), mostly in the South; less than 10 percent lived outside South. The population grew rapidly during this time. The average white woman gave birth to eight children, resulting in doubling of the population every 22 years. By 1790: half of all white Americans were under age 16.

    Indians were still a factor in the country.  Roughly 150,000 Indian people comprising 80 tribes were extant in 1790. They continuously resisted the encroachment of white civilization, often aided by the British in Canada and the Spanish in Florida, who did not want to see the U.S. expand beyond its borders.  

    Only about 125,000 people lived west of the Appalachian mountains in 1790, but the area soon grew rapidly, aided by cheap land and economic opportunities of the West.  

    The New Government: The new Congress was set to convene in New York on March 4, 1789, but only eight senators and thirteen representatives appeared; not enough to constitute a quorum for the conduct of business. One month later, a quorum was established, and the election of President was certified. George Washington was unanimously elected first President (only person so elected). John Adams, who had the second highest number of electoral votes, was chosen Vice President.

    Under the terms of the Constitution as then written, the person receiving the highest number of electoral votes was elected President, and the person with the second highest number was elected Vice President.  There was no "ticket" whereby two candidates ran for the two offices simultaneously.

    Washington, the soldier and gentleman farmer, was a reluctant President.  He described his election as "the event which I have long dreaded," and spoke of the "ten thousand embarrassments, perplexities, and troubles to which I must again be exposed."  He told a friend that he prepared to take office like "a culprit who is going to the place of his execution."  Even so, he served because he had been "summoned by my country." He accepted the office only on condition that he be paid no salary.  

    At his inauguration on Wall Street, Washington wore a brown suit rather than his military uniform.  He was keenly aware that as the first president, his actions would set a precedent for his successors.  He wore a sword with his suit, to signify that he was commander in chief, but not a member of the military. He took the oath of office on a Masonic Bible, and in true Masonic fashion, kissed the Bible when the oath was completed. In his address, he noted the solemnity of the occasion:

    {I}t would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official Act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the Universe, who presides in the Councils of Nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that his benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the People of the United States, a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes: and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success, the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own; nor those of my fellow-citizens at large, less than either. No People can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent  nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency

Read George Washington's Inaugural Address

Governmental Structure:  Congress set up several Government departments corresponding to the offices already formed under the Confederation Government.  Washington, as President, appointed officers to fill them. He routinely met with them together to discuss Government affairs; this became the President’s Cabinet. Members of the first Cabinet were:

· Secretary of State: Thomas Jefferson

· Secretary of Treasury: Alexander Hamilton

· Secretary of War: Henry Knox

· Attorney General: Edmund Randolph

    Note:  There was no provision in the Constitution for a Presidential Cabinet; it developed as a matter of custom.  Also, the office of Vice President assumed it's traditional role of an office with little responsibility. John Adams, the first Vice President, wrote to his wife: "The vice presidency was the most insignificant office ever contrived. 

    The Constitution only provided for a Chief Justice and a Supreme Court, and left the structure of inferior courts to Congress. John Jay was named by Washington as the first Chief Justice of the United States. Congress originally provided for six Justices on the Court, the Chief Justice and five associate justices.  Appeals were to be heard by the Appeals Courts, composed of two Supreme Court Justices and a district judge which met in each district twice a year. Thus the Justices became itinerant, and thus began the "Circuit Courts of Appeal." Appeals from the Court of Appeals went directly to the Supreme Court.    

    When the House of Representatives convened, James Madison pressed for the passage of a Bill of Rights.  Although both Madison and Hamilton considered the guarantee of personal freedoms under a Bill of Rights both unnecessary and dangerous, they were under a moral obligation to the state conventions which had approved the Constitution only with the understanding that a Bill of Rights would be added.  It was also intended to allay the fears of those who still feared the abuses that might result from a strong central government.  Madison called the Bill of Rights the "most dramatic single gesture of conciliation that could be offered the remaining opponents of the government."  Those who had opposed it typically represented the backwoods farmers and poor folk, who did not trust the wealthy to subordinate their own self interest to the good of the people.

    Seventeen Amendments were approved by the House.  This number was later reduced to twelve by a conference committee of the House and Senate.  Ten were eventually ratified on December 15, 1791.  The first eight were taken from the Virginia Declaration of Rights written by George Mason in 1776.  Amendment nine and ten were addressed specifically to meet the demands of Sam Adams and others who wished to see the rights of the people and the states preserved.  The tenth, which states that "powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."  This language was taken almost verbatim from the Articles of Confederation.

Revenue:  This was the most pressing need of the new government.   Madison proposed a tariff on Imports as revenue measure.  He proposed a mercantile system with a particularly heavy duty on ships from countries with no commercial treaty with the U.S.  He had originally proposed it as a revenue measure, but representatives from the northern states, where manufacturing was prevalent, insisted that higher duties be placed on certain designated items to protect domestic markets.     Eventually, the only limits placed in the Tonnage Act of 1789 was between American and foreign ships.

    The disagreement over trade and tariff policy was the opening round in a dispute which would devolve into a bitter controversy which divided the country North and South.  A lesser question was whether the country should favor Britain or France economically. (On this issue, Hamilton favored Britain, his rival, Thomas Jefferson, favored France.)  Any tariff which protected Northern manufacturers and ship owners would penalize Southern farmers.  Americans, most of whom were tied to a farm economy, would be forced to pay higher prices by reason of the tariffs.  The issue thus became: should the nations agricultural majority (particularly in the South) subsidize the manufacturing interests in the North (which were young and fragile at this time) by means of tariffs which meant higher prices.  This issue contributed heavily to the North-South sectional controversy which would later engulf the nation. 

Alexander Hamilton's Vision of America

    Hamilton was Washington's young protégé, and first Secretary of the Treasury.  Born out of wedlock in the Bahamas and deserted by his father, a Scottish merchant, (John Adams, who had no use for Hamilton, called him the "bastard brat of a Scotch pedlar.") He was literally a self-made man, who enrolled at Kings College (later Columbia University) at age seventeen, and later built a substantial law practice.  He was ambitious to a fault, and recognized it.  Said he of himself, "To confess my weakness, my ambition is prevalent."  He was a confirmed nationalist, and a firm believer in a strong central government.  He has supported the Newburgh conspiracy as a means to gain taxing authority for the Confederation government, and had attempted to enlist the support of his mentor, Washington, but failed miserably in that regard. 

Hamilton, as Treasury Secretary, had a vision of national greatness. He drew up a series of reports on means of raising revenue which set national policy for years to come, but also created controversy. He favored government by the rich and wellborn and probably would have favored a federal veto of state action or even a constitutional monarchy. He believed that historically, the wealthy and strong had dominated the weak, and that this was the way of nature. He never understood or appreciated the people who lived in small farms or on the frontier. He honestly believed government was stronger if it were controlled by the rich. (A true Republican!)  Among the reports which he issued:

First Report on the Public Credit: Issued in 1790.  It proposed funding the federal debt at face value –in other words, paying off government bonds at face value, with interest, and that the federal government assume the Revolutionary war debts of the states. Many people objected; many bondholders  had sold their bonds at 5 – 10 cents on the dollar to speculators, who now stood to make a killing if the bonds were paid at face value, plus interest. Hamilton argued this was only proper, since the speculators had taken the risk.  He also argued that payment of the national debt would ensure future credit for the country; that the debt would be give occasion to assert the government's taxing power, which would make country strong, and that the plan would win the support of wealthy creditors. He firmly believed that to survive, the influence and support of the wealthy was needed. His proposal sparked heated debate before it was adopted in substance.

Second Report on the Public Credit:  Called for an excise tax on liquor to raise money to pay the national debt.

Report on Manufactures:  Proposed government support to encourage manufacturing enterprises.

    Another report called for the institution of a national bank and a national mint. (The mint was established in 1792).

    Madison's plan was substantially similar to the plan of Robert Morris to put the Confederation government on sound financial footing. 

    Opposition was almost immediate: James Madison had supported Hamilton's efforts to establish a strong central government, but strongly objected to Hamilton's plan to reward bond holders. He was particularly troubled that most of the creditors who held the bonds were North of the Mason Dixon line – and most of the Southern States had paid down their debt, so Northern States would be getting a free ride. 

    A vigorous debate continued, and the issue was not resolved until Hamilton managed to collar Thomas Jefferson on the steps of the President's home and asked to work out a compromise. At a dinner that would change history between Madison and Hamilton and hosted by Jefferson, Madison agreed to secure Southern Votes in favor of Hamilton’s plan; in exchange for which Hamilton would push for Northern Votes to build a Capital City called for in the Constitution in the South. The Capital would be  moved to Philadelphia for ten years; after which a Federal City would be built on the Potomac River on site to be selected by the President. Hence, Washington D.C. was located in the South.

National Bank: Once he had established the public credit, Hamilton called for a national bank which would issue notes (paper money) and thus provide a uniform currency. The bank's notes would be backed by the Government bonds held by the bank. With a chronic shortage of "specie" (hard money), the bank notes, as currency, would meet a serious need. He planned for the Bank to be chartered by Congress and remain under government oversight, but private investors would capitalize 4/5 of its assets ($10 million) and name twenty of the twenty five directors.  Three-fourths of the stock would be paid for with government bonds, and the balance with gold and silver ("specie"). 

To Hamilton, the Bank had many advantages: it would be depository of Government funds, and could issue notes (currency) on basis of bonds it held for safekeeping.  The currency would be redeemable on demand in gold and silver, which would give value to the notes.  (Remember, paper money issued by the Continental Congress was considered worthless as it was unredeemable in gold and silver). It also would be a source of bank loans to help industry grow.

Madison opposed the idea immediately: He argued that there was no provision in Constitution for a national bank. Congress had quickly passed the bill authorizing the Bank, but Washington was concerned by Madison's objections, and  asked the Cabinet's opinion. Members of the cabinet were divided.  Thus became the great issue that would dog the country for many years to come:  Strict vs. Broad Construction of the Constitution:

    The argument turned on Article I Section 8 of Constitution: to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the forgoing powers.

· Jefferson and Madison  argued that the tenth Amendment reserved power in the states. They said that Article I Section 8 didn’t matter, because a Bank was not "necessary." It was only a convenience.

· Hamilton argued that  if the end was legitimate, then the means was also legitimate. Congress had power to collect taxes and regulate currency,  it would need a bank for that purpose. He also argued that  if the end is legitimate and the  end is not specifically prohibited by constitution, "it may safely be deemed to come within the compass of the national authority."

This argument still presents itself every time a new Justice to the Supreme Court is nominated – it is not necessarily phrased that way, although sometimes it is. Republicans tend to prefer a strict construction of the Constitution, if you can’t put your finger on a provision of the Constitution that provides for it, you can’t do it; Democrats say if it is a legitimate end, and is not prohibited by the Constitution, then it is constitutional. William O. Douglas (Late Supreme Court Justice) spoke of "penumbras" of Constitutional protection.

Washington signed the Bank Bill, First Bank of the United States was created opened in Philadelphia. Jefferson correctly predicted that Washington had opened up a "boundless field of power." Congress and Supreme Court used this thinking to substantially enlarge power of the Supreme Court. The Bank's stock was sold out within the first two hours.  The government's investment was returned with a loan from the bank payable in ten years; so the government's initial investment/exposure in the bank venture was almost nothing.

    Manufactures:  Hamilton saw many advantages to manufacturing.  To him it was a means of moving the country from a predominantly agricultural economy; it would work for women and children, encourage immigration and business activity, and eventually provide a better market for agricultural goods. He proposed to accomplish this by a means of "protective tariffs," similar to the old Navigation Acts, sometimes high enough to prevent imports; a restriction on the exportation of American raw materials; encouragement of inventions and discoveries, and internal improvements for transportation. The last included the development of canals, roads, etc.

    Hamilton's argued that the North and South would benefit from this program, as the North would provide the necessary market for Southern agricultural production, and the North would furnish the southern demand for manufactured goods. His financial program was beneficial.  The Revolutionary War debt was gradually retired, and the country entered a period of economic prosperity. 

Hamilton’s programs provoked a great deal of opposition; particularly in the South; but also in New York where he made political enemies. The split over Hamilton’s policies provided the seeds for development of the first National Political parties.  The framers had deplored the development of political parties, in fact Jefferson had once declared, "If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go at all."  The split into factions was slow in coming, but eventually, two separate political camps developed.

· Federalists: Hamilton, etc. who favored strong central government.

· Republicans: Madison and Jefferson, (Name implied that Federalists were really trying to establish a constitutional monarchy. States more important than central government. This was NOT the present day Republican Party. Was actually the forerunner of the modern day Democratic Party.

Madison and Jefferson were both from Virginia, opposition to Hamilton’s policies took root there. Both opposed the excise tax on Whiskey – said would be burden to farmers on far side of Appalachian, as it was easier to convert corn into whiskey for transport.

Jefferson was the opposite of Hamilton. Hamilton had humble origins, Jefferson was to the manor born. Hamilton was short; Jefferson was 6’4", (Had red hair, blue eyes, ruddy complexion). Hamilton dashing and outspoken, Jefferson was shy; Hamilton self made lawyer; Jefferson was Renaissance man, spoke seven languages, accomplished inventor, architect, had more diverse interests than even Franklin. Also played the violin, although by all accounts he was lousy at it.

Philosophically, they were quite different: Hamilton loved order and feared anarchy; Jefferson feared tyranny and loved liberty. Hamilton was an old fashioned English Whig; Jefferson had spent several years in Paris, and was something of an enlightened philosophe. Hamilton wanted strong central government; Jefferson wanted it made up of small farmers.

Famous quote by Jefferson: Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people, whose breasts He has made His peculiar deposit for genuine and substantial virtue."

    Hamilton identified Jefferson more and more in the public mind as the leader of the opposition to his plans, although opposition had originated with Madison.  Madison's role grew more and more obscure.  When Madison and Jefferson took a vacation in upstate New York, rumor was spread that they were consulting with a New York group who opposed the Federalists, including Aaron Burr.  

In a modern context, you might say that Hamilton was from Debordieu, and Jefferson was from Andrews!

Washington longed to retire to Mount Vernon, but Jefferson and Hamilton both persuaded him to stay.  Both believed he was the only man who could bridge the fractious gap that had developed between the Democratic-Republicans and the Federalists. He was unanimously elected to a second term; Adams again as Vice President, although he was not the original party nominee. Adams was reelected by seventy electoral votes to fifty for New York governor George Clinton. 

Foreign and Domestic Crises

    Americans had followed events in the French Revolution, but when it turned into a monster, they lost sympathy for the cause. After the execution of Louis XVI, Britain and France fought for 22 years as result of policies of French Revolution. Washington was in an awkward position, because the Treaty of 1778 had made U.S. the "perpetual ally" of France. During the fighting, Americans traded with both sides, which each side resented. Officially, of course, America was neutral, one of the few issues on which Jefferson and Hamilton agreed. However, each had separate ideas on how to handle neutrality.  Hamilton, who favored the British, proposed declaring the Treaty invalid, as it had been entered into by a government that no longer existed {the Confederation government}.  Jefferson, more the Francophile, proposed using the Treaty as a bargaining chip against the British.  

    Washington took the middle ground, and on April 22, 1793, issued a Neutrality Proclamation which was carefully worded.  It avoided even the use of the word "neutral."  Rather it declared the U.S. "friendly and impartial toward the belligerent powers," and warned Americans not to aid or abet either side on pain of prosecution.

Washington recognized the new French Government on the advise of Jefferson, and accepted the French ambassador, Edmond Charles Genet ("Citizen Genet."). Genet was real revolutionary, .and encouraged Americans to outfit ships to pirate British shipping. This would have brought a declaration of war from Great Britain. He was quite sure of himself, and threatened to appeal to the people of the U.S., (go over President’s head).  This was too much and Washington asked for his credentials—a nice way of kicking him out of the country. However, the government had changed in France. Radicals had gained power in France, and sent their own minister to demand Genet’s arrest and return to France. If Genet returned, he would be guillotined. He begged Washington to allow him to stay, and Washington agreed. Genet became an American citizen, married a rich girl, and settled down.

Offenses by France and England caused American opinion to polarize The French radicals were on the verge of anarchy, which cooled American support.  The British informed the American government they intended to continue the operation of forts in the Northwest, and began seizing American ships.

bullet   Jefferson and Republicans supported France, liberty, and reason.
bullet   Hamilton and Federalists supported order, religious faith, and Britain.

Odd loyalties: Republican slaveholders, planters, supported Jacobins, who dispossessed French aristocrats; supported protest against British seizures of New England ships; Massachusetts shippers profited from trade with Britain, became a hotbed of Federalism.

    Washington named Chief Justice John Jay as special envoy to great Britain, and he managed to negotiate a treaty. (Jay Treaty of 1794):

bullet   Britain received most favored nation trading status with America.
bullet   America promised not to outfit French privateers.
bullet   Britain need not pay compensation for slaves removed during Revolution.
bullet   Old American debts to British merchants would be honored.
bullet   Britain evacuated posts in Northwest Territories.
bullet   Britain paid reparations for American vessels seized.

Jay's Treaty was very unpopular, particularly with Republicans, who were itching to join up with France. Southern Planters were particularly incensed that they received no compensation for slaves carried away during the Revolution. In the end, it passed with the narrowest of margins.

    The treaty was so unpopular that Jay said he could travel across the country at night by the light of his burning effigies.

    The House of Representatives demanded Washington submit documents related to treaty for review.  Washington refused, arguing  that the treaty was properly the business of the Senate, not the House. He thereby set a precedent for claims of Executive Privilege.

The Frontier: Indians in the Northwest Territories began stirring up trouble. Washington sent Gen. "Mad Anthony" Wayne, who defeated them at Battle of Fallen Timbers. Under the Treaty of Greenville, the Indians surrendered territory of present day Ohio and Indiana for an annuity of $15,000.00 annually.

The Whiskey Rebellion: Backwoods farmers bitterly resented Hamilton’s tax on Liquor. It was easier to convert corn into Corn whiskey for transportation to market. They considered it another of Hamilton’s schemes to pick the pockets of the poor. Revolt broke out in four counties in Pennsylvania. Farmers attacked revenue agents, blew up stills of those who paid tax, and threatened Pittsburgh.  Washington called on them to disburse, but was ignored. He then issued a proclamation for suppression of the rebellion. Washington dispatched Gen. Henry Lee to put down rebellion. Lee then commanded an army larger than Washington ever commanded during revolution. Hamilton was right in the middle, wanting to see them get their just deserts. The rebellion melted away at the sight of troops. Only two were ever convicted of treason and sentenced to be hanged, but Washington pardoned them both. He said one was a simpleton and the other insane. Government made its point in the rebellion. It had, according to Hamilton, gained "reputation and strength." But it offended many farmers, who voted Republican in the next election.

    As in the case of Bacon's Rebellion and Shay's Rebellion, those who participated were offended by and opposed the policies of a government some distance away.  All those who rebelled were from the back country.

Pinckney's Treaty: After American differences with Britain were settled, Thomas Pinckney secured a treaty with Spain, which allowed Americans free navigation of the Mississippi River, and the right to deposit goods at New Orleans for three years with an option to renew.  The treaty was wildly popular, especially with those who wished to transport farm goods down the Mississippi to market.

Land Settlement

Defeat of Indians made more Western lands open for settlement. An argument erupted in Congress: Should lands be a source or revenue, or to accommodate settlers (low land prices.) Initially, revenue argument won, but would later change. This was because the Country needed money. (Witness Hamilton’s arguments.)

Federalists and Republicans disagreed again on land policy:.

bulletFederalists: Wanted to populate East Coast first; high population would ensure political power; and would provide labor force if and when manufacturing would grow. They preferred selling large tracts of land to speculators; high prices to bring money into the Treasury; NOT small tracts to individuals.

In addition to his other reports, Hamilton had issued a "Report on the Public Lands."

bulletRepublicans preferred smaller tracts to encourage settlement. Jefferson commented that the frontiersmen, such as Daniel Boone, would do as they pleased anyway regardless of what Government said.

Ultimately, the Federalist position prevailed:

bulletLand Act of 1796: Extended surveys of old Northwest Ordinance, but doubled price to $2.00 per acre; increased minimum acreage, limited time to pay to one year.
bulletLand Acts of 1800 and 1804: Lessened payments, extended time to pay as few people, even speculators, could afford the earlier prices.

Daniel Boone built trail to Kentucky through Cumberland Gap in 1775 – became known as the Wilderness Trail. 500,000 people traveled trail over 25 years to settle in Kentucky area. Many bought land from speculators, or received land as a veteran’s bonus after end of war. Many simply "squatted" on land, and got good price later under "squatters rights."

A sense of community developed because so many chores could not be done by one person alone. Quite often, groups would gather to build a barn, house, etc. Often there were socials, dances, foot races, etc. A shooting contest involved shooting at a nail in a post. The winner was he who "hit the nail on the head." 

Transfer of Power 

    By the election of 1796, Washington had had enough; and he refused to run for a third term. Washington had accomplished quite a bit: organization of a national government, recovery of territory from Great Britain and Spain, stable northwestern frontier, admission of three new states: Vermont, Kentucky, and Tennessee. In his last years of office, Washington was the victim of political attacks by the Republican press who accused him of taking the Federalist view of everything. The editor of the Philadelphia Aurora called Washington "a man in his political dotage," and a "supercilious tyrant." Washington took it well publicly, but privately went into a rage. This may have played a large part in his decision to not run for election a third time.

    In his famous Washington addressed the need for unity and support of the new government.  He specifically advised the U.S. against political involvement in European affairs :

        "Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the  jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign  influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy to be useful must  be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense  against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those  whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of  influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become  suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to  surrender their interests." 

        "The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial  relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed  engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary  interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent  controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be  unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the  ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities."  

See the entire text of: Washington’s Farewell Address

    ***NOTE:  Americans took Washington's warning well to heart.  Isolationism from the affairs of Europe became an integral part of U.S. history for many years; with rare exception, it remained U.S. policy, not ending completely until after World War II.  Interestingly, William Jefferson Clinton, in his own farewell address, erroneously attributed this policy to Thomas Jefferson's inaugural address. But then again, Clinton was wrong about many things, including the necessity of being honest.

Election of 1796: This was the first truly partisan election. The logical choice for the Federalists would have been Hamilton, but his policies had made too many enemies

bulletFederalists: John Adams for President; Thomas Pinckney (S.C.) for V.P.
bulletRepublicans: Thomas Jefferson for President, Aaron Burr (N.Y.) for V.P.

Jefferson almost won, but the French Ambassador appealed publicly for support for Jefferson. This action backfired. Hamilton tried a few stunts including trying to get the South Carolina Federalists to move some votes around and elect Pinckney, whom he thought could be manipulated more easily than Adams. His stunt also backfired:  Jefferson ended up with the second highest number of votes: the end result:

bulletPresident: John Adams
bulletVice President. Thomas Jefferson.

    Hamilton's shenanigans had cost Aaron Burr the Vice Presidency, and he  was thoroughly p.o.;ed  He believed that  Hamilton had screwed him, and never forgot the injury.

The Adams Years 

       From Tindall and Shi:" Adams had behind him a distinguished career as a Massachusetts lawyer, a leader in the Revolutionary movement, and the Continental Congress, a diplomat in France, Holland, and Britain, and as vice president.  His political philosophy fell somewhere between Jefferson's and Hamilton's. He shared neither the one's faith in the common people nor the other's fondness for an aristocracy of "paper wealth."  He favored the classic mixture of aristocratic, democratic, and monarchical elements, though his use of "monarchical" interchangeably with "executive" exposed him to the attacks of Republicans who saw a monarchist in every Federalist. Yet Adam's fondness for titles and protocol arose from a reasoned purpose: to exploit the human "thirst for distinction."  Although he tried to play the role of the distinguished executive, he was always haunted by a feeling that he was never properly appreciated--and he may have been right. Yet, on the overriding issue of his administration, war and peace, he kept his head when others about him were losing theirs--probably at the cost of his reelection." (p. 360)

    As President, Adams inherited Washington’s Cabinet, and also a quarrel with France. French had accused the Americans of breaking trust with them because of the Jay treaty, (French and British were still arch enemies)  and had broken diplomatic relations with the Americans. They had also seized and plundered 300 American ships. Washington's ambassador to France had been James Madison, but he had become so virulently pro-French (and hostile to the Jay Treaty) that Washington had recalled him. He replaced him with Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (brother of Thomas), but the French had refused to accept him and ordered him out of the country. 

Adams sent three emissaries (Cotesworth Pinckney, Elbridge Gerry, and John Marshall) to France to patch things up. They were met by three French diplomats whom Adams called X, Y, and Z. Diplomats said that negotiations were impossible unless America agreed to a loan of $1.2 million, a bribe of $250,000 to the five directors heading the French government, and  apologies for remarks made by Adams in a speech to Congress . They were acting at the behest of Napoleon Bonaparte's Foreign Minister, Tallyrand, a master at this sort of thing.  It was not uncommon, Washington had paid a few bribes from time to time,  but the ambassadors were really p.o.ed, because the price was exorbitant in exchange merely for a promise to negotiate. Cotesworth Pinckney reportedly replied, "no, no, not a sixpence."  This became known as the XYZ Affair. American slogan became: "Millions for defense, not one cent for tribute.

War seemed inevitable, but Adams held back – if war were declared, he wanted France to be the instigator. But Congress did renounce the Treaty of 1778, and suspended commerce with France.

A Quaker, George Logan, visited France and tried to secure peace as a private citizen. This caused such an uproar that Congress passed the Logan Act (1799) which forbids private citizens from negotiating with private governments without official authorization. This is still in effect, although Jesse Jackson tends to ignore it.

War seemed inevitable, but Government in France changed, Napoleon Bonaparte took over; a treaty was arranged that ended the old alliance. When war still seemed likely, Adams had asked Washington to command troops, which Washington had consented to do, provided he were allowed to name his three field officers.  He named Hamilton as his second in command, something which Adams deeply resented. When a peace agreement was reached,  Hamilton opposed it. He still had visions of glory, and of capturing Louisiana and Florida, but Adams threatened to resign if the terms were not accepted.  The  treaty was signed in 1801. The difference in opinion over the treaty caused a rift in the Federalist party to widen even further.

War fever led to passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts (1798): which limited freedom of speech, of the press and of aliens.

bulletNaturalization Act: lengthened time from 5 to 14 years for alien to become citizen.
bulletAlien Act: allowed President to deport "dangerous" aliens.
bulletAlien Enemy Act: in time of war, President could expel or imprison aliens at will.
bulletSedition Act: forbade writing, publishing or speaking anything false, scandalous or malicious against the government or its officers.    

The Federalists supported the Acts but the Republicans opposed them. There were many Irish and French Immigrants, many of whom were Republican supporters. Federalist suspected they were revolutionaries. The purpose of the acts was quite obviously an attempt to punish Republicans, whom the Federalists believed were all Jacobins and revolutionaries. .The way the Federalists and Republicans had attacked each other, almost anyone could have gone to jail!

Notably, only Republicans were convicted under the act – one was fined $100.00 for wishing that the wad of a salute cannon might hit Adams in the rear. The Federalists had hoped this would secure their control of the government, but it backfired. The acts merely created martyrs for the cause of Free Speech, and damaged the Federalist cause.

    Republicans indicted under the Alien and Sedition Acts raised the unconstitutionality of the Acts as a defense, but this got them nowhere.  Judges were primarily Federalist, and not inclined to accept such a defense. To respond to Alien and Sedition Acts, Jefferson and Madison put together the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions – passed by legislatures of each state. These resolutions advanced the "state-compact" theory:  The Federal Government was composed of a compact of the States, therefore the States could decide if and when Congress had exceeded its authority. They also argued that the States could nullify any acts of Congress considered illegal. Said Madison: "a nullification of those sovereignties, of all unauthorized acts done under color of that instrument, is the rightful remedy. 

This was merely ammunition for the next election in 1800 – neither state attempted to declare any act of Congress unconstitutional, but the idea of nullification and "state's rights" stuck. It was used by John C. Calhoun to oppose the Tariff of 1828, and again as late as the 1950’s to oppose racial segregation.

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