Washington's Administration, 1789-1797
On the 30th of April, 1789, Washington was duly inaugurated first President of the United States. The new government was to have gone into operation on the 4th of March, but the event was considerably delayed. The inaugural ceremony was performed on the balcony of the old Federal Hall, on the corner of Broad and Wall streets. Chancellor Livingston of New York administered the oath of office. The streets and house-tops were thronged with people; flags fluttered; cannon boomed from the Battery. As soon as the public ceremony was ended, Washington retired to the Senate chamber and delivered his inaugural address. The organization of the two houses of Congress had already been effected.
The new government was embarrassed with many difficulties. The opponents of the Constitution were not yet silenced, and from the beginning they caviled at the measures of the administration. By the treaty of 1783 the free navigation of the Mississippi had been guaranteed. Now the jealous Spaniards of New Orleans hindered the passage of American ships. The people of the West looked to the great river as the natural outlet of their commerce; they must be protected in their rights. On many parts of the frontier the malignant Red men were still at war with the settlers. In the very beginning of his arduous duties Washington was prostrated with sickness, and the business of government was for many weeks delayed.
Not until September were the first important measures adopted. On the 10th of that month an act was passed by Congress instituting a department of foreign affairs, a treasury department, and a department of war. As members of his cabinet Washington nominated Jefferson, Knox, and Hamilton; the first as secretary of foreign affairs; the second, of war; and the third, of the treasury. In accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, a supreme court was also organized, John Jay receiving the appointment of first chief-justice. Edmund Randolph was chosen attorney-general. Many constitutional amendments were now brought forward. Seven of the States on ratifying the Constitution proposed various amendments. One of the main defects of that instrument was that it did not guarantee enough personal liberty. These suggested amendments were resolved into a Bill of Rights and on their adoption became the first ten amendments. By this action on the part of Congress, the objections of North Carolina and Rhode Island wee removed and both States ratified the Constitution, the former in November of 1789 and the latter in the following May.
The national debt was the greatest and most threatening question; but the genius of Hamilton triumphed over every difficulty. The indebtedness of the United States,including the revolutionary expenses of the several States, amounted to nearly eighty million dollars. Hamilton adopted a broad and honest policy. His plan, which was laid before Congress at the beginning of the second session, proposed that the debt of the Unites States due to American citizens, as well as the war debt of the individual States, should be asumed by the general government, and that all should be fully paid. By this measure the credit of the country was vastly improved, even before actual payment was begun. As a means of augmenting the revenues of the government, a duty was laid on the tonnage of merchant-ships, with a descrimination in favor of American vessels; and customs were levied on all imported articles. hamilton's financial schemes were violently opposed by Mr. Jefferson and his party. The assumption of the State debts was especially galling to the advocates of State sovereignty. The States, jealous of their power, thought the taking over of their Revolutionary debts would rob them of some of their rights and would subordinate them too completely to the general government. But his policy prevailed, and the credit of the government was soon firmly established.
The proposition to assume the debts of the States had been coupled with another to fix the seat of government. It was deemed wise to locate the National Capital where it would be free from the control of any State and could be under the sole jurisdiction of the federal government. Both sections of the country wished to possess the capital of their country. The matter was settled by a trade and a compromise. Jefferson yielded the point on the assumption of the State debts, in return for which the capital city should be located, after it should remain at Philadelphia for ten years, at some point on the Potomac.
In the autumn of 1790 a war broke out with the Miami Indians. Fort Washington, on the present site of Cincinnati, had been established as the capital of the Northwestern Territory; and General St. Clair had received the appointment as governor. The Indians had fairly relinquished their rights to the srrounding country; but other tribes came forward with pretended claims, and went to war to recover their lost possessions. At the close of September, General Harmar, with fourteen hundred toops, set out from Fort Washington to chastise the hostile Miamis. After destroying several villages nd wasting the country as far as the Maumee, he divided his army into detachments. Colonel Hardin, who commanded the Kentucky volunteers, was ambuscaded and his forces routed at a village eleven miles from Fort Wayne; and on the 21st of October the main division was defeated with great loss at the Maumee Ford. General Harmer was obliged to abandon the Indian country and retreat to Fort Washington.
In the beginning of 1791 an act was passed by Congress establishing the Bank of the United States. The measure originated with the secretary of the treasury, and was violently opposed by Jefferson and the anti-federal party. The opposition was based on the idea that the federal government had no constitutional right to establish such as institution. This gave rise to the questions as to how the Constitution should be interpreted. Hamilton and his followers promulgated what is known as the loose construction theory. Jefferson held that since the Constitution did not specifically empower the government to organize such a bank, it had no right so to do. Hamilton on the other hand maintained that while it did not say so in so many words, yet it was implied in the general welfare clause of that instrument. The Bank was to have a capital of $10,000,000, one-fifth to be owned by the government. It was to furnish a circulating medium to the people and loan the government money when needed. It was chartered for twenty years.
About the same time Vermont, which had been an independent territory since 1777, adopted the Constitution, and on the 18th of February was admitted into the Union as the fourteenth State. The claim of New York to the jurisdiction of the province had been purchased, two years previously, for thirty thousand dollars. The first census of the United States, completed for the year 1790, showed that the population of the country hd increased to three million nine hundred and twenty-nine thousand souls.
After the defeat of Harmar the government adopted more vigorous measures for the repression of Indian hostilities. On the 6th of September, 1791, General St. Clair, with an army of two thousand men, set out from Fort Washington to break the power of the Miami confederacy. On the night of November 3d he reached a point nearly a hundred miles north of Fort Washington, and encamped on one of the upper tributaries of the Wabash, in what is now the southwest angle of Mercer county, Ohio. On the following morning at sunrise his camp was suddenly assailed by more than two thousand warriors, led by Little Turtle and several American renegades who had joined the Indians. After a terrible battle of three hours' duration, St. Clair was completely defeted, with a loss of fully half his men. The fugitive militia retreated precipitately to Fort Washington, where they arrived four days after the battle. The news of the disaster spread gloom and sorrow throughout the land. St. Clair, overwhelmed with censures and reproaches, was superseded by General Wayne, whom the people had named Mad Anthony.
The population of the Territory of Kentucky had now reached seventy-three thousand. Only seventeen years before, Daniel Boone, the hardy hunter of North Carolina, had settled with his companions at Boonesborough. Harrodsburg and Lexington were founded about the same time. During the Revolution the pioneers were constantly beset by the savages. After the expedition of General Clarke, in 1779, the frontier was more secure; and in the years following the treaty thousands of immigrants came annually. In the meantime, Virginia had relinquished her claim to the territory; and on the 1st of June, 1792, Kentucky was admitted into the Union. At the presidential election, held in the autumn of the same year, Washington was again unanimously chosen; as Vice-President, John Adams was also re-elected.
During Washington's second administration the country was greatly troubled in its relations with foreign governments. Europe was in an uproar. The French Revolution of 1789 was still running its dreadful course. After three years of unparalleled excesses, the Jacobins of France had beheaded the king and abolished the monarchy. Citizen Genet was sent by the new French republic as minister to the United States. On his arrival at charleston, and on his way to Philadelphia, he was greeted with unbounded enthusiasm. Taking advantage of his popularity, the ambassador began to abuse his authority, fitted out privateers to prey on the commerce of Great Britain, planned expeditions against Louisiana, and, although the President had already issued a proclamation of neutrality demanded an alliance with the government. Washington and the cabinet firmly refused; and the audacious minister threatened to appeal to the people. In this outrageous conduct he was sutained and encouraged by the anti-Federal party, and for a while the government was endangered. But Washington stood unmoved, declared the course of the French minister an insult to the sovereignty of the United States, and demanded his recall. The republican authorities of France heeded the demand, and Genet was superseded by M. Fouchet.
During the summer and autumn of 1794 the country was much disturbed by a difficulty in Western Pennsylvania, known as the whiskey insurrection. The farmers of this section were so far removed from the markets that it was next to impossible for them to dispose of their surplus grain. To manufacture it into whiskey was an easy and profitable way of marketing it. Congress, hoping to improve the revenues of the government, had, three years previously, imposed a tax on all ardent spirits distilled in the United States. While Genet was at Philadelphia, he and his partisans incited the people of the distilling regions to resist the tax-collectors. The disaffected rose in arms. Washington issued two proclamations, warning the insurgents to disperse; but instead of obeying, they fired upon and captured the officers of the government. The President then ordered General Henry Lee to enter the rebellious district with a sufficient force to restore order and enforce the law. When the troops reached the scene of the disturbance, the rioters had already scattered. The insurrection was a political rather than a social outbreak: the anti-Federalists were in a majority in the distilling region, and the whiskey-tax was a measure of the Federal party. The result of this insurrection was beneficial to the nation. It was the first time the new government had been put to the task of enforcing its own laws. It was still on trial. The Constitution had not passed beyond its experimental stage. but the prompt and vigorous action of Washington showed that the federal government had power, and it consequently rose in the respect and estimation of the people.
Meanwhile, General Wayne had broken the Miami confederacy. In the fall of 1793 he entered the Indian country with a force of three thousand men. Reaching the scene of St. Clair's defeat, he built a stockade named Fort Recovery, and then pressed on to the junction of the Au Glaize and the Maumee, in Defiance county, Ohio. Here he built and garrisoned Fort Defiance. Descending the Maumee to the rapids, he sent proposals of peace to the Indians, who were in council but a few miles distant. Little Turtle, more wise than the other chiefs, would have made a treaty; but the majority were for battle. On the 20th of August, 1794, Wayne marched against the savages, overtook them with terrible losses. The relentless general then compelled the humbled chieftains to purchase peace by ceding to the United States all the territory east of a line drawn from Fort Recovery to the mouth of the Great Miami River. This was the last service of General Wayne. Remaining for a while in the Indian country, he embarked on Lake Erie to return to Philadelphia. In December of 1796, he died on board the vessel, and was buried at Presque Isle.
The conduct of Great Britain toward the United States became as arrogant as that of France was impudent. In November of 1793 George III. issued secret instructions to British privateers to seize all neutral vessels that might be found trading in the French West Indies. The United States had no notification of this high-handed measure; and American commerce to the value of many millions of dollars was swept from the sea by a process differing in nothing from highway robbery. But for the termperate spirit of the government the country would have been at once plunged into war. Prudence prevailed over passion; and in May of 1794 Chief-Justice Jay was sent as envoy extraordinary to demand redress of the British government. The sending of Jay to negotiate the treaty was bitterly resented by the anti-Federalists, or Republicans, as they were now beginning to be called. It was thought that Jay because of his strong British sympathies would not secure from that nation the best possible bargain. While the result was not what could be desired, yet it was no doubt all that was possible to get at that time and it was far preferable to war. Even Hamilton, a Federalist of the Federalists, characterized it as an old woman's treaty. The United States had certainly fared ill in the deal. To accept it required considerable humility on the part of the Americans. Not until June of 1795 were the terms of settlement ratified by the Senate and signed by the President. It was specified in the treaty that Great Britain should make ample reparation for the injuries done by her privateers, and surrender to the United States certain Western posts which until now had been held by English garrisons.
As was to be expected there was a justifiable outcry against it. Jay was bitterly denounced. In Boston, New York, and Philadelphia indignation meetings were held. While Washington himself did not approve of the treaty, yet he signed it. This act caused the Republican press unmercifully to assail him.
Since an appropriation was necessary to carry into effect the terms of the treaty, the House of Representatives had the right to say if such appropriations should be made or not. This branch of Congress was Republican by a small majority and there was considerable doubt if the measure could pass. The debate lasted for weeks. Eminent men spoke on either side. But the one great speech, not only of the occasion, but one that deserves a high place among the great American orations, was delivered in favor of the treaty by Fisher Ames, of Massachusetts. Ames was an invalid and he had risen from a sick bed, against the advice of his physician, and in spite of his frail condition for three hours poured forth in burning eloquence an appeal for the passage of the bill. It had the desired effect, and when the vote was taken it was found that instead of being degeated by six votes as was expected, it had carried by three.
In October of 179, the boundary between the United States and Louisiana was settled by a treaty with Spain. The latter country at the same time guaranteed to the Americans the free navigation of the Mississippi. Less honorable was the treaty made with the kingdom of Algiers. For a long time Algerine pirates had infested the Mediterranean, preying upon the commerce of civilized nations; and those nations, in order to purchase exemption from such ravages, had adopted the ruinous policy of paying the dey of Algiers an annual tribute. In consideration of the tribute the dey agreed that his pirate ships should confine themselves to the Mediterranean, and should not attack the vessels of such nations as made the payment. Now, however, with the purpose of injuring France, Great Britain winked at an agreement with the dey by which the Algerine sea-robbers were turned loose on the Atlantic. by their depredations American commerce suffered greatly; and the government of the United States was obliged to purchase safety by paying the shameful tribute.
In the summer of 1796, Tennessee, the third new State, was organized and admitted into the Union. Six years previously North Carolina had surrendered her claims to the territory, which at that time contained a population of thirty-five thousand; and within five years the number was more than doubled. The first inhabitants of Tennessee were of that hardy race of pioneers to whom the perils of the wilderness are as nothing, provided the wilderness is free. By the addition of the two States southwest of the Ohio more than eighty-three thousand square miles of territory were brought under the dominion of civilization.
Washington was solicited to become a candidate for a third election to the presidency; but he would not. His resolution had already been made to end his public career. With the Father of his Country the evening of life drew on, and rest was necessary. Accordingly, in September of 1796, he issued to the people of the United States his Farewell Address--a document crowded with precepts of political wisdom, prudent counsels, and chastened patriotism. As soon as the President's determination was made known the political parties marshaled their forces and put forward their champions, John Adams appearing as the candidate of the Federal, and Thomas Jefferson of the anti-Federal party. Antagonism to the Constitution, which had thus far been the chief questionbetween the parties, now gave place to another issue--whether it was the true policy of the United States to enter into intimate relations with the republic of France. The anti-Federalists said, Yes! that all republics have a common end, and that Great Britain was the enemy of them all. The Federalists said, No! that the American republic must mark out an independent course among the nations, and avoid all foreign alliances. On that issue Mr. Adams was elected, but Mr. Jefferson, having the next highest number of votes, became Vice-President; for according to the old provision of the Constitution, the person who stood second on the list was declared the second officer in the government.
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