IX. WASHINGTON'S PRESIDENCY.
"To have framed a constitution was showing only, without realizing, the general happiness. This great work remained to be done; and America, steadfast in her preference, with one will summoned her beloved Washington, unpractised as he was in the duties of civil administration, to execute this last act in the completion of the national felicity." Thus spoke Gen. Henry Lee, the funeral orator of Washington, and the father of a later and more famous Lee, who fought to destroy the national felicity of which his father spoke.
[Test of the Constitution.]
The test of the constitution had come; and it was indeed an experiment well calculated to arouse the liveliest anxieties of the infant nation. The passions of party ran yet more high in those days than in our own. Views the most antagonistic existed already, regarding the interrelation, as well as the probable success, of the organic instrument. But upon one point: all factions, however opposed, were agreed. The only possible first President of the United States was George Washington.
[Election of Washington as President.]
The new nation proceeded, in the autumn of 1788, to the choice of an executive. There being no contest as to the chief office, the struggle turned on the Vice-Presidency; but even in this case one candidate was conspicuous far above the others. If Virginia had the President it was right that Massachusetts should have the Vice-President; and as Washington was the pre-eminent Virginian, so John Adams was, beyond all dispute, the foremost New Englander. Ten States voted in the election, casting sixty-nine electoral ballots. Washington received the whole sixty-nine; and our government began with the happy augury of an unanimous choice for its head. For Vice-President, John Adams received thirty-four votes; John Jay nine; R.H. Harrison six; John Rutledge six; John Hancock four; and George Clinton three.
[Washington takes the Oath of Office.]
It was on the last day of April, 1789, that President Washington took the oath of office at New York, and in person delivered his inaugural address in the presence of the two branches of Congress. This masterly paper expressed the reluctance with which Washington had abandoned a retreat which he had chosen "as the asylum of my declining years"; his willingness to yield the prospect of repose to the call of country and duty; his faith in the constitution and in the future of the nation; and his devout reliance, in the burden he was taking upon himself, on "the benign Parent of the human race."
[The First Cabinet.]
A very able cabinet surrounded and strengthened the hands of our first President. Thomas Jefferson, who had written the Declaration of Independence, had been Governor of Virginia, and was the successor of Franklin at the Court of France, was made Secretary of State. At the head of the Treasury - then, as now, the most important branch of the executive - was placed the still young but conspicuously able Alexander Hamilton; the most forcible of revolutionary pamphleteers, the most efficient of staff-officers, and already an authority on finance. Major-General Henry Knox, the chief of the continental artillery service, who had presided over the war department during the confederation, became Secretary of War. Samuel Osgood of Massachusetts, experienced in civil affairs and a. judicious counsellor, was assigned to the General Post-Office; and Edmund Randolph, who had recanted his hostility to the constitution, and was now a close ally of Jefferson, was appointed the first Attorney-General of the United States.
[Antagonism of Parties.]
Many difficulties surrounded the first President and his advisers at the outset. The nation was deeply in debt, and its currency was a paper one. The people, oppressed for so many years by the burdens of an unequal war, were irritated by the necessarily heavy taxes. The Indians on the borders of the settled States were troublesome. And, to add to the embarrassments of our statesmen, the relations of the United States with the European powers were strained, and at times alarming. The two parties which had struggled to fashion the constitution continued to agitate the country in a more bitter rivalry than has been seen since, with the exception of the party excitement of the period just before the Rebellion. Their antagonism became more pronounced during Washington's presidency, by reason of the great European war then going on, which divided the sympathies of our people and politicians between France and England.
On the one hand, the party which called itself "Republican," and at the head of which were Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams, James Madison, Edmund Randolph, and Patrick Henry, were zealous friends of the French Revolution. They regarded that great convulsion as a desperate attempt on the part of our recent allies to found a republic like that of the United States; and they were in favor of extending the French our aid and sympathy, while the more eager went so far as to advocate our active participation in the war on behalf of France. On the other hand, the "Federalists," chief among whom were Washington, John Adams, Hamilton, and Jay, deplored the excesses of the French Revolutionists; thought their example rather to be avoided than emulated; and, with a still lingering affection for England despite her tyrannies, leaned to her side in the conflict which was so fiercely raging.
[State Rights and a Central Government.]