FIRST ACTS OF CONGRESS. - During Washington's first term of office as President (1789-93), the time of Congress was largely taken up with the passage of laws necessary to put the new government in operation, and to carry out the plan of the Constitution.

Departments of State, Treasury, and War were established; a Supreme Court was organized with a Chief Justice [1] and five associates; three Circuits (one for each of the three groups of states, Eastern, Middle, and Southern) and thirteen District Courts (one for each state) were created, and provision was made for all the machinery of justice; and twelve amendments to the Constitution were sent out to the states, of which ten were ratified by the requisite number of states and became a part of the Constitution. [2]

At the second session of Congress provision was made, in the Funding Measure, for the assumption of the Continental and state debts incurred during the war for independence. [3] The District of Columbia as the permanent seat of government was located on the banks of the Potomac, [4] and the temporary seat of government was moved from New York to Philadelphia, there to remain for ten years.

NEW STATES. - The states of North Carolina and Rhode Island, having at last ratified the Constitution, sent representatives and senators to share in the work of Congress during this session.

The quarrel between New York and Vermont having been settled, Vermont was admitted in 1791; and Virginia having given her consent, the people of Kentucky were authorized to form a state constitution, and Kentucky entered the Union in 1792. [5]

THE NATIONAL BANK AND THE CURRENCY. - The funding of the debt (proposed by Hamilton) was the first great financial measure adopted by Congress. [6] The second (1791) was the charter of the Bank of the United States with power to establish branches in the states and to issue bank notes to be used as money. The third (1792) was the law providing for a national coinage and authorizing the establishment of a United States mint for making the coin. [7] It was ordered that whoever would bring gold or silver to the mint should receive for it the same weight of coins. This was free coinage of gold and silver, and made our standard of money bimetallic, or of two metals; for a debtor could choose which kind of money he would pay.

THE REVENUE LAWS. - Other financial measures of Washington's first term were the tariff law, which levied duties on imported goods, wares, and merchandise, the excise or whisky tax, and the law fixing rates of postage on letters. [8]

THE RISE OF PARTIES. - As to the justice and wisdom of the acts of Congress the people were divided in their opinions. Those who approved and supported the administration were called Federalists, and had for leaders Washington, John Adams, Hamilton, Robert Morris, John Jay, and Rufus King; those who opposed the administration were the Anti-Federalists, or Republicans, whose great leaders were Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Gerry, Gallatin, and Randolph.

The Republicans had opposed the funding and assumption measures, the national bank, and the excise. They complained that the national debt was too large, that the salaries of the President, Congressmen, and officials were too high, and that the taxes were too heavy; and they accused the Federalists of a fondness for monarchy and aristocracy.

Washington opened each session of Congress with a speech just as the king opened Parliament, and each branch of Congress presented an answer just as the Lords and Commons did to the king. Nobody could go to the President's reception without a card of invitation. The judges of the Supreme Court wore gowns as did English judges. The Senate held its daily sessions in secret, and shut out reporters and the people. All this the Anti- Federalists held to be unrepublican.

THE ELECTION OF 1792. - When the time came, in 1792, to elect a successor to Washington, there were thus two political parties. Both parties supported Washington for President; but the Republicans tried hard, though in vain, to defeat Adams for Vice President.

OPPOSITION TO THE GOVERNMENT by no means ended with the formation of parties and votes at the polls. The Assembly of Virginia condemned the assumption of the state debts. North Carolina denounced assumption and the excise law. In Maryland a resolution declaring assumption dangerous to the rights of the states was lost by the casting vote of the Speaker. The right of Congress to tax pleasure carriages was tested in the Supreme Court, which declared the tax constitutional. When that court decided (1793) that a citizen of one state might sue another state, Virginia, Connecticut, and Massachusetts called for a constitutional amendment to prevent this, and the Eleventh Amendment was proposed by Congress (1794) and declared in force in 1798. The tax on whisky caused an insurrection in Pennsylvania.

THE WHISKY INSURRECTION. - The farmers around Pittsburg were largely engaged in distilling whisky, refused to pay the tax, and drove off the collectors. Congress thereupon (1794) enacted a law to enforce the collection, but when the marshal arrested some of the offenders, the people rose, drove him away, and by force of arms prevented the execution of the law. Washington then called for troops from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia, and these marching across the state by a mere show of force brought the people to obedience. Leaders of the insurrection were arrested, tried, and convicted of treason, but were pardoned by Washington. [9]

THE INDIAN WAR. - Still farther west, meantime, a great battle had been fought with the Indians. The succession of boats loaded with emigrants floating down the Ohio, and the arrivals of settlers north of the river at Marietta, Gallipolis, and Cincinnati, had greatly excited the Indians. The coming of the whites meant the destruction of game and of fur-bearing animals, and the pushing westward of the Indians. This the red men determined to resist, and did so by attacking boats and killing emigrants, and in January, 1790, they marched down on the settlement called Big Bottom (northwest of Marietta) and swept it from the face of the earth.

Washington sent fifteen hundred troops from Kentucky and Pennsylvania against the Indians in the autumn of 1790. Led by Colonel Harmar, the troops burned some Indian supplies and villages, but accomplished nothing save to enrage the Indians yet more. Washington thereupon put General St. Clair in command, and in the autumn of 1791 St. Clair set off to build a chain of forts from Cincinnati to Lake Michigan; but the Indians surprised him and cut his army to pieces.

Anthony Wayne was next placed in command, and two years were spent in careful preparation before he began his march across what is now the state of Ohio. At the Falls of the Maumee (August, 1794) he met and beat the Indians so soundly that a year later, by the treaty of Greenville, a lasting peace was made with the ten great nations of the Northwest.

NEUTRALITY. - Washington's second term of office was a stormy time in foreign as well as in domestic affairs. In February, 1793, the French Republic declared war on Great Britain, and so brought up the question, Which side shall the United States take? Washington said neither side, and issued a proclamation of neutrality, warning the people not to commit hostile acts in favor of either Great Britain or France. The Republicans (and many who were Federalists) grew angry at this and roundly abused the President. France, they said, is an old friend; Great Britain, our old enemy. France helped win independence and loaned us money and sent us troops and ships; Great Britain attempted to enslave us. We were bound to France by a treaty of alliance and a treaty of commerce; we were bound to Great Britain by no treaty of any kind. To be neutral, then, was to be ungrateful to France. [10] As a result the Federalists were called the British party, and they, in turn, called the Republicans the French party or Democrats.

GREAT BRITAIN SEIZES OUR SHIPS. - To preserve neutrality under such conditions would have been hard enough, but Great Britain made it harder still by seizing American merchant ships that were carrying lumber, fish, flour, and provisions to the French West Indies. [11]

Our merchants at once appealed to Congress for aid, and the Republicans attempted to retaliate on Great Britain in a way that might have brought on war. In this they failed, but Congress laid an embargo for a short time, preventing all our vessels from sailing to foreign ports; and money was voted to build fortifications at the seaports from Maine to Georgia, and for building arsenals at Springfield (Mass.) and Carlisle (Pa.), and for constructing six frigates. [12]

Washington did not wish war, and with the approval of the Senate sent Chief-Justice John Jay to London to make a treaty of friendship and commerce with Great Britain.

JAY'S TREATY, when ratified (1795), was far from what was desired. But it provided for the delivery of the posts on our northern frontier, its other provisions were the best that could be had, and it insured peace. For this reason among others the treaty gave great offense to the Republicans, who wanted the United States to quarrel with Great Britain and take sides with France. They denounced it from one end of the country to the other, burned copies of it at mass meetings, and hanged Jay in effigy. For the same reason, also, France took deep offense.

TREATY WITH SPAIN. - Our treaty with Great Britain was followed by one with Spain, by which the vexed question of the Mississippi was put at rest. Spain agreed to withdraw her troops from all her posts north of the parallel of 31 degrees. She also agreed that New Orleans should be a port of deposit. This was of great advantage to the growing West, for the farmers, thereafter, could float their bacon, flour, lumber, etc. down the Ohio and the Mississippi to New Orleans and there sell it for export to the West Indies or Europe.

THE ELECTION OF 1796. - Washington, who had twice been elected President, now declined to serve a third time, and in September, 1796, announced his determination by publishing in a newspaper what is called his Farewell Address. [13] There was no such thing as a national party convention in those days, or for many years to come. The Federalists, however, by common consent, selected John Adams as their candidate for President, and most of them supported Thomas Pinckney for Vice President. The Republicans put forward Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr and others. The French minister to our country used his influence to help the Republican candidates; [14] but when the election was over, it turned out that Adams [15] was chosen President and Jefferson Vice President. Pinckney, the Federalist candidate for Vice President, was defeated because he failed to receive the votes of all the Federalist electors. [16]

THE X. Y. Z. AFFAIR. - The French Directory, a body of five men that governed the French Republic, now refused to receive a minister whom Washington had just sent to that country (Charles G. Pinckney). This deliberate affront to the United States was denounced by Adams in his first message to Congress; but he sent to Paris a special commission composed of two Federalists and one Republican, [17] in an earnest effort to keep the peace. These commissioners were visited by three agents of the Directory, who told them that before a new treaty could be made they must give a present of $50,000 to each Director, apologize for Adams's denunciation of France, and loan a large sum (practically pay tribute money) to France.

In reporting this affair to Congress the Secretary of State concealed the names of the French agents and called them Mr. X, Mr. Y, and Mr. Z. This gave the affair the name of the X. Y. Z. Mission.

PREPARATION FOR WAR WITH FRANCE (1798). - The reading of the dispatches in Congress caused a great change in feeling. The country had been insulted, and Congress, forgetting politics, made preparations for war. An army was raised and Washington made lieutenant general. The Navy Department was created and the first Secretary of the Navy appointed. Ships were built, purchased, and given to the government; and with the cry, "Millions for defense, not a cent for tribute," the people offered their services to the President, and labored without pay in the erection of forts along the seaboard. Then was written by Joseph Hopkinson, of Philadelphia, and sung for the first time, our national song Hail, Columbia! [18]

THE ALIEN AND SEDITION ACTS. - In preparing for war, Congress had acted wisely. But the Federalists, whom the trouble with France had placed in control of Congress, also passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which aroused bitter opposition.

The Alien Acts were (1) a law requiring aliens, or foreigners, to live in our country fourteen years before they could be naturalized and become citizens; (2) a law giving the President power, for the next two years, to send out of the country any alien he thought to be dangerous to the peace of the United States; and (3) the Alien Enemies Act for the expulsion, in time of war, of the subjects of the hostile government.

The Sedition Act provided for the punishment of persons who acted, spoke, or wrote in a seditious manner, that is, opposed the execution of any law of the United States, or wrote, printed, or uttered anything with intent to defame the government of the United States or any of its officials.

Adams did not use the power given him by the second Alien Act; but the Sedition Act was rigorously enforced with fines and imprisonment. Such interference with the liberty of the press cost Adams much of his popularity.

THE VIRGINIA AND KENTUCKY RESOLUTIONS. - The Republicans were greatly excited by the Alien and Sedition Acts, and at the suggestion of Jefferson resolutions condemning them as unconstitutional [19] and hence "utterly void and of no force" were passed by the legislatures of Kentucky and Virginia.

Seven states answered with resolutions declaring the acts constitutional. Whereupon, in the following year (1799), Kentucky declared that when a state thought a law of Congress unconstitutional, that state might veto or nullify it, that is, forbid its citizens to obey it. This doctrine of nullification, as we shall see, was later of serious importance.

THE NAVAL WAR WITH FRANCE. - Meantime, the little navy which had been so hastily prepared was sent to scour the seas around the French West Indies, and in a few months won many victories. [20] The publication of the X. Y. Z. letters created almost as much indignation in France as in our country, and forced the Directory to send word that if other commissioners came, they would be received. Adams thereupon appointed three; but when they reached France the Directory had fallen from power, Napoleon was ruling, and with him a new treaty was concluded in 1800.

THE ELECTION OF 1800. - The cost of this war made new taxes necessary, and these, coupled with the Alien and Sedition Acts, did much to bring about the defeat of the Federalists. Their candidates for the presidency and vice presidency were John Adams and Charles C. Pinckney. The Republicans nominated Jefferson [21] and Aaron Burr, and won. Unfortunately Jefferson and Burr each received the same number of votes, so it became the duty of the House of Representatives to determine which should be President. When the House elects a President, each state, no matter how many representatives it may have, casts one vote. There were then sixteen states [22] in the Union. The votes of nine, therefore, were necessary to elect. But the Federalists held the votes of six, and as the representatives of two more were equally divided, the Federalists thought they could say who should be President, and tried hard to elect Burr. Finally some of them yielded and allowed the Republicans to make Jefferson President, thus leaving Burr to be Vice President.

PRESIDENT JEFFERSON. - The inauguration took place on March 4, 1801, at Washington, to which city the government was removed from Philadelphia in the summer of 1800. [23] Everywhere the day was celebrated with bell ringing, cannonading, dinners, and parades. The people had triumphed; "the Man of the People" was President. Monarchy, aristocracy, and Federalism, it was said, had received a deathblow.


1. The first Congress under the Constitution passed laws establishing the executive departments and the United States courts, and other laws necessary to put the new government in operation.

2. The debts incurred during the Revolution were assumed and funded, and the permanent seat of government (after 1800) was located on the Potomac.

3. Import and excise duties were laid, a national bank was chartered, and a mint was established for coining United States money.

4. In Washington's second term as President (1793-97) there was war between Great Britain and France, and it was with difficulty that our government succeeded in remaining neutral.

5. Treaties were made with Great Britain and Spain, whereby these powers withdrew from the posts they held in our country, the right of deposit at New Orleans was secured, and peace was preserved.

6. A five years' Indian war in the Northwest Territory was ended by Wayne's victory (1794) and the treaty of Greenville (1795).

7. The people of western Pennsylvania resisted the excise tax on whisky, but their insurrection was easily suppressed by a force of militia.

8. Differences on questions of domestic and foreign policy had resulted in the growth of the Federalist and Republican parties, but party organization was imperfect. In 1796 Adams (Federalist) was elected President, and Jefferson (Republican) Vice President.

9. The British treaty and the election of Adams gave offense to the French government, which made insulting demands upon our commissioners sent to that country. A brief naval war in the French West Indies was ended by a treaty made by a new French government in 1800.

10. The passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts brought out protests against them in what are called the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798-99, one of which claimed the right of a state to nullify an act of Congress which it deemed unconstitutional.

11. In the next presidential election (1800) the Republicans were successful; but as Jefferson and Burr had each the same number of votes, the House of Representatives had to decide which should be President and which Vice President. After a long contest Jefferson was given the higher office, as the Republicans had wished.


[1] Washington appointed John Jay the first Chief Justice, and gave the newly created secretaryships of State, Treasury, and War to Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and Henry Knox respectively. These men were intended to be heads of departments; but Washington soon began to consult them and the Attorney General on matters of state and thus made them also a body of advisers known as "the Cabinet." All the Secretaries and the Postmaster General and the Attorney General are now members of the Cabinet.

[2] These ten amendments form a sort of "bill of rights," and were intended to remove objections to the Constitution by those who feared that the national government might encroach on the liberties of the people.

[3] For the different kinds of debt, see p. 211. The Continental money was funded at $1 in government stock for $100 in the paper money; but the other forms of debt were assumed by the government at their face value. All told, - state debts, foreign debt, loan-office certificates, etc., - these obligations amounted to about $75,000,000. To pay so large a sum in cash was impossible, so Congress ordered interest-bearing stock to be given in exchange for evidence of debt.

[4] As first laid out, the District of Columbia was a square ten miles on a side, and was partly in Virginia and partly in Maryland. But the piece in Virginia many years later (1846) was given back to that state.

[5] After these two states were admitted each was given a star and a stripe on the national flag. Until 1818 our flag thus had fifteen stars and fifteen stripes, no further change being made as new states were admitted. In 1818 two stripes were taken off, the number of stars was made the same as the number of states, and since then each new state has been represented by a new star.

[6] Alexander Hamilton was born in 1757 on the island of Nevis, one of the British West Indies. He was sent to New York to be educated, and entered King's College (now Columbia University). There he became an ardent patriot, wrote pamphlets in defense of the first Congress, and addressed a public meeting when but seventeen. He was captain of an artillery company in 1776, one of Washington's aids in 1777-81, distinguished himself at Yorktown, and (in 1782) went to Congress. He was a man of energy, enthusiasm, and high ideals, was possessed of a singular genius for finance, and believed in a vigorous national government. As Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton proposed not only the funding and assumption plans, but the national bank and the mint.

[7] The coins were to be the eagle or ten-dollar piece, half eagle, and quarter eagle of gold; the dollar, half, quarter, dime, and half dime of silver; and the cent and half cent of copper. The mint was established at once at Philadelphia, and the first copper coin was struck in 1793. But coinage was a slow process, and many years passed before foreign coins ceased to circulate. The accounts of Congress were always kept in dollars and cents. But the states and the people used pounds, shillings, pence, and Spanish dollars, and it was several years before the states, by law, required their officers to levy taxes and keep accounts in dollars and cents (Virginia in 1792, Rhode Island and Massachusetts in 1795, New York and Vermont in 1797, New Jersey in 1799).

[8] A single letter in those days was one written on a single sheet of paper, large or small, and the postage on it was 6 cents for any distance under 30 miles, 8 cents from 30 to 60, 10 cents from 60 to 100, and so on to 450 miles, above which the rate was 25 cents. In all our country there were but 75 post offices, and the revenue derived from them was about $100,000 a year.

[9] Read McMaster's History of the People of the U. S., Vol. II, pp. 189-204.

[10] Good feeling toward France led the Republicans to some funny extremes. To address a person as Sir, Mr., Mrs., or Miss was unrepublican. You should say, as in France, Citizen Jones, or Citizeness Smith. Tall poles with a red liberty cap on top were erected in every town where there were Republicans; civic feasts were held; and July 14 (the anniversary of the day the Bastile of Paris fell in 1789) was duly celebrated.

[11] When Great Britain drove French ships from the sea, France threw open the trade with the French West Indies to other ships. But Great Britain had laid down a rule that no neutral could have in time of war a trade with her enemy it did not have in time of peace. Our merchants fell under the ban of Great Britain for this reason.

[12] These frigates were not built. They were really intended for use against the Barbary powers (Morocco, Tunis, Algiers, Tripoli) that were plundering our Mediterranean commerce. These nations of northern Africa had long been accustomed to prey upon European ships and sell the crews into slavery. To obtain protection against such treatment the nations of southern Europe paid these pirates an annual tribute. Some of our ships and sailors were captured, and as we had no navy with which to protect our commerce, a treaty was made with Algiers (1795) which bound us to pay a yearly tribute of "twelve thousand Algerine sequins in maritime stores." We shall see what came of this a few years later.

[13] In the Farewell Address, besides giving notice of his retirement, Washington argued at length against sectional jealousy and party spirit, and urged the promotion of institutions "for the general diffusion of knowledge." He disapproved of large standing armies ("overgrown military establishments"), and earnestly declared that our true policy is "to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world," especially European nations. Washington died at Mount Vernon, December 14, 1799.

[14] He called on all French citizens living in the United States to wear on their hats the French tricolor (blue, white, and red) cockade, and of course all the Republican friends of France did the same and made it their party badge. He next published in the newspapers a long letter in which he said, in substance, that unless the United States changed its policy toward France it might expect trouble. This meant that unless a Republican President (Jefferson) was elected, there might be war between the two countries.

[15] John Adams was born in Quincy, Massachusetts, in 1735. He graduated from Harvard College, studied law, and in 1770 was one of the lawyers who defended the soldiers that were tried for murder in connection with the famous "Boston Massacre." He was sent to the First and Second Continental Congresses, and was a member of the committee appointed to frame the Declaration of Independence, and of the committee to arrange treaties with foreign powers. He was for a time associated with Franklin in the ministry to France; in 1780 went as minister to Holland; and in 1783 was one of the signers of the treaty of peace with Great Britain. In 1785 he was appointed the first United States minister to Great Britain; and in 1789- 97 was Vice President.

[16] Adams received 71 votes, Jefferson 68, Pinckney 59, Burr 30, and nine other men also received votes. Under the original Constitution the electors did not vote separately for President and Vice President. Each cast one ballot with two names on it; the man receiving the most votes (if a majority of the number of electors) was elected President, and the man receiving the next highest number was elected Vice President. Thus it happened that while the Federalists elected the President, the Republicans elected the Vice President.

[17] The Federalists were John Marshall and Charles C. Pinckney. Elbridge Gerry was the Republican member.

[18] Read the account of the popular excitement in McMaster's History of the People of the U. S., Vol. II, pp. 376-387.

[19] That is, condemning them on the ground that the Constitution did not give Congress power to make such laws. The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions are printed in full in MacDonald's Select Documents, 1776- 1861, pp. 149-160.

[20] One squadron that captured a number of vessels was under the command of Captain John Barry. Another squadron under Captain Truxtun captured sixty French privateers. The Constellation took the French frigate Insurgente and beat the Vengeance, which escaped; the Enterprise captured eight privateers and recaptured four American merchantmen; and the Boston captured the Berceau. During the war eighty-four armed French vessels were taken by our navy.

[21] Thomas Jefferson was born on a Virginia plantation April 13, 1743, attended William and Mary College, studied law, and in 1769 became a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. He rose into notice as a defender of colonial rights, was sent to the Second Continental Congress, and in 1776 wrote the Declaration of Independence. Between 1776 and 1789 he was a member of the Virginia legislature, governor of Virginia, member of Congress (1783-1784), and minister to France (1784-1789). He was a strict constructionist of the Constitution; he wrote the original draft of the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, had great faith in the ability of the people to govern themselves, and dreaded the growth of great cities and the extension of the powers of the Supreme Court. He and John Adams died the same day, July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

[22] Tennessee, the sixteenth, was admitted in 1796.

[23] A story is current that on inauguration day Jefferson rode unattended to the Capitol and tied his horse to the fence before entering the Senate Chamber and taking the oath of office. The story was invented by an English traveler and is pure fiction. The President walked to the Capitol attended by militia and the crowd of supporters who came to witness the end of the contested election, and was saluted by the guns of a company of artillery as he entered the Senate Chamber and again as he came out.