Harman Patil (Editor)

Presidency of George Washington

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The presidency of George Washington, began on April 30, 1789, when George Washington was inaugurated as President of the United States, and ended on March 4, 1797. Washington, the first United States president, took office after the 1788–89 presidential election, the nation's first quadrennial presidential election, in which he was elected unanimously.


As specified by the newly ratified Constitution, the President was chosen by the Electoral College. In this election, the method for selecting electors was decided by each state legislature–by public vote in some states and by legislative selection in others. Each elector was given two votes to cast for President. Washington received the support of every one of the electors, each of whom cast one of the two ballots for him. John Adams, who received 34 votes, was the runner-up and was thus named vice president. Washington was re–elected as President, again unanimously, in 1792. In 1796, he refused to run for a third term, establishing the customary policy of a maximum of two terms for a president, which later became law by the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution.

Washington reluctantly accepted the presidency, and he never enjoyed being President. Nonetheless, he proved an able administrator. An excellent delegator and judge of talent and character, he held regular cabinet meetings to debate issues before making a final decision. In handling routine tasks, he was "systematic, orderly, energetic, solicitous of the opinion of others but decisive, intent upon general goals and the consistency of particular actions with them." His leadership guaranteed the survival of the United States as a powerful and independent nation, and set the standard for future presidents.

Washington, the only president yet unaffiliated with any political party, is generally considered by scholars and political historians as one of the greatest presidents in American history, usually ranking in the top three with Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.


Washington was inaugurated as the first President of the United States on April 30, 1789, near New York City's Wall Street, at Federal Hall. He was sworn in by Robert Livingston who administered the presidential oath of office. Borrowing a British robe in which the British monarch would address Parliament annually, Washington gave a brief speech following his inauguration. He insisted on having Barbados Rum served after the swearing in ceremony.

Washington's second inauguration occurred in the Senate Chamber of Congress Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on March 4, 1793. He was sworn in by Associate Justice William Cushing, who also administered the oath of office. Washington's inaugural address was incredibly brief (the shortest ever) at just 135 words.


The 1st United States Congress voted to pay Washington a salary of $25,000 a year—a large sum in 1789, valued at about $340,000 in 2015 dollars. Washington faced financial troubles then, yet he initially declined the salary. At the urging of Congress, however, he ultimately accepted the payment to avoid setting a precedent whereby the presidency would be perceived as limited only to independently wealthy individuals who could serve without any salary.

Taking office

Upon taking office, Washington initially focused on the establishment of the federal judiciary and executive departments.

Establishment of judiciary

When Washington assumed office, the government of the United States (especially the executive and judicial branches) had not yet been developed. Aside from the constitutionally established offices, no other agencies existed and no courts had yet been established. Instead of focusing on the executive branch, Washington's first acts were to establish the judiciary.

Through the Judiciary Act of 1789, Washington established a six-member Supreme Court. The court was composed of one Chief Justice and five Associate Justices. The Supreme Court was given exclusive original jurisdiction over all civil actions between states, or between a state and the United States, as well as over all suits and proceedings brought against ambassadors and other diplomatic personnel; and original, but not exclusive, jurisdiction over all other cases in which a state was a party and any cases brought by an ambassador. The Court was given appellate jurisdiction over decisions of the federal circuit courts as well as decisions by state courts holding invalid any statute or treaty of the United States; or holding valid any state law or practice that was challenged as being inconsistent with the federal constitution, treaties, or laws; or rejecting any claim made by a party under a provision of the federal constitution, treaties, or laws.

Under the Supreme Court, the Judiciary Act created 13 judicial districts within the 11 states that had then ratified the Constitution (North Carolina and Rhode Island were added as judicial districts in 1790, and other states as they were admitted to the Union). Within these judicial districts were circuit courts and district courts. The circuit courts, which were composed of a district judge and (initially) two Supreme Court justices "riding circuit," had jurisdiction over more serious crimes and civil cases and appellate jurisdiction over the district courts, while the single-judge district courts had jurisdiction primarily over admiralty cases, along with petty crimes and lawsuits involving smaller claims. The circuit courts were grouped into three geographic circuits to which justices were assigned on a rotating basis.

Creation of Cabinet

Washington surrounded himself with a sophisticated team of consultants, supporters and successfully delegated most of the responsibility for the conduct of their offices to those trusted colleagues, of whom Alexander Hamilton was most powerful. The cabinet soon polarized between Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. Washington's restraint regarding the Supreme Court and slavery – he favored some form of gradual emancipation – and his absence from public support for some of Hamilton's financial plans, allowed him to develop both a nation and an office that appeared above the day-to-day political battles.

The first executive offices created under the President were the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of War, the Postmaster General, and the Attorney General. Each office, excluding the Attorney General, would head an executive department. These five officials, along with the President and Vice President, formed the backbone of the United States Cabinet.

On July 27, 1789, Washington signed a bill into law reauthorizing an executive Department of Foreign Affairs headed by a Secretary of Foreign Affairs. Originally established by the Confederation Congress in 1781, Congress passed another law renaming the Department of Foreign Affairs to United States Department of State and named the Secretary of State as head of the Department. Washington approved this act on September 15, 1789. The Secretary's main function was to serve as the principal adviser to the President in the determination of foreign policy. Washington appointed Thomas Jefferson as the first State Secretary on September 26, 1789. John Jay served as Acting Secretary of State before Jefferson.

Although the Department of the Treasury in some form dates back to 1775, on September 2, 1789, Washington formally established the United States Department of the Treasury headed by the Secretary of the Treasury with 40 employees. The Secretary served as the principal economic advisor to the President and would play a critical role in policy-making by bringing an economic and government financial policy perspective to issues facing the government. The post would become the Chief Financial Officer of the government. Alexander Hamilton was appointed by Washington to serve as the first Treasury Secretary on September 11, 1789.

To manage the United States Army, Washington created the position of Secretary of War to head the United States Department of War. This office was a continuation of the Continental Secretary of War. The Secretary's duties were the formulation of Indian policy, planning for and managing of the national military, and oversight of the creation of a series of coastal fortifications. Henry Knox served as the Continental War Secretary before the ratification of the United States Constitution and Washington appointed Knox to continue under him as the first Secretary of War on September 12, 1789.

When Washington signed the Judiciary Act of 1789, he not only created the federal judiciary but also created the office of Attorney General. Unlike the other Cabinet officials, the Attorney General would not head an executive department until 1870. The Attorney General's functions would be to prosecute on behalf of the United States and to serve as the chief legal officer of the government by giving his advice and opinion upon questions of law to the President. Washington would appoint his former aide-de-camp Edmund Randolph as the first Attorney General on September 26, 1789. Along with the Attorney General, the United States Marshals Service as well as the United States Attorneys were established.

The final position created by Washington was the Postmaster General. The Postmaster role went back to 1776, with the function to provide postal service for the United States. Later, to assist the Postmaster, Washington signed the Postal Service Act on February 20, 1792, creating the United States Post Office Department. Washington appointed Samuel Osgood to the post on September 26, 1789 as the first Postmaster General. He was followed by Timothy Pickering (1791–1795), and Joseph Habersham (1795–1797). It wouldn't officially become a Cabinet position until 1829.

Executive mansions and the District of Columbia

Washington occupied two executive mansions during the 16 months he lived and worked in New York City: 3 Cherry Street and 39-41 Broadway. He chose the location of the permanent national capital in the District of Columbia.

In accordance with the Residence Act of 1790, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania served as temporary national capital for 10 years while the Federal City was under construction. Beginning in November 1790, Washington and John Adams spent the lion's share of their presidencies in Philadelphia, but resisted efforts to make the city the permanent national capital. In an emergency, the federal government convened in Germantown, Pennsylvania in from November 16–30, 1793, when a yellow fever epidemic swept the city. Pennsylvania's Gradual Abolition Act made the state inhospitable to slaveholders, and Washington circumvented the state law by rotating the nine Mount Vernon slaves in his presidential household in and out of Pennsylvania.

The Residence Act of 1790 authorized the President to select the specific location of the permanent seat of the government, which would be located along the Potomac River. The Act authorized the President to appoint three commissioners to survey and acquire property for this seat. Washington personally oversaw this effort throughout his term in office. In 1791, the commissioners named the permanent seat of government "The City of Washington in the Territory of Columbia" to honor him. Washington retired from the presidency in March 1797, attending Adams's inauguration in Congress Hall. In 1800, the Territory of Columbia became the District of Columbia when the federal government moved to the site in accordance with the provisions of the Residence Act; President Adams moved to the White House in November 1800.

The Northwest Indian War

When Washington assumed the presidency, he was faced with the ongoing challenge of the Northwest Indian War. The Indian Western Lakes Confederacy had been making raids in the Northwest Territory on both sides of the Ohio River and, in the years before Washington's presidency, had grown increasingly dangerous. By the late 1780s, the United States had suffered over 1,500 casualties in ongoing hostilities. Finally, in 1790, Washington and Secretary of War Henry Knox ordered Brigadier General Josiah Harmar to launch a major western offensive into the Shawnee and Miami Indian country. In October 1790, his force of 1,453 men was assembled near present-day Fort Wayne, Indiana. Harmar committed only 400 of his men under Colonel John Hardin to attack an Indian force of some 1,100 warriors who easily defeated them. At least 129 soldiers were killed.

Determined to avenge the defeat, Washington ordered Major General Arthur St. Clair, who was serving as the governor of the Northwest Territory, to mount a more vigorous effort by summer 1791. After considerable trouble finding men and supplies, St. Clair was finally ready. At dawn on November 4, 1791, his poorly trained force, accompanied by about 200 camp followers, was camped near the present-day location of Fort Recovery, Ohio, with poor defenses set up around their camp. An Indian force consisting of around 2,000 warriors led by Little Turtle, Blue Jacket, and Tecumseh, struck quickly and, surprising the Americans, soon overran their poorly prepared perimeter. The barely trained recruits panicked and were killed along with many of their officers who attempted to restore some kind of order and stop the rout. The American casualty rate included 632 of 920 soldiers and officers killed (69%) and 264 wounded. Nearly all of the 200 camp followers were slaughtered, for a total of about 832 – the highest casualty rate in any United States Indian war.

After this disaster, Washington ordered the Revolutionary War veteran General "Mad" Anthony Wayne to launch a new expedition of well trained troops against a coalition of tribes led by Miami Chief Little Turtle. Wayne was given command of the new Legion of the United States late in 1793. Wayne spent months training his troops to fight using forest warfare in the style of the Indians before marching boldly into the region. After entering Indian country, Wayne constructed a chain of forts, with Fort Recovery on the site of St. Clair's defeat. In June 1794, Little Turtle again led the attack on the Americans at Fort Recovery without success, and Wayne's well-trained Legion advanced deeper into the territory of the Wabash Confederacy.

After Little Turtle's defeat, Blue Jacket assumed overall command of the Indian forces and engaged Wayne and his troops in the Battle of Fallen Timbers in the summer of 1794. The Americans force of 3,000 outnumbered the Indians two to one. The Indians were quickly routed, and fell back. Fleeing from the battlefield to regroup at the British-held Fort Miami (Ohio), Blue Jacket's forces found that the British had locked them out of the fort. The American troops decimated Indian villages and crops in the area, and then withdrew. Defeated, the seven tribes—the Shawnee, Miami, Ottawa, Chippewa, Iroquois, Sauk, and Fox—ceded large portions of Indian lands to the United States and then moved west. With the American victory, major hostilities in the area came to an end.

Two treaties in 1795 sealed the new state of affairs between the Indians and the United States. The Treaty of Greenville required the tribes to cede most of Ohio and a slice of Indiana to the United States, to recognize the United States (rather than Great Britain) as the ruling power in the Northwest Territory, and to give ten chiefs to the United States as hostages until all white prisoners were returned in guarantee. Jay's Treaty, which had already been signed, provided for the British withdrawal from the western forts and granted the United States supreme command of the territory.

Economic policy

With the ratification of the Constitution, the United States had severe financial problems. There were both domestic and foreign debts from the war, and the issue of how to raise revenue for government was hotly debated. Washington was not a member of any political party, and hoped that they would not be formed. His closest advisors, however, became divided into two factions, setting the framework for political parties. Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton, who had bold plans to establish the national credit and build a financially powerful nation, formed the basis of the Federalist Party. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison organized a faction in Congress to oppose Hamilton. This became the Jeffersonian Republican party by 1795. Hamilton prevailed on almost all major points, largely due to Washington's similar intentions.

Hamilton's first proposals were for the United States to assume the war debts of the states incurred during the Revolutionary War and for the creation of a national bank. Hamilton believed that a national bank would make loans, handle government funds, issue financial notes, provide national currency, and overall considerably help the national government to accurately and efficiently govern financially. Hamilton laid plans for governmental financing via tariffs on imported goods, and a tax on liquor. Much of the revenue collected would be used to pay off the large Revolutionary War debt. Hamilton also proposed support for new factories because he believed industry would grow the economy, but he failed to secure appropriate legislation.

Jefferson and future President James Madison stood against most of Hamilton's proposals. Jefferson and Madison did not like the idea of a central bank, believing it would be used by the federal government to dispense corrupt patronage and that it was not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution. Jefferson feared that cities like London and Paris would overpower the industry, and strongly opposed industrialization. He idealized the yeoman farmer who could think independently, as opposed to the city worker who would do what his bosses ordered.

Washington intended to remain neutral in the argument between Jefferson and Hamilton but favored the federalist approach and eventually used executive power to pursue federalist policies. Jefferson and Madison eventually brokered a deal with Hamilton that required him to use his influence to place the permanent capital on the Potomac River, while Jefferson and Madison would encourage their friends to back Hamilton's assumption plan. In the end, Hamilton's assumption, together with his proposals for funding the debt, passed legislative opposition and became law. Thus, in 1791, was created the First Bank of the United States. Along with Hamilton's plan, the United States Mint and the United States Revenue Cutter Service were established. The Cutter Service's responsibility was to enforce tariffs and all other maritime laws. Later, the Cutter Service would become the United States Coast Guard.

Though Washington had served as the bulwark for much of the fighting between Hamilton and Jefferson, by the midpoint of his first term, cooperation between the two men had disappeared. Washington's administration had split into two rival factions: one headed by Jefferson, which would later become the Democratic-Republican Party, and the Federalist faction headed by Hamilton. They disagreed on virtually all aspects of domestic and foreign policy, and much of Washington's time was spent in solving disputes between them. Hamilton and Jefferson now spent their attention setting up nationwide networks of supporters that emerged as the Federalist and Republican parties, creating the First Party System.

The Whiskey Rebellion

A source of government revenue was needed to pay the bond holders to whom the national debt was owed. By December 1790, Hamilton believed import duties, which were the government's primary source of revenue, had been raised as high as was feasible. He therefore promoted passage of an excise tax on domestically distilled spirits. This was to be the first tax levied by the national government on a domestic product. Although taxes were politically unpopular, Hamilton believed the whiskey excise was a luxury tax that would be the least objectionable tax the government could levy. The tax also had the support of some social reformers, who hoped a "sin tax" would raise public awareness about the harmful effects of alcohol. The whiskey excise act, sometimes known as the "Whiskey Act", became law in March 1791. Washington defined the revenue districts, appointed the revenue supervisors and inspectors, and set their pay in November 1791.

The tax on whiskey was bitterly and fiercely opposed on the frontier from the day it was passed. Western farmers considered it to be both unfair and discriminatory, since they had traditionally converted their excess grain into liquor. By the summer of 1794, tensions reached a fevered pitch all along the western frontier as the settlers' primary marketable commodity was threatened by the federal taxation measures.

Finally the protesters became an armed rebellion. The first shots were fired at the Oliver Miller Homestead in present-day South Park Township, Pennsylvania, about ten miles south of Pittsburgh. As word of the rebellion spread across the frontier, a whole series of loosely organized resistance measures were taken, including robbing the mail, stopping court proceedings, and the threat of an assault on Pittsburgh. One group disguised as women assaulted a tax collector, cropped his hair, coated him with tar and feathers, and stole his horse. Another group bombarded the estate of the tax collector John Neville, a friend of George Washington.

Washington was alarmed by the Whiskey Rebellion, viewing it as a threat to the nation's existence. Washington and Hamilton, remembering Shays' Rebellion from just eight years before, decided to make Pennsylvania a testing ground for federal authority. Washington ordered the federal marshals to serve court orders requiring the tax protesters to appear in federal district court. Due to the small size of the federal army and in an extraordinary move designed to demonstrate the federal government's power, on August 7, 1794, Washington invoked the Militia Law of 1792 to summon the militias of Pennsylvania, Virginia and several other states. The Governors sent the troops and Washington took command as Commander-in-Chief, marching into the rebellious districts.

Washington commanded a militia force of 13,000 men, roughly the same size of the Continental Army he previously commanded during the Revolutionary War. Under the personal command of Washington, Hamilton and Revolutionary War hero General Henry "Lighthorse Harry" Lee, the army assembled in Harrisburg and marched into Western Pennsylvania (to what is now Monongahela, Pennsylvania) in October 1794. The insurrection collapsed quickly with little violence, and the resistance movements disbanded. Washington's forceful action proved the new government could protect itself. It also was one of only two times that a sitting President would personally command the military in the field: the other was in 1814. These events marked the first time under the new constitution that the federal government used strong military force to exert authority over the states and citizens. The men arrested for rebellion were imprisoned, where one died, while two were convicted of treason and sentenced to death by hanging. Later, Washington pardoned all the men involved.

This was the first time the federal government had been directly opposed. Washington believed that the delicate line between liberty and order needed to be established. In any young nation, there is some inherent vulnerability. By exercising the use of the militia, Washington exemplified that the federal government retained the power to take action when necessary. Washington was also concerned about the impression the restoration of public order will make on the others. He was referring to European powers who believed that the American experiment of democracy and self-government could not work.

Following the incident, Secretary of War Henry Knox resigned in December 1794, and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton resigned a month later.

Foreign affairs

Upon becoming President of the United States, George Washington almost immediately set two critical foreign policy precedents: He assumed control of treaty negotiations with a hostile power–in this case, the Creek Nation of Native Americans–and then asked for congressional approval once they were finalized. In addition, he sent American emissaries overseas for negotiations without legislative approval. According to historian Alfred N. Hunt, during the 1790s foreign affairs had a direct impact on American domestic policy.

Taking a global position

With the Storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, the French Revolution erupted; many Americans, remembering the French assistance during the Revolutionary War, supported aiding the French Republicans against the French monarchy. With France in revolution, Great Britain used its Indian allies to continue the Northwest Indian War. American anger in response to these attacks served to reinforce sentiments for aiding France in its conflict with Great Britain. Washington did not desire any such foreign entanglements. Washington believed that the United States was too weak and unstable to fight another war with a major European power. Thus, America gave no assistance to the French.

In 1791, shortly after the Haitian Revolution broke out, Washington's administration, at French request, agreed to send money, arms, and provisions to the French colony of Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti) to assist distressed slave owning colonists. Reports came in of the Haitian slaves having slaughtered their white masters. Washington himself was a slave owner and was willing to help the French government in their suppression of the slave revolt. This aid formed part of the US repayment of Revolutionary War loans, and eventually amounted to about $400,000 and 1,000 military weapons. Many Southerners believed that a successful slave revolt in Haiti would lead to a massive race war in America.

When the French Revolution ended on September 21, 1792, France declared itself a Republic. That same year, Washington was elected to a second term as President. Before Washington began his second term, the French revolutionaries guillotined King Louis XVI in January 1793, which gave a pretext for the British to persist in their war to restore the Ancien Régime, the absolute French monarchy. The King had been decisive in helping America achieve independence; now he was dead and many of the pro-American aristocrats in France were exiled or executed. Many of those executed had been friends of the United States, such as the navy commander Comte D'Estaing. Lafayette had fled France and ended up in captivity in Austria, and Thomas Paine went to prison in France. The Republicans in the United States denounced Hamilton, Adams and even Washington as friends of Britain, as secret monarchists, and as enemies of the republican values that all true Americans cherished.

France declared war on a host of European nations, with the Kingdom of Great Britain among them. Once again, Americans wanted to enter the war on the side of France. Jefferson and his faction wanted to aid the French while Hamilton and his followers supported neutrality in the conflict. Hamilton and the Federalists warned that American Republicans threatened to replicate the horrors of the French Revolution, and successfully mobilized most conservatives and many clergymen. The Republicans, some of whom had been strong Francophiles, responded with support, even through the Reign of Terror, when thousands were guillotined.

In order to avoid war with Great Britain, Washington refused to help the people in the French Revolution. While the American public was ready to help the Frenchmen and their fight for "liberty, equality, and fraternity," the government was strongly against it. In the days immediately following Washington's second inauguration, the revolutionary government of France sent diplomat Edmond-Charles Genêt, called "Citizen Genêt," to America. Genêt's mission was to drum up support for the French cause. Genêt issued letters of marque and reprisal to American ships so they could capture British merchant ships. He attempted to turn popular sentiment towards American involvement in the French war against Britain by creating a network of Democratic-Republican Societies in major cities.

Washington was deeply irritated by this subversive meddling, and when Genet allowed a French-sponsored warship to sail out of Philadelphia against direct presidential orders, Washington demanded that France recall Genet. However, by this time the revolution had taken a more violent approach and Genet would have been executed had he returned to France. He appealed to Washington, and Washington allowed him to remain, making him the first political refugee to seek sanctuary in the United States.

During the Genet episode, Washington issued the Proclamation of Neutrality on April 22, 1793. Washington declared the United States neutral in the conflict between Great Britain and France that had begun with the French Revolution. He also threatened legal proceedings against any American providing assistance to any of the warring countries. Washington eventually recognized that supporting either Great Britain or France was a false dichotomy. He would do neither, thereby shielding the fledgling U.S. from, in his view, unnecessary harm.

The public had mixed opinions about Washington's Proclamation of Neutrality. Those who supported Madison and Jefferson were far more likely to be in support of the French Revolution, as they saw it as an opportunity for a nation to achieve liberty from tyrannical rule. However, there were a number of merchants who were extremely happy that the President decided to remain impartial to the revolution. They believed that if the government took a stance on the war, it would ruin their trade relations with the British completely. This economic element was a primary reason for many federalist supporters wanting to avoid increased conflict with the British.

Peace with Great Britain

In 1793, Great Britain stated that it would not follow the provisions of the Treaty of Paris and would not leave its posts on the Great Lakes, until the United States repaid all debts to Great Britain. Britain announced that it would seize any ships trading with the French, including those flying the American flag. British vessels had been seizing hundreds of American ships and subjecting American sailors to impressment, claiming them to be deserters of Great Britain, since some of them were of British origin. In protest, widespread civil disorder erupted in several American cities. By the following year, tensions between the British were so high that Washington ordered all American shipments overseas halted. An envoy was sent to England to attempt reconciliation, and Britain had the goal of keeping the US neutral in the wars underway in Europe. Since Thomas Jefferson had resigned as Secretary of State, Washington appointed his former Attorney General Edmund Randolph as his new Secretary of State to oversee the affairs between Britain and France.

As a neutral nation, the United States argued it had the right to carry goods anywhere it wanted. The British nevertheless seized American ships carrying goods from the French West Indies. Madison and the Jeffersonians called for a trade war against Britain. They realized it might lead to war but believed Britain was weak and would lose. The Federalists favored Britain (while remaining officially neutral), and by far most of America's foreign trade was with Britain; hence a new treaty was called for. One possible alternative was war with Britain, a war that America was ill-prepared to fight.

Washington sent Chief Justice John Jay to London to negotiate the Jay Treaty. Hamilton wrote most of the instructions for Jay. Both sides gained most (but not all) that they wanted. Most important, war was averted. For the British, America remained neutral and economically grew closer to Britain. The Americans also guaranteed favorable treatment to British imports. In return the British agreed to evacuate the western forts (which they were supposed to do by 1783), open their West Indies ports to smaller American ships, allow small vessels to trade with the French West Indies, and set up a commission that would adjudicate American claims against Britain for seized ships, and British claims against Americans for debts incurred before 1775. However, the Jay Treaty had no concessions on impressment or established any rights for American sailors. Another commission was established to settle boundary issues.

The Republicans wanted to pressure Britain to the brink of war (and assumed that America could defeat a weak Britain). Therefore, they denounced the Jay Treaty as an insult to American prestige, a repudiation of the French alliance of 1778 and a severe shock to Southern planters who owed those old debts, and who were never to collect for the lost slaves the British captured. Republicans protested vehemently but the Federalists won the battle for public opinion, thanks to Washington's prestige, and won by exactly the necessary ⅔ vote, 20-10, in 1795. The pendulum of public opinion swung toward the Republicans after the Treaty fight, and in the South the Federalists lost most of the support they had among planters. The Jay Treaty marked the nationalization of electoral politics, as voters across the country chose the Federalist or Republican side depending on their view of the Jay Treaty. The Treaty brought a decade of prosperous trade with Britain, but angered the French who fought an undeclared war with the US, the Quasi-War, in 1798-99.

Historian Todd Estes shows that as protests from Jay treaty opponents intensified in 1795, Washington's initial neutral position shifted to a solid pro-treaty stance. It was he who had the greatest impact on public and congressional opinion. With the assistance of Hamilton, Washington made tactical decisions that strengthened the Federalist campaign to mobilize support for the treaty. For example, he effectively delayed the treaty's submission to the House until public support was particularly strong in February 1796 and refocused the debate by dismissing as unconstitutional the request that all documentation relating to Jay's negotiations be placed before Congress. Washington's prestige and political skills applied popular political pressure to Congress and ultimately led to approval of the treaty's funding in April 1796. His role in the debates demonstrated a "hidden-hand" leadership in which he issued public messages, delegated to advisers, and used his personality and the power of office to broaden support.

Following the ratification of the Jay Treaty, the British handed Washington evidence that Secretary of State Randolph had damaged American interests by indiscreet conversations with the minister from France. An angry Washington forced his old friend to resign in August 1795.

Foreign policy in the final year

A pair of treaties—one with Algiers and another with Spain—dominated the later stages of Washington's foreign policy.

Pirates from the Barbary region of North Africa were seizing American ships, kidnapping their crew members, and demanding ransom. Previously, the United States had been protected by the Royal Navy and then by the French navy. However, following America's neutrality, America's ships had become vulnerable to pirate attack. These Barbary pirates forced a harsh treaty on the United States that demanded annual payments to the ruler of Algiers. By late 1793, a dozen American ships had been captured, goods stripped and everyone enslaved.

Portugal had offered some armed patrols, but American merchants needed an armed American presence to sail near Europe. With this as the backdrop, America began thinking about constructing a force to defend her merchant marine. After some serious debate, Washington signed the Naval Act of 1794 on March 27, 1794. Thus the United States Navy was reborn. Congress authorized six frigates to be built by Joshua Humphreys. With his assistant Josiah Fox, they designed frigates for America with superior speed and handiness. These ships would prove to be instrumental in naval actions that ended disputes with Algiers in later administrations and wars. This was a major philosophical shift for the young Republic, many of whose leaders felt that a Navy would be too expensive to raise and maintain, too imperialistic, and would unnecessarily provoke the European powers. In the end, however, it was felt necessary to protect American interests at sea.

The new Navy would not see use under Washington's command. In March 1796, as construction of the frigates slowly progressed, Washington brokered a peace accord between the United States and the Dey of Algiers. According to the Treaty of Tripoli, Washington agreed to pay the Pasha of Tripoli a yearly tribute in exchange for the peaceful treatment of United States' shipping in the Mediterranean region.

The agreement with Spain produced better results for the United States and Washington. Washington sent Thomas Pinckney to Spain to negotiate what would become known as Pinckney's Treaty. Signed on October 27, 1795, the treaty established intentions of friendship between the United States and Spain.

Spain and the United States agreed that the southern boundary of the United States with the Spanish Colonies of East and West Florida was a line beginning on the Mississippi River at the 31st degree north latitude drawn due east to the middle of the Chattahoochee River and from there along the middle of the river to the junction with the Flint River and from there straight to the headwaters of the St. Marys River and from there along the middle of the channel to the Atlantic Ocean. This describes the current boundary between the present state of Florida and Georgia and the line from the northern boundary of the Florida panhandle to the northern boundary of that portion of Louisiana east of the Mississippi.

The United States and Spain agreed not to incite native tribes to warfare. Previously, Spain had been supplying weapons to local tribes for many years. The western boundary of the United States, separating it from the Spanish Colony of Louisiana, was established along the Mississippi River from the northern boundary of the United States to the 31st degree north latitude. The agreement therefore put the lands of the Chickasaw Nation of American Indians within the new boundaries of the United States.

More importantly, Spain conceded unrestricted access of the entire Mississippi River to Americans, opening much of the Ohio River Valley for settlement and trade. Agricultural produce could now flow on flatboats down the Ohio and Cumberland Rivers to the Mississippi River and on to New Orleans and Europe. Spain and the United States also agreed to protect the vessels of the other party anywhere within their jurisdictions and to not detain or embargo the other's citizens or vessels. The treaty also guaranteed navigation of the entire length of the river for both the United States and Spain. The territory ceded by Spain in this treaty was organized by the United States into the Mississippi Territory in 1798.

By 1796, France was at war with Britain, the French were harassing American ships and threatening the U.S. with punitive sanctions. Diplomacy did little to solve the problem, and by 1798 American and French warships exchanged gunfire on several occasions.

Farewell Address

By the end of his eight years in office, Washington had proven himself an able administrator. An excellent delegator and judge of talent and character, he held regular Cabinet meetings, which debated issues; he then made the final decision and moved on. In handling routine tasks, he was "systematic, orderly, energetic, solicitous of the opinion of others but decisive, intent upon general goals and the consistency of particular actions with them."

Although it was his for the taking, Washington only reluctantly agreed to serve a second term of office as president and refused to run for a third, establishing the precedent of a maximum of two terms for a president. Over four decades of public service had left him exhausted physically, mentally, and financially. He happily handed the office to his successor, John Adams, then returned to Mount Vernon and resumed farming.

Washington closed his administration with a thoughtful farewell address. Washington's Farewell Address (issued as a public letter in 1796) was one of the most influential statements of American political values. Drafted primarily by Washington himself, with help from Hamilton, it gives advice on the necessity and importance of national union, the value of the Constitution and the rule of law, the evils of political parties, and the proper virtues of a republican people. In the address, he called morality "a necessary spring of popular government." He suggests that "reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle." Washington thus makes the point that the value of religion is for the benefit of society as a whole.

Washington warns against foreign influence in domestic affairs and American meddling in European affairs. He warns against bitter partisanship in domestic politics and called for men to move beyond partisanship and serve the common good. Specifically, he proclaims his deep distrust in political parties. He believed that they would open doors for unprincipled men to gain power. He called for an America wholly free of foreign attachments, as the United States must concentrate only on American interests. He counseled friendship and commerce with all nations, but warned against involvement in European wars and entering into long-term alliances. The address quickly set American policy regarding religion and foreign affairs, and his advice was often repeated in political discourse well into the twentieth century. Not until the 1949 formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) would the United States again sign a treaty of alliance with a foreign nation. Washington's position about the forming of political parties did not prevent their creation, which continues to the present day.

Major legislation signed

  • Judiciary Act of 1789 – established the federal judiciary, as well as the United States Attorney General
  • Indian Intercourse Acts – regulated commerce between American Indians and non-Indians and restricting travel by non-Indians onto Indian land
  • Naturalization Act of 1790 – provided the first rules to be followed by the United States in the granting of national citizenship for "free white persons" of "good moral character"
  • Copyright Act of 1790 the first federal copyright act to be instituted in the United States.
  • Residence Act of 1790 – designated Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as the temporary capital city of the United States federal government for a period of ten years, and specified the permanent capital be located on the Potomac River
  • Bank Act of 1791 – established the First Bank of the United States
  • Coinage Act of 1792 – established the United States Mint, established the United States dollar, and regulated coinage of the United States
  • Militia Act of 1792 – established the various states militia and granted the President the authority to call out the state militia under federal control
  • Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 – made it a federal crime to assist an escaping slave, and established the legal system by which escaped slaves would be returned to their masters
  • Slave Trade Act of 1794 – limited the United States' involvement in the transportation of slaves by prohibiting the export of slaves from the United States
  • Naval Act of 1794 – established the United States Navy
  • Legislation vetoed

  • The Apportionment Act, vetoed April 5, 1792, on constitutional grounds
  • A Bill to alter and amend an Act entitled, "An Act to ascertain and fix the military establishment of the United States", vetoed February 28, 1797, on the advice of Secretary of War James McHenry
  • Constitutional amendments

  • September 25, 1789: Congress approved 12 amendments to the U.S. Constitution establishing specific constitutional guarantees of personal freedoms and rights, clear limitations on the government's power in judicial and other proceedings, and explicit declarations that all powers not specifically delegated to Congress by the Constitution are reserved for the states or the people, and submitted them to the state legislatures for ratification.
  • December 15, 1791: The first 10 amendments to the United States Constitution, collectively known as the Bill of Rights, were ratified by the requisite number of states (then 11) to become part of the Constitution.
  • March 4, 1794: Congress approved an amendment to the United States Constitution clarifying judicial power over foreign nationals, and limiting the ability of citizens to sue states in federal courts and under federal law, and submitted it to the state legislatures for ratification.
  • February 7, 1795: The Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified by the requisite number of states (then 12) to become part of the Constitution.
  • Judicial appointments

    As the first President, Washington was responsible for appointing the entire Supreme Court. Due to this, he filled more vacancies on the Court then any other president in American history.

    After the Judiciary Act of 1789 set the the number of Supreme Court justices at six, Washington nominated the following persons to serve on the Court:

  • John Jay – Chief Justice; confirmed by the Senate on September 26, 1789
  • John Rutledge – Associate Justice; confirmed by the Senate on September 26, 1789
  • William Cushing – Associate Justice; confirmed by the Senate on September 26, 1789
  • Robert Harrison – Associate Justice; confirmed by the Senate on September 26, 1789; declined appointment
  • James Wilson – Associate Justice; confirmed by the Senate on September 26, 1789
  • John Blair – Associate Justice; confirmed by the Senate on September 26, 1789
  • James Iredell – Associate Justice; confirmed by the Senate on February 10, 1790
  • Thomas Johnson received a recess appointment from Washington on August 5, 1791, to a seat vacated by Associate Justice John Rutledge, and was nominated to the same position by Washington on October 31, 1791. He was confirmed by the Senate on November 7, 1791.

    Following the January 1793 resignation of Thomas Johnson, Washington nominated:

  • William Paterson – Associate Justice, confirmed by the Senate on March 4, 1793
  • John Rutledge received a recess appointment from Washington on July 1, 1795, to a seat vacated by chief Justice John Jay, and was nominated to the same position by Washington on December 10, 1795 He resigned on December 28, 1795, after nomination was not confirmed by the Senate. Rutledge was the first rejected Supreme Court nominee and the only "recess appointed" justice not to be subsequently confirmed by the Senate. Following his termination, Washington nominated:

  • William Cushing – Chief Justice; confirmed by the Senate on January 27, 1796; declined appointment
  • Oliver Ellsworth, Chief Justice, confirmed by the Senate on March 8, 1796
  • Following the October 1795 resignation of John Blair, Washington nominated:

  • Samuel Chase, Associate Justice, served: January 27, 1796
  • Washington also had the responsibility to fill the entire body of United States federal judges. He appointed 28 judges to the federal district courts during his two terms in office.

    States joining the Union

    When the federal government began operations under the new form of government on March 4, 1789, two (of the 13) states were ineligible to participate as they had not yet ratified the Constitution. Both did so while Washington was in office, joining the Union:

  • North Carolina – November 21, 1789
  • Rhode Island – May 29, 1790
  • Three new states were admitted to the Union (each on an equal footing with the existing states) while Washington was in office:

  • Vermont – March 4, 1791
  • Kentucky – June 1, 1792
  • Tennessee – June 1, 1796
  • References

    Presidency of George Washington Wikipedia