SS7 Chapter 09 Notes: The Federalist Era

Section 1: The First President (p. 246-251)

Washington Takes Office

George Washington was the first president of the United States. He knew that the precedents, or traditions, he started would be important. Congress and Washington:

  • Set up departments within the executive branch (the Cabinet)
  • Set up the court system
  • Added the Bill of Rights to the Constitution

The executive branch began with three departments and two offices. These advisors were called the cabinet:

Department or Office Head Function
State Department Thomas Jefferson Relations with other nations
Department of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton Handled financial matters
Department of War Henry Knox Provided for the nation’s defense
Attorney General Edmund Randolph Handled legal affairs
Postmaster General Benjamin Franklin Managed postal system

The Judiciary Act of 1789 created a federal court system which had district courts at the lowest level. Courts of appeal were at the middle level. The Supreme Court was at the top of the court system and would make the final decision on many issues. The federal courts had the power to change state decisions.

The first ten amendments, or changes, to the Constitution are known as the Bill of Rights. They were passed during the first meeting of Congress. The amendments limit the powers of government and protect the rights of the people.

The New Economy

The new United States faced serious financial problems. The national debt – the amount of money owed by the nation’s government – was very large. Alexander Hamilton was secretary of the treasury who worked to solve the nation’s money problems.

During the Revolutionary War, the confederation government had borrowed a large amount of money. It had issued bonds which were certificates promising to pay back money in a certain length of time. Hamilton argued that the United States should pay back money borrowed and pay off its debts.

Some people did not like Hamilton’s plan. Many people who bought bonds were worried that they would never be paid back. To get some money for their bonds, many people sold their bonds to speculators for less than the bonds were worth. Speculators hoped to make money later if the government finally paid back the bonds. The original bondholders saw that speculators would get rich and the bondholders would get nothing. Southern states also complained about the plan to pay state war debts. They had built up much less debt than the Northern states. They argued that the plan would make them pay more than their share.

Hamilton worked out a deal with Southern leaders. If they voted for his plan, he would support putting the new capital in the South. A new district called Washington, D.C., would be created between Virginia and Maryland.

To help build a strong national economy, Hamilton asked Congress to start a national bank. It would issue a single type of money for use in all states. A national bank called the Bank of the United States was started.

Hamilton also proposed a tariff that would help protect American products. A tariff is a tax on goods bought from foreign countries. It makes products from other nations more expensive than those made at home. This tariff would help American companies compete against foreign companies.

Hamilton’s Actions:

  • Paid back bonds
  • Created Bank of the United States
  • Introduced a protective tariff to help U.S. companies
  • Supported putting the nation’s capital in the South

Section 2: Early Challenges (p. 252-255)

Trouble in the New Nation

The new government faced many problems. In Pennsylvania farmers opposed a tax on whiskey. An armed mob attacked tax collectors. This armed protest was called the Whiskey Rebellion. President Washington decided to crush the protest using the army. This sent a message to people: the government would use force when necessary to keep order.

Issues with Native Americans continued as American settlers moved on to land promised to Native Americans.

Britain and France wanted to bring the United States into their own conflicts. The British were afraid that the United States would help France so they asked Native Americans to attack American settlements. The army defeated the Native Americans at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. The Native Americans signed the Treaty of Greenville and agreed to give up most of the land in what is now Ohio.

Problems with Europe

Britain and France went to war in 1793. Some Americans sided with France and others supported Britain. Washington hoped that the United States could stay neutral (means not taking sides in a conflict).

The French tried to get American volunteers to attack British ships. In response, President Washington issued a Proclamation of Neutrality which declared that American citizens could not fight in the war. The British captured American ships that traded with the French and forced the American crews into the British navy. This practice called impressment angered Americans.

Washington sent John Jay to work out a peaceful solution with Britain. In Jay’s Treaty, the British would agree to leave American soil. But it was unpopular because it did not deal with impressment or British interference in American trade.

Spanish leaders feared that the United States and Great Britain would work together against them in North America. Thomas Pinckney went to Spain to settle the differences between the United States and Spain. In 1795 he proposed a treaty that said Americans could travel on the Mississippi River. Pinckney’s Treaty also gave Americans the right to trade at New Orleans.

Washington decided to retire and not run for a third term as president. In his last speech, he warned the country not to get involved in foreign problems. He also warned against creating political parties.


Section 3: The First Political Parties (p. 256-261)

Opposing Parties

President Washington warned against political parties. He was afraid that political parties would divide the nation. By 1796, Americans were beginning to split into two different groups.

In Washington’s cabinet, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson often disagreed. They disagreed about:

  • economic policy
  • foreign relations
  • how much power the federal government should have
  • on the rules of the Constitution

Even Washington was partisan – favoring one side of an issue. Washington usually supported Hamilton’s positions. These disagreements caused both Hamilton and Jefferson to resign from, or leave, the cabinet. The two political parties that formed were called Federalists and Republicans.

Federalists Republicans
Headed by Alexander Hamilton Headed by Thomas Jefferson
Supported government by representatives Feared strong central government controlled by only a few people
Believed government had broad powers implied by the Constitution Believed government only had powers specifically stated in the Constitution

In 1796, there was a presidential election. Before the election, the two parties held meetings called caucuses. At the caucuses, members of Congress and other leaders chose their parties’ candidates for office.

The Federalists chose John Adams for president. The Republicans chose Thomas Jefferson. This was the first time candidates identified themselves as members of political parties.

Adams received the most electoral vote and won. Jefferson finished second. Under the Constitution at that time, the person with the second-highest number of electoral votes became vice president. Jefferson became the new vice president.

John Adams as President

When Adams became president, France and the United States could still not agree. The French captured American ships that carried goods to Britain.

Adams sent a team to Paris to try to end the disagreement. The French officials refused to meet with the Americans. Instead, they sent three agents who demanded a bribe from America and a loan for France. Adams was angry at the French actions and called the French agents “X, Y, and Z.” Adams urged Congress to prepare for war. This was called the XYZ affair.

People were angry with France. Americans became more suspicious of aliens. Aliens are immigrants living in a country who are not citizens of that country. Federalists passed laws to protect the nation’s security. They passed a group of laws known as the Alien and Sedition Acts. Sedition means activities that weaken the government. The Alien Act allowed the president to put aliens in prison and send them out of the country if he thought they were dangerous. Later, France and the United States signed a treaty which stopped French attacks on American ships.

The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions were passed which claimed that the Alien and Sedition Acts did not follow the rules of the Constitution. They also said the states should not put them into action. The Kentucky Resolutions said that states might nullify, or legally overturn, federal laws if they thought the laws went against the Constitution.

The resolutions supported the idea of states’ rights. This idea says that the powers of the federal government should be limited. Its powers should be only those clearly given to it in the Constitution. The states should have all other powers. The issue of states’ rights would be important in the future.