The Federalist Era began during George Washington’s presidency as national leaders sought to implement the “more perfect union” they envisioned when drafting the Constitution. The new president hoped to create a strong central government respected both by the American people and by foreign governments. He also looked to outline the strongest possible role for the president given what the Constitution said about the executive branch. During his time in office, Washington and his advisers pursued economic and diplomatic policies that became associated with the Federalist Party. To deal with the country’s economic problems, the administration introduced initiatives to promote growth suggested by Alexander Hamilton. To help secure the nation’s borders, they sought to remove the threats posed by the Indians as well as the British and the Spanish in the borderlands (the western territories). Although these policies did have positive effects, they also paved the way for the development of an opposition party, the Republicans, before the end of Washington’s first term.
Beginning the New Government
On April 23, 1789, George Washington arrived triumphantly in the nation’s capital, New York City. A week later, he made his way to Federal Hall through streets filled with well-wishers to take the oath of office. On a portico facing Broad and Wall Streets, Washington swore to uphold the laws of the nation. Afterwards New Yorker Robert Livingston, who administered the oath, bellowed, “Long live George Washington, President of the United States.” The crowd roared, and church bells tolled throughout the city. The president then retreated into the Hall to deliver his inaugural address to the members of the First Congress. Historians James McGregor Burns and Susan Dunn suggest Washington “sounded a note of profound elegance” when he mentioned how the preservation of liberty had been placed in the hands of the people.
At the same time, the new president seemed almost apprehensive; he and the assembled members of Congress realized the awesome task they had before them—to put the principles of the Constitution into practice and demonstrate that the republican form of government could be successful. Washington knew he had to serve both as a political and a symbolic leader because the Constitution provided only a sketch of the president’s responsibilities. Congress recognized it had to determine the structure of the executive and legislative branches. Initially, members of the national government recognized the necessity of gaining the respect of the American people and foreign governments. In the coming years, their task would become more complicated because they disagreed on how to implement the Constitution.
Though Congress had serious work to attend to in its opening session, the Senate’s first major debate focused on how to address the president. John Adams, the vice president, felt it was extremely important to establish a title of respect for the nation’s leader. Adams worried that without the proper title, foreign leaders would ridicule the American president. Moreover, he believed that a proper title would help focus the people’s attention away from their state governments and toward the federal government. The vice president suggested “His Highness” or “His Most Benign Highness.” Other members of the Senate favored an even more honorific title. Eventually, a Senate committee settled on “His Highness, the President of the United States and Protector of their Liberties.” However, the House of Representatives leaned against such a lofty title. James Madison and other republican-minded members pushed for a title that did not appear so kinglike. Eventually, Congress settled on “Mr. President” in order to show respect without too much deference.
Such a debate might seem trivial, but the choice of terms was important. It signified what type of government the opposing groups favored. The soon-to-be-labeled Federalists, like Adams, saw nothing wrong with aristocratic leadership because it would curb the excesses of democracy and bring stability to the nation. Titles and ceremony would convey strength and bring dignity to the new republic. Moreover, it would show the power of the central government over the states. The upcoming Republicans, like Madison, believed that in a republican society, there should be no sign of monarchy because it would undermine the people’s sovereignty. During the debate, Madison argued that simplicity would bring dignity.5 Congress quickly moved onto other issues, but the ideological issues raised during the naming controversy continued to divide national leaders.
Bill of Rights
Most of the delegates at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 never thought of including a bill of rights in the new Constitution; however, as the states debated ratification, Anti-Federalists demanded some protection for the people against the excesses of government. Some Federalists agreed to consider amendments designed to protect the people in exchange for the ratification of the Constitution. Thus, the new Congress discussed possible amendments even though many Federalists saw outlining the people’s specific rights as unnecessary, and many Anti-Federalists wanted more than cosmetic changes.
James Madison took the lead in drafting the amendments. His decision did not stem from a strong belief in the advisability of amendments; he had promised his fellow Virginians he would support amendments if they elected him to Congress. Madison carefully drafted the amendments so they would not dilute the power of the central government; his proposals focused solely on personal rights. He also managed to convince the House and the Senate to move forward on the proposals. In the end, Congress sent twelve amendments to the states for ratification. According to historian Gordon Wood, two amendments, on congressional appropriation and congressional salaries, “were lost in the initial ratification process.” The remaining ten became the Bill of Rights.
The First Amendment protected the freedoms of speech, press, and religion. The Second and Third Amendments—relating to the people’s fear of standing armies—granted the right to form citizen militias and to bear arms as well as to protect and limit the government’s ability to house soldiers in private homes. The Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Amendments defined a citizen’s rights when under arrest or in court, including protecting against unreasonable search and seizure as well as cruel and unusual punishment. The Ninth Amendment stated the government could not limit the citizens’ rights to only those listed in the Bill of Rights. Finally, the Tenth Amendment indicated that powers not listed in the Constitution remained with the states and the people.
After the ratification of the amendments, Federalists could claim they considered the opposition’s request to protect the people’s liberties. On the other hand, Anti-Federalists worried that the amendments did not do enough to alter the Constitution on issues of the judiciary and direct taxation. Nevertheless, their addition prompted North Carolina and Rhode Island to ratify the Constitution. Moreover, they allowed Congress to move onto questions relating to the framework of the executive and judicial branches. Congress approved the creation of three executive departments— state, treasury, and war—whose heads would be appointed with the consent of the Senate. It also passed the Judiciary Act of 1789, which set the number of Supreme Court justices at six and created a system of district and circuit courts as well as the position of attorney general.
Defining the Role of the President
In debates at the Constitutional Convention, delegates struggled to define the executive branch. Some preferred the creation of an elected monarchy, whereas others preferred some form of governing council. The expectation that George Washington would become the first president convinced many delegates opposed to a strong executive to agree to a single elected executive. Those delegates trusted in the former general’s public virtue and rationality. When Washington took office, he thought about how to shape the role of the president in order to calm suspicions about the chief executive’s power. He looked for ways to strike the proper balance between developing respectability and deflecting concerns that he desired to be a monarch, while also looking for ways to develop a strong sense of nationhood. Washington never fully enjoyed being the center of attention, but he willingly sat for numerous portraits in the hopes of cultivating patriotism. Moreover, he promoted internal improvements, the post office, and a national university to bind the fledgling nation together.
Early on, Washington sought advice from John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison on everything from the style of his residence to the structure of his social calendar. The president integrated some aspects of ceremony into his routine, such as riding in an elaborate coach drawn by four to six white horses and holding weekly receptions for people who wished to meet the president. His administration also carefully prepared his visits to the Northeast in 1789 and to the South in 1791. The president tried to balance the more ceremonial aspects with daily afternoon walks around New York City, and later Philadelphia, and by adopting what he considered plain dress. Although some criticism of the ceremonial aspects of Washington’s administration emerged in the press, Thomas Jefferson (recently returned from France) believed the president’s moderation worked to preserve the liberty the revolution established.
On a political level, Washington sought to become an energetic leader. He wanted to lay the foundation for a strong chief executive for his successors; moreover, he thought a “steady hand” should guide the nation. According to James McGregor Burns and Susan Burns, the president believed “accountability, diligence, and speed” were the marks of a good government. Washington was a hands-on leader who used the strengths of his cabinet officers to his advantage. He chose Thomas Jefferson as the secretary of state, Alexander Hamilton as the secretary of treasury, Henry Knox as the secretary of war, and Edmund Randolph as the attorney general. Washington also instructed his cabinet secretaries “to deliberate maturely, but to execute promptly.”
Washington deferred to Congress only on small matters because he wanted to create a strong presidency. When it came to an issue of executive authority, he rarely gave in to Congress. For example, when Congress debated the creation of executive departments in 1789, Washington, with the help of James Madison, fought hard to protect the president’s right to remove cabinet officers. Some congressmen maintained that because the Constitution granted the Senate the right to consent to presidential appointments, it also granted members the right to consent to removal. Madison, however, successfully convinced the House that no president could effectively control his own administration if he could not remove poorly performing officials. The Senate was not so easily convinced; they wanted to protect their rights when it came to appointments. Vice President Adams cast the tie-breaking vote that preserved the president’s right of removal and his independence of action. In the end, as Gordon Wood points out, Washington “created an independent role for the president and made it the dominant figure in the government.”
Road to Economic Recovery and Growth
Throughout the 1780s, economic issues—namely the war-related debts incurred by the state and the national governments—plagued the country. The total debt hovered at just under $78 million. Political leaders realized the necessity of dealing with public credit in order to develop greater respect for the new government. If the nation did not at a minimum make interest payments, then it would be hard for Americans to obtain credit at home or abroad. Not long after George Washington chose Alexander Hamilton as the secretary of treasury, the House of Representatives requested the secretary of treasury draw up plans to address the nation’s financial problems. Hamilton’s reports on public credit, a national bank, and manufacturing became a blueprint for the country’s future economic growth and for a strong central government. At the same time, the debates surrounding Hamilton’s vision further divided Washington, Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and others. Questions about the government’s role in the economy clearly divided those who supported strong central authority and those who supported states’ rights.
Dealing with the Debt
Alexander Hamilton first set out to deal with the debt, most of which stemmed from the effort to win independence. The Confederation Congress borrowed approximately $12 million from foreign governments and banks and approximately $42 million from the American people through a variety of bills, notes, and certificates. During the 1780s, the Confederation government found it difficult to make payments to creditors because it did not have an independent revenue source, so it borrowed more money just to make the interest payments. Meanwhile, the states also borrowed another $25 million from the people. Some of the states managed to pay their debt; others struggled because their residents balked at the high tax rates needed to fund the debt.
When the Washington administration began, no one seriously doubted the need to pay the foreign debt, but the question of the domestic debt was more complicated. Cash-poor farmers and merchants had sold their government certificates to speculators for much less than their face value in the 1780s. Some American leaders thought the government should pay the debt in full regardless of who held the certificates. Others thought the government should consider scaling it down or at least distinguishing between the original holders and the speculators. Furthermore, some leaders argued the federal government should assume the state debts, meaning it would take responsibility for paying those debts. Others argued such a move would discriminate against the states that had already met their financial obligations.
On January 14, 1790, Hamilton sent the Public Report on Credit to Congress. He outlined a proposal to pay the debt and to provide a base of capital for industrial projects. The secretary of treasury argued the government should pay the face value or full amount to the current holders of government certificates. Full payment would send a message to future creditors that the government could meet its obligations; paying anything less would be a breach of contract. Hamilton also proposed to assume the state debts in order to build loyalty to the national government. If the federal government took responsibility for paying all the debt, then the states could eliminate most of their taxes and thereby avoid the domestic turmoil of the 1780s. He further proposed the government should fund or refinance the debt by issuing new securities to certificate holders on which it would make annual interest payments. In theory, the government would also work to pay off the entire debt. For Hamilton, however, retiring the debt was not a priority.
Hamilton based his approach to public credit on the British model where the wealthiest citizens held most of the securities. When the government made annual interest payments from tax revenues, those citizens continued to invest in the government. In turn, they could use their securities as a form of capital (currency) to fund internal improvements and business ventures. To Hamilton, the plan was economically sound and politically wise. He believed the key way to develop the people’s loyalty to the United States was to focus on the self-interest of the elite, which in turn would bring economic benefits to all citizens. The president, who supported development to promote nationalism, approved of the secretary of treasury’s plan as did most other nationally-minded Congress representatives.
However, some in Congress seemed less convinced about the merits of Hamilton’s plan. James Madison saw numerous problems with the proposal, which surprised Hamilton since the two men had collaborated on the Federalist Papers supporting a strong central government. In 1790, Madison still had nationalist tendencies in that he supported paying the debt. However, he pushed for greater equity in handling the domestic debt. He hated to see speculators benefit more than the nation’s veterans. He also did not want to see states that funded their debts pay more than their share. Though Madison made an impassioned plea to protect the interests of the soldiers who fought for independence, the House ultimately sided with Hamilton on the question of paying the current holders of the securities the full value.
The question of assumption took longer to decide. Madison maintained that the proposal did an injustice to states like Virginia, Maryland, and Georgia. They had paid their debts, but now the government would tax their citizens to fund the debts of states like Massachusetts, Connecticut, and South Carolina. If Madison could not stop assumption altogether, then he wanted “settlement” before assumption to prorate the amount the states would have to contribute to the refinanced national debt. In assessing Hamilton’s proposals, Madison began to have reservations about the central government he helped create in the Constitution. He still believed in the importance of a national government, but he also worried the states might have to give up too much of their independence. Others who disagreed with assumption went so far as to suggest Hamilton wanted to do away with the states altogether. By June, the House and the Senate had deadlocked; most northerners were for assumption and most southerners were against it.
Thomas Jefferson sided with Madison, but he also realized reaching a compromise was important for the future of the republic. Jefferson had a somewhat disturbing conversation with Hamilton, who believed the failure of his financial plan would lead to the disintegration of the union. So, Jefferson invited Hamilton and Madison to his home one night to discuss a solution. The compromise stemmed from a suggestion earlier made by Virginian Richard Bland Lee, who had linked resolution of the assumption bill with the future location of the nation’s capital. Many southern legislators wanted to move the capital away from New York City so it would be closer to the South. It would also separate the nation’s political and financial interests, which they believed would curb the power of northern elites.
The meeting led to the Compromise of 1790—where Madison agreed not to fight assumption, and Hamilton agreed to support moving the capital to a site on the Potomac River. In July, Congress passed the Residence Bill and the Assumption Bill. The first stated the capital would move to Philadelphia for ten years while the government constructed the Potomac site carved out of Virginia and Maryland. The second made provisions for the federal government to assume the state debts. While the two sides reached an agreement, the debate over public credit further divided the nation’s leaders into factions. Jefferson and Madison saw the government more as an umpire who meditated the tensions between the states; Washington and Hamilton viewed the government as a player deeply involved in the fiscal affairs of the states. Hamilton’s other reports only further exacerbated those tensions.
Promoting Economic Development
For Alexander Hamilton, dealing with public credit was only the first step in securing the economic future of the United States. His Report on the Bank (1790) and Report on Manufactures (1791) promoted a greater connection between the federal government and the country’s manufacturing interests. Hamilton believed his plans would strengthen the relationship between the country’s agricultural and manufacturing sectors. He thought neither could prosper without the other; moreover, all Americans would prosper from the expansion of commerce. Trade brought revenue to the people and to the government, which in turn would make the United States a powerful nation. Economic development would also help secure liberty because revenue from tariffs would lessen the need to tax private property directly. The secretary of treasury, however, recognized his proposals likely would meet resistance because much of the population feared commerce.
The Report on the Bank detailed the importance of creating a national bank. Hamilton proposed Congress charter the Bank of the United States for a period of twenty years and capitalize it at $10 million. Once chartered, the government would own 20 percent of the bank’s stock. The bank would sell the remaining 80 percent to private individuals. Investors had to pay 25 percent of the value in specie, but the remaining 75 percent could be in government securities. The bank would also facilitate the payment of federal taxes and tariffs, serve as the government depository and government creditor, help regulate the state banks, and work to create paper money by issuing bank notes in the form short-term loans to merchants. Hamilton felt the creation of paper money served as the bank’s most important function. Since the bank would exchange its notes for specie, the notes could change hands without losing value, making them an acceptable substitute for coin.
Since most Americans had very little experience with banks, Hamilton’s proposal was a novel solution to the nation’s economic issues for its time. Southerners especially doubted the need for any financial institution that might concentrate the nation’s economic power in the hands of only a few people. When Congress began to debate the bank bill in 1791, James Madison once again led the opposition. He argued against the concentration of power, which reminded him of the British monarchy. Instead, he suggested chartering several regional banks. Furthermore, he doubted the constitutionality of the measure. Madison promoted a limited interpretation of the Constitution, often referred to as strict construction. The bank charter did not propose to collect taxes or borrow money for the general welfare of the people. Therefore, it was not a necessary function of the government. Madison concluded that the measure “was condemned by the silence of the Constitution.”
Hamilton’s supporters in Congress such as Fisher Ames, Elbridge Gerry, and Theodore Sedgwick effectively negated Madison’s arguments in the House and Senate debates. Ames, for example, suggested that not only was the bank a proper function of the government, but that much of what Congress and the president had done in the previous two years relied on a broad interpretation of powers granted to the government. To him, the “necessary and proper” clause (Article I, Section 8) established the “doctrine of implied powers.” The bank bill passed through both chambers in February, leaving the president to decide whether to sign or veto the measure.
Washington very much respected Madison’s judgment and thus, according to Gordon Wood, “was deeply perplexed by the issue of constitutionality.” So, he asked Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, who recently returned from Paris where he had served as the minister of France, and Attorney General Edmond Randolph for advice. Both men opposed the bank and in their written responses relied on the provisions of the Tenth Amendment. Impressed by their arguments, the president asked Madison to draft his veto message. However, he also invited Hamilton to respond to the criticism leveled by his fellow cabinet members. The secretary of treasury laid out a case for broad construction, arguing the bank was vital to the country’s economic interests. In the end, Hamilton successfully convinced Washington the bank was both necessary and proper; the president signed the bill. Once the Bank of the United States—headquartered in Philadelphia—began selling its securities, Washington expressed pleasure at how quickly the value of those securities had risen. It suggested the people had confidence in the government and had economic resources.
The Report on Manufactures proposed four different measures to support domestic industry: (1) Congress should protect the nation’s infant industries through a protective tariff; (2) Congress should pay bounties to individuals who started businesses vital to the national interest; (3) Congress should fund a national transportation system of roads and canals, which would link industry and agriculture together; and (4) Congress should support industry through the encouragement of the labor of women and children. In the early 1790s, American farmers produced a surplus of goods. Thus, Hamilton wanted to create a domestic market for their surplus. If the nation started to industrialize, its laborers could be the market for much of what the farmers produced. In turn, those farmers could buy American-made manufactured goods. Such steps would make the nation less dependent on Europe. At the same time, Hamilton believed in the importance of maintaining some foreign trade since he planned to use a protective tariff or import tax to fund economic development.
Hamilton had much less success convincing the president or Congress on the necessity of his proposal supporting domestic manufacturing. Although Washington adopted an increasingly urban focus, as James McGregor Burns and Susan Dunn maintain, he still had “land in his blood.” He envisioned a balance between agriculture and industry in the United States, and yet he seemed incapable of giving up his belief that self-sufficient yeoman farmers would make the nation great. Consequently, he deemed the proposals unnecessary in 1792. Before he left office, Washington did recommend Congress consider support for domestic manufacturing to better prepare for times of war.
Meanwhile, Congress began to debate enacting bounties or rewards for the fishing industry and revising the tariff. Although the fishing measure passed, Madison managed to substitute “allowance” for “bounty,” thereby undermining Hamilton’s plan to promote industry. To Madison, Congress could grant an allowance under the Constitution because it dealt with a deficiency. A bounty, on the other hand, could expand the role of the government beyond the vision of the framers. As for the tariff, Congress had twice approved an import tax in 1789 and 1790. The measures raised revenue for the federal government, but they did not promote industry. While Congress raised the tariff rates in 1792, it did not adopt the principle of protectionism as Hamilton had hoped. In the short run, the federal government refrained from supporting domestic manufacturing. Hamilton’s vision simply was ahead of its time. In the long run, Hamilton’s proposals provided a guide for industrialization in the nineteenth century.
Foreign Policy Challenges
Beyond the efforts to define the role of the president and to promote economic recovery, George Washington had to deal with several foreign policy challenges relating to the settlement of the borderlands. The Indians living on that land, as well as the British and the Spanish governments, threatened the territorial integrity of the United States. The Washington administration sought to remove these threats. Washington saw the failure to resolve the issues on the frontier as problematic for the nation’s security and economic development. Both relied on the peaceful settlement of western land and the ability to navigate the Mississippi River. The president relied on the military and the diplomatic corps to achieve his goals.
At the same time, Washington had to define the role the legislative branch would play in foreign policy. The Constitution indicated the Senate would advise and consent on all treaties with foreign governments while the House would vote on the necessary appropriations for treaties. In 1789, Washington sought the Senate’s input on a treaty with the Southern Indian tribes. John Adams read the treaty more than once to the assembled members and then the debate over each provision began. Meanwhile, Washington waited impatiently in the chamber, apparently making some of the senators uncomfortable. When one senator suggested submitting the treaty to a subcommittee for study, the president became visibly upset. He expected their approval would come quickly, not that he would have to submit the treaty to serious study. Based on the experience, the president opted to drop the advisement role of the Senate. Thenceforward, the Senate only consented when it voted to ratify completed treaties. In 1796, the House sought to weigh in on the provisions of Jay’s Treaty with Great Britain. However, Washington refused Madison’s attempt to expand the role the House played in treaty making.
Disputes with the Indians
The Treaty of Paris ended the Revolutionary War and ceded western lands, and the frontier problems that went along with them, to the United States. In 1787, the Northwest Ordinance had laid out a blueprint for the expansion of the nation and set the tone for how the government would deal with Indians in the expansion process, proclaiming that “the utmost good faith shall always be observed towards the Indians; their lands and property shall never be taken from them without their consent…unless in just and lawful wars authorized by Congress; but laws founded in justice and humanity, shall from time to time be made for preventing wrongs being done to them.” Many saw this as an indication that the United States recognized the inevitability of expansion, but desired “expansion with honor.” However, these lofty ideas and language of “expansion with honor” were negated when the document called for towns and cities to be laid out in the places where Indian lands had been “extinguished.”
The new government sought to control frontier violence, settle the western lands peacefully, and promote the territorial integrity of the United States. One way of accomplishing these goals was the adoption of legislation that clearly defined the role of the federal government in foreign policy with Indians. From 1790 to 1834, Congress passed a series of acts, known as the Indian Intercourse Acts, which prohibited unregulated trade between Indians and Americans. The Acts established that only the federal government could license traders to buy Indian lands. This was confirmed by the Supreme Court in the 1823 Johnson v. M’Intosh case, which established that private individuals were not authorized to purchase land from Indians. The Act further regulated trade by setting up a series of authorized trading posts, or “factories,” where all trade between Indians and Americans was to take place. Ostensibly, the factories were to protect Indians from being defrauded by private individuals; in actuality, the United States often secured substantial tracts of Indian lands by trading access to the factories for land.
Over the course of the 1780s, the United States government strived to end frontier tensions by negotiating a series of treaties with some of the nations of the Ohio Valley. However, hostilities between settlers and Indians continued to grow as more Americans pushed westward. Matters came to a head in 1785-1786, when representatives of many of the nations of the Ohio Valley met to establish a group that would present a united front to the United States. This became known as the Miami Confederacy or the Northwest Confederacy. Participating groups included the Miami, Shawnee, Wyandot, Ojibwe, Lenape, and Kickapoo, among others. In a series of meetings, the Confederacy declared that the United States would have to deal with them as a group, not as individual tribes. They declared the Ohio River to be the boundary between the lands of the settlers and the lands of the Indians. Furthermore, the group declared that it would not honor treaties signed by only one individual or one group, which they referred to as “partial treaties.” The Confederacy was supported by a number of British agents still present in the region. These agents sold weapons and ammunition to the Indians, encouraged attacks on American settlers, and did much to increase tensions between the Indians of the Ohio Valley and the United States. The mid-1780s were marked by a series of disputes, including raids on American settlements and Indian towns alike. Hundreds died and mistrust grew, continuing the pattern of frontier violence that sparked the Northwest Indian War (1785-1795).
In 1790, war began in earnest when Washington and Secretary of War Henry Knox authorized a major campaign into the Ohio Valley, specifically calling for campaigns into the Miami and Shawnee lands. Some 1,500 troops, under the command of General Josiah Harmar, assembled to march into the Valley. Harmar planned to attack Kekionga, one of the largest villages in the region. His plans were thwarted by Miami leader Little Turtle, who evacuated the village before Harmar could attack, then ambushed and defeated Harmar’s troops, killing almost 200 soldiers. The following year, General Arthur St. Clair led the army back into the Valley. St. Clair’s troops, untrained and ill-equipped for war, were quickly overrun by Little Turtle’s Confederacy forces. The defeat was devastating, resulting in tremendously high casualties for the young American army and nation; some 630 officers and soldiers were killed, the highest casualties ever in an Indian war in American history.
The defeat was a triumph for the Confederacy. Many of the regional and Confederacy leaders, including leaders of the powerful Iroquois nation, wanted to take advantage of this strong position and negotiate with the Americans while the Confederacy had the upper hand. This idea was met with resistance by the majority of the Confederacy, who maintained that the Ohio River remained the absolute boundary between Indian and American lands. They would accept nothing less.
In the meantime, Congress laid plans to fund a large army. They appropriated one million dollars to create the Legion of the United States, a well-trained group created expressly to fight Indian wars. Under the command of General “Mad” Anthony Wayne, the Legion arrived in the Ohio Valley in late 1793 to find the Northwest Confederacy greatly weakened by fighting between the factions. Wayne and his troops built Fort Recovery on the site of St. Clair’s defeat. Little Turtle led an investigation of the newly arrived army and an unsuccessful attack against the fort; afterwards, he argued to the Confederacy that the Legion could not be defeated and advised a truce. The Confederacy responded by replacing Little Turtle with Shawnee leader Blue Jacket. The war culminated with the Battle of Fallen Timbers. Although both sides only suffered light casualties, the battle was significant. Blue Jacket had chosen to station his forces at a fortified area marked by trees that had blown over in a storm. The spot was close to Fort Miami, held by the British who traded with local groups and had supplied and supported the Confederacy. After losing the battle and abandoning the battlefield, Blue Jacket and his men fell back to Fort Miami, anticipating that they would find refuge there. The British commander refused to open the gates to the Confederacy troops, unwilling to start a war with the Americans. For many of the Northwest Confederacy, this lack of support by the British was even more discouraging than the loss of the battle.
The Northwest Indian War was concluded with the 1795 Treaty of Greenville. Little Turtle, one of the representatives of the Northwest Confederacy, delivered a speech defending the sovereignty of Native Americans and called for peace with the United States. The treaty ceded about two-thirds of the Ohio Valley to the United States and parts of modernday Indiana, including the sites of the future cities of Detroit, Chicago, and Toledo. In return, the Confederacy was guaranteed lands beyond the “Greenville Treaty Line,” which more or less followed the Cuyahoga River. Although the Treaty of Greenville promised a “lasting boundary,” settlers pushed into Indian lands a few years later.
The Northwest Indian War left a lasting legacy in several ways. As the first significant post-revolutionary military engagement, the decisive defeat of St. Clair and the army proved a real test of the young nation. Moreover, Congress was forced to raise a great deal of money in the midst of the debt crisis to fund the war and the newly created Legion of the United States. Washington’s administration and Congress were also delving into uncharted waters as they sought to establish the primacy of the federal government in Indian affairs. Finally, the Treaty of Greenville established the practice of paying yearly annuities of money and goods to nations that granted the United States some role in tribal affairs, a practice which continued and grew in the later Indian Wars.
Disputes with Great Britain and Spain
Both Great Britain and Spain complicated the Washington administration’s dealings with the Indians. The major European powers saw the fledgling United States as a weak nation in the 1780s and continued to do so in the 1790s. In 1783, Britain had lost the thirteen colonies and the land between the Appalachians and the Mississippi. Although it still controlled Canada, the boundary with Canada and the United States was unclear in places. At the same time, Britain returned Florida to Spain, and Spain claimed the Tennessee River as the border between the United States and New Spain. As a result, the United States faced threats on all of its borders. The British government encouraged the Indians to unite and resist American settlement. Moreover, the British severely discriminated against American merchants who wanted to sell to the British West Indies. To make matters worse, the Spanish government closed the Mississippi to American traffic. Spanish agents then encouraged settlers in Kentucky and Tennessee to break away from the United States so they could use the Mississippi to ship their produce to market. While Washington opted to rely on the army to resolve issues with the Indians, he turned to his diplomats to handle relations with Britain and Spain.
Tensions mounted between the Americans and the British in 1793, when France (during its revolution) declared war on all monarchies, including Britain. The United States hoped to remain neutral in the conflict, but the need to trade in Europe complicated matters since Britain blockaded the continent. The Washington administration prepared for war but hoped to avoid such an outcome. The chance for settlement came when Washington received word the British intended to ease their seizures of American ships in the West Indies. He sent John Jay, the chief justice, to London in 1794 as a special envoy. He instructed Jay to secure the evacuation of the northwestern forts on U.S. territory in the Great Lakes region still occupied by the British, to win reparations for seized American ships, to secure compensation as for slaves seized by the British during the war, and to negotiate a commercial treaty granting Americans trade with the British West Indies.
Jay’s Treaty (formally known as the Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation) did not live up to Washington’s expectations, because the chief justice only managed to secure the evacuation of the forts and damages for the seized ships. Nevertheless, the president sent the treaty to the Senate for ratification. When the public learned of the contents of the treaty, hostility to settlement mounted because so many Americans distrusted the British and favored the French in their ongoing conflict. In spite of the public reaction, the Senate approved the treaty by the barest margin in 1795. Washington signed for two reasons: he thought it would calm the political tensions, and he thought the agreement might pave the way for future improvements in the Anglo-American relationship. The president turned out to be wrong on both accounts.
The possibility of a treaty with Great Britain did, however, encourage Spain to negotiate an agreement with the United States. Washington sent William Short to Madrid in 1792, but Spanish negotiators seemed more interested in expanding their New World Empire than in making concessions to the Americans. Meanwhile, western settlers in Kentucky and Pennsylvania criticized Washington for doing nothing to assist them. Just as in the 1780s, it appeared as though the states might break from the American republic if the situation was not resolved. So, Washington sent Thomas Pinckney to Madrid in 1795. Spanish negotiators decided to conclude an agreement before the British and Americans could collaborate to erode their possessions in the Americas. In Pinckney’s Treaty (formally known as the Treaty of San Lorenzo), the Spanish accepted the 31st parallel (much farther south than the Tennessee River) as the border and agreed to the free navigation of the Mississippi River. The Senate ratified, and the president signed the treaty in 1796. Jay’s Treaty and Pinckney’s Treaty secured the American borders in the West, but they hardly ended the political factionalism throughout the nation.
In 1789, the Washington administration and Congress hoped to put the principles of the Constitution into practice and demonstrate that the republican form of government could be successful—to truly create a “more perfect union.” Congressional leaders followed through with promises made in 1787 and 1788 to add a Bill of Rights to the Constitution.
The executive and legislative branches also made strides in promoting the economy. Hamilton’s suggestions on public credit and the bank helped resolve the financial problems of the Confederation period. Madison eventually agreed to support a measure to fund the war debt in full as well as to assume the state debts in exchange for moving the nation’s capital to a site on the Potomac River. Hamilton’s supporters in Congress also convinced enough members to support a measure to create the Bank of the United States, to hold government deposits and issue currency.
The administration also sought to control frontier violence, settle the western lands peacefully, and promote the territorial integrity of the United States. Greenville’s Treaty, ending the Northwest Indian War, ceded Indian land in the Ohio Valley to the United States and reserved the land beyond the treaty line for the Indians. Jay’s Treaty and Pinckney’s Treaty proved that the newly-constituted central government had the strength to deal effectively with foreign governments to resolve its trade and border issues.
In spite of Washington’s efforts to curtail political differences, domestic and foreign policy issues began to divide political leaders into two factions by the end of Washington’s first term in office. Increasingly, Federalists (who favored a strong central government) and Republicans (who favored a limited central government) disagreed on how to interpret the Constitution.
The Bill of Rights did all of the following except
- constitute the first ten amendments to the Constitution.
- appease some initial critics of the Constitution.
- settle all questions about federal versus state authority.
- safeguard freedoms such as press, speech, and assembly.
Madison and Jefferson objected to the national bank in the 1790s primarily because
- they believed in strict construction when interpreting the Constitution.
- they felt it was not powerful enough to meet the nation’s financial needs.
- it would cost the government too much money.
- it would be located in New York rather than Virginia.
The Treaty of Greenville was an agreement between the United States and
- Great Britain.
- Indians on the northwest frontier.
Jay’s Treaty, ratified by the Senate in 1795,
- guaranteed the right of Americans to trade in the West Indies.
- forced Hamilton’s resignation from the cabinet.
- infuriated American people for its concessions to the British.
- was most strongly opposed in New England.