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The Presidency of George Washington

Creating a new government on paper was difficult. The framers of the constitutional convention fought long and hard over the format and function of our government. Putting it in practice was difficult as well. In 1790 Madison wrote "We are in a wilderness, without a single footstep to guide us." As our founding fathers walked through the wilderness of democratic government, alone and without a real model, many obstacles would have to be overcome and many precedents would be set.

A. What precedents did Washington set as the nation's first President?

1. Washington wanted a formal presidency and thus set precedent by establishing Presidential protocol. He held regular morning receptions as well as formal evening dances and dinners. He had servants in uniforms and always dressed properly. Critics thought that these occasions seemed to cold but George felt that they were necessary for the dignity of the office. Washington realized that a formal presidency lent a degree of leadership the nation needed.

2. As the first President Washington recognized the need for advisors. He therefore created the first cabinet. He appointed Alexander Hamilton Secretary of the Treasury, John Jay Secretary of State until Thomas Jefferson returned from Europe and Henry Knox was made Secretary of War. John Adams was the Vice President.

3. Washington refused to take a third term of office. In doping so he set a the two term limit prcedent. This precedent was not broken until the mid 1900's.

4. Upon leaving the Presidency Washington issued what became known as the "Farewell Address." In it he urged America to "build commercial relations," and the "steer clear of permanent alliances." In short, he orged a policy of neutrality.

B. What was Hamilton's economic plan

1. Funding - In order to raise money for the new government Hamilton re issued and sold bonds previosly sold by the Continental Congress. This was done in an effort to organize the nations outstanding debt and build trust in the new nation with the wealthy investors that now owned the bonds. The problem was that many bonds had been sold to wealthy speculators during hard times. These speculators would now make an enormous profit. This act was seen as another Hamilton plan to help the rich.

2. Assumption of State Debt - In an effort to solidify the national debt and appear more united, Washington, under Hamilton's direction, took on the debt of all the colonies. The federal government would pay the debt from the war, not the original colonies. The debt would be paid with tax money. The problem was that the South had already repaid most of its debt. Southerners saw this as another way Hamilton protected his wealthy northern friends.

3. Build a New Capital - Hamilton felt that a new federal city would increase respect for the new nation and build investor support. Land was donated by Maryland and Virginia and the swamps were turned into Washington D.C.

4. Establish a National Bank - Hamilton wanted to build and create a national bank with the power to:

  • issue paper money
  • handle tax receipts (income)
  • pay debts

Hamilton felt this would stabilize currency, and tie the economy to wealthy investors who would own 80% of bank.

5. Excise (sales) Tax on Whiskey - Hamilton urged a tax on Whiskey. The tax was passed not necessarily as a way to gain money but as a way to demonstrate the new nations power. Hamilton and Washington knew the poor whiskey maker would revolt and they did. The so called "Whiskey Rebellion" was easily crushed by the new federal army proving the new nations power and willingness to remain united.


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