ast week we spoke about Founding Father and Former U.S President, Thomas Jefferson. The week before that we spoke about The Revolutionary War and how the colonists won their independence. This week we’re going to talk about what happened after all that and how the Founding Fathers of America formed a Government.
After the Revolutionary War the Founding Fathers had to sit down and think about what sort of country they wanted the United States to be and one of the first ideas was put forward by Alexander Hamilton, who served in the war as George Washington’s top aide and later the first Secretary of the Treasury.
It’s most likely that Hamilton would have been President himself if it were not for him being born in the Caribbean, but he had a strong idea of what he wanted America to look like. His party, which came to be known as the Federalist Party, would be one of the rich, the able, and the well-born. He thought America should be heavily involved in world trade and he wanted the U.S to be a manufacturing powerhouse. However, for this to happen he needed a strong Government that could build infrastructure and protect patents. Hamilton also believed the U.S should be hugely affiliated with Great Britain. Like everything in politics, there’s always someone to disagree with your ideas, and in Hamilton’s case, Thomas Jefferson was that person.
Jefferson wanted America to be comprised mainly of farmers, so that Americans would not have to rely on the international market for anything as they could just grow it and make it themselves. The farmers would make products for local markets but would never sell or provide anything internationally. Unlike Hamilton, he didn’t want any manufacturing, and whereas Hamilton’s idea relied on a strong government, Jefferson’s idea only relied on a small-scale, local government.
Jefferson was a big fan of the French and spent a lot of time in Paris as the U.S Ambassador there. One of his big reasons for liking the French so much was because they sided with the colonists during the Revolutionary War. So, Alexander Hamilton and his party (The Federalists) favoured an alliance with the British and Thomas Jefferson and his party (The Democratic-Republicans) favoured an alliance with the French. That was a problem because Great Britain and France were at war between 1740 and 1815.
Then there were two questions: 1) how democratic should America be, and 2) how much free speech should Americans have? Jefferson wanted more democracy and more free speech. During Washington’s Presidency, Democratic-Republican Societies sprang up. In 1794 the Pennsylvania Democratic-Republican Society published an address that said:
Freedom of Thought, and a free communication of opinions of speech or through the medium of press are the safeguards of our Liberty.
Hamilton and the Federalists however, thought there was too much free speech, and saw democracy as a threat. But, as we talked about last week, it’s hard to see what Jefferson meant by democracy. Jefferson was a slaveholder and slavery is the opposite of democracy.
In the first real Presidential Election there were no political parties - there wasn’t even a campaign. The Election was uncontested and George Washington won. He didn’t even have to run for office; he stood for it.
Washington’s Presidency was important for a number of precedents that he set. These included the notion that a President should only serve two terms and the idea that even though he was a General, a President should wear civilian clothing.
However, Washington wasn’t the brains behind policy - Hamilton was. Washington didn’t really belong to any party, but he supported Hamilton’s idea of a stronger nation and with that, Hamilton began the great American tradition of having a 5 point plan. The five points are:
- Establish the nation’s credit-worthiness
- Create a National Debt
- Create a Bank of The United States
- A Whiskey Tax
- Encourage domestic industrial manufacturing by imposing a tariff
Now, point 4, which was the whiskey tax, annoyed a lot of farmers and, if you remember, Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans wanted America to be a farming country, so they pretty much completely disagreed with Hamilton’s plan, arguing that none of it was in the Constitution - which they were right about.
Jefferson and his party lacked a 5 point plan of their own, so their only hope was to shave Hamilton’s 5 point plan down to a 4 point plan - and they did. They agreed with points 1, 2, 3 and 4 of Hamilton’s plan in exchange for a permanent capital on Potomac, so Hamilton’s plan won. Still, the Whiskey Tax was immediately controversial. Mainly because farmers loved to turn their rye, into whiskey, into profits.
In 1794, Western Pennsylvania farmers took up arms to protest the tax, and that clearly could not stand. Washington led a force of 13,000 men to put down this whiskey protest, becoming the only sitting President to lead troops into the field.
Hamilton wanted the U.S to have close ties to Britain for commercial reasons but Britain was constantly at war with France, with whom the U.S technically had a perpetual alliance, because the French helped them win the Revolutionary War and gave them the Statue of Liberty as a gift.
Eventually France talked the U.S into attacking British ships, to which Britain responded by impressing the U.S sailors - and by impress we mean they kidnapped them and forced them fight in the British Navy. Washington dispatched John Jay to deal with this issue and negotiated what became the Jay Treaty, which improved trade between U.S and Britain.
By the end of his Presidency, Washington was somewhat disillusioned by politics and by the time John Adams took office as the second President, the Americans were divided into three groups: Federalist, Republicans and Elitist.
John Adams had a problem during his election though. We ended up with a situation where the President and the Vice President were on opposite sides of the political spectrum, which wasn’t good. So, they changed the constitution, but not until the next election, where there was another screw up.
So, that’s pretty much how U.S politics was born, and if you’d like to know more about the third presidency and learn more about how U.S politics developed, you can read last week’s blog, which was about Thomas Jefferson.