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Federalist America 1783-1800
Transcript of Federalist America 1783-1800
Articles of Confederation
With the Declaration of Independence a new framework of Government was also set up called the Articles of Confederation
These articles set up a weak congressional government with unclear responsibilities.
One of the clearest responsibilities was the maintenance of a national army, however there was no clear framework as to how money was collected from that states, and what power the continental congress had over taxation
Congress also had very unclear powers over foreign policy. This hurt the United State's image abroad as for many it was unclear whether treaties had to be made with the Government of the United States or the government of whatever state the treaty applied to.
Commerce was regulated only by the states leaving a hodge podge of interstate commercial regulation, and international trade treaties.
Problems for the states
The main problem for the States themselves under the articles of confederation was financial
During the revolution all of the states had incurred a large amount of debt in order to fight the war.
This debt, and the hasty attempts to pay it off, combined with the post-war economic slump common in the period meant incredible financial hardship across the country
The unclear nature of currency, and the inability for the US to gain access to hard cash meant that foreign credit was hard to come by.
By 1786 it was clear to many that a new document needed to be drawn up. This need was shown to all with full clarity when farmers, many of whom were veterans, rebelled in Massachusetts against the inability of farmers to obtain currency or credit.
Movements against Confederation
Even before the Rebellion in Massachusetts people like Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay made calls for a new constitutional convention
It was quite clear that a stronger federal government needed to be established, but a balance needed to be drawn up between federal power and state power
During this period all sorts of plans were drawn up as to how to organize a government some with strong executives others with very weak forms of government
In 1787 delegates from all of the colonies except Rhode Island gathered in Pennsylvania to set out a new form of government.
The main thrust of the debate was whether a strong federal government would encroach on the rights of citizens
Eventually a compromise esd reached in which a relatively strong federal government (fixed term presidents, and a senate elected by state legislatures) with expansive powers over the states was created, but a bill of rights was also written, and connected to the constitution in terms of ratification.
Its also important to know who was at the convention and who was not. Federalists like Hamilton, Washington, and Madison were present while Thomas Jefferson was in France, and apparently unhappy with the settlement.
Ratification Campaign and Federalist Papers
Part of the convention was establishing a ratification process (which i believe still exists to this day) in which 9 of the 13 state legislatures had to ratify the constitution for it to become law.
As part of the pro ratification faction Hamilton, Madison, and Jay wrote a number of articles in support of the constitution and addressing peoples problems with it.
The campaign proves effective with each state ratifying the constitution, but in some states by a very thin margin
Terms of Washington and Adams
After Washington was elected unanimously in 1789 there are still elements of government that are ill-formed by the constitution
On of the first things Washington set about doing was establishing a Cabinet, composed of the appointed leaders of five different ministries, State Department, Treasury, War Department, Attorney General, and Postmaster General
He appointed importantly Jefferson to State, and Hamilton to Treasury. This composition rendered the cabinet quickly unworkable as both saw each others acts as ruinous to the new nation.
Hamilton's view that the debt of the individual states from the war should be assumed by a national bank was seen as a wellspring of tyranny by Jefferson. And Jefferson's attitude towards France was seen by both Hamilton and Washington as bringing America dangerously close to another costly war against Britain.
The Formation of Political Parties
The conflict between Hamilton and Jefferson became increasingly divisive to the point where cabinet could not function
Eventually Jefferson left the cabinet in 1793
Parties began to form into Pro and Anti administration parties largely breaking on decisions of foreign and economic policy.
By the middle of the 1790's two parties formed the Democratic-Republican party, believers in a weak central government, no national bank, an interventionist foreign policy, and a largely agrarian America, led by Jefferson and James Madison. And the pro federal, isolationist, industrialist, pro bank federalists led by Hamilton, and to an extent John Adams.
Washington was very disturbed by the emergence of what he called factions, which the constitution does not address, but sides mostly with federalists
The constitution leaves elements of the judiciary unclear and it is Washington's administration that set the structure of the court.
Washington established a chief justice and associate justices though the numbers changed until the 20th century
A series of district courts was also established as the court of appeal for state courts
The Supreme court was given the right to decide disagreements between the states
Much of domestic government policy at this time was economic in nature.
Hamilton won most of the battles with Jefferson on the Economy and the Washington administration oversay the creation of a national bank to issue credit in the United States
Hamilton also succeeded in fostering programs to help industrialize the US economy
However the bank, and the taxes required to finance it become a major issue in US politics of the day. Fear that the national bank would take over or destroy local banks, and that it would favor northern capitalist interests turned off many southerners and westerners to the idea.
Eventually a rebellion broke out over whiskey taxes in western Pennsylvania opposing the governments economic policies and their effect on the frontier.
American foreign policy in this period was centred around events between Britain and France
After the french revolution many in America were excited by what was seen as an extension of revolution to Europe and wanted to see America side with France against Britain
However, Washington, and Hamilton were opposed to war understanding how dreadful getting sucked into european politics would be.
All of this was compounded by the fact that british troops still garrisoned forts in territory ceded to the United States
Eventually the US an Britain signed the Jay treaty which forces british troops to withdraw from America, but signs America up for Britain's anti - french trading policies, and does not settle issue of compensation for slaves freed by the british army during the revolution
The treaty was unpopular with much of the public (however it was easily passed by the senate, and supported by Washington) however the Democratic Republicans over played their hand in tying themselves to the French revolution and lose the 1796 elections.
Adams came to power after Washington in 1797 as a moderate federalist
The administration was dominated mostly by foreign policy and he implications there of
Problems with france was the main issue, as the french felt that after their help for America in the revolution, Americans should help France in her revolutionary wars.
The main question of Foreign policy in this period was Americas lack of support for republican france
The french do not exactly help their position by encouraging the outfitting of french privateers crewed by americans. The administration rightly feared this might bring America into war with Britain.
The breakdown of Franco-American relations led to the "quasi-war in which French privateers attacked american shipping.
This set some of the tone of the american public against republican france
Alien and Sedition acts
The Quasi War was a divisive issue in the United states, with many Democratic-Republicans supporting France.
French immigration was also an issue, there were many french Republicans advocating the revolutionary cause in America.
The federalist dominated congress passed the alien and sedition acts which mostly dealt with giving the president the power to deport or arrest foreign nationals considered dangerous.
The acts also allowed prosecution of the people who wrote libelously or maliciously against the government
These acts almost certainly led to Adams defeat in 1800