UNITED STATES HISTORY
The Greatest Man in the
*George Washington saw many great events during his presidency,
including the ratification of the Bill of Rights, and set many
precedents that would define the executive branch and shape its
relationship with the other branches of the government.
However, he also had problems at home with the Whiskey Rebellion
and constant arguments among his own cabinet members.
Furthermore, he faced crises in the international arena.
*France was in the throes of Revolution in the 1790s. In
1792, just before Washington’s first term was to end, the French
Revolution, already worrisome to Federalists (but still admired by
Jeffersonian Republicans) entered what is sometimes called its
Radical Phase, which is, if anything, too charitable a name for
the year in which the guillotine was first used (it would be used
for the last time in 1977).
*Initially many Americans supported even the Radical Phase,
cheering when the armies of the French Republic repelled invasion
by foreign monarchies. Some even admired the efficient
guillotine at first, as it severed the heads of oppressive
nobility. Some Americans even wore miniature guillotines as
charms. Jefferson said that this was to be expected and was
a small price to pay: after all, the tree of liberty must be
refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and
tyrants. However, by 1793, when the Reign of Terror began in
earnest and thousands were killed for any crime, real or imagined,
against the Republic, even Jefferson and his friends condemned the
revolution that ate its children.
*One embarrassment for the US was the Franco-American Perpetual
Alliance of 1778, created just after the victory at
Saratoga. This bound the US to France, and thus opposed the
US to France’s growing collection of enemies. The
Jeffersonian Republicans, especially early in the Revolution,
wanted to honour this commitment, but the Federalists did not want
to because it would cut their trade with Britain, and Washington
did not want to because it would embroil the US in a costly and
dangerous war. He asserted that the treaty was between the
United States and the King of France, and once the king had lost
his head, the United States had no obligation to honour a treaty
with the French Republic. However, he did not want to side
with anyone else, either, and in 1793 issued a neutrality
proclamation, but he did so on his own, without consulting
Congress, which made it a controversial action.
*France created problems in other ways, too. Her
representative, Citizen Genêt, arrived in Charleston and, feeling
that most Americans disapproved of the Neutrality Proclamation,
acted under the old Franco-American Alliance to outfit privateers
to attack British shipping and tried to raise an army with which
to invade Florida, Louisiana, and Canada. Had he done so, he
might well have drawn the United States into a European war for
which America was not prepared. Even Jefferson and Madison
grew weary of him quickly, and he was stripped of his post.
*There are problems with Britain, too. The British were
still outfitting Indians in the Northwest and encouraging them to
attack American settlements and military units.
*Around 1790, Little Turtle led the Miami Confederation in attacks
against the United States (which had already been fighting the
Western Indian Confederation since 1785). The Northwest
Territory's Governor, General Arthur St Clair, led over 1,000
troops against them, made up of both regular US Army solders and
western militia, including some from Tennessee.
*On 4 November, 1791 they were attacked by Indians while they were
eating breakfast. Many of the militia broke and ran, and
although St Clair tried to rally his men, his force was nearly
annihilated. After several failed attempts to break out with
bayonet charges he finally got about a third of his force back to
the safety of Fort Jefferson, but over 600 of his soldiers were
killed or captured (along with about 200 women camp followers),
and almost all the approximately 300 who escaped were
wounded. This 98% casualty rate in a battle in which one
fourth of the entire US army was engaged, makes St Clair’s Defeat,
also known as the Battle of the Wabash, the worst (proportional)
defeat in the history of the US Army, and prompted the first
Congressional investigation in US history (and in response, the
first full cabinet meeting and the first use of executive
privilege to refuse to turn executive records over the Congress).
*In response, a new unit, the Legion of the United States, was
formed under General Mad Anthony Wayne. They marched into
the Ohio Valley and 3,000 of them defeated about 1,500 Indians of
various western tribes (primarily Shawnee, Delaware, and Miami,
many of them armed with British muskets) at the Battle of Fallen
Timbers in 1794. In 1795 the defeated tribes signed the
Treaty of Greenville, giving up claims to Ohio but setting the
precedent that white men had to buy land from the Indians.
However, one Shawnee war leader, Tecumseh, did not sign.
*To Federalists, Little Turtle's War was proof that a strong
national government capable of supporting a strong, professional
army was necessary for the security of the nation.
Jeffersonian Republicans, despite including many Westerners
threatened by Indians, were unconvinced.
*Besides inciting Indian attacks, Britain also maintained some of
her forts in the old Northwest, despite being required by the
Peace of Paris to withdraw. The British justified their
breach of the treaty by citing America's failure to reimburse
Loyalists for property lost during the American Revolution.
*The United States and Britain also debated the exact border of
the United States and Canada and the right to navigate the
Mississippi River (which was also contested with Spain).
*Worst of all are Britain’s depredations on the high seas.
Regarding America as an ally of France, the Royal Navy seized
about 300 American merchant ships and impressed numerous American
sailors, arguing that if they were born as British subjects, they
were still subject to impressment into the British navy.
*To address some of these problems, John Jay concluded a treaty
with Great Britain in 1794. According to the treaty, the
boundary of the United States and Canada would be worked out by a
joint commission, the United States and Britain would share the
Great Lakes and the Mississippi, the British would abandon their
forts in America (but they had promised this before, and still did
not honour their promise), and they would pay damages for their
harassment of American shipping. It made no promises about
the future treatment of American shipping, though, nor did it give
any assurance against future Indian attacks. Britain also
received favoured trading status. Furthermore, America
agreed to pay back all the money owed to British merchants and
other creditors from before 1783.
*Most of this debt belonged to Virginians and other southerners,
and the South was offended by this treaty. Furthermore,
because it contained no provisions against future attacks and
impressments by the Royal Navy, many people felt Jay gave away
good trading rights and $2.7 million in debt for very little.
*Washington supported the treaty despite its unpopularity, because
he had no desire to go to war with Great Britain, and without the
treaty he thought he would eventually be forced into that.
*Another, less offensive, treaty was negotiated with Spain in 1795
by Thomas Pinckney. Pinckney’s treaty set the border of
Florida, allowed the US to use the Mississippi and to ship goods
through New Orleans (until this point, many Americans chose to
legally become subjects of the King of Spain for this purpose),
and caused both sides to agree not to incite Indians to attack the
other. The navigation of the Mississippi was vital to
western farmers, which made this more popular than the Jay Treaty.
*Westerners were increasingly important, too, as Washington had
added three western states to the Union: the Republic of
Vermont (which had declared independence from Britain, New
Hampshire, and New York) was admitted as a state in 1791 and
Kentucky gained independence from Virginia in 1792, bringing the
national flag to 15 stars and 15 stripes, as it stayed until
1818. The Territory of the United States South of the River
Ohio became the state of Tennessee in 1796, with John Sevier as
governor, William Blount and William Cocke as US senators, and
Andrew Jackson as Congressman (Tennessee had enough population for
two congressmen, but Federalists in congress managed to limit
Tennessee's delegation to one out of fear that Tennessee would
vote Jeffersonian Republican). Tennessee allowed all free
adult property-owning men to vote, although it did not matter how
much property they owned. Even free adult Black men could
*By 1796, Washington was tired, old, sick after a horse riding
injury, and weary of the bickering among Adams, Hamilton,
Jefferson. So, shortly before the election of 1796, on 19
September, he announced that he would not serve as president
again. He had not wanted to in 1792, but was convinced to do
so in order to have a president who stood above the bickering
factions of the day. By 1796, though, he was ready to go
home. This set the precedent that the President would not
rule for life like a king, and also set the tradition that the
president would only serve two terms.
*In his Farewell Address (which was actually a letter to the
American Daily Advertiser, Philadelphia’s biggest
newspaper), Washington said farewell to the nation, asking his
people to remain united and to avoid permanent entangling
alliances with foreign nations that might draw the US into war
(but not all alliances—he just wanted the United States to be
*The campaign of 1796 was extremely dirty, each side slandering
the other with abandon. John Adams ultimately was selected
over Thomas Jefferson by a margin of three votes (71 to 68), and
Jefferson, as the runner-up, became Vice-President, leading to
four years of constant disagreement.
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