1783-1800: Formation of a Nation


After the war, tension continued between Britain and the colonies. In an effort to tell it like it was, the revolutionaries wrote a document guaranteeing them all the rights they'd missed out on as a colony. The constitution was drafted in the summer of 1787. George Washington ran the show, and he pulled the states together well. They created both a Senate and a House of Representatives so that all of the states felt like they would be heard. Each state got two senators, but the number of representatives depended on the state's population.

It took a lot of talking to get all of the states to agree to the constitution. Washington and Ben Franklin were very persuasive. Also, a federal bill of rights was thrown in as a bonus. Everyone liked that and was eventually willing to sign the Constitution, and then a president could be elected.


George Washington was elected president, and he took office on April 30, 1789. John Adams was the Vice President. Nobody wanted the president to have as much power as a King. For that reason, three branches of government had been organized (executive, legislative, and judicial) with checks and balances to keep the power evenly distributed. Also, Washington didn't want to be an authority. He created a cabinet of advisors to talk to about everything.

Washington appointed Alexander Hamilton Secretary of Treasury. Luckily, Hamilton was a really smart guy because the country was not doing well economically. They had huge war debts, and they needed new trading partners because, of course, Britain was still giving the States the silent treatment. He formed an economic plan because the country was broke.

He had a 4-point plan addressing economic problems. First, Hamilton wanted to pay off America’s war debt to establish a good line of credit. He paid off other countries, and he used bonds (notes promising that you will be paid) to pay back people in the states to whom the government owed money.

Next, he needed to create a national currency (green backs) so that money was good from coast to cost. Hamilton created the National Bank that would keep the government’s money and loan it money.

Thirdly, to compete with other countries that were doing the same, Hamilton put a tax on all imported products. He did this so foreign goods would be really expensive and people would prefer to buy American made stuff.

Finally, Hamilton put a tax on all whiskey made inside the country. When some moonshiners in Pennsylvania refused to pay the whiskey tax, the government forced them to pay. This was proof that the constitution worked.


Thomas Jefferson hated the National Bank idea. He thought it was unconstitutional. But mostly, he disagreed with Hamilton in general. Hamilton wanted to create a government that would do favors for the wealthy, who would, in turn, employ and control the working classes. He wanted a strong federal government.

On the other hand, Jefferson thought the underdogs could work together to make a good country. The common man could live a life of freedom and happiness as long as they were educated, treated well, and were good farmers.

Eventually, 2 political parties were formed. The Federalists were led by Hamilton. They had a loose interpretation of the constitution, and they wanted a strong central government. This was the more conservative party. Jefferson's party was called the Democrat-Republicans. They paid close attention to the constitution, and they thought the state governments should have a lot of power.


Foreign policy was tricky back for the States, at first. They didn't have much power or money, and they didn't want to offend anyone. Britain and France went to war again in 1793. America wanted to stay neutral, so President Washington signed a document that stated America wouldn’t take sides. Britain started to steal American cargo ships. America wanted to sign a treaty to make them stop this without starting a war. In the Jay Treaty of 1794 the States got a raw deal, but Britain stopped attacking American ships.


Adams was a Federalist. He ran against Jefferson. Jefferson lost, but he was made the Vice President. America was really in the doghouse with France because they were upset about the Jay Treaty. France had helped America a lot during the Revolutionary War. They felt scammed because America wasn't helping them. They started attacking American ships. Adams sent some diplomats to talk with the French, but the French diplomats asked for bribes before they would talk. The Americans said "no way" and went home. They called the French officials asking for bribes "X, Y and Z". This became known as the XYZ Affair.

Napoleon became president of France. Then America and France became friendly again. They had a Convention in 1800 and sorted out their problems. Adams passed the Alien and Sedition Acts to make the States a little more organized and elite. These acts increased the number of years it took for an immigrant to become a citizen, they gave the President the power to deport people, and also they made it illegal to talk about rebelling against the government. In other words, you had to work hard to get there, act right to stay there, and like it.

Jefferson led a movement against these acts because, again, he thought they were unconstitutional. He believed that each state should be able to ignore a law they didn't like. This was called the Kentucky/Virginia resolution. The President didn't go for this.