US History/Constitution Early Years

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Early Immigration to the Americas as of 1790[edit]

According to the source, The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy by Kory L. Meyerink and Loretto Dennis Szucs, the following were the countries of origin for new arrivals coming to the United States up to 1790. The regions marked * were a part of Great Britain: None of these numbers are definitive and only "educated" guesses. The ancestry of the 3.9 million population in 1790 has been estimated by various sources by sampling last names in the 1790 census and assigning them a country of origin. Needless to say this is also a somewhat uncertain procedure. Particularly when it comes to Scot-Irish, Irish and English names which can often be the same. The Irish in the 1790 census are mostly Irish Protestants and the French Huguenots. The total U.S. Catholic population in 1790 was probably less than 5%.

Group Immigrants before 1790 Population 1790
Africa 360,000 (most as slaves) 800,000
England* 230,000 1,900,000
Ulster Scot-Irish* 135,000 300,000
Germany 103,000 270,000
Scotland* 48,500 150,000
Ireland* 8,000 (Incl. in Scot-Irish)
Netherlands 6,000 100,000
Wales* 4,000 10,000
France 3,000 50,000
Jews 1,000 2,000
Sweden 500 2,000
Other --- 200,000

Some, such as author James Webb, have argued that not enough credit is given to early Scots-Irish for the role they played in early American history, as they formed a full 40% of the American Revolutionary army and their culture is now dominant in the American South, Midwest and Appalachian Region.

The Constitutional Convention[edit]

In 1787, a Convention was called in Philadelphia with the declared purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation. However many delegates intended to use this convention for the purpose of drafting a new constitution. All states except for Rhode Island sent delegates, though all delegates did not attend. It was presided over by George Washington. At the convention, the primary issue was representation of the states. Under the Articles, each state had one vote in Congress. The more populous states wanted representation to be based on population (proportional representation). James Madison of Virginia crafted the Virginia Plan, which guaranteed proportional representation and granted wide powers to the Congress. The small states, on the other hand, supported equal representation through William Paterson's New Jersey Plan. The New Jersey Plan also increased the Congress' power, but it did not go nearly as far as the Virginia Plan. The conflict threatened to end the Convention, but Roger Sherman of Connecticut proposed the "Great Compromise" (or Connecticut Compromise) under which one house of Congress would be based on proportional representation, while the other would be based on equal representation. Eventually, the Compromise was accepted and the Convention saved.

After settling on representation, compromises seemed easy for other issues. The question about the counting of slaves when determining the official population of a state was resolved by the Three-Fifths Compromise, which provided that slaves would count as three-fifths of persons. In another compromise, the Congress was empowered to ban the slave trade, but only after 1808. Similarly, issues relating to the empowerment and election of the President were resolved, leading to the Electoral College method for choosing the Chief Executive of the nation.

The Convention required that the Constitution come into effect only after nine states ratify, or approve, it. The fight for ratification was difficult, but the Constitution eventually came into effect in 1788.

The Federalist Papers and Ratification[edit]

During 1788 and 1789, there were 85 essays published in several New York State newspapers, designed to convince New York and Virginia voters to ratify the Constitution. The three people who are generally acknowledged for writing these essays are Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay. Since Hamilton, Madison, and Jay were considered Federalists, this series of essays became known as "The Federalist Papers. One of the most famous Federalist Papers is Federalist No. 10, which was written by Madison and argues that the checks and balances in the Constitution prevent the government from falling victim to factions.

Anti-Federalists did not support ratification. Many individuals, such as Patrick Henry, George Mason, and Richard Henry Lee, were Anti-Federalists. The Anti-Federalists had several complaints with the constitution. One of their biggest was that the Constitution did not provide for a Bill of Rights protecting the people. They also thought the Constitution gave too much power to the federal government and too little to individual states. A third complaint of the Anti-Federalists was that Senators and the President were not directly elected by the people, and that the House of Representatives was elected every two years instead of annually.

On December 7, 1787, Delaware was the first state to ratify the Constitution. The vote was unanimous, 30-0. Pennsylvania followed on December 12 and New Jersey on ratified on December 18, also in a unanimous vote. By summer 1788, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia and New York had ratified the Constitution, and it went into effect. On August 2, 1788, North Carolina refused to ratify the Constitution without amendments, but it relented and ratified it a year later.

A number of states that ratified the Constitution also issued statements requesting changes to the constitution, such as a Bill of Rights. This led to the Bill of Rights being drawn up in the first few years of the federal government.

Washington Administration[edit]

George Washington, the first President of the United States

George Washington (February 22, 1732–December 14, 1799) was the successful Commander in Chief of the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War from 1775 to 1783, and later became the first President of the United States, an office he held from 1789 to 1797. Washington first served as an officer during the French and Indian War and as a leader of colonial militia supporting the British Empire. After leading the American victory in the Revolutionary War, he refused to lead a military regime, though encouraged by some of his peers to do so. He returned to civilian life at Mount Vernon.

In 1788, the Electors unanimously chose Washington as the first President of the United States. Washington helped bring the government together, but rivalries arose between his closest advisors (in particular his Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and his Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton), reflecting important domestic and international developments. Out of these developments evolved two new political parties: The Federalists, who shared the same name as the earlier pro-ratification party, and the Republican Party, also known as the Democratic - Republican Party, the Jeffersonian party, or the Anti-Federalists.

Washington's two-term administration set many policies and traditions that survive today. He was again unanimously elected in 1792, but after his second term expired, Washington again voluntarily relinquished power, thereby establishing an important precedent that was to serve as an example for the United States and also for other future republics. Another tradition was for the President simply to be called "The President of the United States".

Because of his central role in the founding of the United States, Washington is often called the "Father of his Country". Scholars rank him with Abraham Lincoln among the greatest of United States presidents.

The Bill of Rights[edit]

George Washington was inaugurated as the first United States president on April 30, 1789. However, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Vermont had not ratified the Constitution. On September 26, 1789, Congress sent a list of twelve amendments to the states for ratification. Ten of the amendments would become the Bill of Rights. North Carolina ratified the Constitution in November of 1789, followed by Rhode Island in May 1790. Vermont became the last state to ratify the Constitution on January 10, 1791, becoming the 14th state in the Union.

The Bill of Rights was enacted on December 15, 1791. Here is a summary of the ten amendments ratified on that day:

  1. Establishes freedom of religion, speech, the press, assembly, petition.
  2. Establishes the right to keep and bear arms as part of a well-regulated militia.
  3. Bans the forced quartering of soldiers.
  4. Interdiction of unreasonable searches and seizures; a search warrant is required to search persons or property.
  5. Details the concepts of indictments, due process, self-incrimination, double jeopardy, rules for eminent domain.
  6. Establishes rights to a fair and speedy public trial, to a notice of accusations, to confront the accuser, to subpoenas, and to counsel.
  7. Provides for the right to trial by jury in civil cases
  8. Bans cruel and unusual punishment, and excessive fines or bail
  9. Lists unrenumerated rights
  10. Limits the powers of the federal government to only those specifically granted by the constitution.

Domestic Issues: Strong or Weak Central Government?[edit]

Within Washington's first Cabinet - Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of War Henry Knox, and Attorney General Edmund Randolph - Jefferson and Hamilton opposed each other on most issues. Hamilton was soon to become a leader of the Federalist Party, while Jefferson would help to found the Republican Party. Generally speaking, Hamilton favored a stronger central government, while Jefferson favored a weaker one.

The first major conflict involved how to pay off Revolutionary War debts. Hamilton wanted to put state debts and federal debts into one huge national debt. When the new federal government succeeded in paying off this debt, it would increase confidence in the stability of the central government, encouraging foreign governments to loan the US money. Hamilton also proposed the creation of a national bank designed to help stabilize the national economy. This Bank of the United States, although a private institution, would serve as a place to put the government's money, thus increasing central financial power and economic control.

Jefferson, on the other hand, did not agree with Hamilton's idea of a national bank. Unlike Hamilton, who wanted to increase trade and investment, Jefferson believed America's best direction lay in teaching people to be self-sufficient farmers, and he wanted the federal government to stop interfering in state matters.

Despite Jefferson's opinion, the government adopted Hamilton's program. Some evidence suggests that Jefferson did in the end support Hamilton's plan for paying off state debts in exchange for Hamilton's agreement to locate the government's permanent capital in the South, specifically, on the Potomac River (Washington D.C.). On the whole, however, it soon became clear that the Hamiltonian program was the one that both President Washington and Congress favored, and Jefferson eventually resigned as secretary of state.

Whiskey Rebellion (1794)[edit]

Washington was involved in one controversy during his presidency. This was the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. Hamilton had asked Congress to pass an excise tax on the sale of whiskey, but rural Pennsylvania farmers refused to pay the tax, and a mob of 500 men attacked a tax collector's house. In response, Washington and Hamilton led an army of 15,000 men to quell the rebellion. This army was larger than the army Washington commanded during the American Revolution. When the army showed up, the rebels dispersed. The whiskey tax was eventually repealed by the Democratic Republicans in 1801.

Foreign Affairs[edit]

The French Revolution[edit]

In 1789, a few months after the Constitution went into effect, the French Revolution began. At first, as France overthrew the monarchy and declared it a republic, many Americans supported the revolution, believing that their own revolt against England had now spurred France to embrace republicanism. But as the reign of terror began and thousands of French aristocrats went to the guillotine, many Americans were shocked at the revolution's excesses. By the mid-1790s, as France went to war against neighboring monarchies, the revolution polarized American public opinion. Federalists viewed England--France's traditional enemy-- as the bastion of stable government against a growing tide of French anarchy. Members of the emerging Republican Party, on the other hand,--who took its name in part from the French Republic--believed the Terror to be merely a temporary excess, continuing to view England as the true enemy of American liberty.

President Washington's policy was one of neutrality. He knew that England or France, as well as Spain, would be only too happy to assimilate American resources and territory if given the chance. His hope was that America could stay out of European conflicts until it was strong enough to withstand any serious foreign threat to its existence--a strength that the United States lacked in the 1790s. Unfortunately, both England and France would try to play American resources off against the other.

Here, too, Hamilton and Jefferson clashed. Hamilton argued that the mutual defense treaty that the United States had concluded with France in 1778 was no longer binding, since the French regime that had made that treaty no longer existed. Jefferson disagreed, but Washington sided with Hamilton, issuing a formal Proclamation of Neutrality in 1793. Washington reiterated his belief in neutrality, as well as urging against factionalism, in his Farewell Address of 1796

That same year, Citizen Edmund Charles Genêt arrived as the French minister to the United States, and he soon began issuing commissions to captains of American ships who were willing to serve as privateers for France. This blatant disregard of American neutrality angered Washington, who demanded and got Genêt's recall.

English and Spanish Negotiations[edit]

The Royal Navy, meanwhile, began pressing sailors into service, including sailors on American merchant ships. Many English sailors had been lured into the American merchant service by high wages and comparatively good standards of living, and England needed these sailors to man its own fleet, on which England's national security depended. This violation of the American flag, however, infuriated Americans, as did the fact that England had not yet withdrawn its soldiers from posts in the Northwest Territory, as required by the Treaty of Paris of 1783.

In response, President Washington sent Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay to negotiate a treaty with England. But Jay had little leverage with which to negotiate: the final treaty did require immediate English evacuation of the frontier forts, but it said nothing about the matter of impressments. The Jay Treaty provoked an outcry among American citizens, and although the Senate ratified it narrowly, the debate it sparked was the final blow which solidified the Federalist and Republican factions into full-scale political parties, Federalists acquiescing in the treaty, and Republicans viewing it as a sell-out to England (and against France).

Spain, meanwhile, viewed the Jay Treaty negotiations with alarm, fearing that America and England might be moving towards an alliance. Without being certain of the treaty provisions, Spain decided to mollify the United States and give ground in the southwest before a future Anglo-American alliance could take New Orleans and Louisiana. Spain thus agreed to abandon all territorial claims north of Florida and east of the Mississippi, with the exception of New Orleans, and to grant the United States both the right to navigate the Mississippi and the right of commercial deposit in New Orleans. This would give westerners greater security and allow them to trade with the outside world. This Treaty of San Lorenzo, also called Pinckney's Treaty after American diplomat Charles Pinckney, was signed in 1795 and ratified the following year. Unlike Jay's treaty, it was quite popular.

If Jay's Treaty alarmed Spain, it angered France, which saw it as a violation of the Franco-American mutual defense treaty of 1778. By 1797, French privateers began attacking American merchant shipping in the Caribbean.

Election of 1796[edit]

George Washington won a second term with the unanimous approval of the Electoral College, but he refused to run for a third term, setting a precedent for future Presidents that would last until 1940. In 1796, Washington's Federalist Vice President John Adams, and Republican Thomas Jefferson ran against each other in an election that marked the influence of political parties. Also, the Federalist Thomas Pinckney and the Republican Aaron Burr ran, intending to become Vice President if the other candidate from the party gained the Presidency.

The original system of the Electoral College required that Electors chosen by the states cast two votes for President. The President would be the winner of the election, while the Vice President would be whoever came in second place. Due to this system, John Adams won the required majority, but Thomas Jefferson came in second place, leading to a President and Vice President from opposing parties. This awkward situation resulted in Jefferson's isolation from the administration, and he did not play a significant role in governing over the next four years.

The XYZ Affair[edit]

Newly-elected President John Adams resolved to negotiate a settlement with France, and sent a delegation to Paris. The delegates, however, made no headway, finding it impossible even to secure an appointment with Talleyrand, the French foreign minister. The delegates were then approached by three minor functionaries, who insisted that the Americans must pay a bribe in order to inaugurate negotiations, warning them of "the power and violence of France" if they refused. The delegates did in fact refuse ("The answer is no; no; not a sixpence," one of them retorted. This was popularly rendered as "Millions for defense, not a penny for tribute."), and reported back to Adams. When Adams made the correspondence public (after replacing the names of the French functionaries with X, Y, and Z), American sentiment swung strongly against France. Congress, strongly under the control of the Federalists, initiated a military buildup, fielding several excellent warships and calling Washington out of retirement to head the army. (Washington agreed, but only on condition that he not assume actual command until the army took the field, which never occurred).

The result was the Quasi-war, or the undeclared naval war with France. It consisted of ship-on-ship actions, mostly in the Caribbean, from 1798 to 1800. Eventually the United States and France agreed to end hostilities and to end the mutual defense treaty of 1778. Adams considered this one of his finest achievements.

Alien and Sedition Acts[edit]

Under Adams, the Federalist-dominated congress pushed passage of a series of laws that openly justified battling dangerous "aliens" but in reality was used to hush political opponents. The Alien and Sedition Acts generally refer to four acts:

  1. The Alien Act authorized the president to deport an alien deemed "dangerous."
  2. The Alien Enemies Act authorized the president to deport or imprison any alien from a country that the United States was fighting a declared war with.
  3. The Sedition Act made it a crime to criticize government officials and publish "false, scandalous, and malicious writing" against the government or its agents.
  4. The Naturalization Act changed the residency requirements for aliens to become citizens from 5 to 14 years.

Although it was openly deemed to be a security act, it provided powerful tools to the ruling Federalist party to quiet opposition from the growing Democratic-Republican Party. By extending the time required to become a citizen, they decreased the number of new voters that might choose to support the minority party.

However, these acts were rarely enacted against political opponents due to the possibility of conflict such actions could create.


Women's careers were very limited so people didn't think they needed the education in which men did. For example universities would not accept women at all. Common studies women learnt were French, needlework, geography, music and dancing. Studying anything else was thought to be unnecessary and hurtful to the mind of women. In the 17th and 18th centuries schooling was focused on how to govern a household and how to behave properly within the social class in which her marriage placed her. A lot of the focus was to teach women how to run a household. (1) Nuns were among the most educated women of the time. Women who wanted to be educated would join the convents to get a good education. In the convents women would have access to many books that most women did not have access to. Protestants actually became jealous of the education that these nuns received. They began to open private schools for young women whose families could afford to put them in the school. (1) In well off families both boys and girls went to a form of infant school called a petty school. However only boys went to what you call grammar school. Upper class girls and sometimes boys were taught by tutors. Middle class girls might be taught by their mothers. Moreover during the 17th century boarding schools for girls were founded in many towns. In the boarding schools girls were taught subjects like writing, music and needlework. In the grammar schools conditions were hard. Boys started work at 6 or 7 in the morning and worked to 5 or 5.30 pm, with breaks for meals. Corporal punishment was usual. Normally the teacher hit naughty boys on the bare butt with birch twigs. Other boys in the class would hold the naughty boy down. (2) In the 17th and early 18th centuries women were not encouraged to get an education. Some people believed that if women were well educated it would ruin their marriage prospects and be harmful to their mind. Protestants believed that women as well as men should be able to read the bible. Only the daughters of the wealthy or nobility could get an education. By the mid 17th century young women were allowed to go to school with their brothers. Sometimes if you had the money you would be placed within a household of a friend and within the household and you would be taught various things. Some of the things you would learn would be to read and write, run a household, and practice surgery. (2)

1. 2. A people and A Nation Eight edition.

Review Questions[edit]

Use the content covered in this chapter and/or from external sources to answer the following questions. Remember to properly cite any sources used.

1. Identify, and explain the significance of the following people:

(a) James Madison
(b) William Paterson
(c) Alexander Hamilton
(d) Patrick Henry
(e) Thomas Jefferson
(f) George Washington
(g) John Adams
(h) Edmund Genet
(i) Charles Pinckney

2. What was accomplished during the Constitutional Convention in terms of states' representations in the national government?

3. How did Hamilton take measures to ensure the ratification of the Constitution?

4. Name at least two problems or complaints the Anti-Federalists had with the Constitution.

5. What precedents did George Washington set in his two terms in office?

6. On what issues did Jefferson and Hamilton differ? How did this affect policies during the Washington administration?

7. What was the Whiskey Rebellion? Why was it significant?

8. What did Jay's Treaty and Pinckney's Treaty accomplish?

9. How did the United States respond to the French Revolution?

10. What was the XYZ Affair? What was its result?

11. What was the original purpose of the Alien, Sedition, and Naturalization Acts? How did their purpose change?

American Revolution · Jeffersonian Democracy