The new government of the United States under the new Constitution got underway in the first
week of April 1789 when the new Congress achieved its first quorum. Their initial duty was to
pass the Bill of Rights, as promised.
Earlier that year, on January 7th, electors were chosen for the first Presidential election in
United States history. The electors, chosen by the eligible voters in the various states, were
free to cast their ballots for whomever they wished. On February 4th, they cast their ballots as
follows: 69 for Washington; 34 for John Adams, who therefore became Vice President. This
method of selecting a Vice President was changed by the 12th Amendment in 1804.
On April 6th, the ballots were counted in the Senate, and George Washington was informed that
he had been elected the First President of the United States. The inauguration took place on
April 30th in the Senate Chamber of Federal Hall, New York City, the temporary capital of the
Washington immediately got to work organizing his administration, which would set precedents
for future Presidents. He would demonstrate that the new government under the new
Constitution would be what the citizens hoped it would be: a prudent and benevolent
instrument of governmental power in keeping with the precepts of the Declaration of
Independence and strictly limited in its powers.
In September, Washington appointed Alexander Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury,
General Henry Knox as Secretary of War, Edmund Randolph as Attorney General and Thomas
Jefferson as Secretary of State.
As in any organization that is new, every step had to be taken in strict conformity to the
guidelines set out in the Constitution. On September 29th, the United States Army was created,
consisting of the forces already on hand during the final months of the Confederation. In all, it
consisted of only 1,000 men.
On November 26th, President Washington proclaimed the nation’s first Thanksgiving Day, in
humble recognition of the great blessings that God had bestowed on the new nation.
The year 1790 saw the first Census of the United States, as called for by the Constitution. There
were 4,000,000 inhabitants in all thirteen states. Negro slaves accounted for 19.3 percent of
the total population. Many of the Founding Fathers hoped that slavery would be abolished, but
the economics of the South made that impossible. A West Jersey Quaker wrote: “This trade of
importing slaves is dark gloominess hanging over the land; the consequences will be grievous to
Patrick Henry stated in 1773, “A serious view of this subject gives a gloomy prospect to future
times.” And Jefferson wrote: “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that His
justice cannot sleep forever.”
Madison held that where slavery exists “the republican theory becomes fallacious. Slavery is
the greatest evil under which the nation labors—a portentous evil—an evil, moral, political, and
economical—a blot on our free country.”
It had been Washington’s hope that Virginia should remove slavery by a public act; and as the
prospects of a general emancipation grew more and more dim, he, in utter hopelessness of the
action of the State, did all that he could by bequeathing freedom to his own slaves.
In August 1790, the Capital was moved from New York to Philadelphia. In June Hamilton had
convinced Congress that the Federal Government should assume the states’ debts. He won the
support of the Southern States by promising to move the nation’s capital to the South. It
demonstrated how compromise and promises would become major tools in crafting and
In 1791, two major philosophies of government began to emerge, polarized around Hamilton
and Jefferson, which set the stage for the creation of political parties. The Hamilton faction,
known as the Federalists, advocated a strong central government and the development of
industry. Jefferson’s followers, the Democratic-Republican faction, favored a weaker central
government and stronger local control befitting a democratic agrarian society.
The Hamilton-Jefferson debates became the fodder of rival newspapers, which became either
pro Federalist or pro Democratic-Republican. Thus, one can say, that the two-party system got
a very early start in our political history. Of course, President Washington remained above the
fray, maintaining the upmost cordiality among his cabinet members. He was more of a referee
than a partisan.
On April 2, 1792 Congress passed the Coinage Act, authorizing the establishment of a mint and
prescribing a decimal system of coinage. The U.S. dollar was to contain 24.75 grains of gold or
371.25 grains of silver, in a fixed legal-tender ratio of 15 to 1.
On August 21, 1792 the Federal government levied an excise tax on whiskey and on stills, which
provoked strong protest in Western Pennsylvania. Whiskey was the chief transportable and
barterable Western product. The Whiskey Rebellion was the most serious insurrection to face
the newly established Federal government. In 1794, President Washington was finally forced to
call up the militia army to end it. The result of the insurrection was simply to strengthen the
political power of Hamilton and the Federalists.
Washington’s Second Administration began on March 4, 1793. We shall devote our next
column to the Second Term of our First President.
(The above article came from Sam’s archive. We do not have an article on the second term of Washington. Please visit the archives:
(A link to Washington’s “Farewell Address”: George-Washington-Farewell-Address.pdf (campconstitution.net)