The New Nation Struggles to Survive and Unite
The country was built upon the values of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason. Yet, the early years of the United States were filled with turmoil and political strife. The political landscape of the era tested the resolve and political saviness of the founding fathers: Washington, Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson, Monroe, & Madison. The "New Nation" had many obstacles to overcome: large debt from the Revolutionary War, the debate over state vs. federal powers, threats from Britain and France, and growing sectionalism & regionalism.
The United States was able to defeat the British Empire in 1783, but that did not mean that it was safe from the threats of the major European powers of the day - France and Great Britain. At the conclusion of the Revolutionary War the United States signed a treaty with France that promised that the United States would support France in any future conflict with Great Britain. This was repayment for the French support of the American Revolution. Yet, as the new nation was in its infancy involvement in the conflicts between Great Britain and France could prove lethal. Thus, President Washington declared that the United States would remain neutral in the wars between Great Britain and France. This angered both the Federalists and the up and coming Republicans
of the day. The Federalists, predominantly from the North, still felt a strong sense of allegiance to the British Crown. The Republicans, mainly from the South, believed that the United States had given its word to the French and thus should support the French in their war with Great Britain. The US did remain neutral but this led to grave problems on the open seas. The US may not have been directly involved in the military conflict, but it continued to supply both France and Great Britain. As a result, both countries attacked the merchant ships of the United States. An undeclared naval war broke out over the course of the next decade. The US attempted peace with both France and Great Britain. Secretary of State John Jay signed a treaty with Great Britain only to have the treaty shot down in the Senate. The US attempted to negotiate peace with France, but this led to the infamous "X,Y,Z Affair" in which the
French government demanded a $100,000 payment just to talk. Throughout all of the conflict and turmoil the United States emerged as an adolescent nation that was a force to be reckoned with. Yet, hazards still lay within the political framework of the young nation.
The first test for the new nation came during an uprising of corn farmers in western Pennsylvania that came to be known as the "Whiskey Rebellion". The farmers were resisting a federal excise tax on corn. President Washington seized the moment and demonstrated the power and will of the new Federal government. Washington ordered, and led, federal troops into Western Pennsylvania to crush the rebellion. Washington's actions served to demonstrate the will and authority of the national government was not to be challenged. This was not the only internal threat to the stability of the young nation. One of the gravest threats came from the politicians that built the country.
The Federalists and Anti-Federalists (later to become the Republicans under Thomas Jefferson) differed over the role and power of the Federal government. The conflict between the two political factions came to a head when Alexader Hamilton (Federalist) proposed his economic plan to get the United States on stable economic ground and out of debt from the Revolutionary War. The Republicans were adamantly against the formation of the Bank of the United States. In order to get the Republicans on board with the plan a compromise was necessary. Hamilton and Washington agreed to move the capital of the new nation closer to the South. The belief was that if the capitol was closer to the Republican South then the needs of the region would be met in a more responsive
manner. The compromise was a success and the capitol moved from New York City to its current home of Washington, D.C.. The next political battle would take place when Thomas Jefferson became the 3rd President of the United States. On the eve of Jefferson's ascension to the office President Adams authorized the hiring of new Federalist Supreme Court justices. Adams used the Judiciary Act of 1801 to strengthen the presence of the Federalists within the central government. The crisis came to a head when the new Secretary of State, James Madison, refused to issue the order for the hiring of Federalist William Marbury. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court. Chief Justice John Marshall (Federalist) decided in favor of Madison. Marshall ruled that the Supreme Court did not have the Constiutional power to issue the writs. This case is one of the most important in the history of the United States. Essentially, the case
esablished the precedent of "judicial review". The Federalist influence would live on through the decisions of Chief Justice John Marshall. However, the country was now entering a period in which the Repubicans would dominate the political landscape. At this point the focus of the nation turned from politics to territory. In 1803 the territory of the United States was more than doubled through the acquistion of the Louisiana terrtory. Once again the economic and military conflicts of Europe spilled across the Atlantic and into the United States. The difference this time is that it benefited the young nation. Emperor Napoleon needed money to wage his military campaigns in Europe. He turned to the United States and sold the Louisiana territory for $15 million. Jefferson's next step was to authorize a military expedition to map and explore the territory. The nation would now reach from the Atlantic Ocean to the
Rocky Mountains. The young nation was now growing into a strong economic and military power. The desire for more territory would soon fall under the concept of "Manifest Destiny". This theory stated that it was the god given right of the American people to control and dominate the North American Contintent.