Friday, September 22, 2017

The Constitution and First Administration

       Five years after the signing of the peace treaty a new crisis called Washington again into public life. Under the Articles of Confederation affairs were steadily growing more chaotic, and in May, 1787, a convention was called to meet in Philadelphia to prepare a new form of union. To this body Washington was sent as head of the Virginia delegation; on its organization he was unanimously elected its president. In September the convention completed a new Constitution and gave it to the states for ratification. The influence that Washington exercised in the consummation of this great achievement is ably summarized in Woodrow Wilson's History of the American People:

       "It gave the convention great dignity that Washington had presided over its counsels and was heart and soul for the adoption of the measures it proposed. His name and quiet force had steadied the convention on many an anxious day when disagreement threatened hopeless breach. His fame and Influence infinitely strengthened also the measures proposed, now that they were completed. He supported them because they were thorough-going and courageous and cut to the root of the difficulties under which the country was laboring. Issue had been joined now, as he had wished to see it joined, between government or no government, and the country was to know at last where it stood in the most essential matters of its life."

       It is not surprising that when the votes of the first Electoral College were counted it was found that Washington was the unanimous choice for President of the United States, John Adams was honored with the Vice-Presidency. Washington was inaugurated in New York, - which was then the national seat of government. Standing on the balcony in front of the old Federal Hall, whose site is now occupied by the imposing Subtreasury, he took the oath of office on April 30, 1789, though the legal day for the ceremony was March 4. Difficulties in setting the new machinery in motion were responsible for the delay.
       From the first he displayed in civil affairs the same equalities of leadership and invariable good judgment which he had shown during his military career. He set about informing himself concerning all that had happened during the period of the Confederation - the relations of the new government to foreign nations, and the questions of internal administration and finance, which were soon to become pressing issues. He also chose a remarkably strong Cabinet, including Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, who, though directly opposite in their political opinions, were acknowledged leaders in the political life of the country.
       The selection of Alexander Hamilton as head of the Treasury Department was momentous in its results, for through his farseeing statesmanship the country was put on a sound financial basis. In accordance with Hamilton's program the national government assumed the debts of the states incurred during the war; a national bank and a mint were established; and a national income was provided for by duties on imports and a system of internal revenue.
       Other important events of the first four years under the Federal Constitution were the organization of the United States Supreme Court, the admission of Vermont (1791) and Kentucky (1792) as states, the adoption of a decimal system of coinage, and the incorporation into the Constitution of the first ten amendments. So profoundly impressed were the people with the results of Washington's first term that there was a spontaneous demand that he serve again. Against his personal wishes he consented, and was unanimously reelected, being inaugurated in Philadelphia on March 4, 1793. The city of Washington did not become the national capital until 1800.

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