With the ratification of the U.S. Constitution and George Washington sworn in as the first President, American began a new era as a republic. The new government was tested under George Washington’s leadership, but it remained strong. After Washington left the presidency, division began to emerge between two differing political parties as to how the new government should operate. The Federalists supported a strong national government, manufacturing in the North, and an alliance with the British. The Democratic-Republicans supported strong state governments, agriculture in the South, and an alliance with the French. During this time the judicial branch also established its role within the new government with several landmark Supreme Court rulings. The new republic faced another war with the British beginning in 1812. An American victory in this war strengthened American unity and led to a time called the “Era of Good Feelings”.


Aaron Burr was born in New Jersey, the son of a Presbyterian cleric and grandson of theologian Jonathan Edwards. After studying theology for two years he turned to the practice of law. After serving in the Continental Army, he began to organize the Democratic Party in New York. He ran for Vice President in 1800, though at the time electors did not cast separate votes for President and Vice President. When Burr and Thomas Jefferson received an equal number of electoral votes, fellow New Yorker Alexander Hamilton lent his support to Jefferson. Jefferson won the presidency and Burr became Vice President. To minimize the danger of another deadlock, Congress passed the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution in 1803; the states ratified the amendment in 1804. This amendment required each elector to cast one vote for President and one vote for Vice President. Burr’s animosity for Hamilton grew when, in 1804, Burr ran for governor of New York and lost. Burr blamed his loss on Hamilton’s political maneuvering. In July of 1804 he challenged Hamilton to a duel. Burr’s shot mortally wounded his rival. Burr was charged with murder but was never brought to trial. After the duel Burr went south to New Orleans. At the time, the Spanish were conspiring for control of the Mississippi valley. Burr allegedly made plans with James Wilkinson, the governor of the Louisiana Territory, to support a rebellion. He was arrested and charged with treason – he was accused of attempting to establish an independent republic in the Southwest. John Marshall presided over his Virginia trial. Burr was acquitted in the first application of the Constitution’s provisions for the crime of treason.
Matthew Lyon was born in Ireland and came to Connecticut when he was fifteen. He fought in the Revolutionary War, founded the town of New Haven, and helped write the Vermont state constitution. He served in the state legislature and later in the U.S. House of Representatives. Throughout the 1790s he worked as a writer and printer, publishing pamphlets and a weekly newspaper, the Fair Haven Gazette. Lyon was particularly critical of the Federalists in Congress, President John Adams, and the Alien and Seditions Acts, which Lyon believed violated freedom of speech and press protected by the First Amendment. In his newspaper, he published letters from people criticizing President John Adams, and he himself wrote that President Adams was “foolish” and “selfish” and “in a continual grasp for power” for signing this law. Lyon became the first person charged under the Alien and Sedition Acts. At his trial, Lyon argued that the law as unconstitutional. The court disagreed and Lyon was fined and sentenced to four months in jail. While serving his sentence, he was reelected to Congress in a landslide. Public opinion turned against John Adams and the Congress responsible for the Alien and Sedition Acts. Many were turned out of office, and the new Congress allowed the Alien and Sedition Acts to expire in 1801.
John Marshall was the fourth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, serving from 1801 until his death. Born in Virginia, he served in the Virginia legislature and at the Virginia Ratifying Convention where fought for ratification of the Constitution with James Madison. He also served in the US House of Representatives. Marshall was appointed to the Supreme Court by President John Adams. Marshall’s most important decision was Marbury v. Madison (1803) which established the doctrine of judicial review. He also decided Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819), which clarified the Contracts Clause; McCullough v. Maryland (1819), which examined implied powers of Congress under Article I, section 8 and affirmed the supremacy of the Constitution over state law; and Gibbons v. Ogden (1824) which affirmed that Congress had control of interstate waterways under the Commerce Clause. He also presided over the treason trial of Aaron Burr. Marshall’s interpretations of the Constitution, including his understanding of federalism, proved definitive and laid the groundwork for much of current constitutional theory and a strong national government.
Born in Virginia in 1758, Monroe was the 5th President of the United States. He attended the College of William and Mary, fought in the Continental Army, was a lawyer, and a politician. Monroe joined the Anti-Federalists in Virginia and opposed ratification of the new U.S. Constitution. He was an advocate of Jefferson’s policies and was elected a U.S. Senator from Virginia. Monroe helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase. During the War of 1812 he served as Secretary of War and Secretary of State under President Madison. His presidency was called the “Era of Good Feelings.” He is known for the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 which provided that the Western Hemisphere should be free from future European colonization and that the U.S. should be neutral in European wars. This was the basis of American foreign policy for many years.
Alexis de Tocqueville was a French historian and political scientist. As French foreign minister, he traveled to the United States in 1831. It was the experiences during this visit that led him to write to his most famous work, Democracy in America. In this book, he details his observations of society and culture in the United States. He predicted that democratic institutions like those of the United States would eventually replace the aristocratic governments in Europe. Tocqueville criticized individualism and believed that associations among people would lead to the greatest happiness for society. He emphasized responsibilities of citizenship and the value of compromise. Further, he analyzed the American attempt to foster equality among citizens through the promotion of liberty, while contrasting that approach to more socialistic systems that attempt to foster equality through government control.
The Tariff of 1789 placed a tariff of between 5 and 10 percent on certain imported goods (depending on the value of the item) with the goal of raising revenue (income) for the new government of the U.S. while also providing some protection for new American industries. This is the beginning of the tariff policy for the U.S. The income from tariffs would be the leading source of revenue for the U.S. government until the income tax was passed in the early 20th century. The amount of the tariff and the imported goods that were subject to the tariff changed as the economy of the U.S. dictated. When it became necessary to protect American industries from foreign competition, Congress often would raise the tariff. Tariffs later became a source of conflict between the North and South since the Southerners who relied on agriculture felt the Northerners who were more industrialized were benefitting because the Southerner often paid the tariff for imported goods they needed.
This act by Congress created the lower court system of the judicial branch of the government as authorized by Article III of the Constitution. It created the courts below the Supreme Court which was the only court authorized in the Constitution. The act also set the number of the members of the Supreme Court as well as clarified the appellate jurisdiction the highest court (Supreme Court) would have over cases they could hear.
This act provided for full funding of the national debt and for the U.S. government to assume responsibility for the states’ American Revolution unpaid war debts. This act along with the Residence Act of 1790 were part of what is known as the Compromise of 1790. At a dinner at Thomas Jefferson’s house, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton and Representative James Madison worked out the compromise. Hamilton had been unsuccessful in getting the Congress to assume and pay off the states’ debts from the Revolutionary War with opposition mainly coming from the Southern states who had been more successful than the Northern states in paying off their debts. Madison agreed to support Hamilton’s proposal in return for his support to build the new capital on the Potomac River in Virginia.
This act designated Philadelphia as the temporary capital of the U.S. for a period of ten years. At the end of the ten years, a site on the Potomac River was designated to be the permanent capital. This site became known as Washington D.C. This act was part of a compromise between Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. Hamilton agreed to the capital being built in Virginia in return for Madison’s support for his plan for the new government to assume the states’ revolutionary war debts.
This law supported Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution by creating a legal way for slave owners to recover runaway slaves in any state or territory even if that state abolished slavery. It also made it a crime to assist a runaway slave. Over the years as opposition to slavery grew in the Northern states, enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act was lax. The Southern states then insisted in the Compromise of 1850 that governments and residents were required to capture and return fugitive slaves.
Foreign policy is the way that one country chooses to deal with other countries. George Washington had to deal with many foreign policy issues during his presidency, including increasing conflicts in Europe. He issued the Neutrality Proclamation in 1793 which made it clear that America would not take sides in the war between Britain and France. In 1796 Washington left office after two terms and issued a Farewell Address with two warnings for Americans. First, he strongly advised the country to stay out of foreign conflicts and remain neutral. Second, he warned of the dangers of political parties and the division they would create within the country.
In 1798, the Federalist Congress passed several laws during John Adams’ presidency which made it more difficult for immigrants to participate in the political process and were aimed at the growing support for Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans. The Alien Act allowed the President to deport any alien (foreigner) who was deemed to be a threat to the country and increased the waiting period for an immigrant to become a citizen from five years to fourteen years. The Sedition Act provided that a person could be fined or imprisoned for criticizing the government, Congress, or the President. Several members of the Democratic-Republican Party were convicted under this law. Jefferson and others felt the Sedition Act was a clear violation of the First Amendment. Both laws were seen by the opposition as an attempt to silence the Democratic-Republicans.
As a result of the Alien and Sedition Acts passed by the Federalist Congress in 1798 and 1799, Jefferson and Madison wrote the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, criticizing the Federalists and John Adams for these policies. Thomas Jefferson and others argued that these Acts were a clear violation of the First Amendment and that states could nullify (declare invalid) a federal law they believed was unconstitutional because it violated the Constitution.
William Marbury was appointed Justice of the Peace by John Adams in his final days in office as President, but his appointment papers were not delivered before Jefferson took office. President Jefferson forbade his Secretary of State James Madison to deliver Marbury’s appointment papers. Marbury then hired a lawyer and sued Madison. Using a part of the Judiciary Act of 1789, the U.S. Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice John Marshall, heard the case under its original jurisdiction (first and only court to hear a case) in 1803. The Court dismissed the case saying the Supreme Court did not have the original jurisdiction to hear this case. Thus the Court did not rule for or against Marbury. Of more importance, the Court struck down part of the Judiciary Act of 1789 as unconstitutional because the Court decided it was in conflict with Article III of the Constitution. This was the first time the Supreme Court overturned part of an act of Congress and claimed that it had the power of judicial review. Judicial review is the power to decide if laws are constitutional. By exerting this power, the Supreme Court established itself as a equal partner with the legislative and executive branches of the government.
As authorized by Article I, Section 9, Clause 1 of the Constitution, Congress passed the Slave Trade Prohibition outlawing the importation of more slaves after January 1, 1808. This portion of the Constitution was agreed on during the Constitutional Convention as part of the compromises between the Northern and Southern states. This did not end slavery in the United States, nor did it prohibit the trading of slaves within the United States. It merely stopped slaves being imported from other countries.
In 1819, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the federal government in the case of McCulloch v. Maryland. Using Alexander Hamilton’s financial plan, the U.S. Congress chartered the Second Bank of the United States in 1816. Its largest branch was located in Baltimore, Maryland. The state of Maryland did not agree that the federal government had the power under the U.S. Constitution to charter a bank. In an effort to put the bank out of business, the state passed a law placing a heavy tax on all transactions conducted at the Baltimore branch of the Bank. James McCulloch, the bank manager, refused to pay the tax and was prosecuted and convicted in a Maryland court. McCulloch then appealed to the Supreme Court. The case went to the Supreme Court to answer the questions of whether the federal government had the power to create a national bank and whether a state government had the power to tax it. The Supreme Court, led by John Marshall, ruled in favor of the federal government saying “the power to tax involves the power to destroy.” The decision strengthened the power of the federal government.
To protect trade with the newly freed Latin American countries and prevent European interference in this hemisphere, President James Monroe established an American foreign policy known as the Monroe Doctrine in 1823. It stated that the Western Hemisphere was closed to European countries and that no further European colonization would be permitted. Even though the United States could not enforce its policy militarily, Great Britain supported the U.S. policy in order to secure trade with the Latin American countries.
The New York Legislature granted a 20-year monopoly to Aaron Ogden to operate steamboats in New York waters, but the U.S. Congress granted a license to Thomas Gibbons to engage in the coastal trade and operate steamboats between New York and New Jersey. Ogden sued Gibbons in a New York court, and the court ruled in Ogden’s favor. Gibbons appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1824, the U.S. Supreme Court, presided over by Chief Justice John Marshall, heard arguments between the two competing steamboat operators in the case of Gibbons v. Ogden. In its decision, the Court explained that Congress had the power under the interstate commerce clause of Article I, Section 8 to grant Gibbons a license to operate steamboats between New York and New Jersey. Since Article VI of the Constitution makes laws of the U.S. that do not conflict with the Constitution part of the supreme law of the land, New York’s action had to give way. Along with cases like Marbury v. Madison and McCulloch v. Maryland, this case further strengthened the power of the federal government.


The Second Great Awakening was a religious movement beginning in the 1790’s in which people felt a renewed sense of spirituality and often attended religious revivals held by charismatic preachers. This movement stressed “free will” and salvation through good works which contributed to the reform spirit in America as people looked to improve society and help others. The Second Great Awakening was one of the factors leading to the many reform movements in the early to mid-1800’s.
During the debate over ratification of the new U. S. Constitution in 1788, differences began to appear among some of the nation’s political leaders. In the 1790’s, Alexander Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury and Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State were both members of President George Washington’s Cabinet and had very different visions of how the new government should function. These differences led to the development of the nation’s first political parties. Hamilton preferred a strong federal government and a loose interpretation of the Constitution. He believed that Congress should have the power to make laws that were “necessary and proper” to carry out its duties. Many of Hamilton’s supporters were large landowners, bankers, and businessmen in New England and the middle states. They also supported England and opposed France with regards to foreign affairs. Hamilton and his supporters became known as Federalists. John Adams was the last Federalist President and the party largely disappeared after 1800.
During the debate over ratification of the U.S. Constitution, differences began to appear among some of the nation’s political leaders. In the 1790’s, Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury, and Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State were both members of President Washington’s Cabinet and had different visions of how the new government should function. These differences led to the development of the nation’s first parties. Jefferson believed that the federal government’s power should be limited to protect the powers of the states. He believed in strict interpretation of the Constitution, meaning that Congress and the President were restricted to doing only what the Constitution specifically said they could do. Jefferson and James Madison, another leader of the Democratic-Republicans, were strong supporters of agriculture and farming, and much of their support was in the South. They also supported France and opposed England with regards to foreign affairs. Jefferson, Madison, and their supporters became known as Democratic-Republicans.
Alexander Hamilton served as the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury under President George Washington. One of Hamilton’s biggest challenges during this time was the large national debt accumulated during the Revolution. In 1790, Hamilton called on Congress to assume (buy up) the national and state debts by issuing new bonds to investors which the U.S. government would then repay with interest. He also pushed Congress to create the Bank of the United States which was later chartered in 1791 for a period of twenty years with its main branch in Philadelphia. This bank was to serve as the government’s monetary agent and the bank for federal funds. Finally, Hamilton created a tariff (tax) policy on certain imported items and imposed excise taxes (taxes on purchases of certain goods) in order to raise revenue for the new U.S. government.
To help pay for war-related debts, an excise tax was passed by Congress that included 7 cents per gallon on “spirits” (mostly whiskey) produced in the United States and 10 cents on “spirits” using foreign material (mostly rum). In 1794, Pennsylvania farmers took up arms in rebellion against tax collectors because they were angry about taxes on whiskey. Part of the farmers’ income came from selling whiskey distilled from corn. President George Washington and Alexander Hamilton led 13,000 federal militia troops to put down the rebellion. When the farmers heard about this, they fled. Many Americans saw the Whiskey Rebellion as a test of the government’s strength under the new Constitution. The federal government proved that it would be able to face a crisis and that it would not tolerate violent uprisings.
In 1797, the French navy began seizing American ships and impressing American sailors. Impressment was the act of seizing foreign sailors and forcing them to serve in another country’s navy. This is often called “the Half War” with France. President John Adams sent diplomats, including John Marshall, to Paris to discuss a solution. When the diplomats arrived, the French foreign minister, Talleyrand, sent three agents to demand a bribe of $250,000 for himself and a loan of $10 million to France before he would even meet with them. The diplomats refused. When President Adams told Congress about the incident, he referred to the French agents as “X, Y, and Z,” and therefore, this became known as the “XYZ Affair.” The American public was outraged when they learned of the bribe and anti-French sentiment grew.
The Election of 1800 is considered a revolution due to the change in control of the American government for the first time from one political party to another political party. In the Election of 1800, President John Adams ran for a second term as the candidate of the Federalist Party. He was defeated by Thomas Jefferson, the candidate of the Democratic-Republican Party. The election actually had to be decided in the House of Representatives since Jefferson and his Vice-Presidential candidate Aaron Burr tied with the same number of electoral votes. Jefferson finally won when Alexander Hamilton threw his support to him because he didn’t trust Burr. This later led Burr to challenge Hamilton to a duel in which Hamilton was killed. This election marked the first time the Federalists lost control of both houses of Congress. The United States had experienced a change in control of its government without a single drop of blood being spilled.
The Election of 1800 signaled a loss of power for the Federalist Party. However, in the time between Thomas Jefferson’s victory over John Adams in November 1800, and Jefferson’s actual inauguration as the third President of the U.S. in March 1801, the outgoing Federalist controlled Congress passed laws increasing the number of judges in the federal court system. President Adams appointed as many Federalist judges as he could before leaving office, thus securing a legacy for the Federalists in government since they had lost power in the other two branches. Adams was busy signing appointment papers for these positions, including several as Justices of the Peace for the District of Columbia, right up until midnight. Some of the Federalist appointees had their appointment papers delivered to them by the outgoing Secretary of State John Marshall, but a few did not get their papers. When Jefferson took office the next day, he forbade his new Secretary of State, James Madison, to deliver these midnight appointments, sparking the landmark Supreme Court case, Marbury v. Madison.
Tensions continued to rise between Great Britain and the United States through the time Thomas Jefferson was president mainly due to problems over interference with trade policies. Finally, President James Madison urged Congress to declare war on Great Britain in 1812. War Hawks, such as Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun, who were western and southern politicians, were convinced that Great Britain was supplying weapons to Native American tribes in the Ohio River Valley. Even though there was no evidence that Great Britain was supplying Native Americans, a leader named Tecumseh and his brother the Prophet began organizing the tribes against Americans. The American troops, led by William Henry Harrison, attacked the Native Americans at the Battle of Tippecanoe, killing the Prophet. Upset at his brother’s death, Tecumseh joined the British in attacking Americans. The War continued between the Americans and the British and is considered the Second American Revolution. The War of 1812 resulted in an increase in nationalism, which included the writing by Francis Scott Key of the Star-Spangled Banner. The effect of the war was an economic shift from relying on British manufactured goods to an increase in American textiles and manufactured goods. The end of the war marked the beginning of an alliance between the United States and Great Britain.
In 1815 in the last major battle of the War of 1812, the American army led by General Andrew Jackson faced the British soldiers in New Orleans. Even though the Americans were outnumbered, Jackson and his troops stopped the British and won the battle. The war was officially over with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent two weeks before the battle, but communication was slow and was not received by the troops. Because of the American victory, Andrew Jackson emerged as a national military hero.