Events: Early Republic

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.