What challenges did George Washington face as president?
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Washington faced a number of challenges, including one that no President will ever have to face again. Namely, Washington was the first chief executive of the United States. While all presidents are under intense scrutiny, Washington had no precedent to follow, and was conscious of the fact that he himself was setting precedents. He had to balance the need to display a certain amount of dignity in the office with a desire not to seem too monarchical in his actions and bearing.
Washington presided over a nation that was struggling to find its footing, especially from a fiscal standpoint. His presidency witnessed a number of acrimonious debates over the direction it would take in doing so. These debates did not just take place among prominent leaders like Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, but increasingly were played out in the burgeoning eighteenth century press. Alexander Hamilton's multi-point plan for strengthening the federal government, for instance, met with strident opposition from Jefferson, but also from common people throughout the country. The Whiskey Rebellion, a response to what many viewed as an onerous excise tax, was the most prominent and serious protest. All throughout the country, ordinary Americans, especially farmers, decried the nation's economic policy, especially federal assumption of state debts, as clearly favoring wealthy elites and "stockjobbers" at the expense of common people.
Washington also faced a dangerous international situation. Revolutionary France and Great Britain were embroiled in a war that began in 1793, and Washington determined to maintain American neutrality. There was major popular support in the United States for the French Revolution, especially in urban areas. This support was only increased by the visit of Edmond-Charles Genêt, a French diplomat who was received warmly by a number of pro-French societies. The Jay Treaty, negotiated by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay with Great Britain, gained some important concessions from the British, and ensured that the new nation would at least not enter the war on the side of France, but it was very unpopular with many Americans. It also angered the French, paving the way for a deteriorating diplomatic situation that would reach its nadir with the so-called "Quasi-war" against the French navy during the presidency of John Adams. Also on the diplomatic and military front, American expeditions against Indians in the Ohio River Valley led to disastrous defeats that were finally reversed in 1794 with Anthony Wayne's victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. This battle, and the Treaty of Greenville that followed, ended what had been a major, and expensive headache for the new government even as it drove natives out of the Ohio valley.
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