Why was the task of governing such a difficult one for President Washington and Congress?
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I'm sure that your teacher or book has specific information that you will be expected to find. Here are some general reasons that George Washington and the Congress had trouble governing.
- The technology of the time made it so that it was very hard to know what was going on in the far reaches of the country. It was hard for government orders to be transmitted to far-off places as well.
- The whole system of government was so new that it was not clear who had what powers and how the system would work.
These are two major reasons why governing was so difficult during the early days of the US Constitution.
The first thing that caused a problem for George Washington and Congress in governing was that the government in the United Sates was new. Because there had been no precedent, the initial constitution was based on the Magna Carta. The delegates had disagreements as to how to develop laws and rights. Once those things were in place there was left the issue of ironing out what level of power the president and congress actually had.
There was limited communication among the population of constituents. People lived at great distances from one another and the regions were large. It was difficult to represent everyone's wants and needs without being able to directly communicate with them.
Washington had the difficulty of setting up his office and responsibilities for the other presidents to follow. He had no guide to go by. Washington was also aware of the need to repair relationships with Britain which led some political parties to believe that he was siding with the British.
The government also had no economic structure. A lot of money had been spent on conflicts with the French and the English. Congress and Washington had to carefully set up a budget system that would provide for a continuous resource of monetary income for the government.
Part of the reason why governing was a difficult one for the new nation was that post- Revolution reality was challenging. There was a distinct difference between fighting for independence and actually maintaining a new nation. Washington, a vaulted war general, had to deal with the task of governing a nation and realized that political warfare and military warfare are two different realities with the latter being a bit easier than the former. Economic challenges beset the new nation and with the adoption of the Articles of Confederation, the collection of tax revenue from states was highly problematic. The lack of federal income being generated helped prompt the nation into a depression, adding to financial and social insecurity. Shays' Rebellion was a realization of this. Additionally, foreign threats were still mounting with areas of the Mississippi under foreign control and the lack of a federal army or consensus to ward off such threats was another challenge to governing. Finally, within Washington's own cabinet, divisions between figures such as Jefferson and Hamilton began to emerge. Within this conception, governing was a challenge.
President Washington had no precedent for being president. However, the Constitution was carefully organized to regulate powers between the various branches of government, and those in whatever governmental office respected that. Members of Congress also respected Washington and all he had done to the point that no one, and no political party, opposed him. On the surface, then, it would appear that governance should have proceeded smoothly. However, everyone felt that this second government of the new nation had better work, since the failure of the Articles of Confederation. The British were still capable of "rejoining the wayward colonies," and the deteriorating political conditions in France made the strongest ally a potential new external threat.
In addition to foreign affairs, the pressing domestic issue was not that the Federal Government had no means of collecting tax revenue; the issue was there was no revenue to collect! The War for Independence had cost not only blood, but treasure, which had been freely given to the cause, but few had much in the way of money after the war was won. Congress assumed each state's war debt, and struggled to repay it.
Finally, Washington, along with the rest of the nascent Federal Government, set up shop in New York City, then Philadelphia, and then finally, Washington, DC. Moving, especially in those times, must have made governing even more difficult.
The task of governing a new nation can be compared with the sailor who sets his journey on uncharted territory. It was under Washington's watch that the wet ink of the U.S. Constitution was to be first tried and tested. Remember no other human being had ever been given the task of governing a nation created by the will of a people. From his own account, Washington realized that the provision provided to the Executive Branch in the Constitution, (Art.II, Sec.II, paragraph 1) regarding 'written opinions' be sent to the executive branch was an inefficient means of communication. Although not specifically written in the Constitution Washington created a cabinet, a group of men whose abilities were beyond reproach. Jefferson, Hamilton, and Knox were chosen by Washington because they exemplified the finest minds in matters of state, economics, and protection, all of which the new nation depended upon if it were to survive. Unfortunately, the men he chose as his closest allies became mired in the factional disagreements on which path the new nation should embark. The result was that Washington often found himself in the crossfire. As a result governing was difficult on several levels; first Washington knew he had to maintain a justified leadership role, second he now had to bridge the gap between the new 'political factions' within his cabinet. The apex of the political factions were between Hamilton and Jefferson. It was clear that Hamilton and Jefferson had different visions of the new nation, especially in the realm of financial stability. Hamilton's vision was one of commerce, trade, and building credit. Jefferson saw the nation as an agrarian nation where by by the local farmer sold his crops to his neighbors using only cash. Washington found himself at odds with both of them, not because of their perspectives but because of their behavior. Washington understood that these men were passionate about their beliefs, and were entitled to them. However, Washington also understood how vulnerable the new nation was. Their polarized opinions regarding the financial future of the new nation only served to detract from the greater mission at hand, keeping the nation alive.
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