George Washington's Presidency

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What problems did Washington have trouble with during his presidency?

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Washington faced many struggles during his presidency, and his responses to them established enduring precedents. Let us look at a few major problems.

First, Washington had to deal with the fallout of the French Revolution, which broke out in 1789, just a few months after his inauguration. Americans generally supported...

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Washington faced many struggles during his presidency, and his responses to them established enduring precedents. Let us look at a few major problems.

First, Washington had to deal with the fallout of the French Revolution, which broke out in 1789, just a few months after his inauguration. Americans generally supported the revolution in its early days, but after France went to war with the other monarchies in Europe, and the Revolution became more radical, it became a profoundly divisive and dangerous event. It took on special urgency when France and Great Britain went to war, because the United States had a treaty dating to the American Revolution with the French, who, through minister Edmond Genet, actively recruited Americans to join the war. Washington thought war against Britain would be ruinous to the new nation and issued a Proclamation of Neutrality in April of 1793. This set a precedent for American neutrality in European wars that endured until the First World War.

Another issue Washington faced was a fiscal crisis rooted in state and national debt. The American Revolution had been financed by debt in the form of foreign loans and bonds and cash issued by states. The bonds were nearly worthless, and American credit was virtually nonexistent when Washington took office. Alexander Hamilton, Washington's treasury secretary, devised a plan for addressing the nation's fiscal woes that included issuing federal bonds to redeem state debts, establishing an excise tax on whiskey, and chartering a national bank. Each of these steps was controversial, but the excise tax outraged western farmers, many of whom rose in rebellion in Pennsylvania.

These two problems contributed to the outbreak of partisan politics in the United States, a development not really anticipated in the structure of the Constitution. Two emerging factions began to coalesce around differing positions on domestic and foreign policy. One group, calling themselves Federalists, supported a robust national government and tended to favor Britain in the European war. The other, who became known as Republicans, supported limited federal government (with powers held by the states) and generally favored France. Partisan politics became increasingly vicious throughout Washington's presidency, giving him cause to warn against the "baneful effects of the spirit of party" in his Farewell Address.

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