George Washington's Presidency

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What problems or issues did George Washington face?

Problems or issues that George Washington faced during his presidency included shaping the role of the presidency, dealing with the country's debts, settling conflicts with Britain and Spain, quelling the Whiskey Rebellion, and setting the new country on the path to democracy.

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An interesting lens from which to dissect this question is to examine some of Washington's own words.

In his first inaugural address, Washington makes clear some of his concerns. Because he was the very first person to hold this office, he had no bank of experience from which to draw...

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An interesting lens from which to dissect this question is to examine some of Washington's own words.

In his first inaugural address, Washington makes clear some of his concerns. Because he was the very first person to hold this office, he had no bank of experience from which to draw wisdom. He states,

For I assure myself that whilst you carefully avoid every alteration which might endanger the benefits of an United and effective Government, or which ought to await the future lessons of experience; a reverence for the characteristic rights of freemen, and a regard for the public harmony, will sufficiently influence your deliberations on the question how far the former can be more impregnably fortified, or the latter be safely and advantageously promoted.

Washington decides to lean on basic principles of freedom, harmony, and public need as he decides what the role of president should truly look like—and how far his reach should extend. He was in a brand-new role leading a brand-new country, and there were many questions about how the details were going to come together. It would take many years of philosophical, legal, and sociological debating before many of those details would be decided. Yet Washington knew the entire country was looking to him for leadership—a vast responsibility to fulfill.

The second significant address to consider is Washington's farewell address, given just before he left office at the end of his second term. It is worth noting that he considered retirement at the end of one term, but various anxieties within the country as it was still organizing itself persuaded Washington to return for a second term. The country greatly valued and needed his voice and wisdom.

In his farewell address, Washington address several key concerns that reflected the needs of the young country. He warned against listening to anyone who tried to overthrow the government and cautioned the people to be aware of those who sought laws that effectively made the government too weak to defend itself and unable to protect the needs of the people. Jefferson's Democratic-Republican Party and Hamilton's Federalist Party were increasingly at odds, so Washington included a warning against becoming too caught up in political disagreements which have the power to "[ruin]...public liberty":

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.

Washington saw that the conflicts between parties inevitably had the potential to make the country weaker to "foreign influence and corruption."

The first president also saw the divisions across the country, with differing geographical regions needing different things from the government. He cautioned that some of these needs had been misrepresented, and that there was much to learn from various regions of the developing country; therefore, the people needed to be willing to listen to the experience of their neighbors around the country:

In contemplating the causes which may disturb our Union, it occurs as matter of serious concern that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by geographical discriminations, Northern and Southern, Atlantic and Western; whence designing men may endeavor to excite a belief that there is a real difference of local interests and views. One of the expedients of party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection.

Washington had quite a task in making these various regions of the country a truly united front against foreign influence and to bring a sense of authentic national unity to groups with many cultural backgrounds, all merging to form one united America.

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George Washington faced several issues when he became President of the United States. One of those issues was dealing with our financial problems. Our debt had to be repaid. Some states had already repaid their debts while others hadn’t done this. As a result, President Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, developed a debt plan, which called for combining the debts of the states with the debts of the federal government. This plan did face some opposition. However, a compromise was reached which eventually moved our capital to Washington, D.C., and the debts were combined and eventually repaid.

Another issue facing President Washington was that other countries were trying to push us around. Great Britain was interfering with our trade and impressing our sailors. Great Britain also wouldn’t leave the forts in the west. This led to Jay’s Treaty, which helped reduce the British interference with our trade, and Britain agreed to leave the forts in the west.

Spain also interfered with our trade and helped the Native Americans attack us. This led to Pinckney’s Treaty. The United States was allowed to store products at the port of New Orleans as well as use that port. American ships would be allowed to travel on the Mississippi River without being attacked by the Spanish. Spain also agreed to stop helping the Native Americans attack us. Even the border dispute with Spanish Florida was resolved, as the 31st parallel became the boundary.

There also was unrest at home. When the Whiskey Rebellion occurred, the U.S. military was sent in to end the revolt. President Washington sent the message that disorder would not be tolerated.

President Washington faced several issues while he was President. He was successful in handling many of these issues.

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Washington was responsible for getting the country off on a firm foundation after the new government was formed. One of his first obstacles was the debate between Jefferson and Hamilton over the Bank of the United States. There was also the issue of funding the debt of the states from the Revolution, which Hamilton proposed and Washington opposed. Then, of course, there was the Whiskey Rebellion, caused by opposition to Hamilton's tax on Whiskey. Washington showed his magnanimity by commuting the sentences of those convicted in the Rebellion. He issued his declaration of Neutrality when most of his cabinet wanted the United States to intervene in the ongoing war between Britain and France, and again showed his diplomatic skills during the Citizen Genet affair; when he easily could have had Genet deported to certain death; but instead allowed him to remain in the United States.

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I would say that President Washington faced several challenging elements in being the first President of the new nation.  One challenge came from the national debt.  Fighting and for and gaining independence did not come cheap and the amount of debt that the new nation faced was staggering.  He was able to navigate the challenges of the role of the federal government with such raging polarities in his cabinet with the likes of Alexander Hamilton, a proponent of an intervening government, with Thomas Jefferson, an advocate for a less intrusive form of government.  With challenges abroad, Washington was also facing challenge with the role of America in the new world order.  Would America assert its new found might in other problems all over the world or would the nation remain more inwardly drawn in this regard?  Domestic uprisings like the Whiskey Rebellion also proved to be a challenge that Washington faced down with his use of the army to quell such an insurrection.

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The major issue faced by George Washington was president of the new United States was to get the country off on a start to democracy.  It would have been very easy for the country to become something of a monarchy and there were those (like Alexander Hamilton) who would have welcomed this.  By resisting this temptation (to become king) Washington set the US on the path to becoming a true democracy.

When Washington became president, there was little precedent for a country that did not have a ruler.  In some way, Washington was going to need to govern the country well yet, at the same time, keep from having the political system revolve around the president as an individual.  This is a challenge that many other new countries have been unable to solve.  Because Washington was able to solve the problem, the US became a stable democracy instead of becoming a country ruled by a series of strongmen or dictators.

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