George Washington's Presidency

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What problems did George Washington face during his presidency?

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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 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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What challenges did George Washington face as president?

The challenges that George Washington faced as president were both internal and external. Washington's Farewell Address offers a cogent general summary of the major overarching problems that he dealt with while in office and the concerns that he harbored about the new country as it moved forward without him.

Internally, Washington saw the dangers of regional factionalism and the rise of the two-party system as a grave threat to the union. He had come into office not even a year after the United States ratified the Constitution, which was a stronger glue than the Article of Confederation to hold the country together as a single entity. Yet he worried that small groups could hijack the larger democratic will of the people by putting their own needs and desires ahead of the greater good. This had plagued him throughout his presidency, and he warned very strongly against it moving forward, excoriating the idea that some wanted

to put in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party; often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community.

These words continue to be important today.

Second, foreign policy became a plague during his administration. Shortly after he took office, the French Revolution broke out. This highly destabilizing event established France as a republic. The other major powers in Europe, all monarchies, reacted aggressively, fearful that republicanism would spread.

France wanted the United States's unconditional support since it had supported the colonies in the American Revolution and since the two countries were in the rare position of being republics. Britain, on the other hand, used its traditional ties with the young country to try to pressure it into supporting Britain against France. Washington had to navigate an uneasy path between the two nations, not wanting the energies of the new nation to be diverted into Europe's affairs. He famously advised the US to make no permanent alliances with Europe and to turn to isolationism in order to nurture its own growth.

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What challenges did George Washington face as president?

Perhaps the most significant challenge that Washington had to face was the lack of any precedent to guide him. From his political and policy decisions to matters of personal conduct and decorum, his example would create the template which other presidents would follow. This extends even to his decision to step down after his second term—an informal precedent that would, in the twentieth century, be written into the US Constitution by the amendment process.

At the same time, Washington had to navigate around the emergence of factionalism in United States politics and the beginning of the Two Party System. These divisions sharply affected his own administration: his Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, emerged as the leader of the Democratic-Republicans, while his Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, emerged as the leader of the Federalist Party. Washington was often caught between these two mutually opposed personalities, even as he himself struggled to remain above these Party divisions.

Meanwhile, he faced severe challenges in Foreign Policy as well. In Washington's time, the United States was not an established power, as it is today, and there was no guarantee that the United States would survive in the long term with its independence intact. Furthermore, in Europe, there was the impact of the French Revolution and the war on the Continent. There was significant debate over whether the United States should align with France or with Britain. Across the course of his presidency, Washington sought to chart a path of neutrality, but the political situation remained highly unstable and precarious where Europe was concerned.

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What challenges did George Washington face as president?

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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What obstacles did George Washington face while in office?

George Washington faced many obstacles while in office. The greatest obstacle he faced was setting the precedent for future executives to follow. George Washington had to demonstrate humility while also demonstrating that the office was worthy of respect. He wanted to be addressed as "Mr. President" and normally appeared in civilian dress. Washington also willingly left office after two terms, though he could have had a lifetime appointment.

Washington also had to manage the differences in his Cabinet that would later become the foundation of the Democratic-Republican and Federalist parties. Washington ultimately sided with the Federalists under the leadership of Alexander Hamilton due to the party's belief in a strong central government. Washington often had to play the role of peacemaker between Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, the Secretary of State who would later go on to become the third president.

Washington also worked hard to keep American forces at home. France wanted to use American troops during the early days of its war with Britain, but Washington was careful to avoid foreign entanglements since he knew the army was in no condition to fight in Europe, and a close alliance with France would ultimately turn the American republic into a French satellite. Washington was also willing to use force when Western farmers threatened a rebellion over having to pay a whiskey tax. This move, while unpopular in the West, demonstrated that the federal government had authority over all land owned by the United States.

While some of Washington's moves were unpopular and led to the rise of the Democratic-Republicans, Washington set the example for future presidents. Washington kept the new nation away from fighting established European powers. He also balanced a Cabinet with diverse viewpoints. The most important part of the Washington administration was that the president kept the new nation alive and together.

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What obstacles did George Washington face while in office?

As the first president of the United States, George Washington faced numerous challenges. One of the first big hurdles he faced concerned building an economy that could be self-sufficient and settling the differences of opinion about what that economy should look like.

Revolution and independence left the new country with many debts and few solid economic institutions. The states, in particular, were riddled with debt. Alexander Hamilton wanted the federal government to assume these debts, something which Thomas Jefferson bristled at. For his part, Washington tried to stay above the contentious fray of his cabinet members, preferring to take on the role of arbiter. He was able to help them reach a compromise in 1790 in which the federal government took over state debts in exchange for the capital being established where it is today.

Further rifts in the cabinet occurred concerning the establishment of the National Bank, which Hamilton was championing. Jefferson and Madison felt that this bank had no constitutional authority to function and heatedly opposed it. In the end, Washington sided with Hamilton, which did little to further endear the president to Jefferson.

To make matters worse, the financial Panic of 1792 led many to lose faith in the new economy. Jefferson blamed Hamilton for it, and once again, Washington found himself in the unenviable position of trying to smooth over tensions between these two men.

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What obstacles did George Washington face while in office?

Undoubtedly the biggest single challenge that George Washington had to face in office was building the institution of the presidency. As the first President of the United States, Washington had to create the institution that, in due course, would develop into arguably the most important branch of American government.

Even for a great general like Washington, this was by no means an easy task. For one thing, he had to manage an at-times fractious cabinet full of powerful personalities like Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. This would've been an enormous challenge for anyone, but for a man determined to stay above the political fray as much as possible, it was even more so.

In appointing Jefferson and Hamilton to his cabinet, men with radically different visions of how the United States should develop, Washington was trying to balance competing interests, so as to minimize divisions within the country as a whole.

Yet, somewhat inevitably, this meant that there would be arguments within the cabinet concerning issues about which the two political giants felt strongly, such as the establishment of the federal Bank of the United States, which Hamilton strongly supported and Jefferson fiercely opposed. This had the effect of undermining unity within the Washington administration at a time when it was needed most.

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What obstacles did George Washington face while in office?

George Washington faced many obstacles while in office. One obstacle was dealing with other countries that were trying to push us around. Great Britain and Spain were interfering with our trade as well as encouraging the Native Americans to attack us. The British also wouldn’t leave the forts in the West they were supposed to leave after the Revolutionary War ended. President Washington knew we couldn’t afford to go to war. We weren’t strong enough militarily nor were we financially able to afford a war. Instead, he chose diplomacy to work out the differences. This resulted in Jay’s Treaty and Pinckney’s Treaty being made.

Another challenge George Washington faced was dealing with our financial issues. We were in debt from the Revolutionary War, and we needed to establish our financial system. Alexander Hamilton proposed a debt plan that was accepted, which allowed us to deal with our debt. He also proposed to create a national bank.

Finally, George Washington had to deal with some rebellion at home. When farmers refused to pay the Whiskey Tax, the federal government responded to put down the rebellion. This sent a message the federal government wouldn’t tolerate disorder and lawlessness.

George Washington had several challenges as President. He successfully resolved many of the challenges he faced.

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What were the challenges for George Washington?  

George Washington faced many challenges. Some occurred while leading the colonial army in the Revolutionary War. During the Revolutionary War, George Washington was constantly faced with a lack of supplies and a lack of soldiers. Most of his soldiers had little formal military training. Those who did enlist signed up for a one-year term of service. Many soldiers deserted when faced with harsh conditions and rough winters. Fortunately, Washington overcame these challenges.

As President after the Constitution was ratified, George Washington also faced challenges. There were people who felt the new government had too much power. People were nervous about Alexander Hamilton’s plan to deal with our debt. Fortunately, a compromise was reached that allowed the federal government to combine the federal debt and the state debt and begin the prices off repaying our debts to others.

George Washington had problems with other countries. Great Britain and Spain were trying to push us around. Great Britain and Spain were encouraging the Native Americans to attack us. They also were interfering with our trade. Many people wanted President Washington to go to war with these countries. President Washington knew that would be a mistake. Instead, treaties were negotiated to try to resolve the issues that existed. Treaties were successfully negotiated reducing the tension for a period of time.

George Washington faced many challenges as a colonial military leader and as President of the United States.

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What problems did Washington have trouble with during his presidency?

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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