The American Revolution opened the way for free development of the American society and American state and fulfilling the provisions of the Declaration of Independence. A state that officially claimed his main goal to be securing the rights of citizens had to be built for the first time in the history of the humankind. However, many of the elements of this state’s construction could not be foreseen and had to be established in the actual course of political life led by responsible individuals.
This paper discusses the role of the first President George Washington, and of first controversial events of the early American history in establishing the American state as we know it nowadays. It is argued that the result of these controversies was creating a state formation, which was truly democratic, but, at the same time, had all characteristic traits of a united, strong and self-sufficient state, which is able to pursue its sovereign policy in both domestic and international affairs. General discussion:
When George Washington came to office as the first elected President, he became the head of a very amorphous foundation. The position of Antifederalists, who objected to the strong central government in fear for possible future abuse of power and resorting to dictator practices, was defeated during the debates over the Constitution of the United States. However, the provisions of the Constitution had to be fully put in practice. Washington’s main task consisted in creating “content” for the state’s structure outlined in the Constitution, i. e. he had “to establish and develop the executive departments” (Nettels).
Doing it, “Washington and his co-workers established two rules that became enduring precedents: the president has the power to select and nominate executive officers and the power to remove them if they are unworthy. ” (Nettels). The result of their work was establishing the departments constituting the body of the American government. But a government cannot function in a vacuum; it needs a solid base, namely, the army able to defend it from both external and internal enemies and the financial system along with the system of taxes as its basement.
The Federalist program of Washington’s presidency included a large part of financial improvements, designed by his secretary of the Treasury Department Alexander Hamilton (An Outline…). This program implied new duties for single states and American citizens, and its fulfilling caused the first armed resistance against the government’s policy. “The Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 is little remembered today but its impact had profound effects on the future of the United States. ” (Gladnick). This rebellion, raised in response to the 25% excise on all liquor quite painfully affecting many American farmers, was a complex issue.
The resistance against taxation was intertwined in it with the problem of rights and authorities of single states in front of the federal government (Gladnick). Nevertheless, the most important outcome of this event was the verification of the state’s right and capacity to impose taxes on the American citizens. This was one of the most critical moments of the whole Washington’s presidency, and, unfortunately, it had to be done with the aid of military force. It is to the honor of Washington, who led the militia himself, that the suppression of this riot did not result in a massacre.
By the end of Washington’s presidency “The government had been organized, national credit established, maritime commerce fostered, the Northwest Territory recovered, and peace preserved. ” (An Outline…). i. e. all the main tasks had been fulfilled. However, the new elections revealed that one of the problems, which Washington tried to eliminate from the political life of the United States, had not disappeared and had to be seriously concerned in the future. This was the problem of factions developing into opposing parties.
Washington sought to overcome it by appointing to the key positions in government representatives of both Federalist and Republican (succeeding the Antifederalist) groups, namely, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson (as the Secretary of State). However, after his refusal to take the third term in office (and there hardly can be any doubt that he would have been reelected if he had not refused), no other candidate had such an overwhelming popularity allowing to be elected without the real competitive process.
As the candidates had to find followers, they further split the contemporary political establishment and helped to define the concepts of two competing camps more clearly. “With the retirement of Washington, the political parties began their dominance. ” (Whitson). Besides this, the elections of 1796 resulted in an odd situation of President (John Adams) and Vice-President (Thomas Jefferson) belonging to different parties.
After the first disputed elections in the American history—the elections of 1800—the possibility for this situation was eliminated by the election reform and adopting the XII Amendment, but during the four years of Adams’ presidency the government had to cope with this situation. The government split by controversies was not a stable government. Having two opponents as the two main state’s officials only strengthened the tensions between the two emerging parties. One of outcomes of this situation was the first attempt to restrict the citizen rights secured by the US Constitution.
The Alien Act authorizing deportation of foreigners if they “deemed dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States” (An Act Concerning Aliens) and the Sedition Act authorizing severe penalties for persons who “write, print, utter, or publish… any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States” (An Act in Addition…) passed in Congress in 1798. Formally, they were presented as preparation for the expected war with France, but their main target were the Republicans, many of whom were “journalists and writers… of French, Irish and British extraction.
” (Holmberg). Both acts were abolished soon, but the Sedition Act, whose constitutionality had never been tested in the Supreme Court (Holmberg), was really enforced. The events connected to these acts, first, showed both vulnerability and strength of the young American democracy, which finally managed to survive this challenge. Second, they established a precedent for violation of some of the citizen rights in a case of emergency. Whether justified or not, this precedent echoed in the American Patriot Act issued in response to the events of September 11, 2001.
Conclusion: The events and actors of the first years of the American independency shaped the most important traits of the American state, which still remain nowadays. The USA was established as a democratic federal state with a strong central government, whose mainstream political life consists in competition of two political parties.
An Act concerning Aliens. Reference Library of Political Documents. Napoleon Series. org. Online at http://www. napoleonseries. org/reference/political/legislation/alien. cfm An Act in addition to the act, entitled “An act for the punishment of certain crimes against the United States. ” Reference Library of Political Documents. Napoleon Series. org. Online at http://www. napoleonseries. org/reference/political/legislation/alien. cfm An Outline of American History. From Revolution to Reconstruction… and what happened afterwards. 1990. Online at http://odur. let. rug. nl/%7eusa/H/1990/index. htm Gladnick, P. J. Causes and Effects of the Whiskey Rebellion. PageWise Inc, 2002. Online at http://wa. essortment. com/whiskeyrebellio_rzjj.
htm Holmberg, Tom. Alien and Sedition Acts of the United States, 1798. Reference Library of Political Documents. Napoleon Series. org. Online at http://www. napoleonseries. org/reference/political/legislation/alien. cfm Nettels, Curties P. George Washington: Biography. The American Presidency. Grolier Incorporated, 2000. Online at http://gi. grolier. com/presidents/ea/bios/01pwash. html Whitson, James R. The 1796 Campaign and Election. President Elect: The Unofficial of the Electoral College. Online at http://www. presidentelect. org/e1796. html