IF THE creation of the Constitution was a novel proceeding,
putting it into execution was no less so. All other governments had grown up gradually and insensibly; this was
the first which had ever sprung fully equipped from the brains of men, and begun its operations in a day. Hamilton,
writing in the periodical known as "The Federalist" while the Constitution was under examination by the
State conventions, had said: "The establishment of a Constitution, in time of profound peace, by the voluntary
consent of a whole people, is a prodigy, to the completion of which I look forward with trembling anxiety."
It had been successfully accomplished; and the next step was as easily taken. On the 13th of September, Congress,
after deciding that the home of the new Government should be in New York, appointed January of the coming year
1789 for the choice of electors for President, and the fourth of the following March for the beginning of governmental
operations. The electors were each to vote for two persons; a majority of the whole votes was to elect the President;
the Vice President did not require this majority. The sixty-nine votes all named Washington for the great office;
Adams was chosen to the second place by thirty-four votes. The news was brought to Washington on the 14th of April,
1789, and two days later he set out on his journey to New York. As on his previous journey to Mount Vernon, after
laying aside his commission as General, the people came out to meet him and honor him on the way. At Georgetown,
Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Trenton he found love and praise and prayers for good fortune awaiting him, and maidens
to strew flowers in his path. That these proofs of devotion and confidence gave him happiness cannot be doubted;
but they did not prevent him from being almost painfully sensible of what he deemed to be his imperfect fitness
for the responsibility. "But," said he, "be the voyage long or short, although I may be deserted
by all men, integrity and firmness shall never desert me. I hold it of little moment if the close-of my life be
embittered, provided I shall have been instrumental in securing the liberties 'and promoting the happiness of the
American people." Evidently he foresaw difficulties as did Madison, "first between Federal and Anti-Federal
parties, and then between Northern and Southern parties"; nevertheless he said, "the most gracious Being,
who has hitherto watched over the interests and averted the perils of the United States, will never suffer so fair
an inheritance to become the prey of anarchy or despotism." We shall not readily find another instance of
a ruler mounting the seat of his authority, who grasped the reins of power in this spirit. But nothing was lacking
to the lofty simplicity of his attitude. And it was in harmony with it that the House refused to adopt the suggestion
of Adams and Richard Henry Lee, that he be addressed as "your Highness." He was their fellow citizen,
chosen to execute the people's will.
In 1789 a building called Federal Hall stood on Wall Street, facing Broad Street; and it was here, as the bronze
statue before the portals of the sub treasury reminds us, that the President took the oath of office. A great crowd
filled the spaces before the building; to Robert Livingstone fell the distinction of administering the oath. After
it had been taken, "Long live George Washington !'" he shouted, "President of the United States."
And the multitude responded with a mighty cry of joy and of godspeed. It was the 30th day of April; we see that
stately figure facing the great throng, and bending before their shouting with uncovered head. When, again, shall
so adequate a man fill a position so august? When shall a great people, great in its future and in its principles,
receive with joy so unadulterated the assurance of the common weal?
In the Senate Chamber Washington addressed, with deep and manifest emotion, the assembly of the two Houses. He
offered his supplications to "that Almighty Being who presides in the councils of nations, that His benediction
may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people a government instituted by themselves. No people can
be bound to acknowledge the invisible hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United
States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished
by some token of providential agency. There exists in the economy of nature an indissoluble union between an honest
and magnanimous policy and public prosperity. Heaven can never smile on a nation that disregards the eternal rules
of order and right. The preservation of liberty, and the destiny of the republican model of government, are justly
considered as deeply, perhaps as finally, staked - on the experiment trusted to the American people."
A French minister who was in the hall reported that "no sovereign ever reigned more completely in the hearts
of his subjects than Washington in the-hearts of his fellow citizens. Nature, which had given him talent to govern,
distinguished him from all others by his appearance. He had at once the soul, the look, and the figure of a hero.
He never appeared embarrassed at homage rendered him, and in his manners he had the advantage of joining dignity
to great simplicity.
Washington's words to Congress, so far as business measures were concerned, were brief; he evinced his hospitality
toward amendments to the Constitution, and a desire to conciliate the people of all sections. But it was the scenic
rather than the business aspects of this inauguration which were noticeable; there were fireworks at the Battery,
with fire-drawn figures of Washington and the two Houses, as Fortitude, Justice, and Wisdom, with Fame hovering
above them; and much grave ceremony, due in part to an uncertainty a5 to how far republican forms should resemble
monarchical ones. It was inevitable that the starch should gradually disappear from such functions. The natural
personal dignity of Washington was so great that it was more than easy to adopt toward him an attitude of homage
and subservience; and many persons in the community were eager to bow down and worship. Others, like John Adams,
thought that it was wise to surround authority with the outward shows of majesty, however democratic it might remain
inwardly. But the general sense of the people was opposed to such aids; and the French Revolution was not calculated
to increase respect for them. We like to read of the social grandeur and brilliance of Washington's levees, and
of his cream-colored coach and six; but we could only smile at such things now. Jeffersonian simplicity has passed
into a popular proverb, while Washington's black velvet and pearl-colored silk are forgotten. The first President
himself wished only to do what was right and becoming; much of his attention must be given to making precedents
for his successors; and a great deal of honest difference of opinion might exist as to what the proper thing really
The members of the first House were good business men, and showed themselves well able to expedite business. The
Senate was very conscious of its own importance, but was not otherwise remarkable. Some amusing brushes between
them and the House occurred; but the latter maintained. its dignity and equality. The first of the business measures
discussed was, naturally, that of the tariff. The Anti-Federals had waned in power and voice since the ratification,
and were ready to support the Administration; but they would become prominent again as soon as the Federals began
to make mistakes. Meanwhile Congress worked to such good effect that twenty-seven acts were passed between the
1st of June and the 30th of September. The tendency of the tariff measures was to strengthen the country against
the rest of the world, but to avoid yielding too much to local interests. Free trade was not contemplated. The
first symptoms of the policy of protecting infant industries became visible. A discrimination against England in
commercial matters was proposed, and aroused enough opposition to show that England already had a strong lobby
in this country. The House favored retaliation against the domineering and insolent policy of the old country,
but the Senate smothered the bill. An important detail was the creating of the several departments of the Executive
Government; three were decided on: State, War, and the Treasury. A Home department was suggested but not adopted.
The Treasury was carefully organized so as to make dishonest practices difficult, and in fact it has been uniformly
conducted ever since in an unexceptionable manner. Washington called upon Jefferson to take the portfolio of State;
Knox was the War Secretary, and to Hamilton was given the Treasury. -Randolph was appointed Attorney General. The
custom of holding Cabinet Councils was introduced insensibly as a measure of convenience; though small, this first
Cabinet was not devoid of animation, Hamilton and Jefferson, by the account of the latter, were often pitted against
each other "like two cocks." Washington, while always desirous to take advice from those competent to
give it, followed his own course after digesting it. His rule in choosing men for Cabinet and other positions was
to require ability and honesty, but also conspicuousness; the latter attribute being in his opinion desirable to
create confidence in the people, and perhaps also as tending to steady the incumbents, who had the more to lose
by ill conduct. Salaries at this time were very small, and the total expenses of the Government almost microscopic
according to modern standards.
Territorial legislation had early attention; the system adopted by the United States in this direction was unique:
instead of colonizing, they propagated themselves over their own domain. In two years, twenty thousand persons
emigrated to the region of the Ohio. Of the numerous Constitutional amendments which came up for judgment, the
ten most important were adopted, thereby conciliating the Anti-Federalists. On the other hand, there was already
a leaning perceptible toward barring out the people from Federal councils. Men new to authority could not help
feeling too much the augustuess of their position. The Supreme Court was organized at this time, and John Jay was
put at )he head of it; but there was little for the court to do as set.
In the summer, Washington was taken ill, and he promoted his recovery by taking a tour through the Northern States,
visiting Boston for the first time since M had compelled Howe to evacuate it. His reception everywhere was most
cordial; he avoided passing through the still recalcitrant State of Rhode Island, but soon after this little community
repented itself of its contrariness, and, with North Carolina, was received into the Union. In 1791 Washington
toured through the Southern districts; and at Philadelphia was greeted by the officials sent to receive him in
a manner amusingly different from the customary inflated style. "Friend Washington, we are glad to see thee!"
was the two trips encouraged him with regard to the state of the country: the times were manifestly prosperous.
At the second session of Congress a great amount of business was transacted. A census was ordered; naturalization
laws were passed, and patent and copyright legislation was done. But the most important event was the report of
the Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton, whose financial genius is historic. No one seems to have expected that
the United States would ever pay its debts; that they should compound with creditors for so many cents on the dollar
was the best that was looked for. But Hamilton took the stand of the highest integrity in dealing with debts, and
his proposals were so bold that they-took people's breath away. He demanded that the United States should not only
pay its foreign debts with interest at once, but should assume all the State debts, besides liquidating the regular
domestic claims. He estimated the State debts at twenty-five million dollars; in reality they afterward proved
to' be less than twenty-two, and part of this sum could have been set off against grants to the States. But Hamilton
preferred to take on everything, rightly perceiving that not only would such a course greatly raise the credit
of the country, but would also be an indissoluble tie to counteract the State-rights doctrine. After debate and
resistance on the part of some of the States whose indebtedness was small, his policy was approved. United States
securities rose to fifty cents. There was a good deal of speculation and buying up of old paper which had been
supposed to be worth nothing. Bitter quarrels also occurred in Congress and elsewhere; and these were curiously
mixed up with the bill to provide a place for the national capital,; votes, it appears, might already be traded,
one bill against another. Finally it was agreed to select a neutral region for the capital, on the Potomac; and
during the ten-year interval before this could be prepared, the seat of Government was at Philadelphia.
An attempt was made to pass a bill taxing slaves imported into the country; and the last public act of Franklin's
life was to put his name, which was already signed to the two most famous acts of the century, to the petition
asking for this measure. It was eloquently supported in Congress; but it was violently attacked by two Southern
slaveholders, Jackson and Smith, who made up in volume of voice and recklessness of assertion and invective what
they lacked in reason and justice. This debate was a type of many-.which were to take place afterward; most of
the arguments, pro and con, which have been employed since, were used then. The outcome was that the bill was abandoned,
and a signal opportunity to do service to posterity thereby lost. The death of Franklin took .place on the 17th
of April, 1790. In many respects he was greater than any of his contemporaries; and his achievements in politics
and in science were summed up by the Frenchman Turgot, some time before the United States achieved their independence,
in the words "Eripuit coelo fulmen, sceptrumque tyrannis." He was also an example of what a man can make
of himself in America.
The Indian problem had always been present in America, and it started up afresh during this session of Congress.
The British still held, in spite of the articles of the peace, their posts in the Northwest; and the Indians thereabout
regarded them as their friends, and the Americans, consequently, as their enemies. The only stronghold that we
held was Fort Washington on the north bank of the Ohio. In October, 1790, General Harmer with one thousand five
hundred men set out to avenge a massacre perpetrated by the savages; three-fourths of his force being raw militia.
At Chillicothe he fell into an ambush, and, the militia flying, the regulars, who stood their ground, were either
killed on the spot, or tortured to death during the night. Colonel Hardin soon after ran into a similar trap, and
his command was slaughtered at Maumee ford; it was said that one could have crossed the river dry-shod on the dead
bodies that lay there. Meanwhile, in the Southwest, the Creeks, Cherokees and other tribes, who were supplied with
arms by the Spaniards, and were somewhat expert in civilized ways, came to blows with the Carolinians and other
whites, and gave at least as good as 'they got. Their chief, a half-breed named McGillivray, who had had an education,
but had afterward reverted to the savage life, was finally invited to New York to confer with the Government, with
a view to concluding a treaty of peace. He arrived in due time with his retinue, and was received with much distinction;
elaborate ceremony was observed, and it is to be .supposed that he was properly impressed. But what must ,have
bound him yet more strongly to the wishes of the- Government was a secret subsidy which was allowed him, in consideration
of his promoting American interests in the tribes under his control. Thus the immediate danger at the lower end
of the country was averted; but the tribes at the north were still unsubdued and unconcilated; and Washington,
as Congress adjourned, was debating how to deal with them.
Hamilton,- flushed with the success of his first exploit, next brought forward proposals for an excise tax: and
a national bank. The first was received with favor, being moderate in its scope; only spirits distilled in the
country were taxed, and at the same time a duty on imported liquors was increased. "We'll drink the debt down"
was the popular phrase relating to the bill. But the national bank scheme encountered strong opposition, and Madison
declared it to be unconstitutional. This charge, the most serious of them all, was met by Hamilton with the argument
that such a measure as he proposed, though not recommended by the Constitution, was implicitly permitted, together
with many others; and his contention finally prevailed. The bank was chartered with a capital of ten million dollars,
eight million of which were to be contributed by the people, and the remainder by the United States. Its charter
ran for twenty years. Washington kept this bill for some time before affixing his signature to it, and summoned
Hamilton and Jefferson in consultation upon it. Hamilton repeated his arguments in its favor; Jefferson thought
that powers not delegated to the United States should be reserved, and on this ground opposed it. But Washington,
after further consideration, signed the bill, leaving to Hamilton the responsibility as chief of the department.
With the advent of the Second Congress matters began to take on a slightly different aspect. The Federals were
still the more powerful party, but the signs of a change might be detected. This change was to be symbolized, as
it were, in the characters and mutual attitude of two men, representing the opposing policies which were to divide
the country. Hamilton and Jefferson could not long travel one road; the time must soon come when the development
of their opinions would lead to a rupture. Hamilton never really accepted the American idea. He was a Federalist
for the present, only because the hour had not yet struck, he thought, for declaring for something stronger than
Federalism. He never had believed that the Union would succeed; that it had succeeded so far surprised him; but
in the conviction that it would disappear, in its present form, with the century, he wished meanwhile to so strengthen
the Federal position as to render possible, when the crisis came, its transformation into some kind of monarchy.
Government, to be government, must, he thought, be vigorous; therefore it must be centralized, it must do away
with all rights of States to modify its action, and it must attract to itself the wealth and "aristocracy"
of the people. The Constitution had been the first step toward reaching this goal; in supporting it, he had never
expected it to be other than a temporary expedient or step to the true solution of the American question. His banking
scheme, and his other plans for interesting capital in the Government, were means to his controlling end. He was
frank on the subject; he was no treasonable plotter; though he had no scruples about using political devices to
secure his objects. He was a man of purity and honor; but if America were to remain America, he must be removed
from her councils. If she were to become a limited monarchy, perhaps he might be useful. Though he had not an original
mind, he possessed immense ability, and a quick power of using established principles in ways suited to the present
exigency; and his energy was tireless.
Of Jefferson it will be, for the moment, enough to say that he was a man with a mind strictly of his own, who believed
in the republican experiment and entertained no doubts that America had a vast and immortal future before her as
the first and greatest example of a people governing themselves without laxity and without tyranny. He trusted
the people, and had no trust in arbitrary or aristocratic rule. He accepted the Constitution in good faith, fearing
that the restriction of State rights was a danger, but regarding it as one which, as it could not be eliminated,
must be constantly guarded against. In the heat of controversy' and opposition he took too severe a view of Hamilton's
personal motives in centralization; but his misgivings were in principle right; anal in aiming blows at Hamilton
he was attacking his policy in the way surest to disconcert it. For Hamilton was as far the superior in intelligence
over most of his party, as Jefferson was over his-if not more so. For the soundest men in the country were on Jefferson's
side; even John Adams, though he too seemed to lean to a stronger and more exclusive government, was at heart a:
Democrat, even more than he was himself at that time aware. In him sentiment and prejudice were at times unconsciously
at war with principle; but as often as he discovered the discrepancy he had the honesty and patriotism to avow
The National Bank, as a nucleus of the moneyed and aristocratic power, was the chief object-of attack by the "Republicans,"
as the opponents of Federalism began to be known. There was no large class of Ant Federalists left; all were in
good humor with the Constitution; but the Republicans waged war against the interpretation placed upon some of
its articles by the Federalists. They absorbed, of course, such remnants of Anti Federalists, State-rights people,
and personal malcontents as existed in the country. Their campaign against the bank was unsuccessful; for the pecuniary
prosperity of that institution was great, and its influence (apart from the aspect particularly criticized) beneficial.
But some new schemes of Hamilton, looking to the protective policy, were abandoned owing to Jefferson's activity;
and both men were betrayed into a betrayal of personal animosity which was unworthy of their genuine zeal for the
public good as each understood it. Hamilton emerges with least credit from these encounters; he condescended to
malign Jefferson anonymously in a newspaper, "Fenno's Gazette"; and he bought support by favors to individuals
who could be of use to him. When we have admitted that it was for what he deemed good ends that he employed bad
means, we have said the best we can for him. Moreover, his private life was not chaste; and illicit intrigue was
allowed to mix itself too closely with political matters. It was a weakness in him that he underestimated Jefferson
as an opponent, and, in his eagerness to vindicate his course, he had not the patience to examine dispassionately
views that differed from his own. In restoring the credit of his country he had done it a great service; but his
usefulness was almost confined to that.
Nor was this restored credit without its evil side. It encouraged speculation, and bubble companies were formed
and came down with a crash. The western lands were purchased by speculators, who held them for high prices, and
thus brewed trouble with the settlers and "squatters," and finally collapsed themselves. In truth, the
mass of the population were not as yet acquainted with their own country; they did not understand its nature and
its tendencies; and having but lately arisen from darkest despondency and pessimism, they were now, by reaction,
verging as far toward groundless and foolish optimism. The pendulum must swing too far each way before it could
attain its normal limit. The first sunshine of prosperity was more disconcerting and bewildering to a patriotic
people than had been the long winter darkness of adversity and struggle. We had not learned the stops of this mighty
continental instrument of ours.
Washington was disturbed by the quarrels of his officers, and remonstrated with them. They would not be reconciled;
oil and water do not mix; but when Washington, taking to himself the public criticisms of his Administration, and
feeling the approach of age, spoke of his wish not to stand for a second term, both Hamilton and Jefferson were
at one in entreating him to remain. With the affairs of the country in their present transition state, with nothing
settled one way or the other in its policy, neither party dared to risk the chances of a change of the Executive.
Washington was above party, and he was also wise and firm. There was not another citizen of the Republic who could,
at that juncture, have commanded the trust that was reposed by the people in him. And since he sincerely placed
the welfare of the people above all other considerations, he consented to accept a second nomination-which in his
case was the equivalent of election. There had been some changes in the House, the most significant of which was
the election of the brilliant and conscienceless Aaron Burr, who might be described 639
HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES
as in many respects a Hamilton, with Hamilton's nobility and honor left out. But though our public life contains
no record of a man of anything like Burr's intellectual and personal gifts who was dedicated so unreservedly to
evil; yet there is a touch of the sinisterheroic even in him. He acted his dark role trenchantly, with a certain
largeness. His selfishness was diabolic, but he was not paltry. Perhaps he was not unworthy to kill Hamilton. .
The most untoward incident of the closing year of Washington's first term was the defeat of St. Clair and his army
in the Northwest by the Indians. This general was a soldier of fair abilities, but of uniform ill success; and
at this time. he was somewhat in years, with white hair and a gouty foot. It is probably a good rule never to employ
in public affairs men who have failed; but Washington employed St. Clair to take charge of this campaign. He gave
him three thousand men, part militia and part regulars, but none of them expert in discipline and drill. The object
of the expedition was to establish an array of forts between Fort Washington and the Wabash, to make roads, and
in general to open the country; and incidentally to dispose of any Indians who might interfere. But Washington,
in giving instructions to poor St. Clair, was emphatic in warning him to beware of ambush. The little army set
forth, and slowly pursued its roadmaking way from Fort Washington; but on the 4th of November, about dawn, and
while the men were about to make their coffee, that Indian war whoop which has been the last sound that many thousand
American ears have heard, came shrilling out of the surrounding forest, and the fight was on. It did not last long,
and the issue was never in doubt. The Indians were led by Little Turtle, who, despite his inoffensive name, was
a tried warrior; and they outnumbered the whites, who had been reduced to fourteen hundred by various causes. More
than half of the fourteen hundred were shot or tortured to death; St. Clair, who had been lifted to the back of
successive horses, and had fought his men as best he could, finally got off the remnant of them to Fort Washington.
It was a most thorough disaster.
When the news of it first reached Washington other persons were present, and he swallowed down his wrath and grief.
But as soon as he could reach the solitude of his chamber, where only his secretary was a witness, his emotion
broke forth with terrific energy. His' words are worth quoting. "Here, yes, here, on this very spot, I took
leave of him," he said. "I wished him success and honor. 'You have your instructions,' I said, 'from
the Secretary of War. I had a strict eye to them, and will add but one word-Beware of a surprise! I repeat it-Beware
of a surprise! You know how the Indians fight us.' He went off with that, as my last solemn warning, thrown in
his ears. And yet to suffer that army to be cut to pieces, hacked, butchered, tomahawked by a surprise-the very
thing I guarded hi? against! O God! O God' he is worse than a murderer! How can he answer to his country? The blood
of the slain is upon him the curse of widows and orphans-the curse of Heaven!"
"It was awful: more than once he threw up his hands as he hurled imprecations upon St. Clair," adds our
informant. One can only rejoice that St. Clair was not present to listen to his denunciation. But before many minutes
Washington, bad regained his self-control and his sense of justice. A court-martial acquitted St. Clair; but he
was compelled to retire from the army. The massacre caused vast dismay on the frontier, and was not soon forgotten.
A more agreeable subject is the founding of the city which was to be the seat of Government, to which the name
Washington was given. The site was owned by a few honest farmers, who were willing to dispose of it on the terms
of retaining alternate lots, which were expected greatly to appreciate in value. David Burns was the most conspicuous
of these venders, and his daughter was afterward an heiress of renown. The plans were prepared by a French architect
with the smiling name of "L'Enfant," who kept his eye on a glorious future, and made the streets of unexampled
width. All manner of magnificence and beauty was contemplated; and though, were the work to be done today, we might
do it a little differently, still Washington is the most beautiful of American cities as a whole, and will become
more nearly ideal as time goes on. It does credit to the faith and foresight of our ancestors.
There now ensued an episode which was to have far-reaching consequences. The French Revolution, ostensibly in behalf
of the rights of man, of liberty, equality, and fraternity, had proceeded from ordinary to extraordinary riotous
excesses, and was culminating in wholesale murders of persons, aristocratic or other, suspected of being out of
harmony with the demagogues and conspirators of the moment. The final touch was given by the beheading of the Ding
and Queen, well-meaning persons, who could not have been put to a worse use. All this had been heard of in the
United States, where it was commented upon diversely, but upon the whole with disapproval and .mistrust; it seeming
evident that the French notions of a revolution were widely alien from our own. But in the midst of the discussion
France declared war on England, and thereby struck a new note on our national heartstrings. For it could not be
forgotten that England had recently been our own enemy, and had ever since acted toward us in an arrogant and unconciliating
manner: declining to fulfill the treaty stipulations to which she had pledged her faith, and committing various
overt acts, chiefly in the way of interfering with our commerce, or favoring the plots against us of Indian tribes.
Consequently a large part of the population was disposed to favor France in the conflict; the rather since that
country had stood by us in our hour of need, and had treated us well subsequently.
About the same time Washington
had undergone his second inaugural, and both Hamilton and Jefferson had requested to be relieved of their duties.
Their resignations were however postponed for the moment; and Washington consulted his Cabinet as to the course
to be pursued by the country toward the belligerents. The decision was to issue a proclamation of neutrality; but
while Jefferson inclined to interpret its provisions rather in favor of France than of England, Hamilton was strongly
disposed toward the opposite coarse. But he and his party were confronted with the terms of already existing treaties
with France, promising shelter to French privateers and guaranteeing French 'possessions, and withholding comfort
from the enemies of France. It was true that the treaties had been made .while the French Government was still
monarchical; but that was hardly a fair ground for ignoring them. On the other hand, no one wished to embroil our
country in European complications. The best plan seemed to be to observe discretion and practice tact, making the
best instead of the worst of whatever contingencies might arise.