United States History I & II
United States History I & II

United States History I & II

Lead Author(s): Sara Eskridge

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Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed


Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition


Roark, Johnson, Furstenberg, Stage, and Igo, The American Promise, 2 Volumes, 8th Edition


Keene, Cornell, and O’Donnell, Visions of America, 2013


Average price of textbook across most common format

Up to 40-60% more affordable

Lifetime access on any device


Hardcover print text only


Per volume


Digital only

Always up-to-date content, constantly revised by community of professors

Constantly revised and updated by a community of professors with the latest content

In-Book Interactivity

Includes embedded multi-media files and integrated software to enhance visual presentation of concepts directly in textbook

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Only available with supplementary resources at additional cost

Only available with supplementary resources at additional cost


Ability to revise, adjust and adapt content to meet needs of course and instructor

All-in-one Platform

Access to additional questions, test banks, and slides available within one platform


Average price of textbook across most common format

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed

Up to 40-60% more affordable

Lifetime access on any device


Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition


Hardcover print text only


Roark, Johnson, Furstenberg, Stage, and Igo, The American Promise, 2 Volumes, 8th Edition


Per volume


Keene, Cornell, and O’Donnell, Visions of America, 2013


Digital only

Always up-to-date content, constantly revised by community of professors

Content meets standard for Introduction to Anatomy & Physiology course, and is updated with the latest content

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed


Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition


Case, Fair, Oster, The American Promise, 2 Volumes


McConnell et al., Visions of America, 2nd Edition

In-book Interactivity

Includes embedded multi-media files and integrated software to enhance visual presentation of concepts directly in textbook

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed


Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition


Case, Fair, Oster, The American Promise, 2 Volumes


McConnell et al., Visions of America, 2nd Edition


Ability to revise, adjust and adapt content to meet needs of course and instructor

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed


Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition


Case, Fair, Oster, The American Promise, 2 Volumes


McConnell et al., Visions of America, 2nd Edition

All-in-one Platform

Access to additional questions, test banks, and slides available within one platform

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed


Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition


Case, Fair, Oster, The American Promise, 2 Volumes


McConnell et al., Visions of America, 2nd Edition

About this textbook

Lead Authors

Sara Eskridge, Ph.DRandolph-Macon College, VA

Dr. Eskridge is a Professor of History at Western Governors University. She specializes in Civil Rights, Cold War, Southern, and Cultural History. She is the author of Rube Tube: CBS as Rural Comedy in the Sixties (University of Missouri Press, 2019) as well as several articles and book chapters on southern mediated images during the Civil Rights Movement and the Cold War.

Contributing Authors

Andrew WegmannLoyola University

Michael CarverCalifornia Polytechnic State University

Michael FrawleyUniversity of Texas of the Permian Basin

Linda ClemmonsIllinois State University

Angela HessCameron University

Sam NelsonRidgewater College

Volker JanssenCalifornia State University

Lance JandaCameron University

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Read the fully unlocked textbook below, and if you’re interested in learning more, get in touch to see how you can use this textbook in your course today.

Chapter 8: The Federalist Era, 1789-1800

Chapter Overview

With the ratification of the Constitution on June 22, 1788, the United States of America was reborn. Though financially weak, militarily insignificant, and politically divided, it stood as the youngest recognized nation on earth. This young nation was not like most others. Even in its first year of existence, it was among the largest countries in the world, covering an area nearly the size of western Europe. This massive expanse was home to just under four million people, fewer than half the eight million residents claimed by England alone in 1790.

Because the United States was so large and its population so spread out, the practical application of the Constitution became a major issue in the new federal government. Many thinkers could not imagine how a nation of such size and space could fall under the authority of a government housed in a single city on the eastern seaboard. How could those Americans living on the western frontier, in what would soon become Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Alabama, and Mississippi, receive just representation so far from the center of power? In a supposedly classless society, lacking the tyrannical hierarchy of European colonial society, who should be trusted with a political voice? Who will represent the average person in a nation predicated, at least in theory, on equality? How would slavery fit into the image of a nation built upon a foundation of liberty?

These questions haunted the United States upon their independence, and never seemed to go away. In fact, though originally “united” in a common cause for liberty, the United States was quickly enveloped in conflict over the future of the nation itself. Indeed, to many Americans of all backgrounds, the problem centered upon the very image and idea of a “republic,” as well as how the United States could, and should, embody that idea. To men like Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and John Adams, the central issue was not just a debate over interpretations of the new Constitution, or internal squabbling over the best appointed positions of power. The issue at hand was the success or failure of the great American “experiment”—whether or not the United States would exist at all in ten years time, whether it would fall victim to tyranny, or pave the way for a world united in freedom and equality.

Chapter Objectives

  • Map the differences between each major political and cultural region in the new United States
  • Understand how the Federalist Era changed the American political and social landscapes
  • Recognize and follow the rise and importance of Anti-Federalism and the dissenting voice they created for posterity
  • Explore the many meanings of “freedom” and how they divided and confounded the American body politic
  • Understand the centrality of the Atlantic World, and especially the French Revolution, in the development of American political ideals and views on foreign policy
  • Note the importance and fallout of the presidential election of 1796
Figure 8.1: The United States in the Federalist Era​

8.01 - Level 1

At the start of the 1790s, the very future of what many called the "great American [math]\text{___________}[/math]," was at stake, causing heated debate over the most basic aspects of government.

Question 8.02

8.02 - Level 4

Based on the answer to question 8.01, how did visions of the United States's political and social future differ between geographical regions and, in particular, political parties and alliances? Do you see any consistency in how members of the American body politic in the 1790s defined the phrase in question 8.01?

Click here to see the answer to Question 8.02.

The Nation, Its People, and Its Products  

In the first years of republic, few people agreed on anything. The rage militaire—that unifying idea of brotherhood-in-arms that united the colonies against the British in the Revolutionary War—had long faded into the realities of forming and maintaining a unified nation in peacetime. No longer did thousands of distant and diverse colonists from thirteen separate colonies share a common enemy under a single call to arms. The aim had shifted to something significantly more difficult—the creation of a single nation from a collection of individual colonies.

Question 8.03

8.03 - Level 3

What were some of the issues upon which Americans disagreed and came into conflict in the early years of the republic? Were any of these issues unique to the United States? If so, how? What made them unique?

Click here to see the answer to Question 8.03.

More than anything else, economic interests bound the states to each other. Indeed, one of the most valuable features of the new republic was the diversity of its labor and agricultural productions. Because American land stretched from the northern Atlantic coast to the Great Lakes, through the plains of Kentucky and Tennessee, and as far south as the fertile lowlands of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, there were enough resources and room to produce both raw materials and finished products for a growing international market. This economic interconnection helped unify diverse populations spread across hundreds of thousands of square miles.

In 1790, the United States could be separated into three general regions, loosely amounting to several states sharing common agricultural products, trade partners, types of production, and geographic location. The New England states were the industrial hub, housing the largest number of urban areas and the budding industrial sector of the nation. It was here that raw materials from elsewhere became the finished mercantile products exported to Europe, the Caribbean, and even, indirectly, parts of Asia. Although urban life did not dominate anywhere in the Early Republic, in New England, villages and towns quickly became the norm, giving rise to a wide, connected web of small towns and urban spaces that traded, communicated, and produced together. Indeed, New England was home to the highest population density in the United States (nearly 200 people per square mile). This population amounted to one of the most culturally uniform groups in Anglophone North America, sharing a common European ancestry and Protestant religious roots, all supported by the area’s early founding, high population density, and industrial approach to production.

Figure 8.2: The Government House (1905) by Samuel Hollyer. This engraving depicts the first United States Capitol building, known as “The Government House,” in New York City as it stood in 1790. Note the absence of congested streets and tall buildings. New York, though the largest city in the nation, was not the bustling business center it is today. Rather, it was a port town, expanding northward on the island of Manhattan from the port. Most of the buildings were colonial-style, two- or three-story brick structures separated by wide boulevards. ​[1]

The Middle Atlantic, or Mid-Atlantic, states served as the barrier between industrial New England and the largely agricultural South. Stretching from New York State to Maryland and Pennsylvania, the Mid-Atlantic contained the most diverse economic sphere in the nation, almost equally split between urban and rural lifestyles, industrial production, trade, and farming. Instead of a web of small towns and coastal villages, like in New England, the Mid-Atlantic gave rise to the nation’s largest urban centers, including New York City (the largest, at 33,131) and Philadelphia (the second largest, at 25,522).

Located along the coast and stuck between the industry of New England and the agriculture of the South, urban centers like New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore served as major ports for the nation as a whole (Figure 8.2). Through these cities, thousands of pounds of tobacco, textiles, furniture, lumber, indigo, and rice shipped off to ports throughout the Atlantic World—as far as Manchester, Lisbon, Le Havre, and even trading towns along West Africa’s Gold Coast. Farmers from the interior traveled to the cities to sell their products to merchants, who in turn sold and shipped the goods to both local and international buyers (Figure 8.3).

Figure 8.3: The British-American Exchange Economy​

Centralization and growth of cities in the Mid-Atlantic brought a diverse and transient population to the region. With the emergence of trade as an economic mainstay, foreign nationals, speaking different languages and practicing different religions, came to live side by side with landed farmers, local merchants and clerks, field hands, unskilled porters, and wealthy investors. The region defied the English colonial and cultural roots of New England in favor of the diversity of the Atlantic World as a whole. From French Catholics in Baltimore to Dutch Calvinists in New York and German Lutherans in Pennsylvania, the Mid-Atlantic got its name, as well as its cultural roots, from the global market that found a home in the increasingly cosmopolitan cities of the region.

The Southern states covered the largest area, but also had the smallest and most widespread population. Attracted by cheap land and the dream of independence and wealth, waves of migrants arrived in the South during the last decade of the eighteenth century. Mainly of English, Scots-Irish, and German descent, these new Americans set up homesteads, planted crops, and lived in family units rather than cities, towns, or even villages (Figure 8.4). The web of communication, transportation, and trade established early on in New England and parts of the Mid-Atlantic never developed in the South, as agriculture remained the most profitable and easily attainable means of financial stability.

Along the coast, of course, cities like Richmond (VA), Charleston (SC), and Savannah (GA) had traded with each other, as well as New York, Boston, and occasionally Manchester and Le Havre for decades. But further inland, where fertile land stretched for miles and there was little competition over space and production, agriculture defined the social and cultural practices of the region. Indeed, by the mid-1790s, the Southern states of Virginia and South Carolina alone produced more wealth from agricultural trading than every other state in the union combined. Tobacco, rice, and cotton dominated in the South, especially in the areas closest to the coast, where the soil was most fertile and most valuable. Transportation networks throughout the region were not, as in other places, intended to connect villages, families, and distant populations. Rather, they almost entirely served the single purpose of moving products to the port and money and tools back to the farms and emerging plantations of the low country.

Figure 8.4: The Locust Grove Farmhouse (photographed, 1987; built, 1790) in Louisville, Kentucky, is a prime example of rural American architecture in the Federalist Era. Based on the Georgian Style, most wealthy rural homes had dual chimneys, a contained veranda, white-framed windows, and brick walls. These homes rarely stood in cities, and were often separated from neighbors by several miles along dirt roads, and surrounded by farmland, often worked by slaves. The layout usually contained four rooms per floor off of a central hallway capped by a stairwell. [2]

Southern cities, then, served more as waypoints than actual ports. Places like Charleston, the most active of Southern ports in the 1790s, loaded ships with local produce and sent them off to the larger ports in New York, Boston, and Providence for access to the international market. The merchants and traders that resided in these cities were locals, often with deep roots in the land itself, working half the year on their own farms and traveling to the city to do business following the harvest. Though still bustling by village standards, Southern cities were far less crowded, expansive, and competitive than the international ports of the Mid-Atlantic and New England.

8.04 - Level 2

What specific aspect of the Mid-Atlantic during the Federalist Era distinguished it from both New England and the South?


Its uniquely French culture that mirrored Parisian sensibilities in exacting detail.


Its centralized organization in which a main urban area served as the cultural and economic hub of the entire region.


Its legacy as a group of former penal colonies and their development into an enormous working plantation for Dutch exiles and political prisoners.


Its political culture that focused on strict religious uniformity and church-based governance, making it a popular destination for the youngest sons of elite European families.

8.05 - Level 1

Match the following items.


New England


Industrial: villages more than cities¸ local traders and artisans


The Middle Atlantic


Trading hub: large cities but also rural¸ diverse¸ transient population


The South


Agrarian: local trade¸ large¸widespread populations

8.06 - Level 2

Which of the following was a unifying force for states within the diverse geographical regions of the young American republic?


A common ethnic and cultural heritage


Economic independence and political sovereignty


Shared religious creeds


Universal social equality

8.07 - Level 2

Please click on the region of the United States that was likely most immediately impacted by the decrease in demand and, perhaps most importantly, trade for American raw materials in the European markets following the conclusion of the Revolutionary War.

Constitution vs. Confederation: The Original Question of Governance 

The existence of these cultural, economic, and geographic regions complicated the establishment of a single identity within a newly independent nation. Although the United States of America had, by 1790, existed in one form or another for nearly 15 years, the ratification of the Constitution in 1788 set it on a course of national fulfillment, cultural renewal, and the construction of a unified populace. However, individual values made a difference. People in New England—largely Puritans, Quakers, and other more devout offshoots of Protestantism—came from different national and cultural stocks than the diverse and often transient Catholics, Lutherans, and more moderate Protestants of the Mid-Atlantic and South. The notion of “Americanness,” the feeling of belonging to a single national entity, existed only in the minds of those designated to lead the nation forward. On the ground, citizenship and allegiance remained more local, even more regional, than national in scope.

Politically, this separation of identity and allegiance between local and national interests caused quite a debate—indeed, many scholars have rightly described it as a “crisis of national survival.” The new Constitution, written and published by the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and ratified by each state legislature by the summer of the following year, replaced the state-centered, largely decentralized government of the Articles of Confederation, which stood for six years between 1781 and 1787 (Figure 8.5). One of the primary goals of the Constitution, which set it apart from its predecessor, was clear and deliberate unity of the states. Unlike the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution established itself, with the expressed consent of the states through ratification, as the supreme law of the land. The document, initially consisting of just seven articles, expressed in clear and determined language the powers of the federal government over those of the states following ratification. Rather than placing power in the hands of the states and limiting the authority of the federal government, as in the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution, as it stood in 1790, granted no specific powers to the states and required only a two-thirds majority (which at the time amounted to nine of thirteen states) for official ratification. The Articles of Confederation required unanimous support.

8.08 - Level 2

Based on what you know from both this chapter and chapter 7, the upheaval brought on by Shays's Rebellion between 1786 and 1787 caused some national leaders to question, and indeed reconsider altogether, which central governmental document?

Figure 8.5: “A Perspective View of the State House” (1752) from A Map of Philadelphia and Parts Adjacent by George Heap, L. Hebert, and Nicholas Scull. This engraving from 1752 shows the planned exterior of what would become Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the building within which the Declaration of Independence was signed, and from which the Confederation Congress, and the earlier Second Continental Congress, served. [3]

The Federalists 

Scholars generally agree that the Constitution served the interests of a group known as the Federalists. Dedicated to an expansive, centralized government holding authority over the individual states, Federalists most often came from urban, moneyed backgrounds. Of course, there were notable exceptions, including the Virginia-born planter, land speculator, and Revolutionary War hero George Washington. But for the most part, Federalists found the majority of their support in New England as well as the larger urban centers of the Mid-Atlantic. They were traders and merchants, land speculators, and bankers. They had little interest in the production of land beyond financial investment. States like New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island served as hubs for the movement in the early 1790s.

8.09 - Level 3

Given that the Federalists primarily attracted urban merchants, traders, and professionals, which two of the following areas most likely served as hotbeds of Federalist power?


The Mid-Atlantic coast


The Southern Atlantic coast


New England


The western frontier

Chief among Federalist concerns was the problem of foreign and local debts accrued by state governments during the War of Independence. With independence, the United States received not only official recognition by the “powers of the world,” such as France, Great Britain, and Spain, but also the recognition of debts owed to these elder states. France had come to the rebelling colonies’ side by declaring war on Great Britain in 1778, and joining the fight soon thereafter. But they also loaned the beleaguered colonies funds to continue the fight, and it was now time for the new nation to meet its financial obligations.

The new Constitution allowed for a dynamic approach to this seemingly insurmountable debt. Under the Articles of Confederation, each state was responsible for their individual debts, as state sovereignty trumped federal authority in nearly every case. As a result, the states of New England and the Mid-Atlantic, where most of the war was fought and most of the damage sustained, rang up debts far in excess of those accumulated in places like Georgia and the Carolinas, which were spared much of the fighting. Given that most Federalists lived in the more urban, industrialized northeast, the weight of debt fell more heavily on them than their southern brethren.

Figure 8.6: Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804), native of Nevis, West Indies, Congress of the Confederation delegate from New York (1782-1783, 1788-1789), co-author of The Federalist (1788), first Secretary of the Treasury of the United States (1789-1795), and leader of the Federalist Party. Portrait by John Trumbull, 1792. [4]​

The Federalists used the centralized power granted by the Constitution to alleviate their economic misfortune. According to the new Constitution, the debts incurred by the government under the Articles of Confederation would transfer directly to the new government. This, in itself, was beyond question; it made sense for federal debt to remain federal debt. The problem was that the Articles of Confederation had restricted the federal government’s power to levy taxes, establish tariffs, and sign treaties, including trade agreements, with foreign states. So the debt, accumulated under a weak confederation government at a time of war, confusion, and economic upheaval, transferred to the new government without any guidelines for alleviation, repayment, or distribution.

The man entrusted with the creation of these guidelines was Alexander Hamilton, the new Secretary of the Treasury (Figure 8.6). Just 35 years old in 1790, and a native of the small Caribbean island of Nevis, Hamilton had risen from an impoverished, parentless childhood in the West Indies to the most powerful economic position in the United States in less than two decades. A talented lawyer and speculator by trade, Hamilton had an energy and vision suited for his new federal position. He saw the Constitution as the best possible option for his plans. Emboldened by the expansive powers granted him by the document, he focused his efforts on the creation of unity through a common cause—something he, with many other young, ambitious revolutionaries, thought had lost traction with the conclusion of the Revolutionary War in 1783. To him and his Federalist supporters, that common cause was the financial burden of raising revenue and actively paying off the national debt.

Appointed by President George Washington in 1789, Hamilton immediately set to work on a plan to integrate the United States into the global economy and raise revenue for the creation of a strong, centralized financial system. Within the year, Hamilton called for two controversial measures. First, with the help of his unlikely ally, Virginian James Madison, Hamilton mustered enough votes to pass the Tariff and Tonnage Acts of 1789, a series of measures that would have seemed unimaginable just five years earlier, which established the United States’ first federal tariff on imported manufactured goods. Additionally, each ship docking at an American port was required to pay a tonnage tax to the amount of 6¢ per ton for Americans, and 50¢ per ton for all others, regardless of product or port of origin.

8.10 - Level 2

As a native of [math]\text{___________}[/math] in the Caribbean, Alexander Hamilton never served as president of the United States. He was, however, appointed to the position of [math]\text{___________}[/math] by President George Washington.

The tariff and tonnage taxes were the first of several Hamiltonian plans for the production of federal revenue, and integral to Alexander Hamilton’s vision of America’s future. Because of taxes on imported goods, foreign products had to reach a higher price point than untaxed local goods in the same market. This would allow local production to expand and dominate the market, creating internal revenue and profit for American producers. It also reduced American dependence on foreign traders and merchants without entirely restricting the products they sold. Those products would simply be more expensive, and thus have a smaller consumer base.

Question 8.11

8.11 - Level 4

What does Alexander Hamilton's vision for Paterson, New Jersey, tell us about his larger plan for the future of the United States as a whole? Do you find any significance in the location of Paterson, particularly given that such urban centers as New York City, Boston, and Philadelphia were already well established in the American economic and financial landscapes? Explain your answer.

Click here to see the answer to Question 8.11.

8.12 - Level 3

Based on taxation rates imposed by the Tariff and Tonnage Acts of 1789, sort the following ships by the amount of tax they would have been required to pay from most to least.


An American ship carrying 40 tons of overcoats


An American ship carrying 50 tons of tobacco


A British ship carrying 50 tons of sugar cane


A French ship carrying 50 tons of fine dinnerware

Hamilton’s second plan required the federal government to assume responsibility for $79 million in state war debts. As the focal point of American unity and identity, Hamilton believed, the assumption of state debt by the federal government would unite the entire population of the United States to the continuing effort to forge an internationally respected republic. Turning state debt into federal debt gave every American consumer, trader, merchant, and producer a hand in building the nation. It proved that the United States was indeed a single nation of several states—a sentiment embodied by the new national motto, E Pluribus Unum (“Out of many, one”).

This plan, more than the Tariff and Tonnage Acts, defined Federalist policy for the next decade and gave political weight to the Constitution. Less than a year after ratification, Hamilton, Washington, and their supporters were using the Constitution to initiate change on an expansive scale. State individuality, at least as far as financial independence was concerned, no longer functioned as it had before. Previously, the assumption stood that the states, all individual republics of their own, granting authority to the federal government under the Articles of Confederation, were responsible for their own misfortune, indebtedness, war costs, casualties, and citizens. Hamilton’s scheme changed that assumption, shifting authority, protection, and responsibility to the American people as a whole by way of a superseding federal government. Citizens of states were now members of a nation, and that unity came with a price.

8.13 - Level 1

Click on the national motto on the Great Seal of the United States below.

The Anti-Federalists 

Average Americans did not entirely understand the shift in responsibility promoted by Hamilton and his Federalist allies. Because of the disconnect between urban and rural life, word of tariffs and taxes moved slowly and met different reactions depending on region, town, and cultural influences. The professional and cultural diversity in each region of the United States promised at least some pushback against the urban-centered plan. The implementation of a universal tonnage tax placed upon every shipment traded in American ports, regardless of origin, hit trade-oriented farmers in rural areas—and especially the South—particularly hard. Any taxes or increased expenses paid by merchants and traders in towns would inevitably result in lower prices paid to farmers, in order to offset any decrease in profits. In like manner, a tariff spurred production in industrial and artisanal centers, like New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Lowell (MA). But where local production did not exist, or existed on a very small level, farmers had to import their tools either from more northern cities, or from international ports now subject to tariff fees. The combination of both a tariff and tonnage tax guaranteed increased prices for these tools. Suddenly, agricultural production entailed new costs that many middling, and some large-scale, farmers could not meet, while more northern industrial and artisanal workers began to thrive.

Figure 8.7: James Madison (1751-1836), Congress of the Confederation delegate from Virginia (1781-1783), co-author of The Federalist (1788), member of the House of Representatives from Virginia (1789-1797), fifth Secretary of State of the United States (1801-1809), fourth president of the United States (1809-1817). [5]

This federally supported shift from an agrarian standard to an industrial vision of the future stood at the heart of early American political debate. Hamilton’s plans, to many Americans, seemed too regionally focused, designed to help the urban centers of New England and the Middle Atlantic at the expense of the agricultural South and northern rural areas. Indeed, Hamilton and most other Federalists dreamed of an economy based on finished production that could rival the lucrative industry of England, a nation with an economy built upon increasingly mechanized industrialization.

Still, the United States remained overwhelmingly rural. More than 94% of Americans lived outside of cities on small-scale, subsistence farms, and never planned to enter the limits of a city in their lifetimes. Hamilton could dream of an industrial future, but reality made it more difficult than expected, especially when more rural, agrarian interests found a political voice and started to organize. The group that resulted from this organization of rural interests became known as the Anti-Federalists.

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Anti-Federalists, also known as Democratic-Republicans, drew on the sentiments of the Declaration of Independence, and the fear of tyrannical oligarchy. In fact, among the leaders of this group was the author of the famed document, Thomas Jefferson (Figure 8.8). Although Hamilton’s Tonnage and Tariff Acts had a major influence, it was mainly the federal assumption of state debts that gave rise to the organization of Anti-Federalist thought. Indeed, Jefferson’s close friend and political sounding board, James Madison, supported the Acts as well as many of Hamilton’s original centralized ideas only to denounce federal assumption of state debts as “radically & morally & politically wrong” (Figure 8.7). From then on, Madison would side with Jefferson and the Anti-Federalists on nearly every issue, writing hundreds of letters to his friend, and forming the core of early Republican ideology.

Figure 8.8: Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), Virginian, United States Minister to France (1785-1789), first Secretary of State of the United States (1790-1793), second Vice-President of the United States (1797-1801), third president of the United States (1801-1809), author of the Declaration of Independence (1776) and Notes on the State of Virginia (1782), leader of Anti-Federalists and Democratic-Republicans. [6]​

Spotlight on Primary Source

Thomas Jefferson wrote Notes on the State of Virginia, his only book, to express some of his beliefs and lay out his vision for the new nation. It is part political text and part natural history. Throughout the text, he grapples with a wide range of ideas and troubles, including those of slavery, racial mixture, farming, virtue, and the structure of a just and free government. Few original copies remain, and the preservation of such important documents are key to the preservation of history itself. You can see more on the preservation of an original copy of Notes here

Question 8.15

8.15 - Level 3

Why did Jefferson write Notes on the State of Virginia? Based on what you have learned in chapter 7 as well as this chapter and this video, what larger intellectual movement informed Notes on the State of Virginia and Jefferson's ideas therein? Why is it important to maintain historical texts like this?

Click here to see the answer to Question 8.15.

Where Hamilton saw a bright, industrial future for the United States, Jefferson saw a physically expansive, westward-moving, agrarian state. To Jefferson, the future lay in the land itself, not the creation of industry or even active membership in the global economy. To Jefferson and his allies, America’s future was more insular. True conquest and the creation of culture came from the physical domination of the land through personal tillage and farming. Commentators, both at the time and today, referred to this idea as belief in a “Yeoman Idyll,” a state in which yeoman farmers—those who grew their own food and used their own land to build shelter and produce revenue for their families without external influences and debts—defined the average American citizen and voter.

Figure 8.9: Federalists vs. Anti-Federalists​

In a land born of the struggle to throw off tyranny and political oppression, the perceived right to equality, at least for those deemed worthy to receive it (i.e. white, landowning men), was key. Jefferson and Madison both saw the Yeoman Idyll as the best route to true freedom from tyranny, a state of being they called “liberty.” This independence came from working honestly and entirely for oneself. Indeed, tyranny grew from the lack of self-mastery, from relinquishing one’s own work to another man’s hand. In Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson wrote, “The time to guard against corruption and tyranny, is before they shall have gotten a hold of us. It is better to keep the wolf out of the fold, than to trust to drawing his teeth and talons after he shall have entered.” The establishment of a yeoman republic, a nation based and built upon individual creators and personal, insular, familial wealth, kept the “wolf” of foreign interests and debts out of individual Americans’ lives.

8.16 - Level 1

Thomas Jefferson believed that the [math]\text{___________}[/math] lifestyle, also called an "idyll," represented the truest form of liberty—namely, conquering and taming the land by yourself, and creating food and household goods from the world around you.

Hamilton’s plan to concentrate Revolutionary War debts under the authority of the federal government, spreading responsibility for its payment to every citizen, was the exact type of centralized power Jefferson, Madison, and the Anti-Federalists feared. Because the Southern states had, with the exception of South Carolina, paid off their war debts by the end of the 1780s, Anti-Federalists insisted that it was at best unjust, and at worst tyrannical, to force unpaid Mid-Atlantic and New England debts onto citizens who played no part in their creation. Furthermore, they added, the means by which the Federalists intended to raise revenue for payments actually benefitted those areas and states with the largest outstanding debts, and injured those with little or no debt at all. It was difficult, then, for rural Americans from any region to see the value in Hamilton’s unifying plan. To many, if not most in some areas, equal distribution of debt was a tyranny akin to those placed upon the North American colonies by King George III, and against which those colonies had successfully rebelled.

Question 8.17

8.17 - Level 5

Which of the social and economic visions of the nation's future covered in this chapter do you think was most realistic at the end of the 18th century? Do you think that any of them would realistically fit within framework of the contemporary world? In which one would you prefer to live? Why?

Click here to see the answer to Question 8.17.

8.18 - Level 3

What criticism would an anti-Federalist likely have of Alexander Hamilton's plan to pay down the national debt?


It was politically unworkable


It was unfairly distributed among the states


It would hurt the American exporting industry


It would only repay foreign debts, but not domestic ones

Question 8.19

8.19 - Level 4

Compare and contrast Alexander Hamilton's and Thomas Jefferson's visions for America's future. Which was more realistic by the end of the 1780s? Which one ultimately proved to be more accurate?

 Click here to see the answer to Question 8.19.

George Washington and the Political World of the 1790s 

Americans remember George Washington not for what he did as president, but for what he did not do (Figure 8.10). In fact, it was largely because Alexander Hamilton, Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury, took on such an active role in his administration that we celebrate Washington’s presidency at all. The only unanimous Electoral College selection in United States history, George Washington came to the presidency as the most famous and well-respected of his people. He defied the growing regional conflicts that at times threatened to tear the young nation apart, and that would eventually add to his stress as president over the next eight years. A wealthy Virginia planter, slave owner, and soldier, Washington gained the support of both rural and urban interests through his diverse approach to profit and nationalistic image and rhetoric. Gaining most of his money from large-scale farming and slave trading, he also dabbled, with notable success, in western land speculation and urban trade, especially in the growing towns of Richmond and Philadelphia.

He was not known for his wisdom, his tact, or even his prowess on the battlefield. Yet by the time of his first inauguration in 1789, he was heralded as “America’s greatest son,” and celebrated as the physical embodiment of the colonists’ victory over the British. For most heroes, the wheels of historical memory turn slowly, creating myth over generations. For Washington, much of it happened during his lifetime. Chosen as “president” of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Washington chose to remain largely silent throughout the process, refusing to take sides or come to the defense of an initiative within which he had emotional, political, or personal investment. He embodied a sense of virtue that would come to define the standard of political leadership in the nation: emotional detachment from external interests and personal benefit, focusing instead on the greater good of the nation. It was for this reason that Washington begrudgingly accepted his role as the first president of the United States only after he had resigned from his position as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. To him, one could not lead both politically and militarily, lest he or she run the risk of falling to the depths of tyranny.

Spotlight on Primary Source

George Washington stands at the center countless conspiracy theories—from Masonic lore to tales of moral perfection. The Lansdowne portrait, painted by Gilbert Stuart in 1796, is a central piece of evidence for many of these theories. Beset by symbolism and hidden messages, the Lansdowne portrait remains one of the most famous and confusing presidential portraits in existence.

Figure 8.10: “The Lansdowne Portrait” (1796) by Gilbert Stuart known as “The Lansdowne Portrait.” Here he holds a ceremonial sword and dons the aristocratic clothing of an American political elite that would never fully take form. [7]


Question 8.20

8.20 - Level 4

What do the symbols in the portrait tell us about George Washington? What do they tell us about the artist, Gilbert Stuart? Why did Stuart decide to place Washington in that space and in that pose? Does this portrait let us know anything about how the artist wanted the American public to remember George Washington? What does it tell us about the presidency at the time? Does this image of both Washington and the presidency hold up today?

Click here to see the answer to Question 8.20.

Because of his national image and widespread support, Washington did not initiate much policy as president. Many historians have interpreted this as political weakness. Indeed, many claim that Washington served more as figurehead than an actual chief executive, allowing Secretary of State Alexander Hamilton to handle the most pressing concerns of the administration. But Washington knew exactly what he was doing; as the first president in the nation’s history, he looked to set a model of levelheaded governance—quite the opposite of the ambitious, hyper-political Hamilton. Washington tried to remain above the fray, letting Congress, the states, and, at times, the courts struggle over how the nation ought to move forward. His role, it seemed, transcended the level of politics, resting instead on successfully maintaining the new, but imperiled, bonds between the states and the federal government. He left most of the decision-making to his vice president, secretaries, and other elected and appointed civil servants. In fact, in eight years as president, Washington issued just two legislative vetoes, only one of which actually cancelled any legislation. He believed it his job to preside over the proper functions of government and national unity, not to initiate or condemn the acts of an elected Congress.

Figure 8.11: Total vetoes by each President of the United States, 1789-2016​

In this way, George Washington was among the best possible candidates for a first president. He took the title literally, actually presiding over the nascent federal structure, making sure it did not unravel at the seams, but rarely stepping in to calm debate or sway the agenda (Figure 8.12). What he lacked in political tact and constitutional knowledge, he made up in the ability to lead by his very presence and appoint active minds where needed. As we have seen, his Secretary of the Treasury, the young and ambitious Alexander Hamilton, consistently came to political blows with Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson in the early years of the administration over the future of the nation and the means by which the states would function under the federal government. For each of Hamilton’s Federalist ideas, Jefferson, and soon Madison, had a retort from an opposing ideological front. The dissenting tradition, inaugurated by the Anti-Federalists and fueled by Hamilton’s headstrong approach to political alliances and a clear Federalist vision, made the new American government function as it should—away from tyranny and authoritarian power, and toward a democratic, representative style of debate, discussion, and, ultimately, compromise.

Washington was not above controversy, however. Although the United State sought neutrality in the endless conflicts that engulfed the Atlantic World, the new nation could not always escape at least minor involvement, especially when it concerned Great Britain and France. In 1793, the last of a series of wars erupted between the two Atlantic giants that forced Washington’s hand. A result of the French Revolution and its radical dedication to expanding its egalitarian ideas across Europe, the so-called “Campaigns of 1793” brought a number of wars between France and its neighbors, including Great Britain and Spain. Marching into Holland and Flanders, as well as parts of eastern Spain, the French Revolutionary force threatened British trade networks in the North Sea and northern Atlantic. The British could not stand aside and watch their centuries-old rival take control of the entire northern European coast. So in late January 1793, Great Britain declared war on France for the fifth time in the eighteenth century alone.

Because the United States had only recently emerged from its own war with Britain, one in which the French served as a close and loyal ally, the new republic could not maintain neutrality in trade. If the United States continued to trade with Britain, France would see it as a betrayal of trust and ideology, especially considering that the French Revolution was based, at least in part, on the ideas of the American Revolution. But an alliance with the French would certainly arouse concern from the British, who entered the war to quell the expansion of French trade in the Atlantic.

In what would prove to cause heated political conflict, Washington, under the influence of Hamilton, instructed Chief Justice John Jay of New York to negotiate a trade alliance with Britain, separating the United States from the radical revolutionary doctrine of the French Revolution and patching any political wounds between Great Britain and its former North American colony. The decision came at the start of a bitter political divide between Federalists and Anti-Federalists over which Atlantic power deserved American support. Fearful of the French Revolution and the violent influence it could have in the United States, Federalists threw their support behind Great Britain, whose political and economic systems they saw as more stable and established than those of France. Anti-Federalists naturally supported the French and their American-inspired revolution, viewing Britain as a tyrannical overlord the United States was lucky to have fought off.

With Washington’s popularity and Federalist power consuming nearly every corner of the federal government, the administration got its treaty. Signed on November 19, 1794, the Jay Treaty established Great Britain as the “most favored nation” for trade with the United States. This brought United States traders under British maritime policies, effectively cutting off American trade with France, and set favorable rates for British goods traded in American ports. The United States likewise promised to pay back any pre-Revolution debts owed to private British investors. In return, Great Britain pledged to abandon all remaining forts west of the Appalachian Mountains and in the Northwest Territory, protect American traders on the open seas, and repay private American traders for any goods confiscated by Britain since independence.

8.21 - Level 1

Click on France in this map of the Atlantic World.

8.22 - Level 1

Click on Great Britain on this map of the Atlantic World.

The Jay Treaty firmly established the United States as an ally of Britain over France, and severely disrupted the relationship between the United States and its revolutionary brainchild. Perhaps most importantly, though, it served as a rallying cry for the Anti-Federalist dissent, a voice that had become increasingly loud over the course of the 1790s. Internal conflict combined with international politics to form a party system within the United States that could not, and did not wish to, compromise. The Jay Treaty amplified the emerging dissenting voice in Early American politics, but it did not create the conflict. Indeed, conflict and revolution in Europe had divided the American body politic for some time. The Jay Treaty simply made it all official.

Figure 8.12: A Display of the United States of America (1791) by Amos Doolittle. Showing George Washington at the center of a unified circle of interlocking states, this print represents the standard image of George Washington as both president and general during the Federalist Era. He was the great unifier, at least in the eyes of his supporters, especially after his presidency, when the future of the nation became a hotly debated issue, and the Anti-Federalists/Democratic-Republicans started to gain power. After his death in 1799, he would earn a status nothing short of religious in nature. [8]

Question 8.23

8.23 - Level 2

How did George Washington view his role as president? Did he see himself as an active, engaging legislator, or a somewhat detached administrator entrusted with keeping things in order?

Click here to see the answer to Question 8.23.

The Whiskey Rebellion 

In 1791, less than halfway through his first term, George Washington, at the goading of Alexander Hamilton, supported the passage of a small tax placed upon distilled spirits within the United States. The so-called “Whiskey Tax” produced federal revenue at the expense of a local product rather than an import. This upset a great many farmers, especially in places like Virginia, the newly admitted state of Kentucky, and western parts of Pennsylvania, where the distillation and consumption of whiskey and grain alcohol were important parts of the local culture. The imposition of a tax on a local product, especially one that proved rather profitable to internal and local trade, seemed a massive overstep of governmental authority. Indeed, to many rural Americans and Anti-Federalist thinkers, this was perhaps more egregious than the hated Tariff and Tonnage Acts, as it specifically targeted a product of limited international appeal (at least at the time), and that did not figure much in coastal or transatlantic trade.

Figure 8.13: The Whiskey Rebellion (1791-1794) in Pennsylvania brought attention to unrest in the rural areas of the United States outside the largely united Southern states over federal taxation of local products. Oddly, though, Federalist and Anti-Federalist responses aligned, only to revert to bitter disagreement over where to place the blame, as well as the rhetoric used to describe it.​ [9]

Over the next three years, angry farmers, distillers, and local merchants and traders in western Pennsylvania refused to pay the tax, attacking and banishing federal tax collectors and repeatedly speaking out against the action (Figure 8.13). In a call back to pre-revolutionary protests, locals raised liberty poles, tarred and feathered tax collectors, and threatened to march on the nation’s capital, then located in Philadelphia. Contemporary writers and editors termed this “The Whiskey Rebellion”—the first violent protest of federal authority in the young nation’s history. Appeals to reason did not work. Even calls that supported the sentiment but decried the violence fell on deaf ears. What had started as a rather small tax on a local product had snowballed into a legitimate threat to federal authority. Such a challenge simply could not stand.

Although the purveyors of the rebellion fell roughly under the political eye of the Anti-Federalists, leaders such as Jefferson and Madison did not necessarily support the move. Although the idea of a whiskey tax, regardless of size, was offensive to the Republican mindset, leading Anti-Federalists could not justifiably condone violence against federal authority, especially over a legally established practice. Indeed, it was Jefferson who wrote in the Declaration of Independence that “prudence” and “patience” were required in the face of “light and transient” tyrannies, the exact type of “sufferable evil” embodied by the “whiskey tax.”

The response of the Washington administration to the “rebellion” put an end to this fragile peace. Although many top Anti-Federalists railed against the violence of the rebellion itself, they stood aghast as President Washington himself, along with General Henry “Lighthorse Harry” Lee (the father of future Confederate General Robert E. Lee), led 12,950 militiamen against a large group of protestors near Pittsburgh on October 20, 1794 (Figure 8.14). As the dust settled, the rebellion quickly fizzled, and after a brief engagement, four protestors lay dead, and 24 more held in the federal custody on treason charges.

Figure 8.14: Washington Reviewing the Western Army at Fort Cumberland, Maryland (c. 1795), attributed to Frederick Kemmelmeyer. This image, though of course rather stylized, shows President George Washington directing a group of 12,950 militiamen against a group of protestors following three years of violent, aggressive actions against a federal excise tax on “distilled spirits” known as “The Whiskey Rebellion.” Seen as a massive overstep of federal authority in the eyes of Anti-Federalists, opposition to the rebellion itself briefly calmed the political conflict between Federalists and Democratic-Republicans. Soon after, Washington blamed the Anti-Federalists for fueling the rebellion, and an irreparable rift developed between the two sides leading up to the hotly contested presidential election of 1796. [10]

Anti-Federalists were shocked, but they held to their collective belief that such a seemingly trivial rebellion could not stand in a unified republic. What gave them pause was the rhetoric thrown at them by the president and his allies following the quick military expedition. Usually above the political fray, President Washington indicted Anti-Federalists, and their so-called “Democratic-Republican Political Societies,” for providing the radical ideas that gave rise to the Whiskey Rebellion. He blamed their collective support of the French Revolution (1789-1799), and its violent, rural peasant uprisings for spawning such senseless mimicry on the Pennsylvania frontier. Indeed, Washington claimed, it was one such Society in Washington County, PA, that had given rise to the Whiskey Rebellion in the first place by referencing the French Revolution directly in its denunciation of the Washington administration. Open rebellion could not be tolerated over such petty complaints, and to use a foreign rebellion as a model in so doing was outright treasonous.

Question 8.24

8.24 - Level 4

Compare and contrast Shays's Rebellion (from the previous chapter) and the Whiskey Rebellion? Did they have similar outcomes? Which one, if any, do you think was the most justifiable?

Click here to see the answer to Question 8.24.

The Election of 1796 and the Atlantic Crisis 

Anti-Federalists saw Washington’s attack as a bald political move intended to silence an increasingly rowdy, but entirely legitimate, dissenting voice. Because both Madison and Jefferson, as well as most of their allies, denounced the Whiskey Rebellion as absurd and potentially treasonous on the part of the government itself, they did not see the event as one fueled by politics. They judged it as a question of survival. If a simple tax could justify violent, open rebellion, the United States would not survive the decade. Washington uncharacteristically made it political, and it showed the Anti-Federalists that a truly political sphere had formed—an arena in which all matters fell to the level of partisan debate rather than sincere moral concern and/or discourse. This set the stage for the first partisan presidential election in U.S. history, one that highlighted the political distance between Federalist and Anti-Federalist visions of America’s future and would set the bar for nearly every subsequent election.

Figure 8.15: A political poster from 1795 placing George Washington outside the realm of party politics, and showing the divergent beliefs of both Federalists and Democratic-Republicans, and their inability to harness the principles of Federalism, Republicanism, and Democracy all at once. This shows the image of George Washington as a somewhat deified figure above the fray of petty argument. Indeed, his eyes are fixed on the box holding the principles of “Liberty and Independence,” guaranteed to fall if its base is pulled apart by opposing political agendas.​ [11]

The lead-up to the first original presidential election in United States history—one featuring no incumbent and a standard election process—in 1796 thus promised some spark. The federal government had overstepped the bounds of what Anti-Federalists believed to be the standard of republican governance for nearly eight years. And the division did not simply reduce to disagreements over policy and action. Of course, the two sides hardly agreed on principles of government, but the Anti-Federalists did not find universal fault on the part of the Federalists, at least not in how the government looked at the time. Rhetoric, and what many Anti-Federalist newspapers called “extra-political action,” usually caused the most concern (Figure 8.15).

Question 8.25

8.25 - Level 2

In which year did the United States hold the first standard presidential election? How did it differ from the two previous elections? In other words, what made it emblematic of the standard election process?

Click here to see the answer to Question 8.25.

Following George Washington’s 1794 State of the Union address, in which the president attacked the Democratic-Republican Societies of the Anti-Federalists, James Madison wrote to Jefferson that Washington had inaugurated a “most dangerous game” of politics, and committed “the greatest error of his political life” in converting “the head of a nation” into the “head of a [political] party.” But it was not Washington’s career that mattered. As one historian has described him, “the president looked and acted old.” He was no longer the virile, strapping, and energetic young revolutionary leader of the 1770s and 1780s. He was entering his sixties and had served as president for six years during a time in which the very future of the nation was in question. He was tired, and he was on his way out.

By 1794, Washington had already decided that he would play no direct part in the next presidential election, choosing instead to step down from power and usher in a peaceful and voluntary transition of authority. But his remarks on the Whiskey Rebellion in the State of the Union that year did not make the road any easier for his successor, whatever his party might be. As the end of Washington’s last term approached, the Federalists and Anti-Federalists had fallen to opposite ends of the political spectrum. And this included, perhaps most importantly, the place of the United States in international relations.

The Atlantic World—the web of connections, trade routes, and intellectual centers along and across the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean, from Europe to Western Africa, South America, the Caribbean, and North America—housed two major powers in the late eighteenth century. The British, ever the naval power, but recently stripped of its colonial heart by the American Revolution, constantly challenged the French, who had come to the rebelling colonists’ aid, but had recently fallen victim to a sweeping and violent revolution of its own.

The United States was stuck in the middle of these two forces. On the one hand, Americans most closely identified with the British; indeed, the majority of them had once been British, and their religion, literature, fashion, and senses of order fell in line with those of the British people. On the other hand, though, the French had accepted the colonies’ calls for help in their cause for liberty, something the American colonists could not, and would not, soon forget. The French Revolution, which began in 1789, adopted the same rhetoric as that which fueled the American Revolution, and, to many in the United States at the time, served as a continuation of their Revolution and its republican intellectual roots (Figures 8.16 and 8.17).

Figure 8.16: La Liberté guidant le peuple (1830) by Eugène Delacroix, a romantic rendering of the early French Revolution (1789-1791) showing the talismanic “Lady Liberty,” chest bare, tri-couleur in hand, leading the French people toward their Revolution. Note the angelic complexion of Liberty and the diversity of the French people she leads—aristocrats, paupers, children, even women. This is how the French Revolution began in the minds of Anti-Federalists like Thomas Jefferson. [12]

Figure 8.17: Execution de Robespierre et de ses complices conspirateurs contre la Liberté et l’Égalité (1794), unknown artist, shows the rabid aftermath and descent into violence of the once noble French Revolution. In fact, the print depicts the execution of Maximilien Robespierre, one of the most radical and dedicated leaders of the early Revolution. His execution by way of the guillotine marked a turning point in the movement decidedly away from politics, and thrust the nation deeper into violent, aimless upheaval. This likewise served as point of departure for Federalists, who saw it as an example of the abject failure of the French Revolution as a whole. [13]

The Atlantic World was a mess. British ships continued to prey on smaller, slower American merchant vessels, impressing American sailors on claims of latent, irrevocable allegiance to the British Empire. The French Revolution, once seen as a harbinger of global political change, had descended into madness, transforming political revolution into violent insurrection against the king and anyone bold enough to remain on his side. The United States could not stand idly by. Trade, if anything, was too important, as was ideological ancestry. Meanwhile, the British and the French hated each other, thanks in no small part to the American Revolution. Should the United States ally itself with its abusive former colonial master, or should it come to the aid of its fallen comrade dwelling in the depths political insanity and radicalism? To swear off the French meant abandoning the cause of its revolution, the roots of which lay in the United States. But to disown the British and challenge their abuses, would not only risk a second, much more serious war (as the French, this time, could not join the fight), but it would also alienate the world’s most influential power, the United States’ closest cultural relative, and an economy on the brink of full-scale industrialization. In effect, the decision came down to trade and industry or ideological allegiance, issues over which the Federalists and Anti-Federalists most bitterly disagreed.

To the Federalists, as well as their leading presidential candidate, Vice-President John Adams of New York, the French Revolution represented what an Anti-Federalist government could easily become. Lukewarm on its ideas to begin with, the violent and repressive regime under Maximilien Robespierre convinced the Federalists, as well as the Washington administration, that the “pure democracy” Anti-Federalists promoted could never contain the passions of mankind. Indeed, they concluded, it provoked tyranny more than it could ever prevent it. Federalists wanted to work with the more stable Britain. Hamilton and Adams both saw Great Britain as the economic power of the future. Its success in quick, nearly complete industrialization over the last half century created a massive potential market for American raw materials and finished goods. It also provided a model for the United States to follow, given that economic relations left over from colonial times remained active well into the 1790s. The French, at least in Federalist eyes, were not only foreign, Catholic (as opposed to Protestant), and driven by political radicalism, but they also had very little respect for the United States.

Question 8.26

8.26 - Level 1

Why did the Federalists fear the French Revolution? Why did the Anti-Federalists support it?

Click here to see the answer to Question 8.26.

Question 8.27

8.27 - Level 4 - Level 4

During much of the Federalist Period, the people of the United States were torn between their cultural affinity with Britain and their indebtedness to France's role in the Revolution. Identify which nation was favored by the Federalist and anti-Federalist, and explain why.

Click here to see the answer to Question 8.27.

President Adams and the French Question 

Although hotly contested, the presidential election of 1796 went over as expected. The immediate legacy of George Washington was too much for any opposition candidate to overcome. A year earlier, Washington announced what most Americans expected to hear: that he was voluntarily stepping away from power, and declining the possibility of a third term. This, by itself, established an important precedent. During the time between Washington’s announcement and the ratification of the 22nd Amendment limiting presidents to two separate terms in 1951, only Franklin Delano Roosevelt served more than eight years in office, and that came in the middle of World War II. Although it took more than 150 years to become law, Washington’s precedent of a two-term presidency defined presidential practice. Indeed, until FDR in 1940, every president simply assumed that two terms ended his tenure, although no law existed. This remains evidence of Washington’s influence in American political memory.

In his farewell address to Congress, however, Washington humbled himself as an “unchosen candidate” for the office, and warned against the dangers of disunion. In so doing, he laid the foundation for John Adams’s victory. He called for vigilance against both “internal and external enemies,” contending that the development of divisive political parties “in Governments purely elective” presented a “constant danger of excess” that would inevitably amount to a destructive force if left unchecked. “A fire not to be quenched,” he explained, “it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warning, [political division] should consume.”

Spotlight on Primary Source

Figure 8.18: The first printed copy of George Washington’s address, published September 19, 1796. Washington never actually gave his farewell address. Instead, he wrote it, printed it, and had it distributed to members of Congress and the general public.​ [14]
Friends and Fellow Citizens:
The period for a new election of a citizen to administer the executive government of the United States being not far distant, and the time actually arrived when your thoughts must be employed in designating the person who is to be clothed with that important trust, it appears to me proper, especially as it may conduce to a more distinct expression of the public voice, that I should now apprise you of the resolution I have formed, to decline being considered among the number of those out of whom a choice is to be made. (“Farewell Address,” September 19, 1796)

Within four years, George Washington would be dead, his legacy established in the name of a new capital city on the banks of the Potomac—Washington, D.C. All Thomas Jefferson, the Anti-Federalist candidate, could do was try to get his ideas into the discussion and wait for his chance to strike. Unfortunately for him, though, that chance did not come in 1796. Jefferson’s ideological allegiance to France, his aggressive opposition to Hamilton’s financial plans, and his seemingly radical vision of westward, agrarian expansion in the name of republican liberty painted him as an enemy of “purely elective” government “in constant danger of excess.” He was what Washington had warned the American people about. And there was very little he could do to change their minds this time around.

Figure 8.19: John Adams, Vice Presidential Portrait (1792), by John Trumbull. This image of Adams, done at the beginning of his second term as vice president, shows an aristocratic man on political pedigree, one who fits the mold of those chosen to lead the new United States. He wears a small, powdered wig, an Ascot, and silk jacket—the effective uniform of Early American gentry. His image would change after the 1796 election, as Adams actively tried to make himself more approachable to the average American in the face of Thomas Jefferson’s rhetoric of a classless, democratic, yeoman electorate. [15]

8.28 - Level 1

Everyone in the Federalist Party expected John Adams to win the presidency in 1796 by a landslide.





In the election of 1796, John Adams won the presidency over Jefferson, but by fewer than 5,000 popular votes and just three electoral votes (Figure 8.19). It would not take much for Thomas Jefferson to make his plea for fundamental change in the politics and structure of the federal government the next time around. The Electoral College vote fell along expected political lines—the entire South, as well as the largely rural state of Pennsylvania, went to the Anti-Federalists and Jefferson, while all of New England, Delaware, New Jersey, and a single electoral vote each in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina supported the Federalist Adams, handing him the victory, and making Thomas Jefferson the nation’s first elected vice president.

Figure 8.20: The Election of 1796. Federalist John Adams won the presidency over Anti-Federalist/Democratic-Republic Thomas Jefferson with 71 electoral votes to 68 electoral votes. This election stood as the first truly contested presidential election the nation’s history, and set the stage of the Federalists’ collapse.​​

Taking the oath of office on March 4, 1797, John Adams planned to continue many of the principles established by his mentor George Washington, but he rejected outright the influential and conspiratorial voice of Washington’s chief advisor, Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton’s resignation as Secretary of the Treasury immediately before the 1796 election, as well as his failed attempts to sway Federalist voters against John Adams, whom he thought “incapable” of true leadership, cleared the way for Adams to take control of his presidency as well as the Federalist Party.

Among the most pressing issues facing President Adams was the question of which Atlantic power to support—the former colonial master Great Britain, or the bedeviled, radical revolutionary ally France. Adams was of two minds on the issue. As much as Washington and Hamilton wished to support Britain, and had signed the Jay Treaty in 1794, Adams recognized the importance of French friendship, especially considering their dedication to the American cause for independence. They had also recently emerged from the worst of their revolution and established a relatively stable government. The least the Adams administration could do was send a group of representatives to Paris in hopes of smoothing out the relationship between the two nations in the wake of the “offensive” Jay Treaty.

When the American delegation of Charles Pinckney, John Marshall, and Elbridge Gerry arrived in the French capital to meet The Directory, the French agents sent to intercept the Americans demanded what they called a “pot-de-vin” (literally a “jug of wine”) in the amount of nearly £50,000 for the “privilege” of meeting with French leadership, and that the United States government officially renounce their declaration of neutrality between France and Britain (Figure 8.20). Adams and the delegates were stunned. Referring to the French agents as X, Y, and Z, the delegates boldly wrote that their only response to the bribe was simply, “No; no, not a sixpence!” This proud response ended American attempts to place a representative in Paris and rekindle a fading friendship with the French. It also brought the event known simply as the XYZ Affair to an embarrassing end.

Figure 8.21: The XYZ Affair, “Property Protected à la Françoise [sic],” (1798) by British satirist and artist S. W. Fores. Considered an embarrassment for the United States and its standing in the international community, the XYZ Affair caught the interest of many British satirists, who did not fail to make light of the situation. In this etching, five French aristocrats, representing The Directory, pillage a befeathered lady Liberty (the United States) as several other European nations huddle in the background, pretending not to notice.​ [16]

Following the example set by George Washington during the Whiskey Rebellion, President Adams immediately took action against dangers “both internal and external.” No sooner had Charles Pinckney and company returned to the United States than waves of Federalists had called for war with France, citing betrayal, personal insult, and the illegal refusal of political recognition. Unwilling to act so forthrightly, but likewise unwilling to back down, John Adams called for a full mobilization of the United States Navy against any and all encroachments committed by the French against American neutrality. This included any hindrance to American trade with Britain, any aggression, perceived or real, exhibited by French naval vessels along American trade routes, and the illegal seizure of American vessels engaged in legal maritime activities. What resulted, later dubbed the Quasi-War (as Congress never officially declared war on France) was nothing short of a watershed moment for both the Adams administration and the Anti-Federalist opposition. This was the beginning of Thomas Jefferson’s resurgence, and the introduction of a new form of American political dissent.

Question 8.29

8.29 - Level 1

Why was the naval conflict between the United States and France known as the "Quasi-War"?

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The Limits of Federal Authority 

Adams wanted to prove the world wrong. The XYZ Affair had made the United States look weak, incapable of defending itself against a proud and pompous bully. By 1798, the French Revolution had not yet fully collapsed. The French government, in the eyes of the rest of Europe, was a sham too radical and proud to take seriously. It had declared war on Great Britain at the height of revolutionary fervor in 1793, and by 1798 showed no signs of quitting. It concluded costly, aggressive wars with both Prussia and Spain in 1795, and within a year, marched on Egypt and Rome under the guidance of a young and ambitious Corsican general named Napoléon Bonaparte. To be rejected and humiliated by this hotheaded nation was something the United States could not allow if it intended to prove its worth among the nations of the world.

The Quasi-War was only the beginning. After several successful naval engagements, Adams turned to politics. Like his predecessor, he blamed the Anti-Federalists for supporting the French Revolution in the first place. The XYZ embarrassment, to Adams, would never have happened, and would not have been necessary, if the Anti-Federalists had not insisted on opening up relations with France, first under Washington and now under Adams.

Jefferson, for his part, defended himself and his fellow Republicans against Adams’s accusations of political division. The XYZ Affair, to Jefferson, was the result of the Federalists’ continued allegiance to Britain and claims of false neutrality between Atlantic powers. The Quasi-War, Jefferson claimed, would make official the United States’ retrocession to Great Britain, and lead to the death of liberty itself. Anti-Federalist newspapers and commentators followed Jefferson’s lead, accusing Adams of abuses to federal authority in calling for military action without the consent of Congress. This, while publicly declaring neutrality, was an act of tyranny not only against the government of France, but also the people of the United States, whose voice they thought Adams had silenced and ignored.

8.30 - Level 2

Although the situations differed quite a bit, who was blamed for both the Whiskey Rebellion and the XYZ Affair by the sitting presidents at the time?


British impressment of American sailors


Thomas Jefferson specifically


Anti-Federalists generally


Alexander Hamilton and his Federalist allies

Significantly, this took place in public rather than in the halls of Congress. In reacting to Adams’s policies, Anti-Federalists established a public sphere—a public intellectual arena built around newspapers, pamphlets, and stump speeches that brought political dialogue to the average American. Suddenly farmers, merchants, traders, laborers, and artisans could read, hear, and engage with the ideas and debates going on in Philadelphia. To a large extent, the public sphere democratized politics, making it available to the average voter rather than the intellectual elite. It broke the intellectual barrier between representatives and their constituents. It threatened the very notion of a political class, the existence of which Federalists firmly supported.

Figure 8.22: Congressional Pugilists (1798), unknown artist, depicts a fight in Congress between Anti-Federalist Matthew Lyon of Vermont and Federalist Roger Griswold of Connecticut. The engraving shows how absurd and aggressive political debate had become, and how the violent passions of the French Revolution and the unvirtuous American masses had infiltrated federal politics. This was an image of what the future held if the public sphere was allowed to expanded uncontrolled. [17]

This new public world of debate worried the president and his allies. Federalists, as well as some Anti-Federalists, strongly believed in a natural political class in the United States, one defined by a collective sense of virtue similar to the transcendent concern for others and understanding of political consequences that made Washington so special to his allies. True political debate could only exist within this class. Beneath it, detached debate gave way to passion and quickly devolved into senseless argument and violence (Figure 8.22). To make matters worse, the rhetoric appearing in the columns of the nation’s leading newspapers—the National Gazette of Philadelphia and New York’s Gazette of the United States—became relentless and powerful. It was hurting the Adams administration’s popularity and legitimacy in the nation, especially in rural towns and villages outside of New England and Mid-Atlantic urban centers.

The United States, in the eyes of Adams, was at war. Across the Atlantic, American naval vessels were engaging French sloops while the British Royal Navy continued the illegal impressment of American sailors into the service of the king. But the most dangerous war had begun at home. The American Revolution had started with pamphlets and ended with war and independence. If the political and ideological passions of the American people were allowed to spread, uncontrolled, across the nation, the future of the country as a whole came into question. Because only an elite few were capable of leading the republican masses, rationality and virtue could become corrupted if opened to passionate minds. The Adams administration saw Jefferson’s public dissent, and the creation of a public sphere, as an effective act of war against the Revolution itself. The nation could not handle such an organized public movement this early in its formation. Jefferson and his supporters had to be stopped.

Alien and Sedition 

In order to stop the infiltration of radical French ideas into the American political mind and protect the American people from their own unruly passions, John Adams used Federalist majorities in Congress to pass a set of unprecedented acts. As one historian put it, “In American history, almost every important presidency has had its moment of deep regret.” This was that moment for John Adams. On June 25, 1798, the president signed the first of the Alien and Sedition Acts aimed at curbing the spread of radical ideas and dissent throughout the nation. Under these acts, the last of which came on July 15, the federal government assumed massive policing powers over immigration, public discourse, and the actions of noncitizens within the United States.

Using national security and “wartime” protections as a base, Congress limited the rights and number of political fugitives arriving in the United States, barring all of those from so-called “hostile nations,” particularly France. The Aliens Act gave the president the power to deport any foreign citizen deemed a threat “to the public safety” of the United States without defining exactly what constituted such a threat. But the worst abuse, at least in the eyes of Anti-Federalists, was the Sedition Act (Figure 8.23). Aimed at silencing unruly, public dissent, the Sedition Act made it illegal “to impede the operation of any law of the United States, or to intimidate or prevent any person…from undertaking, performing, or executing his [duty].”

Figure 8.23: The Alien and Sedition Acts (1798) granted the federal government, and specifically the president, extraordinary powers over the control of immigration, the rights of foreign citizens in the United States, and any language, printed or spoken, deemed “libelous” or dangerous to the public safety of the nation—including “procuring insurrection, riot, unlawful assembly, or combination” thereof. This also stretched to cover any writing deemed “false, scandalous and malicious” against the United States government. Passed during the presidency of John Adams, the acts were seen as the most egregious abuse of federal power in the young nation’s history, and the popular reaction to the acts fueled the rise of Thomas Jefferson as a talisman of change in the face of an abusive, potentially tyrannical Adams administration. It likewise marked the beginning of the end of Adams’s popularity and influence as president, as well as the end of the Federalist Era of United States history. [18]​

It did not stop there. The most insidious aspect of the sedition law came in “Section 2,” which denied any person, citizen or noncitizen, from “writing, printing, uttering, or publishing any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States.” Enforceable with up to five years imprisonment and/or a $5,000 fine, the Sedition Act served as the single most oppressive action taken by the federal government during the Federalist Era. Anti-Federalists could not believe what they were hearing. In order to “protect” the “public safety” of the American people, the Adams administration was forbidding them from speaking out against the government. No one in the administration defined the terms of the laws, leaving enforcement and interpretation in the hands of the lawmakers—those the act protected. It was, in the mind of Jefferson and his allies, a true usurpation of power, a tyranny of un-American proportions.

Adams later claimed that he never fully supported the Alien and Seditions Acts, and that his wife, Abigail Adams, as well as his Secretary of State, Timothy Pickering, were the main proponents of the move. In any case, the Acts gave Jefferson, the sitting vice-president, fuel to move forward against his boss and the Federalist establishment. Encouraged by public outcry against the Acts, which ultimately led to more than 3,000 arrests in two years, Jefferson and his ally Madison went to the states to challenge this despotic abuse of federal authority. Together, Madison and Jefferson formulated two separate resolutions intended to embolden state authority and check the power of the federal government. Respectively passed by the state legislatures of Kentucky and Virginia in 1798 and 1799, the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions established a state’s individual right to “nullify” (as written in Jefferson’s Kentucky Resolution) or “interpose” (as written in Madison’s Virginia Resolution) any law passed by the federal government that the state legislature found dangerous to the purposes and future of the nation.

The importance of these resolutions, though technically subservient to any federal law according to the Constitution, stood in the realm of America’s national image. For the first time, states—or rather, Anti-Federalist dissenters—were claiming that federal authority was granted from the states to the federal government. This effectively amounted to a collective agreement between the states that federal law could have no legitimacy without the will of each state to accept and enforce that law. It was a direct challenge to the Adams administration as well as the Federalist assumption that centralized authority was the ultimate authority under the Constitution. Such a challenge, and such an idea, inaugurated a new era in United States history. It brought the interpretation of law to the level of the states, and placed the balance of power strongly on the side of Jefferson and his so-called “Republican Revolution.” The abuses seen in the Alien and Sedition Acts condemned John Adams to a single term as president, and set the stage for Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to dominate national politics for nearly two decades. Henceforth, the United States was reimagined and, in the eyes of Jefferson, brought back to its original, intended image. A new era had begun. 

Question 8.31

8.31 - Level 5

How did Hamilton’s National Bank plan fold into his plan to consolidate state debts into the federal budget? Who would you say is the most important character in the creation of American politics from the Federalist Era?

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Pre-Class Discussion Questions

Class Discussion 8.01

Class Discussion 8.01 - Level 4

Why is this era called “The Federalist Era”? Does the designation go deeper than just the name of one political party?

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Class Discussion 8.02

Class Discussion 8.02 - Level 2

What made Alexander Hamilton so important to any discussion of early American politics? Why did he stand out so much among his colleagues?

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Class Discussion 8.03

Class Discussion 8.03 - Level 3

How would you define the idea of “virtue” in the early republic? Do you think it was a legitimate attribute by which to limit participation in the political realm?

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Class Discussion 8.04

Class Discussion 8.04 - Level 2

What is the “public sphere”? Why is it so important to understanding American politics in the Federalist Era? How did the political sphere respond to the emergence of the public sphere?

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Class Discussion 8.05

Class Discussion 8.05 - Level 5

Do you think the controversy over the XYZ Affair, eventually leading to the so-called “Quasi-War” with France, was overplayed? Given the state of the nation at the time, what do you think would have been the proper course of action against the embarrassment in Paris?

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Suggested Additional Material 

  • Appleby, Joyce. Inheriting the Revolution: The First Generation of Americans. Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. 2000.
  • Burstein, Andrew, and Nancy Isenberg. Madison and Jefferson. New York: Random House. 2010.
  • Cornell, Saul. The Other Founders: Anti-Federalism and the Dissenting Tradition in America, 1788-1828. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press. 1999.
  • Diggins, John Patrick. John Adams. New York: Times Books. 2003.
  • Ferling, John. Adams vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
  • Ferling, John. The Ascent of George Washington: The Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon. New York: Bloomsbury. 2009.
  • Miller, John C. The Federalist Era, 1789-1801. New York: Harper & Brothers. 1960. 

Answers to In-Chapter Discussion Questions

Answer to Question 8.02

The “great American experiment” referred to the bold movement toward a liberty-based society run by a representation and virtuous government. The world had never actually seen something like this before, especially in the modern era. It was movement that needed all aspects of the plan to align in order to work. It was, in the end, an experiment in free governance, a test of humanity to make sure that it could, on a basic level, function in a state of freedom, devoid of oligarchic rule.  

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Answer to Question 8.03

One of the central points of contention was the form of government itself. Coming out of the American Revolution, fought against the British monarchical system itself, many Americans feared the very concept of a central government, concerned that it could easily devolve into an oppressive system similar to that from which the United States had just freed itself. On the other hand, a large number of leaders saw a disconnected and weakened government as the key to division and collapse, fearing that the lack of a central government would produce a number of entirely separated states that did not function as one, thus weakening the entire “experiment.” 

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Answer to Question 8.11

Hamilton wanted to separate American interests from those of other nations, especially in the economic realm. By creating an American industrial center, the United States could at least begin creating its own products, decreasing its reliance on foreign trade and produce. Paterson sits near Great Falls, a 77-foot-tall waterfall that Hamilton believed could power the growing industry of the town. New York and Boston had rivers and waterways but no waterfalls—the key the water-based power.

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Answer to Question 8.15

See blurb on Jefferson’s reasoning behind writing the text. He organized the book into separate “queries,” each of which tackled an existing problem or question to human society—some more reasonable than others. Notes of the State of Virginia stands as Jefferson’s only monograph, and indeed one of his only public writings intended to represent his opinions alone. The book provides a look into Jefferson's mind as well as his interpretation of the times in which he lived.

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Answer to Question 8.17

Opinion-based question. Response will vary. There were upsides and downsides to both. Of course, under the Federalist vision, especially considering the context of the time, there was legitimate fear of tyranny arising from a strong centralized government, something Anti-Federalists claimed they had fought the Revolutionary War to avoid. On the other hand, though, unity and strength of purpose clearly favored the Federalist approach, as a centralized government attracted all the states toward a single authoritative object—the federal government—and created a system that placed each state on a more or less equal footing. Under the Anti-Federalist or Jeffersonian vision tyranny seemed much further off and more avoidable. At the same time, the equal distribution of authority to both the states and the people themselves allowed for the development of virtue among the common people and a lower chance of a social hierarchy based on wealth and political standing emerging from a centralized power.   

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Answer to Question 8.19

Hamilton wanted to turn American into an industrial power and further integrate it into the global economy, while Jefferson wanted American to be a nation of Yeoman farmers, independent and self-sufficient. While Jefferson’s vision was probably more realistic in 1790, given the rural nature of the country, it was Hamilton’s vision that ultimately proved more accurate.

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Answer to Question 8.20

Washington stands in the portrait as both a European aristocrat, even monarch, and an American intellectual and leader of middling status. He bridges two worlds concurrently. The room itself is gaudy and reminiscent of European royal halls yet his clothing shows simplicity, even humility. He is proud but not pompous. It establishes an American identity, entirely separated from its previous European colonial status. The books, for example, suggest history and education, but they are books of the people—registers of Congress, a representative body. 

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Answer to Question 8.23

Washington saw his presidency literally. As president, he viewed his role as one that “presided” over the actions of Congress, neither a legislator nor a judge. He was there to keep order and watch over the smooth functions of government as a whole. He did not produce legislation, and neither did he actively veto it. He kept the peace and protected the sovereignty of each branch. At least that’s how he defined his role.

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Answer to Question 8.24.

Largely evidence- and opinion-based. They had rather similar outcomes, at least in the immediate aftermath. The opposing political groups in the nation likewise saw the events similarly, with the Anti-Federalists (chiefly Jefferson) recognizing the need for an occasional rebellion and the Federalists flatly condemning both and moving to crush them.

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Answer to Question 8.25

1796. That election was the first open to two new candidates and involved the first real campaign for the presidency. Unlike the two previous elections, both easily won by George Washington, the 1796 fielded two candidates from two different parties and who vied for the support of the people directly. Almost every other election in American history more or less followed this model, with very few exceptions.

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Answer to Question 8.26

Federalists saw the French Revolution as emblematic of the extremes of Anti-Federalist ideology. It represented, to them, the consequences of unregulated action and the human tendency toward zealotry. The Anti-Federalists saw at least the early stages of the French Revolution as a continuation of the American Revolution and the principles of innate freedom and liberty. There is a very good reason why the French flag consists of the same three colors as that of the United States. 

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Answer to Question 8.27

The Federalists favored greater ties with Britain, largely because they saw their form of government as more stable and established than Revolutionary France, whose radically democratic goals were contrary to the Federalist view that mechanisms needed to be put in place to avoid ‘mob rule’. Ties with Britain were also essential to the Federalist vision for an industrialized America. The anti-Federalists were more sympathetic to the French Revolution, largely because it was inspired by Jeffersonian ideals of democracy and egalitarianism. 

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Answer to Question 8.29

Because neither nation ever technically declared war on the other, and neither country publicly acknowledged the conflict as anything more than just that: a conflict.

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Answer to Question 8.31

Hamilton was dedicated to national credit worthiness, making it a more viable player in the global economic system. Debts, importantly, stood as an obstacle to that worthiness. If debts were left to the states, Hamilton believed, the credit of the nation would follow the actions of the states, creating an unnecessarily volatile situation. The creation of a National Bank would universalize currency and regulate and equalize the value of that currency, making all debts subject to it. That way, the states’ debts became national debts because they could be paid off using a universal currency. 

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Answers to Pre-Class Discussion Questions

Answer to Class Discussion 8.01

The era was dominated by the practice of, and debate over, the implementation of a federal government, one predicated upon centralized authorities and a strong regulatory force. Although the main political party in power at the time took the same name, the most fundamental debate was around the type of government and whether it was not only correct, but also possible. The era also followed a decade-long experiment in decentralized governance, which brought the seemingly radical change to the forefront of American political society.

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Answer to Class Discussion 8.02

There are many explanations for this, one of the most obvious is his influence. Although he never served as president, he introduced more legislative actions, political ideas, and economic plans than almost any single character in the history of the nation. He also stands out because his ideas did not always meet welcoming minds. It was Hamilton who fueled the growth of the Anti-Federalist Party with his strict Federalist vision and tireless work ethic. He proposed and supported ideas that were outright dangerous to many other politicians, especially the likes of Thomas Jefferson and, a bit later, James Madison. Without Hamilton, the Federalist Era would not have existed, and the Federal Party would certainly have collapsed much earlier than it did. The American financial system would also have developed along a vast different line. However, one could just as easily argue that Hamilton’s ideas brought about the rise of Jefferson and gave meaning to the political debates that defined national politics for centuries.

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Answer to Class Discussion 8.03

Largely opinion-based. Definitions should include references to empathy and basic altruism, and a dedication to a cause greater than the individual.

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Answer to Class Discussion 8.04

The public sphere was and is the embodiment of public opinion through a free press—in this case, newspapers. Seen to be protected by the first amendment, newspapers often made public widely held opinions on political matters. In some cases, these opinions struck a nerve and created social movements, marches, and protests against political actions many citizens saw as unjust or unconstitutional. Simply put, the public sphere was the democratic side of politics, the side in which all voting citizens could participate directly in the discussion. Perhaps the most notable and damning political response to the public sphere were the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798. 

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Answer to Class Discussion 8.05

Opinion-based. The XYZ Affair, it seems, struck a nerve with the Americans, embarrassing them more than actually standing as an act of war or political aggression by the French. The demand of money simply to meet with a representative of the French government, however, can be seen as a legitimate insult to a nation that needed to establish its footing in the international realm. As a result, it is not entirely unreasonable to consider the XYZ Affair an act of aggression, especially if one takes into account the low standing of the United States in Europe. If they dared to stand up to the French—see the “Quasi-War”—they had the chance of making a point to the largely international community that the United States, though young and relatively weak, would not be a pushover for larger, more established nations.

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Image Credits

[1] Image courtesy of New York Public Library Digital Collections in the Public Domain.

[2] Image courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division [KY,56-LOUVI.V,2-7] in the Public Domain.

[3] Image courtesy of Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division in the Public Domain.

[4] Image courtesy Google Arts and Culture in the Public Domain.

[5] Image courtesy Bowdoin College Museum in the Public Domain.

[6] Image courtesy of The White House Historical Association in the Public Domain.

[7] Image courtesy of National Gallery of Art in the Public Domain.

[8] Image courtesy of Google Arts and Culture in the Public Domain.

[9] Image courtesy of The New York Public Library Digital Collections in the Public Domain.

[10] Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in the Public Domain.

[11] Image courtesy of Constitution Facts in the Public Domain.

[12] Image courtesy of Web Gallery of Art in the Public Domain.

[13] Image courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France in the Public Domain.

[14] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

[15] Image courtesy of The White House Historical Association in the Public Domain.

[16] Image courtesy of The Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [LC-DIG-ppmsca-31156] in the Public Domain.

[17] Image courtesy of The Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [LC-USZ62-9242 ] in the Public Domain.

[18] Image courtesy of the National Archives via ourdocuments.gov.