The President's House
—Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation —
A NEW NATION:
A NEW FORM OF GOVERNMENT
The federal government moved from New York City to Philadelphia in 1790. Years of contentious debate over where to locate the nation's capital contributed to the divide between North and South. Southern delegates favored a site along the Potomac River between Maryland and Virginia, both slave states. Northern delegates favored New York or Philadelphia. Alexander Hamilton was eager to have Congress pass a bill that would allow the federal government to assume the states' huge financial debt from the Revolutionary War. A compromise was reached. In exchange for southern support of his debt relief bill, Hamilton and his supporters voted in favor of designating Philadelphia as the temporary capital for a period of ten years when the seat of government would move to Washington, D.C.
While in Philadelphia, Presidents Washington and Adams had to make decisions regarding states' rights, executive power, citizenship, diplomacy, Native American territories, and slavery. Many of their initiatives, treaties, actions, and decisions determined the course of the nation for generations and contributed to establishing a national identity.
Both favored the strong central government supported by the Federalists, whose members included John Marshall and Alexander Hamilton. Republicans,
such as Thomas Jefferson, were those who wanted more powers reserved for the states. Their bitter disputes led to the creation of the two-party system of government that still prevails.
Both Washington and Adams faced shifting alliances with France and England, as well as issues regarding international trade. When war between France and Great Britain threatened to expand to the United States in 1794, Washington sent Chief Justice John Jay to conclude a treaty with Great Britain to settle all outstanding issues between the two countries and establish peace.
The terms of the Jay Treaty incensed many who felt that it conceded too much to England. Thomas Jefferson called the treaty an act "against the legislature and people of the United States." On July 4, 1795, Jay was hanged in effigy, and on July 25, a crowd gathered, screaming, "Kick this damn treaty to Hell!" Congress ratified the treaty, but it embittered relations with France, itself in the midst of a lengthy and bloody revolution.
Rights of Individuals and States
The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution, was ratified in 1791 during Washington's presidency. The Bill of Rights protects basic civil liberties and rights of individuals. It also reserves all powers that are not explicitly granted to the federal government to the citizens or states. It addresses the separation of individual, state, and federal rights. These rights, however, did not apply to enslaved persons, who were considered only property.
Naturalization Act of 1790
Race was fundamental in determining citizenship in the new nation. In 1790, Congress debated a bill about the requirements to become a naturalized American citizen. While disagreement arose about religious and political affiliation, moral character, and length of residency, all agreed on the most fundamental point: future citizens must be "free white persons of good moral character."
Race, Ethnicity, & Country of Origin
In the 1790s, indigenous peoples occupied much of the land of this continent. Though chiefs of the Iroquois and other Indian nations received peace medals from President Washington, beneath this façade of friendship simmered a struggle to define the relationship of land, autonomy, and citizenship on the North American continent. While many European immigrants were becoming American citizens, citizenship did not apply to most Native Americans because they belonged to their own sovereign nations.
First Bank of the United States
The First Bank of the United States was chartered at the urging of President Washington's Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton. Established on February 25, 1791, the Bank unified and stabilized the many currencies in use. The Bank served as the national depository for government revenue and a vehicle for paying the foreign debt.
The original bank building still stands at 120 South Third Street, within Independence National Historical Park.
In 1791 Congress imposed a tax on distilled whiskey to help reduce the national debt. Several thousand armed men gathered near Pittsburgh to protest. In 1794 President Washington agreed to Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton's request to lead a multi-state militia west to quell the resistance. The military action demonstrated the new government's power to enforce federal law. Resentment of this action helped elect Thomas Jefferson, a Democratic-Republican, in 1800.
Driving the Indian Nations Out of the Northwest Territory
Presidents Washington and Adams proclaimed respect for the sovereignty of the Indian nations, but they could not control white settlers on the frontier who frequently violated, with no consequences, the tribal boundary treaties. In the Ohio Territory, the chiefs of the Shawnee and Miami refused to leave their ancestral lands. The Battle of Fallen Timbers (1794) and the Treaty of Greenville (1795) resolved the conflict. Most of Ohio was no longer Native American territory.
Closing the Doors Against "Dangerous Aliens"
Amid an undeclared war with revolutionary France in 1798 and fearing foreign interference in American politics, Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts. Congress, with President Adams' support, also passed a new Naturalization Act that required an immigrant to be in residence for 14 years, rather than five, before they could become a citizen.
The Alien Act of 1798
authorized the President to deport aliens considered "dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States" during peacetime.
The Alien Enemies Act of 1798
allowed the wartime arrest, imprisonment, and deportation of an alien subject to an enemy power.
The Sedition Act of 1798
stated that a treasonable act, including publication of "any false, scandalous and malicious writing" against the government, was punishable by fine and imprisonment. The law was used to stifle dissent and silence newspapers that opposed the Federalists.
John Adams noted: "I knew there was need enough for both [the Alien and Sedition Acts], and therefore I consented to them."
[Illustrations, from left to right, read]
· The Residency Act of July 1790 designated Philadelphia as the temporary capital for ten years while the new U.S. capital in Washington, D.C. was being built. A bill to determine the permanent seat of Congress and the Government of the United States, 31 May 1790; Bills and Resolutions originating in the Senate (SEN 1A-011) 1st Congress; Records of the U.S. Senate, Record Group 46; National Archives Building, Washington, D.C. Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration.
· President George Washington knew he was setting an example as the first president under the U.S. Constitution. George Washington
, by Gilbert Stuart, 1796. Courtesy, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, acquired as a gift to the nation through the generosity of the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation.
· John Adams had a long career serving his country. As the second president, however, he, like Washington, made no public comment on petitions and publications protesting slavery. John Adams
, by John Singleton Copley, 1783. Courtesy, Harvard Art Museums, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University Portrait Collection, Bequest of Ward Nicholas Boylston to Harvard College, 1828, H74.
· Obverse/front of the Great Seal of the United States.
· Delegates from Native American nations such as the Chickasaw came to Philadelphia to negotiate peace treaties. New Lutheran Church, in Fourth Street, Philadelphia
, drawn and engraved by William Burch & Son, 1799. Courtesy Independence National Historical Park.
· Congress passed a Naturalization Act in 1790 that [illegible] only white people as citizens. "Act to establish an uniform rule of naturalization." Congress of the United States [illegible] Approved March 26, 1790. [illegible]. Courtesy of Historical & Special Collection, Harvard Law School Library.
· Bank of the United States in Third Street, Philadelphia
. Drawn, engraved and published by William Burch & Son, 1799. Courtesy Independence National Historical Park.
· Washington personally joined the troops he called up to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania in 1794. Washington Reviewing the Western Army at Fort Cumberland Maryland
, attributed to Frederick Kemmelmeyer, 1795. Courtesy, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
· The Treaty of Greenville was signed on August 2, 1795, between a coalition of Native Americans and the United States following the Native American loss at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. In exchange for goods, the Native Americans turned over to the United States large parts of modern-day Ohio [balance of caption illegible in photo].
· Democratic Societies with revolutionary ideas sprang up in the capital. President Washington and his administration objected to their passionate political criticisms and tried to suppress them. Principles, Articles, and Regulations agreed upon by the Members of the Democratic Society of Philadelphia
, May 30, 1793. Courtesy, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
· [Caption at bottom, to left of Obama family photo, is illegible in the photo]
· When Barack Hussein Obama II was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States on January 20, 2009, he became the first person of African descent to hold this office. He is pictured here with the First Lady, Mrs. Michelle Robinson Obama and daughters, Sasha (left) and Malia (right). Photo by Annie Liebowitz by the White House Photo Office.