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It’s 1784 and the Americans, it turns out, have staged a successful revolution. They haven’t lost any land to the British- in fact, they have gained land. Now they must form a government, and the first steps, like any small child’s, are wobbly. Very wobbly. The politicians of the day don’t fully understand the extent to which their decisions will affect everyone to come after them. They set the course of history in the offices that they create, the laws that they write, and the various precedents that they set – after all, history repeats itself. From the creation of the Articles of Confederation to George Washington stepping down from his post as the first president of the United States of America, the political climate and decisions of various political figures from 1781 to 1797 forever changed American history, politics, and our national identity. This will be forever known as a major turning point in American history.
Our adventure starts in early March of 1781 with the final ratification of the Articles of Confederation. The Articles of Confederation were, in essence, the precursor to the Constitution. But the Articles had some major problems. They allowed for each state to almost be an independent nation in and of itself. And actually, they were called the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union Between the States of New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. The states were to “enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defence, the security of their Liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other, against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them, or any of them, on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretence whatever”, according to Article III.
However, this wording makes it undeniably clear that the states were only together as was strictly necessary and they weren’t about to declare anything as a union. And if someone ran from the law, they answered to the governor of the state. There was no higher power. States couldn’t enter treaties or hold meeting with foreign officials without the consent of Congress and they couldn’t start a war without permission but those were most of their limitations. Under the Articles, the higher governing body was but one; the United States Congress. In short, the Articles of Confederation were a mess. However, they were a turning point because they were the first real format for government that the United States had. So a plan was announced when the politicians finally came to their senses and realised how bad the Articles of Confederation were. There was to be a Constitutional Convention, to be held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to revise the Articles of Confederation.
The Constitutional Convention met in May of 1787 in Philadelphia to revise the Articles. However, nobody expected to have an entirely different governing document to come out of the Convention. They worked through the summer until September 17 when they finally adjourned, having adopted the United States Constitution, which was then sent out to the States for ratification. This document was to change American history as we know it. The Constitution stated that, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” It showed that the states were bound together in law from the first three words. The words were ‘We the People’, not ‘We the States’. It clearly and definitively set out how the three branches of government should and were going to operate. The Constitution was ratified and it went into effect on March 4, 1789. This was a turning point because the Constitution is the document that we still use today as our governing document.
George Washington was sworn in as President on April 30th, 1789. He knew that he was setting a precedent that would be followed for a very long time, by many people. Washington chose a cabinet of exceedingly competent men to work for him. He had Thomas Jefferson as his Secretary of State, Alexander Hamilton as his Secretary of Treasury, Henry Knox as his Secretary of War, and Edmund Randolph as the first Attorney General. The first cabinet meeting was held on February 25, 1793. These men didn’t always agree on difficult issues. Hamilton and Jefferson very much disagreed on how to deal with the country’s debt from the Revolutionary War. Hamilton wanted to create a National Bank so that the government had somewhere to put its money and a National Debt to help the smaller states pay back what was a crippling amount of debt, and Jefferson… didn’t. Under the old Articles of Confederation, each state had to fend for itself and attempt to pay back its debt on its own. Under this new Constitution, the nation was now bound together in higher government, and with Hamilton’s plan for a National Debt, they would now be bound together in money. This was a turning point because it created a more Unified United States.
According to Hamilton’s calculations, the country was $77.1 million dollars in debt, which is about $2,096,037,319.15 in today’s money. Hamilton eventually got his bank as well, despite Jefferson’s protests. On the matter of their argument over the National Bank, Jefferson said that, “The pain was for Hamilton and myself, but the public experienced no inconvenience”, proving that he did not feel that the Bank did much at all. Hamilton and Jefferson also disagreed in matters of the economy. Jefferson, being from the agricultural south, wanted to help promote agriculture and farming with low taxes and low tariffs. Hamilton supported businesses and was in favor of higher taxes. Hamilton also enacted a tax on American-made liquor, specifically whiskey.
George Washinton was the first president and, according to Major General Henry Lee he was, “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” Washington had a lot of things thrown at him. He had many decisions to make, including what he would be called. Just a couple of the options were His Elective Majesty and His Highness, the President of the United States of America and the Protector of their Liberties. George Washington was president during a time of political unrest in Europe as well. While the Americans were settling into their new lives as an independent country, Britain and revolutionary France were getting into The French Revolution. In the end, Washington decided to stay out of the war. He also had many other accomplishments as a president, but there is neither the time nor inclination on the part of the author to do so, and so we shall continue with merely an acknowledgement of his greatness, which does not do him justice.
Washington can probably be considered the most beloved of all 45 United States Presidents, and so it would make sense that his farewell address is one of the best-known and often read. Every year on his birthday since 1896, a sitting Senate member reads his farewell address and then signs and writes their thoughts on just how important the address in a book that is maintained by the Secretary of the Senate. Washington officially stepped down as president on March 4, 1797. While president, he signed into existence legislation that is still the base of our country and set precedents that still apply in the Oval Office today. Washington’s presidency as a whole was a major turning point because he made so many decisions that still affect our country today.
Unequivocally, the political climate and decisions of various political figures from 1781 to 1797 forever changed American history, politics, and our national identity. From the Articles of Confederation to the Constitution to Washington’s presidency, our nation, ideals, and personal lives have been forever changed by the decisions that these men made as politicians. We are free to live as we choose, in the way that we choose, in freedom because these men dedicated their brains to creating a new nation, free of monarchical tyranny. As Washington said, “… I shall carry it with me to my grave… that your union and brotherly affection may be perpetual; that the free constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained; that its administration in every department may be stamped with wisdom and virtue; than, in fine, the happiness of the people of these States, under the auspices of liberty, may be made complete, by so careful a preservation and so prudent a use of this blessing, as will acquire to them the glory of recommending it to the applause, the affection, and adoption of every nation, which is yet a stranger to it.”
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