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George Washington—a renowned hero of the American Revolutionary War, commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, and president of the Constitutional Convention—became the first President of the United States under the new Constitution in 1789.

The major accomplishments of the Washington Administration were creating a strong national government that was recognized without question by all Americans, and, following the plans of Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, assuming the debts of the states (the debt holders received federal bonds), creating the Bank of the United States to stabilize the financial system, setting up a uniform system of tariffs (taxes on imports) and other taxes to pay off the debt and provide a financial infrastructure. To support his programs Hamilton created a new political party—the first in the world based on voters—the Federalist Party. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison led the opposition, forming an opposition Republican Party (usually called the Democratic-Republican Party by historians). Hamilton and Washington presented the country in 1794 with the Jay Treaty that reestablished good relations with Britain. The Jeffersonians vehemently protested, and the voters aligned behind one party or the other, thus setting up the First Party System. The treaty passed, but politics became very heated.[24]

The Whiskey Rebellion in 1794, when settlers in the Pennsylvania counties west of the Allegheny Mountains protested against a federal tax on liquor and distilled drinks, was the first serious test of the federal government.[25]

At the end of his second presidential term, George Washington made his farewell address, which was published in the newspaper Independent Chronicle on September 26, 1796. In his address, Washington triumphed the benefits of federal government and importance of ethics and morality while warning against foreign alliances and formation of political parties.[26]

Vice President John Adams, a Federalist, defeated Jefferson in the 1796 election. War loomed with France and the Federalists used the opportunity to try to silence the Republicans with the Alien and Sedition Acts, build up a large army with Hamilton at the head, and prepare for a French invasion. However, the Federalists became divided after Adams sent a successful peace mission to France that ended the Quasi-War of 1798. Jefferson defeated Adams for the presidency in the 1800 election.[27] Territorial expansion of the United States, omitting Oregon and other claims.Although the Constitution included a Supreme Court, its functions were vague until John Marshall, the Chief Justice (1801–35), defined them, especially the power to overturn acts of Congress that violated the Constitution, first enunciated in 1803 in Marbury v. Madison.[28] The Louisiana Purchase, in 1803, removed the French presence from the western border of the United States and provided U.S. settlers with vast potential for expansion west of the Mississippi River.[29]

In response to multiple grievances, the Congress declared war on Britain in 1812. The grievances included humiliating the Americans in the Chesapeake incident of 1807, continued British impressment of American sailors into the Royal Navy, restrictions on trade with France, and arming hostile Indians in Ohio and the western territories.[30] The War of 1812 ended in a draw after bitter fighting that lasted until January 8, 1815, during the Battle of New Orleans. The Americans gained no territory but were cheered by a sense of victory in what they called a "second war of independence". The war was a major loss for Native American tribes in the Northwest and Southeast who had allied themselves with Britain and were defeated on the battlefield.

As strong opponents of the war, the Federalists held the Hartford Convention in 1814 that hinted at disunion. National euphoria after the victory at New Orleans ruined the prestige of the Federalists and they no longer played a significant role.[31] President Madison and most Republicans realized it had been a mistake to let the Bank of the United States close down, for its absence greatly hindered the financing of the war. So they chartered the Second Bank of the United States in 1816. The Republicans also imposed tariffs designed to protect the infant industries that had been created when Britain was blockading the U.S. With the collapse of the Federalists as a party, the adoption of many Federalist principles by the Republicans, and the systematic policy of President James Monroe in his two terms (1817–25) to downplay partisanship, the nation entered an Era of Good Feelings, with far less partisanship than before (or after), and closed out the First Party System.[32][33]

The Monroe Doctrine, expressed in 1823, proclaimed the United States' opinion that European powers should no longer colonize or interfere in the Americas. This was a defining moment in the foreign policy of the United States. The Monroe Doctrine was adopted in response to American and British fears over Russian and French expansion into the Western Hemisphere.[34] Settlers crossing the Plains of NebraskaIn 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, which authorized the president to negotiate treaties that exchanged Native American tribal lands in the eastern states for lands west of the Mississippi River. This established Andrew Jackson, a military hero and President, as a proponent of the forcible removal of native populations to the West.[35] The act resulted most notably in the Trail of Tears, a forced migration of several native tribes to the West, with several thousand people dying en route, and the Creeks' violent opposition and eventual defeat. The Indian Removal Act also directly caused the ceding of Spanish Florida and led to the many Seminole Wars.[36]

After 1840 the abolitionist movement redefined itself, mobilized its supporters (especially among religious people in the Northeast affected by the Second Great Awakening), escalated its attacks, and proclaimed slave ownership a sin, not just an unfortunate social evil. It gained tens of thousands of followers. William Lloyd Garrison published the most influential of the many anti-slavery newspapers, The Liberator, while Frederick Douglass, an ex-slave, began writing for that newspaper around 1840 and started his own abolitionist newspaper North Star in 1847.[37]

The Republic of Texas was annexed in 1845.[38] The U.S. army, using regulars and large numbers of volunteers, defeated Mexico in 1848 during the Mexican-American War. Public sentiment in the U.S. was divided as Whigs[39] and anti-slavery forces[40] opposed the war. The 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceded California, New Mexico, and adjacent areas to the United States, about thirty percent of Mexico. Westward expansion was enhanced further by the California Gold Rush, the discovery of gold in that state in 1848. Numerous "forty-niners" trekked to California in pursuit of gold; land-hungry European immigrants also contributed to the rising white population in the west.[16] In 1849 cholera spread along the California and Oregon Trails. An estimated 150,000 Americans died during the two cholera pandemics between 1832 and 1849.[41]

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