The United States of America was a bold invention of enormous risk. An 8-year war of independence, followed by intense political debate produced a government of, by and for the people, in Season 1, Episode 1, “Assume The Position 1789-1825”.
George Washington, elected the first president in 1789, worked with the heads of the departments of State, Treasury, and War, along with an Attorney General (the Justice Department wasn’t created until 1870), the group of which later became known as his cabinet. Based in New York, the new government acted quickly to rebuild the nation’s financial structure. Enacting the program of Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, the government assumed the Revolutionary War debts of the states and the national government, and refinanced them with new federal bonds. It paid for the program through new tariffs and taxes; the tax on whiskey led to a revolt in the west; Washington raised an army and suppressed it. The nation adopted a Bill of Rights as 10 amendments to the new constitution. Fleshing out the Constitution’s specification of the judiciary as capped by a Supreme Court, the Judiciary Act of 1789 established the entire federal judiciary. The Supreme Court became important under the leadership of Chief Justice John Marshall (1801–1835), a federalist and nationalist who built a strong Supreme Court and strengthened the national government.
The 1790s were highly contentious. The First Party System emerged in the contest between Hamilton and his Federalist party, and Thomas Jefferson and his Republican party. Washington and Hamilton were building a strong national government, with a broad financial base, and the support of merchants and financiers throughout the country. Jeffersonians opposed the new national Bank, the Navy, and federal taxes. The Federalists favored Britain, which was embattled in a series of wars with France. Jefferson’s victory in 1800 opened the era of Jeffersonian democracy, and doomed the upper-crust Federalists to increasingly marginal roles.
The Americans declared war on Britain (the War of 1812) to uphold American honor at sea, and to end the Indian raids in the west, as well as to temporarily seize Canadian territory as a negotiating chip. Secretary of State James Monroe said in June 1812, “It might be necessary to invade Canada, not as an object of the war but to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion.” Despite incompetent government management, and a series of defeats early on, Americans found new generals like Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, and Winfield Scott, who repulsed British invasions and broke the alliance between the British and the Indians that held up settlement of the Old Northwest. The Federalists, who had opposed the war to the point of trading with the enemy and threatening secession, were devastated by the triumphant ending of the war. The remaining Indians east of the Mississippi were kept on reservations or moved via the Trail of Tears to reservations in what later became Oklahoma.