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Presidencies of Washington, Adams and Jefferson

Page history last edited by Robert W. Maloy 2 months, 1 week ago

Marine Guard at the White House, 1801 

 Topics on the Page


George Washington's Presidency

  • Background information
  • Timeline
  • Major Acts, Treaties, and Events
  • Martha Washington
  • Additional Links  


John Adams' Presidency

  • Background Information
  • Timeline
  • Abigail Adams
  • Major Events and Acts
  • Additional Links   


Thomas Jefferson's Presidency

  • Background Information
  • Timeline
  • Major Events and Acts
  • Slavery
  • Sally Hemings 
  • Additional Links 

Mid-19th century engraving showing the White House from the South-West.

Mid 19th Century View of the White House





The Barbary Pirates and Early American Foreign Policy


The Louisiana Purchase and Manifest Destiny


Toussaint L'Ouverture and the Haitian Revolution 


Eli Whitney and the Development of the Cotton Gin



Focus Question: What were the policies and political developments of the Washington, Adams and Jefferson presidencies?



George Washington's Presidency (1789- 1797)


Background Information


George Washington was the first President of the United States of America, and is universally regarded as the "Father of his country". 


  • Before becoming president, Washington was commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783 and led the American victory over Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War. Image result for george washington's presidency 


  • During his presidency, Washington oversaw the creation of a strong, well-financed national government that maintained neutrality in the wars raging in Europe, suppressed rebellion, and won acceptance among Americans of all types. 


  • His leadership style established many forms and rituals of government that have been used since, such as using a cabinet system and delivering an inaugural address.


external image 500px-Hebrew_timeline.svg.png Timeline


  • 1759- Washington is elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses and serves for the next 15 years


  • 1769-  Washington presents resolutions written by George Mason to the Virginia House of Burgesses that opposed taxation without representation


  • 1774-  Washington is elected as a delegate to the First Continental Congress


  • 1783-  Washington resigns his commission as commander-in-chief of the army to the Congress of the Confederation


  • 1787-  Washington is elected President of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia


  • 1789-  Washington is informed that he was unanimously elected as the first President of the United States


  • 1793-  Washington is unanimously re-elected for a second term as President of the United States


  • 1796- 1797-  Washington publishes his farewell address and retires to Mount Vernon


  • 1799- Washington dies 


Major Events, Acts, and Treaties during the Washington Presidency 


  • Tradition of Cabinet advisers
    • Washington defined how the roles of heads of executive departments would function. His cabinet included four functionary members. Thomas Jefferson was Secretary of State. Alexander Hamilton was Secretary of Treasury. Henry Knox was Secretary of War. and Edmund Randolph was Attorney General. Washington set the precedence for how these roles would interact with the President because they would become private, trusted advisers. More importantly, Washington wanted to include multiple perspectives within his cabinet.  Image result for washington's cabinet



  • Copyright Act, May 1790
    • This legislation was the first ever law protecting copyright in the United States. The function of this law was to protect authors and their work, including the right to print, reprint, or publish their works.


  • Residence Act, July 1790      
    • This settled the permanent capital of the United States on the Potomac River (the future Washington D.C.). Washington personally overlooked the building of the President's mansion (or the White House) and the Capitol. 


  • Religious Toleration, August 1790
    • At the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, Washington set the precedent for religious toleration. His letter of response to the synagogue reinforced religious liberty.  The letter continued with the promise that "the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support."  


  •  Whiskey Rebellion, 1794
    • For context, Secretary of Treasury Hamilton proposed to Congress on January 1791 that they excise taxes on distilled spirits in order to combat the United State's heavy debts from the American Revolution. When the law was passed in March 1791, many were angry especially in western Pennsylvania because these citizens relied on distilled spirits for income.


    • This rebellion threatened the stability of the United States and challenged the authority of the federal government. Washington himself organized a militia and led them into Pennsylvania. By the time the militia reached their designated location, the rebels dispersed. Washington's firm actions during this crisis strengthened the authority of the new federal government.  


  • Jay Treaty, 1795
    • Normalized trade relations with Great Britain, removed British forts along the western frontier of the United States. Resolved various debt related issues with Great Britain. 


  • Pinckney's Treaty, 1795
    • Treaty of friendship with Spain. Helped to clarify borders between U.S. and Spanish held territories in North America. Opened Mississippi River to American commerce.


  • Treaty of Tripoli, 1796 
    • Was an agreement between the U.S. and Tripoli. The main purpose of the treaty was to stop the seizure of American ships. As a part of the treaty, the U.S. agreed to make a very large, one-time payment to Tripoli's leader. In exchange, Tripoli agreed to protect American ships from corsair attacks.  


  • Position on Slavery:  
    • Washington had a complicated relationship with the slavery debate. 
    • While opposed to slavery, Washington weighed his moral objections against a desire for national unity.  


Washington was almost called WHAT?!



Martha Washington 

Image result for martha washington

Click here for a brief biography of Martha Washington from Mt. Vernon.

Go here for Martha Washington and the American Revolution to view an example of correspondence between George and Martha.

Portraits of George and Martha Washington from the Presidential Years 

Martha Washington Lesson Plans from the National First Ladies Library.



Washington's Inaugural Address, 1789: https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/american_originals/inaugtxt.html


Washington's Farewell Address, 1796: https://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/washing.asp


Crash Course of History: The Constitution, the Articles, and Federalism


George Washington: An Animated History - a Youtube video biography



Teacher's Guide: What qualified Washington to be president: https://georgewashington.si.edu/kids/activity2.html

Did Washington ever tell a lie? Did he really wear wooden teeth? Click here and find out these and more myths about the first President



John Adams Presidency (1797- 1801)


Background Information 

John Adams by Gilbert Stuart

Washington's vice president, John Adams, was elected president as a Federalist in 1796.


  • Adams retained Washington's cabinet officers and sought to continue his predecessor's policies.


  • The major accomplishment of his presidency was his peaceful resolution of the conflict in the face of Hamilton's opposition. 


  • In the campaign of 1800 the Republicans were united and effective, the Federalists badly divided. Nevertheless, Adams polled only a few less electoral votes than Jefferson, who became President.


  • In the waning days of his presidency, Adams was able to conclude a peace with France and to appoint moderate Federalist John Marshall as chief justice. Long after the party was dead, Marshall preserved its principles from the bench.



  • Adams' wife, Abigail, was an enormous influence over his life and herself advocated for American women.


external image 500px-Hebrew_timeline.svg.png Timeline


  • March 1797- Adams is sworn in as the second President of the United States


  • Summer 1797- Committed to maintaining neutrality, Adams announces the appointment of a peace mission to France 


  • March- April 1798- Quasi- War with France escalates with the XYZ Affair


  • May- June 1798-  Opposed to a declaration of war but favoring precautionary military buildup, Adams proposes the creation of the Department of the Navy. Congress approves.


  • July 1798- Adam signs into law the Alien and Sedition Acts


  • February- October 1799-  Against the wishes of his Federalist Party, Adams appoints a second peace delegation to France. Adams travels to Trenton to meet with his cabinet and dispatch commissioners to France, where there is growing political crisis.


  • May 1800-  A Federalist caucus in Congress selects Adams and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney as the party's nominees in the election of 1800. The Republicans nominate Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr.


  • November 1800-  Adams becomes the first president to live in the recently completed President's House in Washington, D.C.


  • December 1800-  Adams loses to Jefferson in presidential election.


Interactive Timeline of John Adams: https://www.timetoast.com/timelines/john-adams-timeline


Click here to watch a video about the White House, Adams, and the peaceful transition of power. 


Image result for abigail adams

Abigail Adams 


  • First Lady to John Adams. 


  • Huge advocate of women's rights to her husband John Adams.


  • Held much influence over her husband and people would occasionally refer to her Mrs. President.


  • Believed women should be involved in household decisions and be able to be educated which would help them better manage the household.

Great article on Abigail Adams click here

Database of letters exchanged between Abigail and John Adams click here

Abigail Adams lesson plan click here




Important Events and Acts

Alien and Sedition Acts


    •  In 1798, the Federalist-controlled Congress passed a series of laws which, on the surface, were designed to control the activities of foreigners in the U.S. during a time of impending war. Beneath the surface, however, the real intent of these laws was to destroy Jeffersonian Republicanism. The laws, known collectively as the "Alien and Sedition Acts," included:


      • The Naturalization Act of 1789 which extended the residency period from 5 to 14 years for those aliens seeking citizenship; this law was aimed at Irish and French immigrants who were often active in Republican politics


      • The Alien Act allowing the expulsion of aliens deemed dangerous during peacetime


      • The Alien Enemies Act allowing the expulsion or imprisonment of aliens deemed dangerous during wartime. This was never enforced, but it did prompt numerous Frenchmen to return home


      • The Alien and Sedition Act of 1798 which provided for fines or imprisonment for individuals who criticized the government, Congress, or president in speech or print


    • The Alien Acts were never enforced, but the Sedition Act was. A number of Republican newspaper publishers were convicted under the terms of this law.The Jeffersonians argued quite rightly that the Sedition Act violated the terms of the First Amendment and offered a remedy in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions.


    • While these laws were either repealed or allowed to expire in the next administration, they were significant as rallying points for the Jeffersonians. The heavy-handed Federalist policies worked to the advantage of the Republicans as they prepared for the Election of 1800.


For more background, go to Sedition Act of 1798


More information on the Alien and Sedition Acts: https://www.ushistory.org/us/19e.asp


For a brief video on the Alien and Sedition Acts click here


Click here for a lesson plan on events leading up to the Sedition Acts


Click here for a lesson plan on the consequences of the Sedition Acts



  • XYZ Affair 
    • The XYZ Affair was a diplomatic incident between France and the United States.


    • In 1796, French leaders issued an order to seize American merchant ships. This was because French leaders were angry that the United States signed the Jay Treaty with Great Britain in 1794. As a result, Adams dispatched three U.S. envoys to restore peace between the United States and France: Elbridge Gerry, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, and John Marshall. 


    • The three U.S. envoys were unable to formally meet Foreign Minister Marquis de Talleyrand. Instead, they were approached by Nicholas Hubbard (W), Jean Hottinguer (X), Pierre Bellamy (Y), and Lucien Hauteval (Z). These intermediaries stated Talleyrand would be willing to meet with the Americans and make an agreement if several conditions were satisfied. The French hoped that the United States would provide France a low- interest loan, assume and pay American merchant claims against the French, and pay a substantial bribe to Talleyrand. 


    • The U.S. envoys were unwilling to accede to French demands. As a result, Talleyrand met with them formally, and dropped most of his requirements. But he did not agree to end the seizures of American ships.


    • In the meantime, the envoys' dispatches reached the United States. Adams prepared for war, and the Federalists pushed Congress to support him. Democratic Republicans were suspicious of Adams' motives and demanded a publicly released diplomatic correspondence describing the exchanges with France. Adams, knowing its contents, obliged them and released the correspondence, but replaced the names of the French intermediaries with the letters W, X, Y, and Z. Thereafter Adams continued for war, but did not venture to openly declare war. Talleyrand attempted to restore relations, and Congress approved a commission to negotiate an agreement with the French government. 


XYZ Affair video from YouTube


  • Federal Bankruptcy Act, March 1800
    • Congress passes/ Adams signs into law the Federal Bankruptcy Act providing merchants and traders protection from debtors 


More information on John Marshall and the Supreme Court: https://www.thirteen.org/wnet/supremecourt/democracy/robes_marshall.html




Thomas Jefferson's Presidency (1801- 1809)


Background Information 


  • Thomas Jefferson's presidency carried out what Jefferson called the "Revolution of 1800", as he attempted to put into action the principles of his Democratic-Republican Party.


  • In domestic affairs Jefferson tried to weaken Federalist influences, especially in the judiciary, and succeeded in limiting the size of government by reducing taxes and the national debt.


  • In foreign affairs the major developments were the acquisition of the gigantic Louisiana Purchase from France in 1803, an embargo against trade with both Great Britain and France, and worsening relations with Britain as the United States tried to remain neutral in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars that engulfed Europe. The war's effects reached throughout the Atlantic.


external image 500px-Hebrew_timeline.svg.png Timeline 


  • December 1800-  Jefferson defeats Adams to win the presidency as Republicans sweep elections nationwide. What will come to be known as the "Revolution of 1800" marks the first peaceful transfer of power from one party to another in American history.


  • March 1801-   Jefferson is sworn in as the third president of the United States in the new capital city of Washington, D.C., becoming the first president to take office there. Historians believe that his inaugural address is the first speech he has ever delivered in public.


  • February 1803-  Supreme Court Justice John Marshall establishes the principle of Judicial Review with his landmark ruling in Marbury v. Madison. Jefferson, not a fan of the Federalist Marshall, finds the ruling undemocratic.


  • April 1803- Jefferson purchases the Louisiana Territory from French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte for $15 Million, or roughly 4 cents an acre, effectively doubling the size of the United States overnight.


  • June 1803- Jefferson charters the Lewis and Clark expedition to survey the new Louisiana Territory.  


  • March 1805- Jefferson is inaugurated into a second term in the presidency following a landslide victory in the Election of 1804.  


  • December 1807-  Responding to increasingly fraught relations with Britain, Congress enacts Jefferson's Embargo Act, halting all trade between the United States and Great Britain. The act does little to change relations with Britain, but nearly destroys the American economy.


  • March 1809- Jefferson finishes his second term as president.  


Important Events and Acts

  • March 1802- Enabling Act
    • Jefferson signs the Enabling Act, establishing procedures under which territories organized under the Ordinance of 1787 can become a state. The law effectively authorizes people of the Ohio territory to hold a convention and frame a constitution.  


  • Haitian Revolution, 1791- 1804
    •  While remaining "neutral," from early 1802, Jefferson allowed contraband goods and arms to reach Saint-Domingue during its slave rebellion and refused financial credit to France, aiding the slave and mulatto resistance that achieved independence in 1804. After that, however, with France removed and Congressional resistance high, he refused to recognize Haiti, and embargoed trade with it, causing severe difficulties for the second republic to rise in the Western Hemisphere.






  • Louisiana PurchaseImage result for louisiana purchase map
    •  The Importance of Louisiana for the United States:
      • Many white Americans had moved as far west as the Mississippi River by the time of the Louisiana Purchase. The river was a great resource for them. Many traveled down the river all the way to Louisiana, where it emptied out into the sea in New Orleans. This was an extremely important location because it was a port used for international trade. Once the U.S. owned this important location, they could have the freedom to use it as they wished. Because it was so important for trade, it was also important for the economy.


      • The Louisiana Purchase was also significant because it doubled the size of the U.S. At the time, expansion was important because the U.S. wanted to become as big and powerful as possible. Up until then, very few whites had been west of the Mississippi River. Gaining Louisiana opened up the West to them—in the years to come they would continue to expand westward. But this westward expansion had horrible effects on many native peoples.


      • As territories within the Louisiana Purchase petitioned for statehood, the issue of slavery came to the forefront of political debate. Congress enacted the Missouri Compromise to ensure that neither the pro-slavery or anti-slavery states gained a representational advantage.


    • Political details of the Louisiana Purchase:
      • France had at one time controlled the New Orleans port, but around 1800 it was owned by Spain.


      • The U.S. was not very threatened by Spain, but when President Thomas Jefferson heard that the territory might be transferred back to France, he got worried.


      • Jefferson thought the U.S. might have to fight to get any of the benefits of the Mississippi River and the New Orleans port, so he prepared for war. At the same time, he sent James Madison to France to negotiate a plan. By the time Madison got the France, however, he found out that the French were already planning on selling the territory to the U.S. A treaty was drafted and the sale was made, for $15 million dollars.


  • December 1803- the 12th Amendment 
    • Motivated by the infamous election of 1800, Congress passes the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution, requiring electors to vote for President and vice president separately. This ends the tradition of the runner up in a presidential race becoming vice president and prevents chances for a deadlock tie.


  • September 1804- Ratification of the 12th Amendment
    • The Twelfth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is officially ratified, allowing for the presidential election of 1804 to be conducted under new rules.


  • June 1805- Peace with Tripoli
    • The United States and Tripoli sign a Treaty of Peace and Amity in Tripoli, effectively ending the Tripolitan War. 


  • March 1807
    • At Jefferson's behest, Congress passes a law prohibiting the importation of slaves into any place within the jurisdiction of the United States after January 1, 1808. 




In the North, it was a time of rising democracy, emergence of self-made men from the farming, business and merchant classes, and the presence of new people in government, not drawn from old ruling elites of the revolutionary generation. But in the South, "nostalgic southerners turned to the past, clinging to the agrarian myth of yeoman farmers leading independent, virtuous lives on the soil as well as to the aristocratic idyll of a leisurely, gracious life of family, hospitality, books and slaves on lovely planations" (Dunn, New York Review of Books, March 25, 2010, p. 31).

It is important to note that the money that made Westward Expansion possible was made largely through a slave economy, which continued to grow until 1808.

  • Indeed, the Constitution, written in part by the men above, stipulated that Congress would not discuss slavery or its possible demise until at least 1808.


  • Meanwhile, the slave industry boomed and the invention of the cotton gin increased cotton production in the Deep South.


  • The three-fifths compromise, a compromise written into the Constitution, equates all African Americans with three-fifths of a person in order to increase political representation of Southern states without actually granting political representation to those African Americans, who were mostly slaves in this period.


  • None of the political advancements we have seen above would have been possible without slave labor, since a large part of the Southern economy rested on the continuance of slave labor to produce the raw materials that were the South's mainstay.

Sally Hemings


Click HERE to see information about Sally Hemings, the slave who gave birth to Jefferson's sons.


Want to know more about Sally Hemings? Click HERE


Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: A Brief Account



Additional Links


Jefferson's First Inaugural Address

Click here for a biography of Jefferson and Monticello

Click here for an article about Jefferson's opinion on slavery

Thomas Jefferson Biography from YouTube 

Click here for a video on Jefferson and the Barbary Pirates


 Click here to read a letter from Jefferson to a Congressman from Rhode Island.



The Louisiana Purchase

The Missouri Compromise

Timeline: The Louisiana Purchase - The Library of Congress


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