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George Washington: Our First President’s Second Term

By Sam Blumenfeld
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #86, 2009.

President during the French revolution - George Washington: Our First President’s Second Term
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Sam Blumenfeld


On March 4, 1793, George Washington was inaugurated for his Second Administration at Federal House, Philadelphia. John Adams was elected Vice President, and the Cabinet posts were held by the same men as in the First Administration. Although he had been reluctant to serve a second term, Washington gave in to the pleadings of Madison, Jefferson, and others who argued that without him at the helm, the Union might break apart.

In the 3rd Congress (1793-95) there were 17 Federalists and 13 Democratic-Republicans in the Senate, and 48 Federalists and 57 Democratic-Republicans in the House. In the 4th Congress (1795-97) there were 19 Federalists (Tennessee had joined the Union) and 13 Democratic-Republicans in the Senate. In the House the Federalists increased their numbers from 48 to 54 and the Democratic-Republicans were down from 57 to 52.

On July 31, 1793, Thomas Jefferson resigned as Secretary of State after President Washington accepted Hamilton’s advice on foreign affairs. The French Revolution had begun in 1789 and in September 1792 the French monarchy was abolished. Jefferson, who had been ambassador to France, tended to favor the Revolution while Hamilton was critical of the Revolution’s reign of terror.

Hamilton and Jefferson also disagreed on the basic philosophy of government. Jefferson saw the U.S. as an agrarian nation with as much decentralized democratic freedom as possible, while Hamilton, preoccupied with finding the financial means to sustain a strong federal government, favored a nation of thriving cities and new industries.

In November 1792, the British began seizing American ships carrying French goods in the West Indies and impressing (kidnapping and forcibly enlisting) American sailors into the British Navy. Washington then sent John Jay, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, to Great Britain seeking British withdrawal from the Northwest, an end to the impressment of American sailors, compensation for slaves seized during the American Revolution, and restoration of trade rights in the West Indies.

Congress also passed the Neutrality Act, forbidding U.S. citizens from enlisting in the service of a foreign government. The French government had hoped to use American seamen to serve as mercenary privateers against British shipping in the West Indies.

In November 1794, Britain signed Jay’s Treaty, agreeing to withdraw its troops from the Northwest Territory by 1796. It also agreed to pay the U.S. $10 million in reparations for seized ships. In return, the U.S. agreed to settle pre-Revolutionary War debts owed to British creditors.

When the terms of the agreement were made public in March 1795, Southern planters were outraged at the Treaty’s failure to compensate them for the loss of their slaves. Nevertheless, the Senate ratified the Treaty and Washington reluctantly signed it.

As the end of his second term neared, Washington rejected the idea of a third term. He felt that he had done his duty to the new nation and that he could finally retire to his beloved Mount Vernon.

On September 19, 1796, America’s first President gave his Farewell Address. In it he warned his fellow citizens of the dangers of becoming involved in “entangling alliances” with foreign countries. He also stressed the importance of maintaining the Union despite regional differences. He said:

“The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so, for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very liberty which you so highly prize. [I]t is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned.

“The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations.These considerations speak a persuasive language to every reflecting and virtuous mind and exhibit the continuance of the Union as a primary object of patriotic desire.”

Yet, only sixty years later, the nation was rent in two by the Southern Secessionists, who obviously had forgotten Washington’s sound warnings and advice. The result was a horrendous Civil War, the destruction of the South, and the deaths of almost a half-million soldiers.

Washington died on December 14, 1799. But before dying, he freed his slaves. He abhorred the slave system because of its basic inhumanity and hoped that it would gradually disappear. But it took a Civil War to finally get rid of it.

Education expert Sam Blumenfeld’s Alpha-Phonics reading program is available on www.samblumenfeld.net. His latest book, The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, is about the Shakespeare authorship mystery.

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