Description and Analysis of the Decisions Taken by the Early Leaders of the United States, Essay Example

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Essay

After the American colonists had successfully freed themselves from British imperial rule, there were a number of questions for the new country to consider. These can be divided into three broad categories: the Federal government and its power; the people and their power; and foreign policy. The decisions taken by the leaders of the nation during this period would shape the American approach to politics and government for at least the next two centuries.

The first issue to consider is that of the Federal government and its power. It was the view of George Washington and others after the Revolution had been successfully concluded that the United States needed a strong Federal government. The reasoning behind this was that the competing interests and factions which would automatically arise in a new and diverse country like the USA needed to be restrained. James Madison said, “The federal Constitution forms a happy combination … the great … interests being referred to the national [legislature]; the local and particular to the state legislatures … The influence of factious [competing] leaders may kindle [start] a flame within their particular states, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration [large fire] through the other states.” (Document 1)

Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton was the first man to successfully pursue an aggressive Federalist policy in government. He set up the Bank of the United States, as well as initiating a reformed and balanced system of tariffs and taxes for the new country. A new political party, the Federalist Party, was also established as a result of these measures. The Federalists wanted a more pro-business and commerce line from government, and were in favour of increased trade with former masters Great Britain. The opposing faction, which centred around Thomas Jefferson, accused them of wanting to establish hierarchical government in America, with a ruling class composed of the rich and the possible return of a monarchy. These opponents of the Federalists are called the Democratic-Republican Party by historians. They, and Jefferson, were defeated in the presidential election of 1796, which saw John Adams come to power.

Jefferson himself was vigorously opposed to Federalist policy, and believed that a rich ruling class was not a good thing for America. He was keen to make the new republic as democratic as possible, at least in terms of following the will of the majority of voters. As he stated at the time, “It is my principle that the will of the Majority should always prevail [win]…Above all things I hope the education of the common people will be attended to; [I am] convinced that on their good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty.” (Document 2) Jefferson was a man who believed in the rural idyll as a way for America to exist. He saw small communities, independent farmers and planters. He possessed a huge distrust of many instruments of modern capitalism, such as banks, factories and large cities. Jefferson had a much more radical view of the way in which America should go, based on liberty and a fear of tyranny rather than a love of order.

When it came to foreign policy, the United States faced further internal dissension over what was the best approach to take. One line of reasoning, perhaps best summed up by George Washington, was that the USA should avoid making alliances with other nations. Washington said, “The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is…to have with them as little political connection as possible. It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.” (Document 3) This principle of non-intervention and isolationism would remain strong right up until the Second World War.

Maintaining such a stance in the latter years of the 18th century would prove difficult though, not least because of the war with France which was engulfing Europe and slowly spreading worldwide. This war meant that both France and Great Britain, powers who still exerted some influence in North America, seized ships who were trading with their enemies. The resultant controversy saw President Adams’ administration conclude a deal with Britain, but this angered the French. The ensuing diplomatic process was undermined when the French foreign minister Tallyrand asked for bribes and a loan, something which was considered a standard part of diplomatic practise in Europe at the time. It outraged American sensitivities though, and actually led to an ‘outbreak of hostilities’ called the Quasi War, which lasted from 1798 until 1800. This war proved to be an opportunity for opponents of Adams’ government, with Federalists looking to increase the size of the USA’s military. They also used the affair as a stick with which to beat the Democratic-Republican Party, which was perceived as adopting a pro-French stance. The view of the anti-French faction can be seen in Document 4, where America is depicted as a woman being robbed by Frenchmen, while Britain stands aside and laughs.

 

While the war, which primarily consisted of limited naval actions in the Caribbean, came to an end in 1800, its effects served to crystallise American viewpoints on interacting with European powers. While hawkish elements in politics called for war, others sought peace. This division between interventionists and isolationists can be traced to the present day, even down to conflicts such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

In conclusion, it can be seen that the decisions taken by the leaders of the USA during this early period of the nation’s history were massively important in forming the contemporary shape of the nation. American attitudes towards how democracy should function and the country’s relations with the rest of the planet often still follow the same patterns of discourse which were laid down in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

 

Nobel Peace Prize Nomination

My nomination is Elbridge Gerry. Despite being despised by all sides, it seemed, it was he who remained in France to resolve the conflict with Tallyrand’s nation.

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