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American Government: Madison's and Washington's Performance

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The American government—in particular, the presidency—was in a remarkably primitive state. But Washington’s performance in those early years was both surefooted and brilliant. He went to one session of the Senate to receive its advice about a treaty but was annoyed because senators felt uncomfortable in his presence and would not debate its provisions. Washington withdrew angrily and swore he “would be damned if he went there again,” thus ensuring a tradition of separation between the executive and legislative branches. Departments of State, War, and Treasury were established, along with the office of Attorney General, each headed by a trusted presidential adviser. These advisers collectively became known as the cabinet. Washington strove for ideological balance in these appointments, thus augmenting their strength and credibility. He signed the first Judiciary Act of 1789, initiating the development of the judicial branch. A Supreme Court was created, headed by a chief justice and originally five associate justices, who were chosen by the President and approved by Congress. A network of district courts was also established. Congress sent the President ten amendments to the Constitution that became known as the Bill of Rights; these amendments strengthened civil liberties.

Foreign-In 1789, the French Revolution sent shock waves across the Atlantic. Many Americans, mindful of French aid during their own struggle for independence, supported returning the favor. At the same time, the British were once again inciting Native Americans to attack settlers in the West, hoping to destabilize the fledgling Republic. American anger in response to these attacks served to reinforce sentiments for aiding France in any conflict with Great Britain. Washington was leery of any such foreign entanglement, considering his country too weak and unstable to fight another war with a major European power. His insistence on neutrality in foreign quarrels set another key precedent, as did his insistence that the power to make such a determination be lodged in the presidency.

Domestic-Madison was president at a time when the U.S. was involved in increased industrialization and commerce, and he signed legislation promoting these advances. He supported the infrastructure improvements championed by Henry Clay and others. Known as the American System, this economic plan sought to unify the nation through improved transportation, restrictions on imports, and the power of the national bank. Even so, Madison was fearful of giving the federal government too much. He wanted the U.S. to develop into an industrial and commercial powerhouse, but ideally he wanted that to happen privately. Because of his commitment to republican values and his desire to limit the power of the federal government, he vetoed the Bonus Bill of 1817, which provided extensive government funding for improving transportation infrastructure.

Foreign-Any discussion of foreign policy under President Madison has to be understood within the context of the War of 1812. The War of 1812 was fought between the U.S. and Great Britain between 1812-1815. The war was fought over several issues, including trading rights, territorial disputes along the Canadian border, and perhaps most notably over the issue of impressment. Impressment was a popular practice of the time that involved basically kidnapping foreign sailors and forcing them to fight in the kidnapper’s navy. The British Royal Navy at this time had been kidnapping American sailors and ”impressing” them into service in the Royal Navy. When negotiations broke down, Madison decided enough was enough!

Britain and France had been at war since 1803. Americans had tried hard to remain neutral in this conflict and keep up communication and trade with both countries. Unfortunately, it wasn’t working. In 1806, France passed a law that prohibited trade between neutral parties, like the U.S., and Britain. French warships soon began seizing American merchant ships. In 1807, Britain retaliated, prohibiting trade between neutral parties and France. The British also began seizing American ships and demanded that all American vessels had to check in at British ports before they could trade with any other nation. America was getting the worst end of the deal on all sides. Along with their attempts to control trade, the British also tried to satisfy their need for sailors at America’s expense.

Britain claimed the right to board American ships and take into custody men who were thought to be deserters from the British navy. Most of the time, however, the British had no proof that the men they grabbed were really British deserters, and the U.S. government saw their actions as clear cases of impressment, the seizure of innocent men for forced service in a foreign navy. Historians tend to agree with the Americans; of the approximately ten thousand men captured from American ships, only about a thousand were actually British citizens.

Americans were furious, leading Thomas Jefferson to remark, ‘Never since the Battle of Lexington have I seen this country in such a state of exasperation as at present, and even that did not produce such unanimity.’ America’s neutrality and basic rights as an independent nation had clearly been violated, and something needed to be done about it. Jefferson didn’t want war, but he was willing to take economic measures. He hoped that perhaps an embargo would hit the British and French where it would hurt them the most, right in the pocketbook.

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American Government: Madison’s and Washington’s Performance. (2019, February 27). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 9, 2023, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/washingtons-performance/
“American Government: Madison’s and Washington’s Performance.” GradesFixer, 27 Feb. 2019, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/washingtons-performance/
American Government: Madison’s and Washington’s Performance. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/washingtons-performance/> [Accessed 9 Feb. 2023].
American Government: Madison’s and Washington’s Performance [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2019 Feb 27 [cited 2023 Feb 9]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/washingtons-performance/
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