Trouble abroad and at home test President Washington in his second term.

The second term for President Washington was marked by the choosing of political sides.  The philosophical, personal, and socioeconomic differences between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton led to a rivalry between their respective groups that formed the basis for modern political parties.  The issue that drove the wedge between the two groups was the French Revolution and subsequent war between revolutionary France and England.

French Revolution

The start of the French Revolution coincided with the beginning of Washington's first term.  The United States government's focus on domestic issues and the slow pace of communication in the late 1700's kept the French Revolution in the background until the end of the President's first term. 

President Washington gave his second inaugural address on March 4, 1793.  Word of Louis XVI's death reached the United States on March 17.  The end of the French monarchy and the formation of a new republican government in France required a decision from the United States.  Would the United States recognize the new French government?

To recognize France would mean risking a negative response from England and the pro-British Federalists.  President Washington responded, "We surely cannot deny to any nation the right whereon our own government is founded, that every nation may govern itself according to whatever form it pleases."  With that statement he empowered Secretary of State Jefferson to recognize the new French republic.

War Between France and England

England and France were already at war when news of Louis XVI's death reached the United States.  This war caused significant difficulties in the United States.  The Pro-British Federalists were not happy that the U.S. had recognized France.  The pro-French Democratic-Republicans wanted to get into the war on France's side.  President Washington wanted to keep the United States out of another war at all costs.  Washington believed that the United States needed time to grow its economy and establish itself as a country.  He knew that engaging in this war would interrupt the country's development. 

Regardless of whether the United States entered into the war or not, the war impacted the United States.  Both England and France used the ocean for major commerce.  Both wanted exclusive trade with the United States.  American merchant ships would dock at the same Atlantic ports as English merchant and military ships.  England had a large navy and many of the men were forced to serve in the navy against their will.  Occasionally, English seamen would desert their ships and hide aboard American vessels.  When men went missing, the English navy would search other boats in the harbor to find the deserters.  Many times, they would take American sailors and force them to serve on British warships.  This practice was known as impressment and was extremely unpopular in the United States.   

While the British were impressing American sailors, the French were recruiting private American ships.  The smaller French navy needed additional ships to fight the British.  One source of additional ships was private American citizens that were pro-French.  The French government would commission a private ship in its navy.  The ship would be fitted with weapons and asked to raid British merchant ships.  The privateer would be allowed to keep whatever they took from the British ships.

Neutrality Proclamation

The idea that American privateers would be raiding British ships concerned Washington greatly.  He did not want a small group of citizens pulling the whole country into war.  The American President acted as quickly as he could.  He called his cabinet and met in Philadelphia.  The cabinet voted unanimously to keep the U.S. out of the war and Thomas Jefferson was asked to write the announcement.  On April 22, 1973 the United States issued a statement to all citizens noting that those who contributed to hostilities on the ocean would receive no protection from the United States.  This statement became known as the Neutrality Proclamation and would further divide the pro-British Federalists and pro-French Democratic-Republicans.  Both the French and English would test the United States neutrality.

The French test would come in the form of Edmond-Charles Genet.  Genet was appointed minister to the United States by the French government in 1792.  In 1793, he sailed to the United States to gain American support for France's wars with England and Spain.  His first stop was Charleston, South Carolina.  While there, he recruited American privateers to fight the British at sea and started to recruit an army to attack Spanish Florida and Louisiana. 

President Washington was concerned that these acts would pull the United States into war with England and Spain.  As Genet's privateers had success, the risk that his actions would lead the United States to war with England increased.  Thomas Jefferson and President Washington both appealed to Genet to stop.  When he refused, Washington sent a request to the French government to have Genet recalled.  A new French government came to power in January 1794 and issued an arrest for Genet.  Once Genet learned that he would likely face the guillotine in France, he applied for amnesty in the United States, which was granted.

The English test came in early 1794, just after the French threat died down.  English lawmakers passed the Provision Order that empowered English vessels to capture any ship that was transporting goods to a belligerent.  The result of this law was that English ships were capturing American ships and forcing American crews to choose between prison and service in the Royal Navy.  Like with Genet and the French, the Provision Order and the acts by the English vessels escalated tensions within the United States.  Congress wanted to retaliate.  Fearing war with England, President Washington decided to send an envoy to England.  The decision on who to send was controversial.  The Federalists wanted Washington to send Hamilton.  President Washington, fearing backlash from the Democratic-Republicans, decided to send John Jay instead of Hamilton. 

Whiskey Rebellion

While Jay was in England, an internal test came from Western Pennsylvania.  An excise tax on distilled liquors was passed in 1790.  However, in 1794, opposition to the issue became violent.  Tax collectors and government officials in Western Pennsylvania were harassed for trying to enforce the law.  Believing that issues associated with the law had been modified in earlier sessions of Congress, President Washington felt that the only way to resolve the situation was to raise an army to put down the rebellion.  Under President Washington's leadership, the army's show of force convinced the protestors to relent and the Whiskey Rebellion ended.

Manufacturing Arms

Given the state of the world in 1794, it is not surprising that Congress decided that the United States needed the capability to manufacture its own muskets in order to reduce dependance on foreign countries.  To achieve this independence, Congress commissioned two armories, one in Springfield, MA and one in Harpers Ferry, VA.

Click here to see my experience at the Springfield Armory.

The armory at Harpers Ferry became a pivotal location during the Civil War.

Click here to learn more about the Civil War.

Jay Treaty

The treaty that John Jay negotiated in England was not what President Washington had wished.  The treaty allowed England to continue to restrict the United States' trade with France.  It failed to immediately resolve issues regarding the border between the United States and Canada.  It caused a political storm within the United States.  Democratic-Republicans were outraged at the concessions given  to England and feared it would harm relations with France.  Despite all of the issues and rancor, Congress approved the treaty and President Washington signed it.  The Jay treaty normalized trade and relations with England for ten years. 

The French response to the Jay treaty was predictably negative.  They believed that the treaty with England broke treaties that already existed between France and the United States.  French vessels began to apply the principals of the Jay treaty to their dealings with United States merchants.  The situation became difficult.  Washington responded by recalling James Monroe and replacing him with Charles Pinckney. 


Washington insisted that succession be determined at the ballot box.  By doing this, the United States would show the world that a republican form of government was viable.  During the election, Washington did not comment on either candidate nor did he comment after the results were in.  He attended john Adams' inauguration and retired to his home in Mount Vernon, VA, 

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