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1 The Collision Of Cultures
2 Britain And Its Colonies
3 Colonial Ways Of Life
4 The Imperial Perspective
5 From Empire To Independence
6 The American Revolution
7 Shaping A Federal Union
8 The Federalist Era
9 The Early Republic
10 Nationalism And Sectionalism
11 The Jacksonian Impulse
12 The Dynamics Of Growth
13 An American Renaissance: Religion, Romanticism, And Reform
14 Manifest Destiny
15 The Old South
16 The Crisis Of Union
17 The War Of The Union
18 Reconstruction: North And South
19 New Frontiers: South And West
20 Big Business And Organized Labor
21 The Emergence Of Urban America
22 Gilded-age Politics And Agrarian Revolt
23 An American Empire
24 The Progressive Era
25 America And The Great War
26 The Modern Temper
27 Republican Resurgence And Decline
28 New Deal America
29 From Isolation To Global War
30 The Second World War
31 The Fair Deal And Containment
32 Through The Picture Window: Society And Culture, 19451960
33 Conflict And Deadlock: The Eisenhower Years
34 New Frontiers: Politics And Social Change In The 1960s
35 Rebellion And Reaction In The 1960s And 1970s
36 A Conservative Insurgency
37 Triumph And Tragedy: America At The Turn Of The Century

The Federalists: Washington and Adams - Document Overview

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The citizens of the new nation may have ratified their Constitution, but they still had to translate the words into actions. They proceeded by inaugurating a new government in 1789. Yet again, that was not enough, for they had to figure out what that government truly could and could not do. With that in mind, the American people debated the initiation, amendment, and interpretation of the rules by which they wanted to live. The revolutionaries had taken historical and transatlantic intellectual and political concepts, translated them into a language and form—an idiom—readily understood by Americans, and applied them to the American situation. The founders then had to make those words serve the new government—which involved some reinterpretation. As they labored to create a government and govern at the same time, the founders debated fiercely over whether they were undermining some of their revolutionary and constitutional concepts, or at least some of the original interpretations of those ideas, in the process. In the midst of these debates, having already established the Constitution as the organic law of the United States, the founders proceeded to build upon it with both administrative and statutory constructions. In doing so, they set precedents by which later generations would govern and judge themselves.

Federalists gained power first and tried to create not only a government in their image but also a nation to fit their vision. In many ways they succeeded, but not without encountering opposition, a resistance that had first been mounted against the ratification of the Constitution. In what was both a concession to the merit of their opponents' arguments as well as an expediency to gain ratification, the Federalists compromised over the issue of incorporating a Bill of Rights into the Constitution. Their subsequent policies and programs, whether on domestic or foreign issues, were also challenged—and sometimes changed—by the opponents who came to be known as the Democratic Republicans.

Although most Americans said they deplored the rise of factionalism that undermined consensus, they continued to fight over how the Constitution was to be interpreted and implemented, thus contributing to the rise of a new institution—the political party—during the administrations of George Washington and John Adams. Both factions or parties wanted to make the United States a viable nation: one with a financially sound foundation. Both Federalists and Republicans were concerned about national honor, interests, and security. These issues were top priorities in the 1790s as the nation tried to counter foreign intrigues directed against it at home as well as the foreign conflicts that encroached on its endeavors abroad. The Federalists and Republicans wanted a stable government that was respected nationally and internationally; and both wanted to ensure citizen rights. But they could not always agree on how to define or ensure these ends. For instance, the Federalists and Republicans differed on what was economically—a manufacturing or agricultural orientation—or diplomatically—fostering British or French connections—best for the nation. Therefore debates over programs that addressed immediate material concerns often became battles over differing visions for America's future and over what would have even more lasting repercussions: constitutional interpretation.

These conflicts revealed that consensus was an ideal that was often surrendered to more pragmatic compromise. Union, at times, seemed more important than unity. While some may have deplored compromise as the lesser sibling to consensus, others accepted it as another check within the new system they had created. The factions or parties checked one another as they dealt with sectionalism, economic interests, and competing images of America's future.


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