Modern history

Conclusion: A Young Nation Comes of Age

In the 1780s and 1790s, the United States faced numerous obstacles to securing its place as a nation. Financial hardship, massive debts, hostile Indians, and shifting European alliances and conflicts had to be addressed by a federal government that, under the Articles of Confederation, was relatively weak. Yet despite these challenges, the confederation congress did initiate diplomatic relations with European and Indian nations and successfully organized the vast Northwest Territory. Nonetheless, by 1787 concerns about national security, fueled by rebellious farmers and frontier conflicts, led to the drafting of a new constitution. After a fierce battle in many states, the Constitution was ratified, and the federal government’s power to raise money, raise armies, and regulate interstate commerce was enhanced.

George Washington served as the first American president, and his administration implemented policies that enhanced U.S. power at home and abroad. Most important, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton implemented a series of measures to stabilize the American economy, pay off Revolutionary War debts, and promote trade and industry. Yet these policies also aroused opposition among political leaders like Jefferson and Madison, who viewed agriculture as the foundation of the American nation. And specific acts like the whiskey tax also fueled antagonism among ordinary farmers and frontiersmen. Although the Federalists continued to support Hamilton’s economic policies and pro-British diplomacy, they faced growing opposition from agrarian and pro-French Democratic-Republicans.

In 1798 the Federalist-controlled Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, further unifying Democratic-Republicans. By 1800 the Democratic-Republicans had created an opposition party that was less solid in its structure than the Federalists but sufficiently powerful to win control of Congress and the presidency. This peaceful transition in power boded well for the young United States.

Despite political setbacks, the Federalist legacy remained powerful. Many of Hamilton’s policies would continue to shape national economic growth, and the Federalists retained their political power in the Northeast for years to come. Hamilton himself retreated from public service following Jefferson’s election. Marginalized by the defeat of the Federalists and tainted after admitting to an adulterous affair, he focused on his law practice. Yet he could not stay entirely clear of politics. In 1804 Aaron Burr was passed over as the vice presidential candidate by the Democratic-Republicans and decided to seek the governorship of New York instead. Hamilton worked tirelessly to defeat Burr, and when the vice president lost, he challenged his nemesis to a duel. On July 11, 1804, Burr fatally shot Hamilton. Even in death, though, Hamilton retained his stature as the architect of the nation’s first economic policy.

Meanwhile Democratic-Republicans, many of whom were small farmers and frontiersmen, often fared worse than their Federalist counterparts, at least economically, even after Jefferson’s election. We do not know whether Daniel Shays voted in 1800, but he likely supported Jefferson. The rebellion Shays led in 1787 had helped convince many political leaders of the need for a new constitution, yet his role in creating the new nation was largely forgotten. Indeed, Shays, like many ordinary Continental soldiers, spent the rest of his life in relative obscurity. Having moved with his family to eastern New York in 1788, he finally received a federal military pension in 1818, just seven years before he died.

Shays’s pension was granted by a U.S. Congress still controlled by Democratic- Republicans. The Democratic-Republican Party would not be seriously challenged for national power until 1824, giving it nearly a quarter century to implement its vision of the United States. Yet developing a vision in opposition to that of the Federalists proved far easier than implementing that vision once the Democratic-Republicans—a heterogeneous group—held the power of the central government in their own hands.

Chapter Review


Identify and explain the significance of each term below.

Northwest Land Ordinance (1785 and 1787) (p. 168)

Shays's Rebellion (p. 172)

Virginia Plan (p. 174)

three-fifths compromise (p. 175)

Federalists (p. 176) Antifederalists (p. 176)

Bill of Rights (p. 178)

Neutrality Act (p. 180)

Democratic-Republican Party (p. 181)

Whiskey Rebellion (p. 181)

Jay Treaty (p. 182)

Pinckney Treaty (p. 183)

XYZ affair (p. 184)

Alien and Sedition Acts (p. 185)


Answer the focus questions from each section of the chapter.

1. what challenges did the new nation face in the immediate aftermath of the Revolutionary war?

2. How and why did the conflict between America and Great Britain continue after the war ended?

3. How did America's experience of the revolutionary war change the lives of African Americans and women?

4. what do uprisings by farmers and debtors tell us about social and economic divisions in the early republic?

5. what issues attracted the most intense debate during the drafting and ratification of the Constitution? why?

6. what role did hamilton imagine the federal government playing in the American economy? why were his proposals controversial?

7. How did events overseas shape domestic American politics in the 1790s?

8. what common concerns underlay the whiskey rebellion and shays's rebellion? How did the u.s. government deal differently with each?

9. what were the main issues dividing the Federalists and the Democratic-republicans?

10. what do the Alien and sedition Acts tell us about attitudes toward political

partisanship in late-eighteenth-century America?



• Northern states pass gradual emancipation laws

March 1783

• Officers encamped at Newburgh, New York, threaten to mutiny


• U.S. commissioners meet with Iroquois delegates at Fort Stanwix, New York


• Northwest Land Ordinance passed

• Annapolis Convention


• Shays's Rebellion


• Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia

• Northwest Land Ordinance revised

June 1788

• U.S. Constitution ratified


• Alexander Hamilton named secretary of the treasury

• Judiciary Act of 1789 passed


• French Revolution


• Little Turtle leads pan-Indian alliance against American settlements in the Ohio valley


• Bill of Rights ratified


• Neutrality Act passed

July- October 1793

• Yellow fever epidemic paralyzes Philadelphia


• Whiskey Rebellion

• Bethel African-American Methodist Church in Philadelphia founded


• Jay Treaty and Pinckney Treaty ratified


• Democratic-Republicans and Federalists contest presidential election


• Alien and Sedition Acts passed

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