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American history as it relates to the first five Presidents of the United States. Specifically, it will discuss the impact of early leaders of America on the democratic government, and how the first five presidents impacted early American government. It will also look at the accomplishments of each president and different facts about each that contributed positively and negatively on America as it formed as a nation. The first five presidents of the United States were George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe. Each man influenced American history in his own unique and significant ways, with both positive and negative results. These leaders were really creating the office of President as they tried to run the country with intelligence and finesse. Their accomplishments were not always perfect, but they did the best they could with the knowledge and resources available at the time.
THE IMPACT OF EARLY LEADERS
When the electors selected George Washington as the nation's first president in 1789, the office was far different from the presidency today. Washington's presidency began by a vote of presidential electors, not the people. He did not have an official residence; John Adams was the first president to live in the newly completed White House. Neither Washington nor his Vice-president John Adams represented a definitive political party, although they aligned themselves with the Federalist movement, who believed in "a strong central government. Those in accord with their principles wanted them reelected for a second term of four years.[...] Those who differed were known as Democratic Republicans or Republicans" (Kane 5).
Between Washington's first election in 1789, and the time he left office in 1797, he literally created much of government as we know it today - from scratch. He created the first State Department, Department of War, U.S. Mint, Treasury Department, the office of Attorney General, authorized the first U.S. Census, signed the first copyright laws, and created the District of Columbia (Kane 8). Washington was an innovator because he had to be; our government literally came into being during this time, and Washington was the impetus that kept on creating what was needed to run the country smoothly and efficiently. He was also the first president to veto a bill, and the first president to decline a third term in office.
Washington's contributions to American government were lengthy. The first person in any office certainly creates the office according to his own methods and beliefs, leaving a legacy behind no matter how much is changed after he leaves the office. Washington's efforts created a new and functional government and governmental departments that would last through history.
Other developments during his tenure can be attributed less to Washington's personal influence than to the circumstances of the time or to the role of others. The creation of the judicial branch was largely the responsibility of Roger Sherman, and the Bill of Rights was the consequence of the efforts of James Madison. The latter formulated the first national revenue system, and Alexander Hamilton created a financial system that funded the government's debts, instituted a national central bank, and established a national mint and stable currency. Washington's role in these developments was largely incidental, except that he either actively endorsed or indicated no opposition (which in itself constituted endorsement) to their implementation (Spragens 5).
Washington contributed much to the history of the nation. If he was negligent in any area, diplomacy was his weakest point, and he relied heavily on his advisors and political allies for advice in this area. "No single area of his administration caused greater controversy and contributed to his political decline as much as did diplomacy" (Spragens 6). The first President helped define and create the office. His initial creation relied too heavily on a central government, taking away power from the states, which Thomas Jefferson tried to remedy during his two terms in office. Washington was not the perfect President, but his great attention to detail helped create a working form of government that is a testament to his organizational powers and his understanding of successful governing bodies.
John Adams had spent two terms as vice-president to George Washington when he was elected in 1797, so he came into the job of president with both experience and his own ideas on government.
In 1796, the growth of political parties began. The strong central-government contingent in Congress, to whom the designation "Federalists" was applied, had been in power eight years during Washington's two administrations. They met in a congressional caucus to discuss policy, plans and procedure. They pledged their support in the 1796 election to John Adams of Massachusetts and Thomas Pinckney of South Carolina, whose views coincided with theirs (Kane 19).
During his presidency the U.S. Public Health Service, U.S. Marine Corps, and Library of Congress were all created, and the White House was completed, making him the first president to occupy the official residence of the President (Kane 20). He wrote of the residence, "Before I end my letter, I pray heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house, and on all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof!" (Kane 24).
One of Adam's most controversial events while in office was the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798, which did not allow aliens to vote for 14 years after they came to the country, and did not allow for anyone to speak out against the country or the government. These acts were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, and then repealed during Thomas Jefferson's presidency. John Adams was not nearly as popular as Washington, and only managed to serve one term in office. During his tenure, he created some vitally important government offices catering to health services and history, but he also alienated the people with his aloof and sometimes pompous mannerisms. He managed to avoid war with France during his administration, but he effectively ended the popularity and political dominance of the Federalists. "It has likewise been told repeatedly that Hamilton succeeded in breaking this man so devoid of political finesse and in so doing elevated his great antagonist Jefferson to a place where he might reorient American life" (Kurtz 10). Adams was an enigmatic figure, and suffered from following the successful Washington administration, which he could never hope to live up to. He also suffered from jealousy and envy, which helped create violent political enemies who worked tirelessly against him, such as Alexander Hamilton. His failures helped alter the American presidency into one controlled by political parties rather than the President himself.
Thomas Jefferson served as the Vice-president under John Adams, and defeated him in the presidential election of 1800 as a member of the Democratic-Republican Party. His Vice-president was Aaron Burr. The two were actually elected in February 1801, as they had both received the same number of president elector votes, and the tie had to be broken by additional voting. Jefferson served two terms as President. During his terms, he created the Army Corps of Engineers and the United States Military Academy, and signed the Louisiana Purchase, nearly doubling the size of the United States with the purchase. He also funded the exploration of Lewis and Clark, which ultimately led to the expansion of the United States all the way to the Pacific Ocean (Kane 28).
Jefferson was a Republican who believed in less national power and more power for the states and the people. "The powers of the national government would be cut drastically and control returned to the states and to the people. He would 'support State governments in all their rights.' [...] State governments would be reestablished as the 'surest bulwarks against anti-republican tendencies'" (Spragens 36). While Jefferson struggled with many issues during his presidency, one of his most important contributions to history was the Louisiana Purchase and the land it brought under U.S. control. His funding of the Lewis and Clark expedition to the Pacific Coast was also far-sighted, bringing far-flung results to the country with eventual colonization and land acquisition all the way to the Pacific Coast. Jefferson's policies and prowess helped establish the United States as a vital and powerful global presence. He was a strong ambassador and diplomat, and a learned and well-written man who raised the office of President to a new level.
Among the final acts of Adams's Administration, however, was one of the most important that he ever performed. After his dismissal of Pickering from the post of Secretary of State, he had appointed John Marshall to that office; then, toward the end of his Presidency, he raised Marshall to the Chief Justiceship of the United States. There were to be no more Federalist Presidents; but for the next generation an arch-Federalist was to interpret the Constitution. Mr. James Truslow Adams writes: 'By his nomination of Washington as Commander-in-Chief, Adams had made a nation possible. By his nomination…[continue]
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