George Washington: First in War, First in Peace, and First in the Hearts of His Countrymen
For Lesson Three:
A Reluctant Leader
Washington, after serving as Commander of the Continental Army and President of the Federal Convention, expressed a great reluctance to again enter public service when the nation called upon him to serve as chief executive under the newly adopted Constitution. In a letter to Henry Knox, April 1, 1789, Washington clearly expressed his views.
During his first term in office, Washington was aware that virtually every action he took established precedence. Mindful of the importance of his decisions, he enlisted highly qualified men to form his cabinet and often called upon them for advice. Washington's first term in office generally focused on pressing economic issues. Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton's fiscal program aroused considerable public outcry and factions began to develop around the two prominent members of the president's cabinet, Treasury Secretary Hamilton and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. Washington supported most of Hamilton's recommendations, including the assumption of state debts, a national bank, and an excise tax on whiskey. Following a tour of the South, one of the sections of the country that had voiced major opposition to the Assumption Bill, Washington expressed his great satisfaction with the positive effects of Hamilton's fiscal program in a letter to Gov. Morris, July 28, 1791.
Near the termination of his term of office in 1792, Washington wrote to Representative James Madison requesting that he assist in preparing a farewell address to the nation. Although a draft was prepared, Madison and other prominent leaders in government convinced Washington to accept a second term.
During the second administration, Washington confronted a variety of domestic problems, including the refusal of western farmers to accept the excise tax on whiskey. Foreign affairs and Indian wars, however, consumed much of Washington's energy during the second term. Public criticism rarely expressed during the first term became more pronounced. Republic newspapers attacked the President's decision to use force to put down the Whiskey Rebellion. Gazettes labeled the Neutrality Proclamation as anti-French. The Jay Treaty with Britain (1795) also marshaled public sentiment against Washington in the south and west.
Determined to resist pressure to continue in office beyond a second term, Washington asked his confidant and former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton to review Madison's draft of the proposed 1792 farewell address and suggest revisions and the inclusion of other comments regarding the state of the nation. Hamilton reluctantly complied and on September 19, 1796, Washington's Farewell Address was published in the American Daily Advertiser, a Philadelphia newspaper.