Alexander Hamilton and Washington's Presidency

Alexander Hamilton played a key role in George Washington’s Cabinet. President Washington appointed him the first Secretary of the Treasury of the United States. He wrote speeches for the President, helped put down a rebellion, and served as an advisor to Washington on many issues.

New York, NY

Federal Hall

New York City was the nation’s first capital under the Constitution. On April 30, 1789, George Washington stood on the balcony of Federal Hall wearing a plain brown suit and took the oath of office. The original Federal Hall was built in 1700 as New York’s City Hall, but that building was demolished in 1812. The current building was opened in 1842 to serve as a customs house.

Federal Hall (11/23/1904)The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

The Original Federal Hall

Washington’s first draft of his Inaugural Address was seventy-three pages long. That draft was completely discarded. Hamilton applied his skills as a wordsmith to draft a new speech that could be read in only twenty minutes.

George Washington’s first inaugural address (National Archives) (April 30, 1789) by Washington, George (1732-1799)The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

George Washington’s First Inaugural Address, April 30, 1789

In the address, Washington expressed both the anxiety and the honor he felt in becoming president of the new nation. He discussed the importance of the Constitution and the need for a strong Bill of Rights. He also promised to serve the public good.

Washington, D.C.

The US Capitol

In 1790, Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson reached a compromise on two issues: Hamilton wanted the federal government to assume state debts from the Revolutionary War. Jefferson wanted the nation’s capital to be closer to the southern states.

Plan of the City of Washington, DC (February 3, 1792) by Ellicott, Andrew (fl. 1792)The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

Plan of the City of Washington, 1792

The Congressional Act to Establish the Capital called for the capital to be moved from New York to Philadelphia by 1790, then to a new city by 1800. The new capital would occupy land on the eastern side of the Potomac River. The act allocated funds to construct the buildings and authorized the appointment of a group of commissioners to supervise the work. President Washington laid the cornerstone of the US Capitol building on September 18, 1793.

Philadelphia, PA

President's House Site

From 1790 to 1800, Philadelphia served as the second capital of the United States. George Washington’s house, which has been partially reconstructed, was within walking distance of Independence Hall.

Washington’s residence on High Street (New York Public Library)The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

Washington’s Residence in High Street

Washington lived in this house on High Street in Philadelphia for most of his two terms as president. Many Americans were surprised when Washington decided to step down. In 1796, he turned to Hamilton to draft his Farewell Address.

George Washington's Farewell Address (September 17, 1796) by Washington, George (1732-1799)The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

Washington's Farewell Address, 1796

George Washington’s Farewell Address took the form of a letter to the American people. Washington advised American citizens to view themselves as part of a united country and to avoid establishing political parties. He also warned them against involvement in international conflicts.

Washington Sends Troops to Enforce the Law

Fort Cumberland, Maryland

In 1791, Congress passed a tax on whiskey, which greatly impacted farmers who produced alcohol from grain. The Whiskey Rebellion started when farmers refused to pay the tax and attacked the tax collectors. Washington ordered troops to gather at Fort Cumberland in Maryland to suppress the rebellion. This small cabin is all that remains of the original fort.

Alexander Hamilton to Pennsylvania Governor Thomas Mifflin (September 20, 1794) by Hamilton, Alexander (ca. 1757-1804)The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

Hamilton to the Governor of Pennsylvania, September 20, 1794

Washington ordered Alexander Hamilton to lead 12,000 troops to put down the rebellion of American farmers against the tax on whiskey. In this letter, Hamilton urges Pennsylvania governor Thomas Mifflin to raise the state militia to help put down the resistance.

Washington reviewing the Western Army at Fort Cumberland (Metropolitan Museum of Art) (Ca. 1795) by Kemmelmeyer, Frederick (ca. 1755–1821)The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

Washington Reviewing the Western Army at Fort Cumberland, Maryland

This painting shows Washington reviewing the troops at Fort Cumberland, Maryland. Within a month, most of the rebels had retreated or left the state. Washington and Hamilton’s victory proved that the federal government could enforce the law.

Philadelphia, PA

Congress Hall

When the French Revolution began in 1789, Americans were hopeful that France would become a republic like the United States. However, by 1793, the French Revolution had turned into a Reign of Terror with more than 16,000 sentenced to death. Many European countries declared war against France. When the legislature met at Congress Hall in Philadelphia that year, in spite of sympathy for the French revolutionaries, the US opted to remain neutral in the conflict.

Washington's Neutrality Proclamation (May 2, 1793) by Washington, George (1732-1799)The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

Neutrality Proclamation Broadside, 1793

Washington and Hamilton feared being drawn into a major war between France and the rest of Europe. In 1793, they issued a Neutrality Proclamation stating that the US would not become involved in the conflict. Republicans believed this violated the Constitution, claiming the president did not have the power to declare war or neutrality.

Newport, RI

Touro Synagogue

On August 17, 1790, George Washington visited Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island. There, Moses Seixas, leader of the congregation, read aloud a letter he had written to the President. The letter expressed Seixas’ happiness at the religious tolerance promised by the proposed Bill of Rights.

George Washington (1852) by Peale, Rembrandt (1778-1860)The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

Portrait of George Washington by Rembrandt Peale

In his reply to Moses Seixas, Washington thanked him for his support and wrote of the American ideal of religious freedom for all.

George Washington to Moses Seixas (Library of Congress) (August 18, 1790) by Washington, George (1732-1799)The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

George Washington to Moses Seixas, August 18, 1790

In his letter to Moses Seixas, Washington affirms the commitment of the United States to religious freedom: “For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

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