One of the last acts of the Con- gress of the Confederation was to ar- range for the first presidential elec- tion, setting March 4, 1789, as the date that the new government would come into being . One name was on everyone’s lips for the new chief of state, George Washington . He was unanimously chosen president and took the oath of office at his inau- guration on April 30, 1789 . In words spoken by every president since, Washington pledged to execute the duties of the presidency faithfully and, to the best of his ability, to “pre- serve, protect, and defend the Con- stitution of the United States .”

When Washington took office, the new Constitution enjoyed nei- ther tradition nor the full backing of organized public opinion . The new government had to create its own machinery and legislate a system of taxation that would support it . Until a judiciary could be established, laws could not be enforced . The army was small . The navy had ceased to exist .

Congress quickly created the de- partments of State and Treasury, with Thomas Jefferson and Alex- ander Hamilton as their respective secretaries . Departments of War


and Justice were also created . Since Washington preferred to make de- cisions only after consulting those men whose judgment he valued, the American presidential Cabinet came into existence, consisting of the heads of all the departments that Congress might create . Simultane- ously, Congress provided for a fed- eral judiciary — a Supreme Court, with one chief justice and five associ- ate justices, three circuit courts, and 13 district courts .

Meanwhile, the country was growing steadily and immigration from Europe was increasing . Ameri- cans were moving westward: New Englanders and Pennsylvanians into Ohio; Virginians and Carolinians into Kentucky and Tennessee . Good farms were to be had for small sums; labor was in strong demand . The rich valley stretches of upper New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia soon became great wheat-growing areas .

Although many items were still homemade, the Industrial Revo- lution was dawning in the United States . Massachusetts and Rhode Is- land were laying the foundation of important textile industries; Con- necticut was beginning to turn out tinware and clocks; New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania were pro- ducing paper, glass, and iron . Ship- ping had grown to such an extent that on the seas the United States was second only to Britain . Even be- fore 1790, American ships were trav- eling to China to sell furs and bring back tea, spices, and silk .

At this critical juncture in the country’s growth, Washington’s wise leadership was crucial . He organized a national government, developed policies for settlement of territories previously held by Britain and Spain, stabilized the northwestern frontier, and oversaw the admission of three new states: Vermont (1791), Ken- tucky (1792), and Tennessee (1796) . Finally, in his Farewell Address, he warned the nation to “steer clear of permanent alliances with any por- tion of the foreign world .” This ad- vice influenced American attitudes toward the rest of the world for gen- erations to come .

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