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Presidential Key Events

 

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George Washington - 04/30/1789: George Washington inaugurated as the first Preside…
George Washington inaugurated as the first President of the United States in New York City, the nation's capital. April 30, 1789

George Washington - 07/04/1789: Congress, led by Representative James Madison, ena…
Congress, led by Representative James Madison, enacts the first protective tariff. Madison consulted with President Washington about the need for the measure. July 04, 1789

George Washington - 03/26/1790: Congress passes the United Sta…
Congress passes the United States' first naturalization law, establishing terms of citizenship. March 26, 1790

George Washington - 05/29/1790: Rhode Island ratifies the Constitution, becoming t…
Rhode Island ratifies the Constitution, becoming the last of the original thirteen states under the Articles of Confederation to join the newly formed Union. May 29, 1790

George Washington - 05/31/1790: President Washington signs the first United States…
President Washington signs the first United States copyright law. May 31, 1790

George Washington - 07/16/1790: President Washington signs a bill into law that pe…
President Washington signs a bill into law that permanently places the nation's capital along the Potomac River, in an area to be called the District of Columbia. July 16, 1790

George Washington - 08/04/1790: President Washington signs a bill into law that di…
President Washington signs a bill into law that directed the federal government to assume the Revolutionary War debts of the states. August 04, 1790

George Washington - 12/06/1790: The United States Capital officially moves from Ne…
The United States Capital officially moves from New York to Philadelphia, where it remains until the completion of the District of Columbia in 1800. December 06, 1790

George Washington - U.S. Capital Moves to Philadelphia

On December 6, 1790, the United States Capital officially moved from New York City to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The capital remained in Philadelphia until 1800 when it permanently settled in Washington, D.C.

The United States government spent its first year (1789-1790) under the Constitution in the city of New York. During much of the preceding confederation period (1776-1787), however, Congress had resided in Philadelphia. Upon the formation of a new national government under the Constitution, the city campaigned vigorously for the federal government to return. While Congress chose to establish the nation's capital along the Potomac River in the District of Columbia, it also rewarded Philadelphia; it chose the Pennsylvania city to house the federal government until 1800 while its offices in Washington were under construction.

Arriving in time for the December 1790 session, Congress moved into Philadelphia's county courthouse, Congress Hall. These quarters quickly proved too small, and in 1793 the building had to be enlarged. The Supreme Court met in the mayor's courtroom in Philadelphia's city hall, and President George Washington moved into the former home of a local politician. As part of its improvement program, Pennsylvania offered to build Washington a presidential mansion. Washington, however, feared the city would use the residence in a bid to keep the capital in Philadelphia permanently. He also worried that living in grandeur would send the wrong message to Americans and the world about the nature of the new American republic. When Pennsylvania built the mansion anyway, Washington refused to live in it.

The initial adjustment period proved somewhat chaotic as legislators searched for housing in a city rapidly filling with tailors, barbers, shoemakers, and other entrepreneurs who hoped to capitalize on the presence of the federal government. Prices rose accordingly with the increased demand for goods and services, and many congressmen bemoaned the higher cost of living. The profusion of balls, dinners, dances, public lectures, musical performances, and theater spurred by the federal presence created a rich cultural environment. President Washington's weekly reception for politicians and foreign diplomats and Martha Washington's Friday evening soirées commanded the highest priority in the city's social scene. Washington's careful cultivation of public esteem and deference in Philadelphia enhanced his image as a national symbol and fostered the growth of American nationalism. In an era when most Americans looked to Congress as the primary branch of government, Washington's public persona in Philadelphia helped to elevate the stature of the presidency and solidify its importance in the American political system.

December 06, 1790

George Washington - 12/13/1790: Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, with…
Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, with President Washington's support, sends Congress a controversial message (The Report on a National Bank) calling for the creation of an official Bank of the United States. After a hard-won approval by Congress, Washington signs the bill on February 25, 1791. December 13, 1790

George Washington - 03/03/1791: Congress approves its first internal revenue law, …
Congress approves its first internal revenue law, creating fourteen revenue districts and placing a tax on all distilled spirits. March 03, 1791

George Washington - 09/09/1791: Commissioners name the territory within the Distri…
Commissioners name the territory within the District of Columbia (and the future seat of the Federal Government) the city of Washington in honor of the nation's first President. September 09, 1791

George Washington - 11/04/1791: The Miami Indians soundly defeat an American milit…
The Miami Indians soundly defeat an American military force of 1400 men led by General Arthur St. Clair at the cost of 900 American lives. The Washington Administration had sent St. Clair to the Ohio country with the hope that his presence would clear the way for American settlers. November 04, 1791

George Washington - 12/15/1791: The states officially ratify the first ten amendme…
The states officially ratify the first ten amendments to the Constitution, also known as the Bill of Rights. President Washington had called for their ratification in his first inaugural address. December 15, 1791

George Washington - 01/12/1792: President Washington appoints Thomas Pinckney as t…
President Washington appoints Thomas Pinckney as the first United States minister to England. Washington instructs him to convey a spirit of “sincere friendship” and to seek the liberation of American commerce from British regulations. January 12, 1792

George Washington - 10/13/1792: The cornerstone for the Presid…
The cornerstone for the President's mansion is laid in Washington D.C. October 13, 1792

George Washington - 12/1792: George Washington is unanimously re-elected Presid…
George Washington is unanimously re-elected President of the United States by the Electoral College. John Adams is elected for a second term as Vice President. December 1792

George Washington - 04/22/1793: President Washington issues a proclamation of neut…
President Washington issues a proclamation of neutrality, warning Americans to avoid aiding either side in the emerging conflict between Britain and revolutionary France. April 22, 1793

George Washington - 05/18/1793: President Washington cautiously receives…
President Washington cautiously receives France's envoy to the United States, Edmond Charles Genet. Washington fears that Genet wants to enlist U.S. aid in the conflict between Britain and France. May 18, 1793

George Washington - Washington Receives “Citizen Genet”

On May 18, 1793, President George Washington received the French minister to the United States, Edmond Charles Genet. Known as “Citizen Genet,” the minister had come to the United States to try to gain U.S. support for France. He arrived in the country in April 1793 and journeyed to Philadelphia, stopping to celebrate along the way with adoring, supportive crowds.

France and the United States had maintained friendly relations since signing an alliance in 1778. When the French Revolution turned violent in 1792, however, many Americans re-evaluated that friendship. Republicans, including Thomas Jefferson, sympathized with the revolution, seeing it as an emulation of America's own freedom struggle. Alexander Hamilton and his fellow Federalists feared that the chaos and violence would spread to the United States and destroy the young republic. When revolutionary France and Britain went to war in early 1793, Washington declared the United States neutral, warning Americans to avoid aiding either side in the emerging European conflict. However, this proclamation of neutrality only deepened domestic partisan divisions over the tenor of Franco-American relations.

Edmond Charles Genet arrived in the United States in April 1793 with instructions to persuade the President to observe the 1778 treaty by supporting the French war effort. Twisting Washington's definition of neutrality, Genet immediately set to work attempting to use American commercial ports as French military bases. He cultivated support against neutrality and tried to stir up agitation in the western United States against the Spanish territories of Louisiana and Florida. Even Jefferson, initially a supporter of Genet, tried to restrain the Frenchman, but to no avail. When Washington refused to cooperate with Genet's schemes, Genet threatened to appeal directly to the American people.

Washington and Hamilton believed Genet's activities constituted a threat to the stability of the American republic. Hamilton and other Federalists worked to discredit Genet, and Republicans tried to distance themselves from him. In August 1793, Washington and his cabinet unanimously agreed to request that France recall Genet. However, a new government had come to power in France during Genet's absence, and it had decided that his actions were hurting its cause and called for his arrest. Fearing for the Frenchman's safety, Washington allowed Genet to remain in the country as a private resident; he lived in New York until his death in 1834.

Genet's activities in 1793 sharpened the existing divisions between Federalists and Republicans, adding to the growing political partisanship that marked the 1790s. As the American citizenry became further politicized, President Washington's ability to promote consensus quickly eroded and his ability to govern was compromised. Washington's second term stalled under intense partisan political turmoil, one of the reasons he happily retired to Mount Vernon when his presidency ended.

May 18, 1793

George Washington - 10/1793: American relations with Britain begin to deteriora…
American relations with Britain begin to deteriorate rapidly after the British government issues secret orders for the Royal Navy to confiscate any vessels trading with French possessions in the Caribbean. The Royal Navy seizes more than 200 American ships. October 1793

George Washington - 12/31/1793: Thomas Jefferson resigns as secretary of state. Pr…
Thomas Jefferson resigns as secretary of state. President Washington appoints Edmund Randolph as his successor. December 31, 1793

George Washington - 03/1794: Congress responds to British aggression by authori…
Congress responds to British aggression by authorizing the production of six warships (March 11) and announcing a sixty-day embargo on American shipping (March 26). The Washington administration supports both measures. March 1794

George Washington - 04/16/1794: In the hopes of quelling mounting tensions between…
In the hopes of quelling mounting tensions between the United States and Britain, Washington selects Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Jay to serve as a special envoy to Britain, in the hope that he can broker a deal with the British government to improve relations and address American grievances. April 16, 1794

George Washington - 07/1794: Farmers in western Pennsylvania rebel over the str…
Farmers in western Pennsylvania rebel over the strict enforcement of an excise tax on whiskey passed in 1791. President Washington issues a proclamation on August 7 ordering the insurgents to return home. When this fails, he calls up more than 12,000 militiamen and dispatches them to Pennsylvania, whereupon the insurrection dissolves. July 1794 - December 1901

George Washington - 08/20/1794: General Anthony Wayne defeats an Indian force numb…
General Anthony Wayne defeats an Indian force numbering more than 1,000 at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. The victory helps open the Ohio territory for American settlement and is a defeat for Britain, which had allied with the Native Americans in the region. August 20, 1794

George Washington - 11/19/1794: John Jay concludes a treaty of Amity, Commerce and…
John Jay concludes a treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation with Britain, known today as the Jay Treaty. Democrat-Republicans, and the American public in general, attack the treaty mercilessly as a betrayal of American interests, opening a fierce partisan political debate. November 19, 1794

George Washington - Jay Treaty Signed

On November 19, 1794, American statesman John Jay signed the Amity, Commerce, and Navigation Treaty with Britain. The treaty, now known as Jay's Treaty, was designed to resolve issues between the United States and Britain. Although the treaty left some important issues unresolved and its ratification divided politicians in the young federal government, it successfully allowed the United States to avoid war with its more powerful adversary, Britain.

In the 1790s, the United States was struggling to assert both its political and economic independence, and the new nation encountered difficulties in foreign relations when its two primary trading partners, Britain and France, went to war yet again. President George Washington sought to follow a policy of strict neutrality, allowing American merchants and ships to trade with both countries while aiding neither in their war efforts. Britain, however, confiscated many American ships and their cargoes, arguing that they aided the French war effort. British naval vessels also frequently impressed American sailors, forcing them to work on British ships. Britain, in addition, still barred American ships from participating in the lucrative West Indian trade, a policy it formulated during the American Revolution. The United States was also upset by Britain's refusal to evacuate its forts in the Great Lakes area, although it had agreed to do so in the Treaty of Paris of 1783.

These British actions outraged many Americans. Attempting to keep the United States out of war, President Washington worked for a diplomatic solution. He sent John Jay, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, to England in 1794 to negotiate a peaceful resolution of the issues. Jay concluded a treaty in which Britain promised to leave its forts in the Great Lakes region, agreed to arbitration for disputes over the Canadian border (one of the first instances of arbitration in diplomatic history), and gave American ships limited trading rights with British possessions in the East and West Indies. The treaty left unresolved, however, the issues of impressments and American neutrality.

Jay's Treaty still needed to earn Senate ratification - and a tough battle loomed. The ratification process, in which Federalists supported and Democrat-Republicans opposed the treaty, became bogged down in partisan differences, destroying what little remained of the consensus President Washington had tried to instill in the federal government. As a piece of diplomacy, Jay's Treaty was imperfect but still a success. The treaty did not secure everything the Americans wanted because it failed to deal with the impressment problem and American neutrality, and because it seemed to acquiesce to British supremacy on the seas. The treaty, however, did put off direct conflict between America and its much stronger rival, and it won the United States important territorial and trade concessions - no small feat for a new nation confronting a global power.

November 19, 1794

George Washington - 01/31/1795: Alexander Hamilton resigns from his post as secret…
Alexander Hamilton resigns from his post as secretary of the treasury. Washington appoints Oliver Wolcott to replace Hamilton. January 31, 1795

George Washington - 06/24/1795: After fierce public debate, the Senate ratifies th…
After fierce public debate, the Senate ratifies the Jay Treaty. President Washington signs the treaty on August 14. June 24, 1795

George Washington - 10/27/1795: The United States signs the Treaty of San Lorenzo …
The United States signs the Treaty of San Lorenzo with Spain, granting Americans the right to ship goods through the port of New Orleans without having to pay duties to the Spanish Government. October 27, 1795

George Washington - 11/1795: The American Government, represented by David Hump…
The American Government, represented by David Humphreys, agrees to pay a sum of nearly a million dollars to the Dey of Algiers for protection of American shipping in the Mediterranean and for the ransom of sailors. November 1795

George Washington - 03/1796: A heated dispute erupts between President Washingt…
A heated dispute erupts between President Washington and his Federalist allies and Democrat-Republicans in the House of Representatives after the latter demand that the President provide Congress with all papers relating to the Jay Treaty. Washington refuses their demands. March 1796 - December 1901

George Washington - 06/01/1796: Congress grants Tennessee’s application for stateh…
Congress grants Tennessee's application for statehood, allowing it to become the 16th state in the Union. June 01, 1796

George Washington - 07/1796: France informs James Monroe, America’s leading diplomat…
France informs James Monroe, America's leading diplomat in Paris, that the Jay Treaty violates, and therefore suspends, certain provisions of the 1778 Treaty of Amity and Commerce between the two nations. This begins a serious diplomatic crisis between France and the United States. July 1796

George Washington - 09/19/1796: President Washington releases what has become know…
President Washington releases what has become known as his “Farwell Address,” in which he advises future American leaders to minimize “political connection” with foreign powers. September 19, 1796

George Washington - Washington’s Farewell Address

On September 19, 1796, newspapers around the country published President George Washington’s Farewell Address. In his address, Washington summarized his presidential tenure, cautioned against political divisions, and advised future American leaders to minimize connections with foreign powers.

President Washington, after nearly eight years as the nation’s first President, determined that he would not accept a third term in office. By this time, political divisions between Alexander Hamilton on one side and James Madison and Thomas Jefferson on the other had hardened into proto-political parties. Whereas in 1789, at the time of Washington's inauguration, loyalty to country and Constitution equated with loyalty to the President, the rise of political parties had begun to separate the two. Washington, as a result, faced increasing criticism of his domestic and foreign policies during his second term. Upon deciding to retire, he offered his Farewell Address both as a defense of his presidency and a plea for the future of the federal government.

Washington released his farewell in the nation’s newspapers in September 1796; he never presented it in person before any assembly. The President opened with a tribute to the people of the United States and with an explanation that his time for retirement had come. He then emphasized the importance of union and the need to avoid sectional and factional divisions. He also warned the country against permanent alliances with foreign nations.

Both points responded to issues in his presidency. Washington felt betrayed by the partisan criticism of his leadership and equated lack of support for his administration with lack of commitment to the Constitution. His address thus sought to vindicate his leadership, as well as promote harmony in future governance. One policy that had been criticized by the Jefferson-led opposition involved relations with revolutionary France. Washington issued a proclamation of neutrality in 1793 upon the resumption of conflict between France and Britain. Jeffersonians argued this violated the French-American Treaty of 1778 whereby each nation pledged to assist the other. Washington feared involvement in European conflicts would jeopardize the stability of the fledgling United States, and in his farewell attempted to justify his neutrality policy.

Preliminary drafts of the Farewell Address revealed Washington’s bitterness over the political climate in 1796. Revisions by Alexander Hamilton softened many of the complaints and omitted the self-pitying passages. Even so, when placed in the context of the times, the farewell reads as a lament, an ambiguous end to the first President’s career. It illustrates Washington’s belief in the central importance of the presidency, yet at the same time demonstrates that as early as 1796, the emerging political system had begun to shape, constrain, and frustrate the executive.

To read President Washington’s Farewell Address, click here.

September 19, 1796

George Washington - 11/04/1796: In an agreement resembling the one signed with the…
In an agreement resembling the one signed with the Dey of Algiers in 1795, the American government signs a treaty with Tripoli, agreeing to pay a yearly tribute to the Pasha of Tripoli in exchange for the peaceful treatment of U.S. shipping in the Mediterranean region. November 04, 1796

George Washington - 12/1796: John Adams is elected President of the United Stat…
John Adams is elected President of the United States. Thomas Jefferson, the candidate with the second highest electoral vote, becomes vice president. December 1796

George Washington - 01/1797: France refuses to accept Monroe’s replacement, Charles…
France refuses to accept Monroe's replacement, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, as American envoy to France, worsening relations between the two nations. January 1797

John Adams - 03/04/1797: John Adams is inaugurated as the second President …
John Adams is inaugurated as the second President of the United States in Philadelphia. Thomas Jefferson will serve as Vice President. March 04, 1797

George Washington - 03/04/1797: John Adams is inaugurated as the second President …
John Adams is inaugurated as the second President of the United States, thereby officially ending the presidency of George Washington. Washington retires to his home at Mount Vernon. March 04, 1797

John Adams - 05/15/1797: Adams calls the first special session of Congress …
Adams calls the first special session of Congress to debate the mounting crisis in French-American relations. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, the American envoy in France, had left France after being insulted by the French foreign minister. May 15, 1797

John Adams - 05/19/1797: Adams appoints a three man commission, composed of…
Adams appoints a three man commission, composed of Charles C. Pinckney, Elbridge Gerry, and John Marshall, to negotiate a settlement with France. May 19, 1797

John Adams - 06/24/1797: President Adams is authorized by Congress to raise…
President Adams is authorized by Congress to raise a militia of 80,000 men for defensive purposes in case of war with France. June 24, 1797

John Adams - 10/18/1797: The three man American peace commission is receive…
The three man American peace commission is received coolly and then asked to pay a bribe in order to speak with French Foreign Minister Charles Maurice Talleyrand. This episode becomes known as the “XYZ Affair.” October 18, 1797

John Adams - The XYZ Affair

On October 18, 1797, three Americans who were sent to France by President John Adams to represent a U.S. peace commission, were received coolly and then asked to pay a bribe in order to speak with French Foreign Minister Charles Maurice Talleyrand. This episode became known as the “XYZ Affair,” after the French agents who met with the American delegation. The incident affected U.S. relations with France and damaged the Democratic-Republican Party because of its traditional pro-French stance.

When France broke diplomatic ties with the United States in 1796, incoming President John Adams organized a delegation to negotiate with the French government. Charles Pinckney, John Marshall, and Elbridge Gerry arrived in Paris in October 1797 with instructions to normalize diplomatic relations and ensure French privateers would no longer harass American shipping.

The American delegation encountered open hostility, and the French minister of foreign relations, Charles Maurice Talleyrand, refused to meet with them. On various occasions, four agents, later called W, X, Y, and Z by President Adams, contacted the Americans. They demanded an apology for insulting remarks made by Adams and wanted loans to the French government along with some $25,000 in bribes for French officials in return for talks with Talleyrand. Further, they implied war would result if the Americans did not meet the demands. Pinckney and Marshall refused to negotiate under such circumstances. Gerry, who sympathized with the French, urged patience. He remained in Paris until the fall of 1798, although Marshall and Pinckney left in the early months of the year.

When President Adams received news of the failed mission in March 1798, he called for restraint. Initially giving Congress only a partial account of events, he favored continued attempts to negotiate, but also urged Congress to strengthen the country's defenses. Many, such as Secretary of State Timothy Pickering, called for an immediate declaration of war, and war fever grew steadily throughout 1798. Federalists denounced opposition to strong government action as unpatriotic and labeled Gerry treasonous for remaining in France. After President Adams turned over to Congress all of the delegation's correspondence on the failed negotiations, Democratic-Republicans, traditionally supporters of France, found themselves on shaky ground. Unsuccessfully trying to separate patriotism from support for a particular administration, they were seen as public enemies.

The issues with France remained unresolved. Congress activated the tiny, new navy in 1798, and fought an undeclared naval war with France for two years. Of longer-term significance, Federalists used the anti-Democratic-Republican fervor to try to solidify their leadership. The Alien and Sedition Acts, passed in 1798 by the Federalist Congress, essentially outlawed French immigrants and criticism of the government. This step backward in Democratic-Republican's attempts to establish the idea of loyal opposition caused opposition leaders to turn to state governments as bulwarks against unrestrained federal power.

October 18, 1797

John Adams - 01/08/1798: The Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution of the …
The Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution of the United States is declared in full force by President Adams. It stipulates that federal courts shall not have the jurisdiction over litigation between individuals from one state against individuals from another state. January 08, 1798

John Adams - 04/03/1798: President Adams exposes the XYZ affair, providing …
President Adams exposes the XYZ affair, providing Congress with letters from the peace commission indicating French efforts to bribe and intimidate U.S. officials seeking to speak with French diplomat, Charles Maurice Talleyrand. The reaction was one of outrage and intimidation. April 03, 1798

John Adams - 04/07/1798: Congress establishes the government for the new Mi…
Congress establishes the government for the new Mississippi Territory. The Spanish had ceded the territory to the United States in the 1795 Treaty of San Lorenzo. President Adams appoints native Winthrop Sergeant as governor and selects the town of Natchez to serve as its first capital. April 07, 1798

John Adams - 05/03/1798: Adams appoints Benjamin Stoddert to serve as the f…
Adams appoints Benjamin Stoddert to serve as the first secretary of the Navy for the newly formed Department of the Navy. Congress had established the department four days earlier in preparation for war with France. May 03, 1798

John Adams - 05/28/1798: Congress empowers Adams to enlist 10,000 men for s…
Congress empowers Adams to enlist 10,000 men for service in case of a declaration of war or invasion of the country's domain. It also authorizes Adams to instruct commanders of ships-of-war to seize armed French vessels praying upon or attacking American merchantmen about the coast. May 28, 1798

John Adams - 06/18/1798: The first of four acts known collectively as the A…
The first of four acts known collectively as the Alien and Sedition Acts is adopted. The Alien and Sedition acts aimed to curb criticism of administration policies and prevent internal subversion. The first act, stipulating requirements for naturalized citizenship, demanded residence in the United States for period of fourteen years and a declaration of intention for five years. June 18, 1798

John Adams - Congress Approves the First Alien and Sedition Act

On June 18, 1798, Congress approved the first of four acts that collectively became known as the Alien and Sedition Acts. These four acts became the most bitterly contested domestic issue during the presidency of John Adams.

The Alien and Sedition Acts consisted of four different pieces of legislation. The Naturalization Act increased the residency requirement from five to fourteen years before citizenship could be granted; the Alien Act authorized the President to deport any alien he deemed dangerous to the security of the United States; and the Alien Enemies Act allowed the President to deport aliens of an enemy country or restrict their freedoms in times of war. The Sedition Act targeted Americans themselves by forbidding opposition to laws of the federal government and making it illegal to publish criticism of the government. Because opposition had not yet gained legitimacy in American politics, the Federalist-controlled presidency and Congress used the Sedition Act to try to limit the influence of the Democratic-Republicans.

Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts in the summer of 1798 as tension between Federalists and Democratic-Republicans peaked. Federalists, led by President John Adams, sought a strong, orderly central government, and feared the chaos of the French Revolution. Democratic-Republicans accused Federalists of instituting a tyranny similar to the one they had struggled against in the American Revolution. Lauding the efforts of French revolutionaries, they believed that a minimal central government best served the people's interests.

As hostilities loomed between France and the United States, the three anti-alien laws targeted French and pro-French immigrants whom Federalists thought brought dangerous political ideas to America; moreover, Federalists believed, those recent arrivals would likely support the Democratic-Republican Party. Concerned citizens around the country petitioned President Adams to oppose the restrictive measures. Adams responded with a series of public addresses admonishing the people against factional divisions and foreign interference in American government. His administration vigorously enforced the legislation: under the Sedition Act, the most controversial of the four, several Democratic-Republican newspaper publishers were arrested, and ten were convicted for seditious libel before the acts expired in 1801. After the Democratic-Republicans took office in 1801, Federalists found themselves the victims of their own policies when the new administration of President Thomas Jefferson prosecuted several Federalist editors in state courts.

More than tools of partisan politicking, however, the Alien and Sedition Acts brought to the fore the issues of free speech and the balance of power between the state and federal governments. It also forced Americans to grapple with the fact that instead of classical republican harmony or unitary support for presidential leadership, dissent would thereafter characterize American politics.

June 18, 1798

John Adams - 06/25/1798: Congress passes the Alien Act, granting President …
Congress passes the Alien Act, granting President Adams the power to deport any alien he deemed potentially dangerous to the country's safety. June 25, 1798

John Adams - 07/06/1798: Congress passes the third of the Alien and Seditio…
Congress passes the third of the Alien and Sedition acts, the Alien Enemies Act. The act provides for the apprehension and deportation of male aliens who were subjects or citizens of a hostile country. July 06, 1798

John Adams - 07/07/1798: Adams appoints George Washington to serve as comma…
Adams appoints George Washington to serve as commander in chief of the United States Army. All French treaties between the United States and France are declared null and void by vote in Congress, most notably the 1778 Treaty of Alliance. July 07, 1798

John Adams - 07/14/1798: Congress adopts the Sedition Act, the fourth and l…
Congress adopts the Sedition Act, the fourth and last of the Alien and Sedition acts. The bill subjects any American citizen to a fine and/or imprisonment for obstructing the implementation of federal law, or for publishing malicious or false writings against Congress, the President, or the government. July 14, 1798

John Adams - 09/12/1798: Philadelphia newspaper editor Benjamin Franklin Ba…
Philadelphia newspaper editor Benjamin Franklin Bache, grandson of Benjamin Franklin, is arrested under Sedition Act for “libeling” President Adams. September 12, 1798

John Adams - 11/16/1798: The Kentucky State Legislature adopts the Kentucky…
The Kentucky State Legislature adopts the Kentucky Resolutions, reserving states' right to override federal powers not enumerated in the U.S. Constitution. Thomas Jefferson, angry at the Adams administration for the Alien and Sedition acts, authors the resolution. November 16, 1798

John Adams - 02/09/1799: The United States Navy scores its first clear vict…
The United States Navy scores its first clear victory against France when the frigate Constellation captures the French ship L'Insurgente near the island of St. Kitts. February 09, 1799

John Adams - 03/30/1799: President Adams selects Van Murray, Chief Justice …
President Adams selects Van Murray, Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth, and North Carolina Governor Davie to serve as U.S. envoys to France upon assurance from the French that they will be received with the respect owed to their nation. March 30, 1799

John Adams - 07/11/1799: U.S. diplomats conclude a Treaty of Amity between …
U.S. diplomats conclude a Treaty of Amity between the United States and Prussia in Berlin. July 11, 1799

John Adams - 10/26/1799: Thomas Cooper, a resident of Northumberland, Penns…
Thomas Cooper, a resident of Northumberland, Pennsylvania, is tried and convicted of libel against President Adams and his administration under the newly adopted Sedition Act. October 26, 1799

John Adams - 01/10/1800: Congress finally passes a treaty with Tunis, negot…
Congress finally passes a treaty with Tunis, negotiated originally in 1797. January 10, 1800

John Adams - 02/01/1800: The United States frigate “Constellation” def…
The United States frigate Constellation defeats the French ship La Vengeance on the high seas. February 01, 1800

John Adams - 04/04/1800: Congress passes and Adams signs into law the Feder…
Congress passes and Adams signs into law the Federal Bankruptcy Act, providing merchants and traders protection from debtors. April 04, 1800

John Adams - 04/24/1800: A resolution is passed and eventually signed by Pr…
A resolution is passed and eventually signed by President Adams calling for the establishment of a Library of Congress. April 24, 1800

John Adams - 05/07/1800: Congress passes an act dividing the Northwest Terr…
Congress passes an act dividing the Northwest Territory into two parts, with the border between them running north from the junction of the Ohio and Kentucky Rivers. The western part of the territory will be known as the Indiana Territory while the eastern half will retain the name Northwest Territory. May 07, 1800

John Adams - 06/1800: The new city of Washington in the District of Colu…
The new city of Washington in the District of Columbia becomes the official capital of the United States, succeeding Philadelphia. It would not be until November that Congress convened in the new capital and Adams moved into the new Executive Mansion. June 1800

John Adams - Washington Becomes U.S. Capital

On June 11, 1800, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, ceased to be the capital of the United States, as the new city of Washington in the District of Columbia became the country's official capital. The federal government moved its offices to Washington, D.C., in June. In November, President John Adams first slept in the unfinished Executive Mansion (now known as the White House) and Congress met for the first time in the U.S. Capitol building.

In 1790, Congress passed “An Act for Establishing the Temporary and Permanent Seat of the Government of the United States,” commonly known as the Residence Act. The act made Philadelphia the temporary capital for ten years and authorized the President to select a site for the nation's permanent capital along the Potomac River. As President, George Washington energetically promoted the development of his namesake city so it would be ready to receive the federal government in 1800, according to the terms of the Residence Act.

In 1791, President Washington asked the French engineer Pierre Charles L'Enfant to design the city. L'Enfant's plans included great public squares, extensive parks and gardens, a system of avenues radiating from the city's center, and public buildings located majestically along the Potomac. His dismissal from the project in 1792, combined with a lack of funding for construction, rendered the city woefully underdeveloped when the federal government arrived in 1800. (It was not until the twentieth century, in fact, that L'Enfant's designs for the city were gradually implemented.) At the dawn of the nineteenth century, only one wing of the U.S. Capitol building was complete, and the federal city consisted of less than 400 houses with a population of about 3,000. Roads were scarce, entertainment virtually nonexistent, and housing limited. Fewer than 300 federal personnel moved into the city. Congressmen frequently rented rooms in boarding houses two to a bed.

In November, President John Adams moved into the still incomplete White House, of which only the box-like center had been built. Life in the White House seemed only a slight improvement over congressmen's circumstances. John and Abigail Adams lacked an expense account to furnish the house and a staff to maintain it. Yet, they were expected to host social functions and official receptions. However, President Adams did not have to struggle under the burden for long. Just a few months after moving into the White House, he turned it over to Thomas Jefferson, who defeated him in the election of 1800.

Despite the initial hardships and inadequacies of the federal government's new home, a general optimism about the city prevailed. Unlike the Adamses, who were from Massachusetts, Jefferson knew the Potomac region well and had long supported its location for the nation's capital. His election, the “Revolution of 1800,” along with the rapid progression of construction in Washington, breathed life into the fledgling capital city. Jefferson's election renewed enthusiasm for the federal government and provided impetus for the further development of Washington, D.C.

June 11, 1800

John Adams - 09/30/1800: The “quasi”-naval war with France effectively ends…
The “quasi”-naval war with France effectively ends with the signing of the Treaty of Mortfontaine in Paris. France agrees to lift its embargos on American ships, cancel all letters of marque, and respect neutral ships and property. The United States agrees to return captured warships but not captured privateers. September 30, 1800

John Adams - 10/01/1800: Spain cedes the Louisiana territory to France with…
Spain cedes the Louisiana territory to France with the signing of the secret Treaty of San Idlefonso. Leaders express alarm because the French could be a potentially dangerous enemy in the region. October 01, 1800

John Adams - 11/11/1800: The fourth presidential election is held. Adams, t…
The fourth presidential election is held. Adams, the Federalist Party candidate, loses his bid for reelection. A tie in electoral votes between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr throws the election into the House of Representatives, with Jefferson emerging the winner. November 11, 1800

John Adams - 03/04/1801: Thomas Jefferson is inaugurated as the third Presi…
Thomas Jefferson is inaugurated as the third President of the United States, becoming the first President to be inaugurated in Washington, D.C. John Adams's term as President officially ends. March 04, 1801

Thomas Jefferson - 03/04/1801: Thomas Jefferson is inaugurated as the third presi…
Thomas Jefferson is inaugurated as the third president of the United States, becoming the first president inaugurated in Washington, D.C. Aaron Burr, who had tied Jefferson in electoral votes before losing the election in the House of Representatives, is inaugurated Vice President. March 04, 1801

Thomas Jefferson - 05/14/1801: Yusuf Karamini, pasha of Tripoli, declares war on …
Yusuf Karamini, pasha of Tripoli, declares war on the United States by symbolically cutting down the flagpole at the U.S. consulate. This action came after the United States refused to pay more tribute to the Tripolitans in exchange for protection from piracy against American ships. May 14, 1801

Thomas Jefferson - 07/10/1801: William C.C. Claiborne is appointed the new territ…
William C.C. Claiborne is appointed the new territorial governor of Mississippi. July 10, 1801

Thomas Jefferson - 12/08/1801: President Jefferson delivers his first address to …
President Jefferson delivers his first address to the newly convened seventh Congress of the United States in writing and is read aloud by the House clerk. Expressing his dislike for ceremony, Jefferson establishes the precedent, not broken until the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, of not delivering the State of the Union address in person. December 08, 1801

Thomas Jefferson - 01/08/1802: A convention between the United States and Britain…
A convention between the United States and Britain regarding the treaty of 1794 is concluded. A commission rules that the United States owes £2,664, 000 to British citizens in settlement of Revolutionary War claims. January 08, 1802

Thomas Jefferson - 02/06/1802: Congress recognizes the War with Tripoli, authoriz…
Congress recognizes the War with Tripoli, authorizing the arming of merchant ships to ward off attacks. February 06, 1802

Thomas Jefferson - 03/16/1802: Congress reduces the size of the U.S. army to its …
Congress reduces the size of the U.S. army to its 1796 limits. It also passes an act, which is signed into law by Jefferson, establishing an official United States Military Academy at West Point. March 16, 1802

Thomas Jefferson - 04/06/1802: Infamous excise taxes on commodities such as whisk…
Infamous excise taxes on commodities such as whiskey are repealed. April 06, 1802

Thomas Jefferson - 04/14/1802: The notorious naturalization laws of 1798 are repe…
The notorious naturalization laws of 1798 are repealed. The required length of residency reverts from fourteen years to five years. April 14, 1802

Thomas Jefferson - 04/24/1802: The Georgia legislature cedes to the United States…
The Georgia legislature cedes to the United States its western territory, notorious for the Yazoo land fraud of 1795. April 24, 1802

Thomas Jefferson - 04/30/1802: President Jefferson signs the Enabling Act, establ…
President Jefferson signs the Enabling Act, establishing procedures under which territories organized under the Ordinance of 1787 can become a state. The law effectively authorizes people of the Ohio territory to hold a convention and frame a constitution. April 30, 1802

Thomas Jefferson - 05/03/1802: Congress officially incorporates Washington as a c…
Congress officially incorporates Washington as a city, empowering Jefferson to appoint the mayor. May 03, 1802

Thomas Jefferson - 08/11/1802: The United States and Spain resolve to refer all d…
The United States and Spain resolve to refer all disputes between the two countries to a special convention at Madrid. August 11, 1802

Thomas Jefferson - 01/11/1803: Jefferson appoints James Monroe minister to France…
Jefferson appoints James Monroe minister to France and Spain, instructing him to purchase New Orleans and East and West Florida. Napoleon informs U.S. minister in Paris Robert Livingston that France will be willing to sell the entire Louisiana territory, much to his surprise. January 11, 1803

Thomas Jefferson - 02/19/1803: Ohio officially becomes the seventeenth state of t…
Ohio officially becomes the seventeenth state of the Union. It is the first state to prohibit slavery by law at its inception. February 19, 1803

Thomas Jefferson - Marbury v. Madison Decided

On February 24, 1803, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its unanimous ruling in Marbury v. Madison, one of the most important Supreme Court cases in early American history. This ruling established for the first time the principle that the Supreme Court can declare an act of Congress void if it is inconsistent with the Constitution. This landmark case established the basis for judicial review of congressional and executive actions on the grounds of their constitutionality.

 

Thomas Jefferson's election as President in 1800 came after a bitter partisan struggle between Federalists and Republicans. Republicans won both the presidency and a majority in Congress. Before leaving early in 1801, the Federalist Congress passed a new Judiciary Act that created new judgeships, which enabled outgoing President John Adams to appoint numerous additional Federalists to the judiciary. On his last day in office, Adams worked late into the night signing commissions for new judgeships.

When President Jefferson took over in March 1801, he ordered Secretary of State James Madison not to deliver the commissions. William Marbury, an appointee as a justice of the peace in Washington, sued in the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus, or a formal order of delivery, that would compel Madison to deliver his commission. Under the 1789 Judiciary Act that instructed the Court to issue writs to government officials in such cases, Chief Justice John Marshall issued a preliminary writ. Madison ignored the writ as judicial interference with the executive branch. Marshall, an arch-Federalist, was eager to oppose Jefferson's administration but knew he could not force its submission, and wanted to assert the power of the judicial branch.

In 1803, Judge Marshall issued a clever ruling, noting that Marbury had a right to his commission, but explaining that the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction in the matter. Because the Constitution did not explicitly grant the Court power to issue writs to government officials, the Judiciary Act of 1789 was unconstitutional. Recognizing the importance of separation of powers, however, he allowed that certain political actions of the executive fell beyond court jurisdiction.

In Marbury v. Madison, the Supreme Court for the first time declared an act of Congress unconstitutional; it would not do so again until the infamous Dred Scott case in 1857. Technically, Marshall let Jefferson win the battle and protected some executive action from judicial review. His ruling announced in ringing terms, however, that the Supreme Court would assume the role of guardian of the Constitution and the nation's laws, providing a forceful check on Congress.

February 24, 1803

Thomas Jefferson - 04/19/1803: Spain reopens New Orleans to American me…
Spain reopens New Orleans to American merchants. April 19, 1803

Thomas Jefferson - 04/30/1803: Livingston and Monroe are sent to conclude a treat…
Livingston and Monroe are sent to conclude a treaty for the acquisition of New Orleans, but instead conclude a treaty for the purchase of the entire Louisiana Territory. This day marks the official signing of a peace treaty with France and the purchase of Louisiana. The addition of 828,000 square miles of land between the Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains is purchased from France for approximately $15 million, increasing the national territory by 140 percent. April 30, 1803

Thomas Jefferson - Louisiana Purchase Treaty Signed

On April 30, 1803, representatives from the United States and France signed the Louisiana Purchase Treaty. The terms of the agreement gave all of the Louisiana territory from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains to the United States. The Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the United States and is considered one of President Thomas Jefferson's greatest presidential accomplishments.

In 1800, President Jefferson learned that Spain had secretly ceded Louisiana to France, and he was concerned about France attempting to reclaim its North American empire. Jefferson wanted to insure that American farmers in the Ohio River Valley had access to the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi River–the river was a key to the farmers' economic well-being.

In the spring of 1803, the President sent James Monroe to France to join the French minister, Robert Livingston. He instructed Monroe and Livingston to negotiate the purchase of the city of New Orleans and all or part of Florida from France for $10 million. Monroe arrived just as Napoleon I of France faced renewed war with Britain. In need of money and eager to rid himself of the hassles of governing distant lands after the successful revolt of Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti), Napoleon offered the entire Louisiana territory to the astonished ministers. Exceeding their instructions, Monroe and Livingston agreed to pay $15 million for the whole territory. The price of $15 million amounted to approximately four cents per acre for 828,000 square miles.

Delighted with the deal but troubled because the Constitution did not specifically provide for the acquisition of new territory, Jefferson considered a constitutional amendment to allow the purchase. Napoleon threatened to withdraw the deal if not soon ratified, however, and so Jefferson sent the treaty to the Senate for approval. Federalists were furious at Jefferson's seeming hypocrisy, as he had long criticized them for not strictly interpreting the Constitution.

The constitutional dilemma for the President was substantial. While believing that the United States must expand to fulfill its republican destiny, he was the first to assert the Constitution did not authorize acquiring new territory. As would be the case in numerous issues during his presidency, Jefferson was forced seek a balance between sometimes conflicting principles. In this case, President Jefferson chose expediency and national interest when he submitted the Louisiana Purchase Treaty to the Senate. The Senate ratified the treaty in October 1803.

April 30, 1803

Thomas Jefferson - 05/23/1803: Jefferson commissions Commodore Edward Preble as c…
Jefferson commissions Commodore Edward Preble as commander of a U.S. Navy squadron sent to battle Tripoli. May 23, 1803

Thomas Jefferson - 08/31/1803: Captain Meriwether Lewis, formerly Jeffe…
Captain Meriwether Lewis, formerly Jefferson's personal secretary, sets out from Pittsburgh to begin an expedition of the newly acquired western territory of the Louisiana Purchase. Lewis will pick up Captain William Clark to serve as co-leader of the trip early in the next year. Jefferson sponsored the journey out of personal scientific curiosity and concern for the economic and political security of the western United States. August 31, 1803

Thomas Jefferson - 12/09/1803: Motivated by the infamous election of 1800, Congre…
Motivated by the infamous election of 1800, Congress passes the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution, requiring electors to vote for President and vice president separately. This ends the tradition of the runner up in a presidential race becoming vice president and prevents chances for a deadlock tie. December 09, 1803

Thomas Jefferson - 12/20/1803: The French flag is lowered in New Orleans and the …
The French flag is lowered in New Orleans and the U.S. flag raised, symbolizing the transfer of the Louisiana territory from France to the United States. December 20, 1803

Thomas Jefferson - 02/16/1804: Lt. Stephen Decatur burns the captured U.S. frigat…
Lt. Stephen Decatur burns the captured U.S. frigate Philadelphia while docked in Tripoli harbor. Tripolitan gunboats had captured the frigate during the previous October. No one is killed. February 16, 1804

Thomas Jefferson - 03/26/1804: Congress passes the Louisiana Territory Act, divid…
Congress passes the Louisiana Territory Act, dividing the Louisiana Purchase into the Territory of Orleans in the south and the district of Louisiana in the north. March 26, 1804

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