HOMEWORK: The Early National Period
This homework has eight parts (they are all scenarios), each of which contains a question or
set of questions. For some issues, you will be prompted to read an additional source, which you
will be able to find in the Module 7 Resources page on Canvas. If you are unsure how to
answer, or if you do not completely understand the text to which a question refers, do not
worry – the important thing is that you make an effort to understand the reading and answer
Your grade for the homework does not depend on a “right” answer. Rather, providing
complete answers to all the questions and making clear use of all readings/sources as
required (and following all instructions). The objective is to prompt you to think critically
about what you are reading and the issues that the readings raise. The weekly debrief and
lecture will address the homework questions and topics.
Part I: Competing Visions for the U.S. (Scenario)
It is the 1790s, the first years of the United States under the new Constitution. The
atmosphere is tense. While people are optimistic about the new government, many viewed
it with a great sense of trepidation (consider the anti-federalists’ objections during the
ratification process) – and no one is sure that it will work. In particular, those who call
themselves Federalists, including the country’s first president, George Washington, believe
that the survival of the new republic rests on the new Constitution and its government.
Throughout the 1790s, Federalists endeavored to lay the foundation for a strong and
enduring central government. In doing so, they confronted multiple crises that tested the
legitimacy of the Constitution and the federal government.
It is 1791 and you are an American citizen. American leaders are divided over what
direction the United States should take. Alexander Hamilton of New York, the Secretary of
the Treasury, wants to develop American industries. He wants the federal government to
protect America’s industries (and raise revenue) by taxing foreign goods (tariffs). He also
wants the federal government to facilitate the growth of American industries through the
construction of infrastructure (internal improvements) and by ensuring that aspiring
businesses have access to capital (in the form of loans and investors). Hamilton argues that
the U.S. must not continue to depend on other countries, namely England, for clothes, tools,
and other manufactured products. In a war or disagreement, other countries could either
refuse to sell us these important goods, or they could raise the prices. Alexander Hamilton
believes that we must build our own factories. Then Americans will find jobs and will learn
new skills. This will increase the overall wealth of our country. Only through development
of industry can our country become self-sufficient and independent. The more independent
we are, the closer we are to perfection!
Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, the Secretary of State, has a different vision for the nation. He
says that America has so much land that all its citizens should be working to develop it.
“Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God,” he has written. He also
believes that a democracy is possible only in a country where farmers own and work their
farms. Unlike farming, industries will destroy our American republic. A democracy depends
on educated and literate citizens; but in industrial countries, only the wealthy have time to
acquire and education. In England, the factories go night and day. Little boys and girls work
for pennies, and their living conditions are deplorable. A few factory owners get rich on the
backs of the poor who work for them. The poor become poorer, and they go to prison when
they cannot pay their debts. Businesses fail; people are worried, hungry, and unhealthy. Is
this the kind of country we want? No, first we must develop our agriculture, our fisheries,
our wildlife, and our forests. When we have more than we need, we may trade for other
things that we want. From these peaceful ways, life becomes easy, people marry young, and
our population increases. Let other countries develop their industries (and suffer the
problems that come with it). Those countries will need our raw materials – our crops, our
lumber, our furs, our minerals, etc. They can trade with us for them. They will grow rich in
their way, and we in ours.
Which economic vision do you think is best for the U.S.? Choose one or more from the
following options (as long as your choices do not contradict one another) and explain your
choice (1-3 sentences):
A. The U.S. should become an industrial country.
B. The U.S. should continue to be an agricultural country.
C. The U.S. should develop small industries in rural areas.
D. The U.S. should develop large industries in urban areas.
E. The national government should tax manufactured products from foreign countries.
F. The national government should help businessmen/entrepreneurs develop
G. The national government should offer people free land in the West to settle and
Before proceeding, read textbook pages 231 (beginning of Chapter 7) to 236
(stop at “Hamilton’s Plans”). Then, for each of the following parts, read the
scenarios and then answer the questions.
Part II: Alexander Hamilton’s Fiscal Proposals1
The year is 1790 and Congress is considering several financial proposals devised by
Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, to strengthen the country economically.
Currently, the federal government takes in about $5.6 million per year. For this issue, you
are an American who supported ratification of the Constitution but with reservations. You
felt that the nation needed a stronger government than what the Articles of Confederation
provided, but you are worried about the concentration of power at the national level. You
are not among the economic elite, but you don’t have any debts either. You need to decide
whether you would support each of the three proposals and explain why.
Proposal #1: Government assumption of state debts
Like the federal government, the state governments also accrued significant debts during
the War for Independence. Most of these debts are in the form of bonds sold to Americans
during the war. Some states have paid off almost all the debts to their bondholders, while
others have repaid very little. This proposal is that the federal government will assume
whatever debts are still owed by any state as its own. This means that the national debt will
be much higher (about $21 million), but it will tie the states much more closely to the
federal government. The proposal will cost the government about $1.3 million in interest
Question 1: Will you support this proposal to assume all of the state debts? Explain in 1-3
Proposal 2: Pay off state/government bonds at face value:
The state and federal governments are in debt to Americans who bought bonds during the
War for Independence. Many of those who bought bonds sold them to pay off their own
debts. They sold the bonds for a fraction of the original value. For example, let’s assume a
farmer in Maryland bought a 10-year bond for $100 in 1780. The farmer lent the
government $100 and received an I.O.U. (the bond) from the government to pay him back
$110 (principal plus interest) in 1790. But in 1786 the farmer needed money to pay
expenses (or feared that the government would never pay back the bondholders) and sold
the bond for $65. The buyer bought it hoping the government would still pay back $110 in
1790. Many of the bonds held by people now, in 1790, were bought for as little as $17 on a
$100 bond. This proposal would require the government to redeem bonds to their current
holders at face value (the value of the original bond) plus interest. That is, it would pay
back $110 to holders of $100 bonds even though the owners may have paid as little as $17
for them. This will cost the government about $2.6 million in interest per year.
Congressman James Madison has drafted a counter-proposal that the government pay the
present bondholders the highest price in the market, with the remaining funds going to the
original hardworking people who bought the bonds to help their country. For example, if
an investor bought a $100 bond for $17, the government would pay the highest price for
1 Adapted from Kevin O’Reilly, Decision Making in U.S. History: New Republic
that bond over the past few years. If the highest price was $30, the government would pay
$30 to the investor (still a good profit) and $70 to the patriotic American soldier or
hardworking shopkeeper who bought the bond originally.
Question 2: Will you support this proposal to pay off bonds at their full, original value?
Explain in 1-3 sentences.
Proposal 3: National Bank
If this proposal is adopted, Congress would create a national bank in which the federal
government would own 20% of the stock and appoint 20% of the directors. The bank
would be the leading depository of government funds, and it would issue bank notes
(money) to control the supply of money and keep it stable. At this time, there are over 50
types of money in the United States; the national bank would reduce the number of
currencies and uncertainty by issuing just one type of currency. The power to issue bank
notes would allow expansion of the money supply as needed, but it would reduce the
likelihood of inflation by putting the power of the government behind the notes. The bank
would also provide a check on the operations of state banks (partly by buying up state bank
notes and periodically calling on those banks to redeem them). Finally, the national bank
would help provide a stable source of loans, which would promote business expansion but
also avoid overexpansion.
Among other concerns, opponents of a national bank argue that it is unconstitutional
because Article I does not explicitly give Congress the authority to create such an
institution. Supporters counter that Congress has the authority under Article I Section 8
(often referred to as the “elastic” or “necessary and proper” clause), which states that
Congress can “make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper” for carrying out its
Question 4: Do you support the proposal to create a national bank? Explain your answer in
After answering the question, and before proceeding to Issue #2, read textbook
pages 236-240 (“Hamilton’s Plans” to the “First Party System”)
Part III: The Whiskey Rebellion (Scenario)
For this scenario, we fast-forward to 1794 and you are President George Washington. Back
in 1791, in order to help finance the interest on the national debt (which had increased
after the federal government assumed the states’ debts), Congress approved an excise tax
on distilled spirits (such as Whiskey). The tax is on the sale and distilling of spirits – duties
had to be paid before the liquor left the distillery, and every distiller was required to keep a
daily record of production and to make his account available to inspectors. In addition to
providing the federal government with much needed funds, Hamilton suggested that a tax
on the purchase of alcohol also promised to have social and moral value since it would help
discourage excessive consumption of alcohol (by the 1790s an average white American
over the age of 15 drank almost six gallons of absolute alcohol each year, compared to 2.43
gallons in 2020).
Many Americans, especially poor backcountry settlers in western Pennsylvania,
vehemently oppose this tax. Grain is the primary crop of the region but getting it to market
in its natural state is expensive and risky – virtually impossible – because the nearest major
overland market, Philadelphia, is almost three hundred miles away. No water route is
available because the Spanish refuse to open the Mississippi River to Americans.
Westerners view the inability of the government to negotiate a treaty with Spain as a
neglect of their needs. Since grain cannot easily reach a market, these Pennsylvanians have
turned to the production of whiskey from their harvests. These distilled spirits are not just
marketable. Unlike grains, they do not spoil but rather improve with age, and they can be
carried overland to Pittsburgh and on to Philadelphia in jugs on the backs of mules.
Farmers can thus produce whiskey for distant markets and make a profit. Many however,
choose not to pursue those markets but settle instead for using their whiskey locally to pay
for their dry goods or farming supplies. In fact, whiskey is well established as the major
medium of exchange in this region, which rarely sees cash. Yet the law forbids the payment
of the tax in whiskey – the only ready resource these farmers had.
The excise thus creates hardship for those in the West – who are already struggling to
subsist and live in constant fear of Indian attacks/raids (the inability of the national
government to subdue Native Americans in the region is another source of tension). The
fine or penalty imposed on a distiller caught with a cask of spirits that lacks an inspection
certificate might end up costing him his horses, cattle, carts, and tackle as well. And if he
fails to pay the annual tax of sixty cents per gallon of still capacity, he could be forced to sell
all his personal goods to pay the fines. An arrest for any of the many infractions means a
trial, and since 1792 that means attending a court in Philadelphia rather than a local one.
The expense of a trip to Pennsylvania’s capital city almost equals the value of the average
westerner’s farm. For these reasons western Pennsylvanians argue that they bear an unfair
burden of this tax. Moreover, they argue that it is an “internal tax” imposed by a
government in which they do not have adequate representation. They even cite Alexander
Hamilton’s arguments in the Federalist Papers (essays written to promote ratification of
the Constitution) that promised the federal government would rely on external taxes
(tariffs) as its main source of revenue.
Clothing their arguments in the Patriot cause for independence from Great Britain, western
farmers have essentially nullified the tax by simply ignoring it and, in western
Pennsylvania, physically intimating and threatening tax collectors – some have been tarred
and feathered, and at least one has been kidnapped. The rebels have also erected liberty
poles throughout the region (a tribute to the Sons of Liberty two decades earlier). Several
hundred western Pennsylvanians have formed an organization, known as the Mingo Creek
Association, which has assumed leadership of the resistance. Some of the rebels have
raised the specter of seceding from the United States – they have even created their own
flag, its six stripes of alternating red and white representing the unity of the six western
Pennsylvania counties leading the protest. Rumors have spread of Pennsylvanians and
Kentuckians creating a new country called Westylvania.
The violent resistance reached a boiling point in mid July 1794. On July 16, the Mingo Creek
Association sent about thirty men armed with rifles and clubs to arrest the federal
Marshall, who was staying at the home of General John Neville, an ardent Federalist and
inspector of federal revenue for the Western District. After an exchange of gunfire, five
attackers lay dead. The next day, six hundred men gathered outside Neville’s home with a
list of demands. When negotiations failed, all of the outlying buildings at Neville’s estate
were burned, his home attacked, and the marshal captured (General Neville fled to
Pittsburgh). It is unclear what their next move will be, but there are rumors that rebels are
set to march on Pittsburgh.
Alexander Hamilton urges that you immediately call out the militias of Pennsylvania and
neighboring states to put down the rebellion. The government’s authority, he insists, must
be maintained. Opposition to that authority and to the Constitution itself could be seen in
the rebels’ demands. An immediate resort to military force was indeed necessary. The
moment has come when it must be determined whether the government could maintain
itself: The rioters must be quelled; the officers of the union must be protected in the
execution of their duties; and obedience to the laws must be compelled. Pennsylvania Chief
Justice McKean disagrees. McKean is an ardent critic of Hamilton’s economic fiscal policies,
yet he also has denounced the violent resistance to the tax. He argues that there is no
necessity to act. Nothing, he argues, has shaken his confidence that the judiciary was
capable of handling the situation. The use of force, he adds, would be as bad as anything the
rioters had done; it would be equally unconstitutional and illegal. Pennsylvania Governor
Thomas Mifflin, also a critic of Hamilton’s programs, has expressed his unwillingness to call
out his state militia to quell the protests.
Question: You have already issued two proclamations condemning the rebels’ actions and
warning them that you will not tolerate a such a direct challenge to the federal government.
What will you do? Choose one of the following and explain your choice.
A. Persuade Congress to repeal the tax. You would rather the government lose this
potential source of revenue than to risk civil war.
B. Negotiate with the rebels. You have already sent peace commissioners to meet with
leaders of the rebellion, and they have offered amnesty to all of the rebels who agree
to submit to the tax (and all federal laws) and pledge not to commit violence.
Continue to negotiate until you come at a reasonable solution that will quiet the
unrest. If no agreement can be reached within a reasonable time frame, then
mobilize the militias.
C. Call for mass arrests and make public examples of a few carefully chosen rebels
whose punishment would demonstrate the high price of resistance of federal law.
D. Mobilize state militias and crush the rebellion
E. Do Nothing. Maybe things will just work themselves out and you can escape with
your reputation unscathed.
Part IV: Foreign Policy – Great Britain and France (Scenario)
The year is 1793 and you are President George Washington. You are dealing with the
effects of war between France and Britain (which is allied with Spain). In 1789, France
underwent a revolution in which it abolished nobles’ privileges, wrote a constitution, and
became a republic. Americans enthusiastically supported the French Revolution, since it
seemed to be based on the ideals of the American Revolution. When the revolution became
violent in 1792, which included the beheading of King Louis XVI, some Americans turned
against it. Nevertheless, most Americans still supported the revolution.
The French have fought and defeated Austria and several other countries in an attempt to
spread their democratic ideals. Then, last year, the French declared war on Britain. If the
French win the war, the Spanish and British will be too weak to prevent American
expansion west, including navigation of the Mississippi River. Southerners feel that a
British loss will also make the United States less dependent on British trade.
Many conservative Americans (those who are wealthy, religious, or Federalists) dislike the
radical actions of the French Revolution, especially since thousands have been killed in the
Reign of Terror. Many of those killed were wealthy landowners. In addition, property was
taken from the Church and from nobles. To some, it is all too radical. Northerners also
depend on trade with Britain, so they do not want to see Britain lose the war. About half of
American trade (up to 90% of imports) is with Britain. Yet many Americans, led by Thomas
Jefferson and James Madison, have not wavered in their support for the new French
Republic. Jefferson, in particular, hopes that the United States will come to the aid of
With war between Britain and France raging, both sides are trying to interfere with the
trade of the other. The French government made an alliance with the Americans in 1778
during the American Revolution. You have great memories of the French fleet and army
helping to cut off and defeat the British army at Yorktown. The French surely feel that since
they helped Americans in their hour of need during the revolution, Americans should also
help the French against the British. Their newly appointed minister to the United States,
Edmond Genet (“Citizen Genet,” as he became known), recently arrived in order to ensure
that the U.S. would assist in the victory of liberty over tyranny. Among other things, he
sought to assert the right of France to use U.S. ports as provisioning and repair stations and
as points of embarkation for attacks on British ships; to sell captured enemy goods to
American buyers and to transform captured merchant marine vessels into warships in
American ports; and to recruit Americans to serve in the French navy or to turn their own
vessels into warships in American ports (something not mentioned in the 1778 treaties); to
obtain the full payment of the U.S. debt to France; and to use the U.S. as a staging ground for
invasions of Spanish and British territories in North America.
However, some of your advisers think America is no longer obligated under the 1778
alliance, since it was made with the French government under the king, not with this new
revolutionary government. Should those treaties not be held in suspension at least until the
current government of France is firmly established? Furthermore, it is unclear whether
France is engaged in an offensive or defensive struggle. If it was offensive to any degree,
does the promise of mutual defense contained in the 1778 treaties apply? In addition, you
now have more negative feelings toward the French government, since the revolutionary
government has imprisoned some of the leaders who helped against the British during the
revolution. For example, the Marquis de Lafayette, whom you respect greatly, was in such
danger he had to flee from France.
You have several options at this point:
A. Wait and see. The U.S. could do nothing and see how the war progresses between
Britain (allied with Spain) and France. Maybe there will not be any trouble for
B. Announce that the United States will remain neutral in this war (breaking the
French alliance) and warn American citizens not to support one side or the other. Be
clear that the American government will not fight to protect those Americans who
lose property due to trading with either side.
C. Announce that the United States will honor its 1778 alliance with France and will
join the fight against Britain and Spain.
D. Start negotiations with British to join its side in the fight against France. Maybe the
British will give the U.S. something worthwhile in exchange for helping them.
Question: Which option will you choose regarding the war between Britain and France?
Explain your answer (1-3 sentences).
After answering this question and before moving on to the next issue, read
textbook pages 240-248 (“The First Party System” to “John Adams and Party
Part V: The Alien and Sedition Acts (Scenario)2
The year is 1798, and you are a senator from the Federalist Party. The Federalist control
the presidency (President John Adams is a Federalist) as well as both the House of
Representatives and the Senate. Federalist congressmen have proposed a series of acts to
improve national security. These acts include the following points: (1) until June 1800, the
president will be authorized to deport any immigrants he feels are dangerous to the
country; (2) the time requirement to achieve citizenship is increased from 5 to 14 years;
(3) until 1801, people can be fined or imprisoned for opposing “any measure or measures
of the United States” or for making statements that bring the president “into contempt or
disrepute;” and (4) only people born in the United States can teach, edit newspapers, or
hold office in the federal government.
The country, which is less than ten years old, is in a dangerous situation at this point
because of the war in Europe between France and Britain. France has been fighting other
countries, trying to spread the democratic ideals of the French Revolution. In order to gain
victory in the war, both France and Britain have been constantly interfering with American
trade, each trying to prevent the other from getting needed supplies. The British had
captured about 250 American ships until the United States settled many of the issues with
Britain the Jay Treaty four years ago. However, the settlement made the French more
hostile to America, since the French felt the treaty showed that the U.S. was siding with
Britain Last year, pro-French privateers captured or destroyed over 300 American ships.
Americans ships have captured more than 80 French ships. Although Congress hasn’t
declared war, in reality America is already in a naval war with France.
Meanwhile, there are many divisions and conflicts within the U.S. For example, there was a
rebellion in western Pennsylvania against a tax on whiskey. Residents of Kentucky talked
about attacking the Spanish to open trade on the Mississippi River, and have even
discussed breaking away from the United States. The British-French war has increased
these divisions. Some Americans favor the British, while others favor the French. When the
Senate voted to ratify the Jay Treaty, the opposition became even more critical of the
The Republicans have formed societies to promote their criticisms of the government.
Many people see these societies as subversive to our country. Pro-Republican newspapers
have been very critical of the Federalists, especially President Adams. The editor of one
newspaper called Adams “blind, bald, toothless, and querulous.” Abigail Adams, the
president’s wife, said that something needed to be done to stop the “wicked and base,
violent and calumniating abuse” of the Republican press. An editor of a Republican paper
accused George Washington (who had come to distrust the press as a dangerous political
weapon) of stealing money from the government and said that he was a poor military
leader. A favorite tactic of newspapers in defaming the character of leaders is to write
something outlandish for which there is no evidence. No one can defend against such
irresponsible attacks; any statement by the accused sounds defensive and paranoid.
2 Adapted from Kevin O’Reilly, Decision Making in U.S. History: Early Republic.
One paper has even published a letter by the French leader Charles Maurice de TalleyrandPérigord claiming that the French do not wish war. How, people wonder, did the editor get
the letter? Doesn’t it show that the editor is a French agent? Federalists refer to
Republicans as “Jacobins,” who were the extremists of the French Revolution. The
Republicans, they charge, seem to be more loyal to France than to the U.S. government.
Keep in mind that the French press helped create and guide the revolution, and it has been
very effective in recruiting soldiers for the wars France has brought to the other countries
in Europe. The American press seems to be becoming just as radical and dangerous as the
French press. A Federalist Congressman stated the problem this way: “The Government is
bound not to deceive the people, and it is equally bound not to suffer them to be deceived.
Delusion leads to insurrection and rebellion, which it is the duty of the Government to
prevent. This they cannot prevent unless they have the power to punish those who with
wicked designs attempt to deceive the people. …”
President Adams tried to settle the naval issues with France, while strengthening the army
and navy in case of war. Just a few months ago, the country learned that the French
government would not even talk to American diplomats. Three French agents (serving as
proxies for the French foreign minister, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, informed the U.S.
envoy that discussions would begin until the following three demands were met: the U.S.
pay a huge bribe to Talleyrand; the United States make a substantial loan to France; and
that the U.S. issue formal apologies for statements made by George Washington (in his
Farewell Address) and John Adams. President Adams labeled the three agents, X, Y, and Z,
to protect their identity. A wave of patriotic outrage swept across America, symbolized by
the popular phrase, “Millions for defense but not one cent for tribute!” President Adams
now frequently wears a military uniform and says that his ancestors would feel “disgust
and resentment” if America does not react to these humiliations by France. He said in
another speech that French actions had to be “repelled with a decision which shall convince
France, and the world, that we are not a degraded people, humiliated under a colonial spirit
of fear and sense of inferiority…” At this point, the United States has only a few warships
and a few thousand soldiers, but Congress has approved the construction of more
warships. There are reports that France may invade the US. It certainly looks like Britain is
losing the war; the island is preparing for a French invasion. As the U.S. prepares for war,
some congressional Federalists and many ordinary Americans favor declaring war on
Despite the clear threat to the country and the frequent insults to American honor by the
French, the Republicans still oppose efforts to strengthen the U.S. military or take action
against the French. They clearly favor a French victory over the British. One Federalist
stated, “Medusa’s Snakes are not more venomous than the wretches [Republicans] who are
seeking to bend us to the views of France.” The Republicans are being disloyal at a time of
crisis, which is upsetting to patriotic Americans. The Federalists have the support of the
great majority of Americans in taking strong action against the French, while the
Republicans are very unpopular. Federalists argue that since the country is actually at war
(although no war has been declared) and faces such a difficult situation at home, the four
proposed acts (listed above) are necessary to preserve the security of the young nation.
There are more than 30,000 French aliens in the U.S.; they could easily commit sabotage
and sow dissent in the country. And immigrants tend to be the poorest, most rebellious
people in their societies. They could help cause a revolution in this country. Newspapers
keep repeating lies to the American people, making it difficult to make informed decisions.
Free speech is well and good, but newspapers have a responsibility to tell the truth and not
undermine national unity during a national crisis. America needs to be united against the
Question: Based on what is best for the country, not what is best for you personally or for
your political party, would you support or oppose each of these acts? Explain.
A. Until June 1800, the president is authorized to deport any immigrants he feels are
dangerous to the U.S.
B. The time requirement for achieving citizenship is increased from five to 14 years
C. Until 1801, people can be fined or imprisoned for opposing “any measure or
measures of the United States” or for making statements that bring the president
“into contempt or disrepute”
D. Only people born in the United States can teach, edit newspapers, or hold office in
the federal government.
Part VI: The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions
It is 1799 the Adams administration has little to show for itself in the battle against
Republican sedition and libel. Acts “A” – “C” in the previous scenario passed, but only a few
individuals had been convicted under the sedition acts (excerpts of the “Alien and Sedition
Acts” are available in the Module 8 Resources – give them a look). Moreover, each effort to
apply the new laws seemed to spur more protests against the laws (mostly in the form of
petitions and further invective from the Republican press). These protests culminated in
the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions. In Kentucky, where settlers had simply ignored the
Whiskey tax earlier in the decade, John Breckinridge submitted a proposal secretly drafted
by Thomas Jefferson (and originally intended for North Carolina) as 1798 drew to a close.
The Kentucky Resolutions asserted that “the several States composing, the United States of
America, are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their general
government; but that, by a compact under the style and title of a Constitution for the United
States, and of amendments thereto, they constituted a general government for special
purposes – delegated to that government certain definite powers, reserving, each State to
itself, the residuary mass of the right to their own self-government … that to this compact
each state acceded as a State, and is an integral part, its co-States forming, as to itself, the
other party …each party has an equal right to judge for itself, as well of infractions, as of the
mode and measure of redress.” In other words, the states do not lose their separate and
independent identities through the creation of the union; as sovereign political entities,
they created the general government and gave it limited, special powers while preserving
their own authority in all other instances. As Jefferson argued, the sovereign states gave
birth to the federal government, and they alone had the right to judge whether it had
exceeded the powers granted to it. The Kentucky Resolutions went on to argue that the
Alien and Sedition Acts were unconstitutional. In 1799, Kentucky issued a bolder set of
resolutions that asserted that “the nullification of all unauthorized acts done under color of
that instrument [the Constitution], is the rightful remedy” (this is something Jefferson had
wanted in the original Kentucky Resolutions. In other words, Kentucky asserted that it
could declare a federal law null and void within its borders if it deemed the law in violation
of the Constitution.
At the end of 1798, James Madison (Jefferson’s closest ally) drafted a set of resolutions that
were adopted by the Virginia legislature (Madison’s authorship was not widely known for
more than a decade). Less fiery than Jefferson’s Kentucky Resolutions, Madison agreed that
the Constitution was a compact among the states and that the Alien and Sedition Acts
violated the Constitution. But rather than threaten nullification (as the 1799 Kentucky
Resolutions would do), the Virginia Resolutions proposed that the states should “interpose
for arresting the process of the evil” – a process that he hoped would lead the states to
accomplish the repeal unjust laws.
The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions offered a bold interpretation of the relationship
between the states and the federal government and, in the case of the Kentucky Resolutions
in particular, what states could do when they considered a federal law unconstitutional. It
is now 1799 and the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions have made their way to the
governments of other states (for your reference, there is a link to an excerpt of the
Kentucky Resolution in the Module 8 Resources page).
Question: You are a member of the New York legislature and a Republican – and you agree
that the Alien and Sedition Acts are unconstitutional and are designed with the intent of
silencing any opposition to the Federalists. Will you recommend that New York endorse the
Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions? Briefly explain your position (2-4 sentences).
After writing your answer, read textbook pages 248-251 (“John Adams and
Party Conflict” to “The Jeffersonians in Power”
Part VII: Federalists and the Supreme Court
The year is 1803 and you are John Marshall, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. A
native Virginian, you are a Federalist and long-time rival of President Thomas Jefferson
(you had been a strong defender of both Washington’s and Hamilton’s policies/programs).
After briefly serving as Secretary of State, President John Adams appointed you to the
Supreme Court on January 20, 1801 (among the last acts of his presidency).
You face a predicament with the case of Marbury v. Madison. One of the last acts of John
Adams’ presidential administration had been the passage of the Judiciary Act of 1801,
which created new circuit and district court judges and other legal offices, such as clerks,
federal marshals, justices of the peace, and attorneys. With new appointments (the socalled “midnight judges”), Adams had hoped to solidify the Federalists’ control of the
judiciary and, in the eyes of Jefferson, did so in order to frustrate his party’s legislative
programs. As Jefferson told one supporter early in his first term, the Federalists “have
retired into the judiciary as a stronghold.” The Judiciary Act also reduced the number of
Supreme Court justices from six to five. (The reduction would take effect upon the death or
retirement of one of the sitting justices.). By reducing the number of Supreme Court
justices, Federalists hoped to minimize the likelihood that Jefferson would appoint a justice
during his tenure.
It was the responsibility of the Secretary of State to deliver the signed commissions to
Adams’ appointees. Jefferson instructed his Secretary of State, James Madison, to withhold
any of the new judicial appointments that had yet to be delivered. One of these appointees,
William Marbury, then sued Madison, seeking an order from the Supreme Court to compel
President Jefferson to turn over his commission. You have no doubt that Marbury deserves
the commission. (It is worth noting that you are actually a “midnight judge yourself.
Moreover, as the outgoing Secretary of State, it was likely you – probably through an
oversight – who had failed to deliver Marbury’s commission before Jefferson took office.)
The case presents you with a tremendous opportunity to enhance the power of the
Supreme Court, something that you are determined to do (as the Supreme Court has been
relatively weak up to this point). But it also sets up the possibility of a serious conflict
between the Judicial and Executive branches. Can you compel President Jefferson to deliver
Marbury’s commission against his will? What if Jefferson refused a court order? Although
you seek to strengthen the power of the court, a direct confrontation with Jefferson might
have the opposite effect if Marshall ruled against the president and Jefferson ignored the
Question: How will you decide? Choose one of the following options and explain your
choice (1-3 sentences):
A. Order that President Jefferson deliver Marbury’s commission.
B. Deny Marbury the Commission.
C. Acknowledge the legitimacy of Marbury’s claim, while somehow avoiding a
showdown between the Supreme Court and the Executive branch.
After answering, read pages 251 (“Jefferson in Power” to 255 (“Haiti and
Part VIII: The Louisiana Purchase (Scenario)
The year is 1803 and you are U.S. Senator from New York. The Senate is considering a
treaty for ratification in which the United States would purchase France’s vast North
American territory. The land transfer would double the size of the United States. More
importantly, it would secure for the United States control to the Mississippi River and the
port of New Orleans. The $15 million is more than the United States currently has in its
treasury, but it isn’t much more than the amount that U.S. diplomats were willing to offer
the French just for New Orleans when the French foreign minister surprised them by
asking “what will you give for the whole?” In fact, so spontaneous and unexpected was the
offer that there is some concern that the irascible Napoleon might suddenly change his
But many Federalists have voiced objections to the treaty. First, they have raised the
concern that parts of the land belong to Spain, and acquiring the territory (which had been
claimed by Spain until just a few years ago) could result in an international conflict. Second,
they say that acquiring so vast a territory will spread the young nation’s population and
institutions too thin – to the point that the center might not be able to hold together and the
nation would disintegrate. Third, they have raised concerns about the population of the
French territory – would foreigners (Spanish and French) and Catholic inhabitants
suddenly become U.S. citizens? What about the Native American population? What about
the slave and free black population of Louisiana? And fourth, some have raised the question
of whether the treaty is even Constitutional. Indeed, the Constitution does not explicitly
state that a President has the power to buy land from another country. Moreover, President
Jefferson and his party, which now controls Congress, have maintained that the federal
government can only do those things specifically authorized under the Constitution (Back
in 1790-91 they had objected to the Bank of the United States because the Constitution did
not expressly authorize Congress to charter a national bank). The Democratic-Republicans’
position on such matters has been that the Constitution would need to be amended to
permit an act not expressly authorized.
Question: What will you do? Explain your decision (1-3 sentences).
A. Vote to ratify the Louisiana Purchase Treaty
B. Vote not to ratify the Louisiana Purchase Treaty
C. Insist on amending the Constitution to authorize the President to make the purchase
before the Treaty can be ratified.
D. Support only the purchase of New Orleans for $10 million
E. Abstain from the vote
After answering read pages 255 (“Haiti and Louisiana) to 260 (“The Great
Revival”) and view “Best Laid Plains” (available in the module 9 resources)