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President Washington's First Term (1789-1792)

George Washington was inaugurated as the first United States president on April 30, 1789. He would spend most of his first term defining the role of the executive branch and literally setting up the government.

First 100 Days

First 100 Days

No president accomplished more at the start of their presidency than George Washington.

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Setting Up a Presidential Cabinet

During his first term, George Washington’s cabinet included just four original members: Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of War Henry Knox, and Attorney General Edmund Randolph.

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Appointing the Entire Supreme Court

Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1789, which formally established the federal judiciary. Since there were no sitting justices at the beginning of his term, George Washington had the unique opportunity to fill all the empty seats in the Supreme Court.

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Native American Policy

Settlers in several southeastern states were fighting skirmishes with the Native Americans primarily over American land expansion. Holding this land was, in Washington's estimation, a federal matter and a treaty was signed with the Creek.

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Religious Freedom

Since the Constitution did not ensure religious communities the right to practice many were fearful of persecution. Some communities and their leaders wrote of this concern to President Washington. Between 1789 and 1791, at least 18 different religious groups wrote Washington. His responses which were frequently printed in newspapers often emphasized that religious liberty was not just a blessing, but a right.

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First US Census

The 1790 census was the first federally sponsored count of the American people and one of the most significant undertakings of Washington's first term.

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Whiskey Tax

In January 1791, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton proposed a seemingly innocuous excise tax "upon spirits distilled within the United States, and for appropriating the same." What Congress failed to predict was the vehement rejection of this tax by American citizens.

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Ratification of the Bill of Rights

The first ten amendments to the United States Constitution comprise James Madison's Bill of Rights. It was ratified on December 15, 1791.

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Constructing the Nation's Capitol

In 1790, Washington took personal control over the building of what he once termed "the seat of Empire." He specified the location of the ten-mile square federal district, the President's mansion, and the Capitol on the bank of the Potomac River.

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Southern Tour of the United States

President George Washington coordinated a journey to the southern states between March 21 and June 4, 1791 to emphasize national unity and familiarize himself with political sentiments in the region.

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Laying the Cornerstone of the White House

In 1792, the cornerstone is laid at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue under the guidance of architect James Hoban. It would not be completed during George Washington's presidency. His successor, John Adams, would be the first president to reside in the White House.

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Presidential Entertaining

To provide order to the steady stream of visitors to the executive residence, Washington established prescribed days and times to meet with his various constituents.

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Life in New York City

The Washington's new home at 3 Cherry Street must have seemed like the center of the universe even though geographically speaking it was not even the center of New York City. Located uptown facing the East River, it was just a few long blocks away from the countryside.

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Move to Philadelphia

George Washington, and the rest of the government, moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in late 1790. The Washingtons resided on Market Street for the remainder of his presidency. 

The Influencer

What did Washington's friend Elizabeth Powel say to convince the reluctant president to run for a second term?

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State of the Union Address (1790)

On January 8, 1790, President George Washington delivered to Congress the first State of the Union address in American history. This address presented defense, foreign policy, economic, education, and immigration related topics to gathered representatives and senators in Federal Hall, New York City.

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The First State of the Union Address

Mount Vernon President & CEO Douglas Bradburn describes George Washington's 1790 State of the Union Address—the very first State of the Union for the United States.

Key Legislation of Washington's First Term

Judiciary Act of 1789

Established a 6-member Supreme Court and the position of Attorney General.

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North Carolina (1789)

North Carolina, the 12th state, enters the Union on November 21, 1789.

Naturalization Act of 1790

Established rules to be followed in granting national citizenship.

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Residence Act of 1790

Directed that the permanent federal capital be positioned along the Potomac River near Georgetown - the future Washington DC.

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Copyright Act of 1790

The first federal copyright legislation designed for the "encouragement of learning".

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Rhode Island (1790)

Rhode Island, the 13th state, enters the Union on May 29, 1790.

Bank Act of 1791

Created the First Bank of the United States.

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Excise Tax on Whiskey 1791

This measure levied a federal tax on domestic and imported alcohol, earmarked to offset a portion of the federal government's recent assumption of state debts. This highly unpopular tax led to the Whiskey Rebellion.

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Vermont (1791)

Vermont, the 14th state, enters the Union on March 4, 1791.

Coinage Act of 1792

Created the United States Mint and the dollar as our official currency.

Militia Acts of 1792

Two acts that allowed the President to call out the militia when threatened by foreign or domestic threats and created a more uniform and regulated militia structure.

Kentucky (1792)

Kentucky, the 15th state, enters the Union on June 1, 1792.