Following independence, the American states began the process of drafting new state constitutions, many of which reflected increased democratic elements (women and slaves excepted).
The nation’s governing document was the Articles of Confederation whose weaknesses led to a “critical period” in the 1780s. Conservative elements in the country were especially disturbed by Shays' Rebellion in western Massachusetts.
The end of the War for Independence led to rapid settlement in the West.
Desire for a strong central government led to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The completed document was submitted to the states for ratification. The Federalist Papers, largely the work of Alexander Hamilton, remains the most cogent analysis of the U.S. Constitution.
George Washington’s election in 1789 ushered in the Federalist Era, which witnessed the process of translating the Constitution’s ideas into actual practice. A Bill of Rights was drafted by Congress and submitted to the states. Other early activity included the Tariff of 1789 and consideration of Hamilton’s economic program.
Much to Washington’s disapproval, partisan politics emerged, pitting the Federalists against the Jeffersonian Republicans. A challenge to the new government was posed by the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794.
Foreign affairs under Washington found the nation proclaiming neutrality, but seeing it threatened by French minister Edmond Genêt. Outstanding issues with Spain and Britain were addressed in Pinckney’s Treaty and the controversial Jay’s Treaty.
The Election of 1796 brought John Adams to power; his administration was marred by problems in the relationship with France and the divisive Alien and Sedition Acts.
The Election of 1800 exposed a weakness in the constitutional provision for electing a president. Thomas Jefferson’s triumph is sometimes regarded as the Revolution of 1800. The Jefferson administration dealt with far-reaching issues involving the Supreme Court, a war with the Barbary pirates, further westward expansion, the Louisiana Purchase, and diplomatic issues with Britain and France.
The Election of 1808 ushered in the administration of James Madison, who grappled with neutral rights issues, culminating in the War of 1812.
Young authors began to emerge with a style that said "Americana": Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and Louisa May Alcott embraced Transcendentalism, Edgar Allan Poe, James Fenimore Cooper, Washington Irving, and others made their marksin the "Golden Age of American Literature."