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George Washington

The Presidency, Second Term

The Presidency, First Term

The Presidency, Second Term, page 2

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Washington was reelected president, almost against his will, on February 13, 1793. The vote was again unanimous. Nearly everyone seemed to agree that only Washington could do the job. That didn't stop politicians from attacking him, however. They attacked him for supporting the national bank, for living in luxury at the presidential mansion, and for remaining distant and aloof from the common people. They even accused him of wishing to become a monarch.

Though these attacks hurt Washington, he had bigger problems to deal with. The French Revolution was under way. The United States had close ties with France as a result of the Revolutionary War, but now France threatened to drag America into war. The French king and queen had been executed, and France was ruled by terrorists. In 1793 France and Britain went to war. Many Americans sympathized with the French revolutionaries, believing the French were throwing off their oppressors as America had done in 1776. Others, including Washington, were shocked by the bloody French behavior.

With Britain and France at war, America was in danger. Pro-French Americans called for the United States to support France against tyrannical Britain; pro- British Americans believed that France had descended into anarchy and would threaten American prosperity. Faced with these competing demands, Washington announced his Neutrality Proclamation. He declared that the United States would not take sides. This was easy to say, but America was tangled in the affairs of both European nations. At the end of the Revolutionary War the British had promised to withdraw their troops from the Ohio River Valley. They never did. From their forts along the Ohio they now supplied Indians with weapons to use on American settlers. The French, meanwhile, claimed that America was bound by its treaty from 1778 to help them against the British. Both nations threatened to confiscate the cargo of American trading ships, which would have destroyed America's growing economy.

Washington worried constantly about the threat posed by Britain and France. To make matters worse, the French representative in the United States, Edmond Genêt, was rousing support for France in the streets. He even urged Americans to disobey their own government, overthrow Washington, and join the war against Britain. Genêt's behavior frightened many leaders, including the Republicans who supported France. Washington demanded the French government recall him and sent John Jay to London to negotiate a treaty. Jefferson, believing that Washington had fallen under the pro-British influence of Hamilton, resigned in frustration.

Jay returned to America in 1794 with a treaty. Leaders from both Federalist and Republican camps denounced it as a bad deal for America, but Washington felt he had no choice but to support it. After fierce debates in Congress, Jay's Treaty was approved. America would not go to war with Britain. Washington's trouble was not over, however: later that year settlers in western Pennsylvania revolted against a federal tax on whiskey. Many people believed the Whiskey Rebellion, as it was called, was a fulfillment of the democratic promise offered by the Revolutionary War. Washington did not agree. He personally led a force of 12,000 men and crushed the revolt. He dealt swiftly with the uprising, but in the hopes of reconciling the settlers he pardoned the rebellion's ringleaders.

Though Washington later won a diplomatic triumph with Pinckney's Treaty, the rest of his second term was consumed by the threat of war with Britain and/or France–and the fight within his own government between Hamilton and Jefferson. Washington wanted desperately to retire, and as soon as it seemed like America would not have to fight another war, Washington decided to step down when his term was up. His friends urged him not to, but he was determined.

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