Wikiquote:Transwiki/American History Primary Sources The Federalist Era


George Washington Becomes the First President[citation needed]


Washington had “feelings not unlike those of a culprit who is going to the place of his execution. My station is new.... I walk on untrodden ground, there is scarcely any part of my conduct which may not hereafter be drawn into precedent.”

George Washington’s apprehensions before becoming president, in a letter to a friend. 1789.

“No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency.”

President George Washington, First Inaugural Address.

c. 1790

“Prudence is the strongest feature of his character.”

Thomas Jefferson on President Washington


“He is polite with dignity, affable without familiarity, distant without haughtiness,... modest, wise, and good.”

Abigail Adams (wife of Vice President John Adams) on President Washington. The Rise of Political Parties


“In every political society, parties are unavoidable. A difference of interests, real or supposed, is the most natural and fruitful source of them.

James Madison, in the National Gazette.

The Whiskey Rebellion


Some chaps whom freedom’s spirit warms

Are threatening hard to take up arms,

And headstrong in rebellion rise

‘Fore they’ll submit to that excise:

Their liberty they will maintain,

They fought for’t, and they’ll fight again.

Anonymous poet, on the angry Western farmers, hit hard by the new Federal excise tax on whiskey.

Foreign Affairs Under Washington


“[The United States would] pursue a course friendly to both belligerent powers.”

President Washington, Neutrality Proclamation (April 22, 1793)


“Terror is the order of the day.... The Queen was executed the day before yesterday. Insulted during her trial and reviled in her last moments, she behav’d with dignity throughout.”

Gouverneur Morris, businessmen turned American Minister to France, in a letter of October 18.

Indian Affairs


“We have beaten the enemy twice under different commanders. We cannot expect the same good fortune to attend us always. The Americans are now led by a chief who never sleeps. Like the blacksnake, the day and the night are alike to him for during all the time he has been marching on our villages... we have not been able to surprise him. Think well of it.... It would be prudent to listen to his offers of peace.”

Chief Little Turtle, advice to meeting of the chiefs of allied Indian tribes fighting American forces led by Gen. “Mad Anthony” Wayne.


“The overtures for peace which have been made by the Indians northwest of the Ohio bear the appearance of sincerity.....

“As they will be collected within your power at Greenville, it will highly concern the honor and justice of the United States that strong and decided proofs be given them that they are not under even the shadow of duress. Let them feel that they are at perfect liberty to speak their sentiments....

“One great principle ought to govern all public negotiations — a rigid adherence to truth — a principle that is essential in negotiations with Indians if we would gain their permanent confidence and a useful influence over them.”

Secretary of War Timothy Pickering, letter to General Anthony Wayne.

Washington’s Farewell

c. 1796

“[Washington’s retirement would be] a signal, like dropping a hat, for the party racers to start.”

A congressman


“Let me warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.... This spirit, unfortunately... exists in different shapes in all governments... but in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness and is truly their worst enemy....

“The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop....

“‘Tis our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances, with any portion of the foreign world.... The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations is... to have with them as little political connection as possible.”

President George Washington, in his Farewell Address.


“To the memory of the man, first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”

Gen. Henry Lee, eulogy for President Washington.

Foreign Affairs Under Adams


“No, no, not a sixpence.”

Response of Charles Pinckney, of the American commissioners sent to France (along with Federalist John Marshall of Virginia and Elbridge Gerry, Republican of Massachusetts) to the demand of three French agents that France would not negotiate with the United States unless the Americans paid $250,000.


“Millions for defense, not one cent for tribute!”

Popular American slogan after it was learned that French officials had demanded bribes before opening discussions over problems between the two countries (the XYZ Affair).


“[It is a crime] to impede the operation of any law... [or to make] any false, scandalous, and malicious [,criticism of the president or congress].”

From the Sedition Act of 1798


       President Adams should be sent “to a mad house.”

Statement of Rep. Matthew Lyon of Vermont that resulted in his being imprisoned under the Sedition Act.


“I desire no other inscription over my gravestone than: ‘Here lies John Adams, who took upon himself the responsibility for peace with France in the year 1800.’”

President John Adams, after ending the Quasi-War with France.