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America's History in the Making

The New Nation

Unit Overview

General Washington at Christ Church, Easter Sunday, 1795

The United States of the mid-1780s was not the strong and united nation many had hoped it would be. The state governments, which had created their own constitutions during the war, had much more power than the federal government. The young nation confronted both powerful European nations and Indian nations, who were determined to keep their lands and independence.

The federal Constitution, drafted in 1787, was a bold and effective move to create a more powerful nation. It gave the federal government more authority to collect taxes and set policy. Yet many worried that this centralization of power would betray the principles of representative government for which the American Revolution had been fought.

Struggling farmers were particularly concerned that centralizing political power undercut their ability to influence government. African Americans and white women—almost completely excluded from the formal exercise of political power—argued for a more inclusive republic, even as the nation’s government became more centralized.

President George Washington’s administration faced daunting problems upon assuming office in 1789. The nation divided over how to respond to the often bloody French Revolution. England and France alike tried to manipulate United States trade and diplomacy in their longstanding battle for global supremacy. Not until the War of 1812 concluded—with a treaty more clearly establishing the nation’s international rights and boundaries—did the United States truly establish its independence and clear a path for westward expansion.

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