Washington Launches a New Government
With Virginia and New York ratifying the Constitution in June and July, the new government could be firmly established. The outgoing Congress of the Confederation chose New York as the national capital and set March 4, 1789, as the date the new Congress would convene. It finished its last business on October 10. The time had come to implement the new Constitution.
Benjamin Franklin remained the elder statesman of the Republic. He was called on to persuade reluctant convention delegates to sign the Constitution. Upon ratification he wrote, “Our constitution is in actual operation; everything appears to promise that it will last; but in this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.”
Despite the fact that North Carolina and Rhode Island had not yet agreed to the new constitutional order, the rest of the country went to the polls and elected the first House of Representatives in early 1789. Senators were selected, and on February 4 the Electoral College unanimously elected George Washington the first president of the United States. John Adams was elected vice president.
Congress met as scheduled on March 4, but only eight senators and thirteen representatives were present. It took some time for the rest of the legislators to travel to New York and take their oaths of office. George Washington did not receive official notification of his election as president until April 14. He left two days later, writing in his diary, “About ten o'clock I bade farewell to Mount Vernon … and with a mind oppressed with more anxious and painful sensations than I have words to express, set out for New York.”
Washington was sworn in as president on April 30. He set about the task of organizing the executive branch of the new government. Congress created executive departments modeled on those of the Confederation period. Washington named a distinguished cabinet. Thomas Jefferson served as secretary of state, Alexander Hamilton as secretary of the treasury, Henry Knox as secretary of war, and Edmund Randolph as attorney general.The Bill of Rights
James Madison, serving in the House of Representatives, set out to redeem the promises that he had made about a bill of rights during the ratification process. Though he had not believed such guarantees to be necessary, he recognized that their passage would help reconcile many Americans to the new government. A bill of rights would prove that the Constitution would protect ordinary Americans from the abuse of governmental power.
One of Madison's amendments became part of the Constitution more than 200 years later. An amendment providing that pay increases voted by Congress would not go into effect until after the next election did not get enough support to become a part of the Bill of Rights. With no time limit on the amendment, states gradually ratified it until it became the Twenty-seventh Amendment in 1992.
Congress passed twelve amendments. The states adopted ten, which became effective December 15, 1791. The first eight amendments protected individual rights. The Ninth and Tenth Amendments made clear that the enumeration of rights or powers in the Constitution did not limit those reserved to the people and the states. The adoption of the Bill of Rights brought to an end the process of political transformation inaugurated by the American Revolution. More than two centuries later, this enduring constitutional order continues to guide the American chief executive, legislature, and judiciary.