When the Treaty of Paris officially ended the American Revolution in 1783, the new American citizens were faced with the challenge of forming a system of government that was functional, well structured, and non-oppressive. Over the course of six years, the former colonies searched for a political identity, and finally ratified the Constitution of the United States in 1789. The Constitution sculpted the American government into a republic, where the power rested in the citizen body and a series of checks and balances protected them from the tyranny of any one man. George Washington took office as the first President of this new American republic in 1789, and from this moment until the end of James Madison's presidency in 1817, presidents attempted to understand and define the nature and shape of republicanism. Though each president attempted to define republicanism through different and unique methods, the ideal of creating an informed and educated citizen body was a common goal among the first four presidents, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. The commonality of this aim suggests that the founding generation considered it an essential facet to the survival of the republic.
[...] Washington sees a population that is involved in government as being a defining characteristic of the republic, and he will reiterate this opinion in the final addresses of his presidency. In his eighth and final annual address, President Washington again lobbied for the establishment of a national institution, reporting that every time he thought on the matter he found more justification for the project: Amongst the motives to such an institution, the assimilation of the principles, opinions, and manners of our country-men by the common education of a portion of our youth from every quarter well deserves attention. [...]
[...] New York: The Modern Library Chronicles While this paper focuses on the founding generations attempts aim of creating an educated citizen body as a means to establish American republicanism, it is important to note that there are many other categories one could look to mark the progress of defining republicanism. There is ample information in the public addresses of the first four presidents to suggest that one could look at common topics such as foreign affairs, the foundation of a national mint and currency, or the formation of a military establishment, to observe the sculpting of American republicanism. [...]
[...] During his presidency he struggled to define republicanism through the War of 1812 and the through his own political evolution from a federalist to a republican aided in the decline of the two party system in American politics. Like the three presidents before him, Madison suggests that the educated citizen body is an essential factor in the definition of republicanism. In his first inaugural speech in 1809, Madison commented on the need for education as a protection of the republic. [...]
[...] These four men had the task in the early years of the country to define the meaning of republicanism through many avenues, including foreign policy and Native American relationships. Though there were at times conflicting ideas in many of the areas where republicanism could be defined, there was a common feeling through all four men that education was essential to building the character and definition of America. Through examining the public addresses of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison, one can appreciate the emphasis and importance of education in the post- revolutionary years. [...]
[...] In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.” It is in this final mention that Washington truly summarizes his opinion on the value of a national university and the importance of an educated citizenry. Later in the speech he urges that the nation be vigilant against the attacks of foreign powers, and cautions that jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government.” Here he reinforces his own sentiments on the importance of a knowledgeable populace. [...]
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