Early Events and Dilemmas in America

During the first few years of the United States, the country experienced several threatening issues. Three of these issues were the Whiskey Rebellion, XYZ Affair, and the passing of the Alien and Sedition Acts. These issues were significant to the development of the new government’s foreign and domestic relations.  

One of the first major events that tested the new nation’s government was the Whiskey Rebellion. The Whiskey Tax was passed to generate revenue for the debt that states had after the American Revolution. Distillers who made the whiskey protested and refused to pay the tax.

In 1794, after years of aggression with tax collectors, farmers and distillers in western Pennsylvania attacked and burned the home of the regional tax collector. President Washington responded by sending 13,000 troops into the area to stop a full blown revolution. Opposition to the whiskey tax built support for the Republicans (Democratic-Republicans) who did not like the large amount of force and power shown by the federal government. Republicans soon took over the Federalist Party in 1802.  

The second major issue involved foreign affairs between the United States and France. France was angry at the U.S. because the U.S. had signed a navigation and commerce treaty with Britain, France’s long time enemy. The French issued an order to seize all American merchant ships.

Wanting to avoid war, the U.S. sent three negotiators to France to restore harmony. However, three French agents called X, Y, and Z refused to work with the Americans unless the Americans paid them money. The incident was reported to the U.S. Congress and eventually an undeclared naval war occurred in 1798. The hostilities were settled in the Convention of 1800. 

The Alien and Sedition Acts were passed in 1798 in response to the French foreign threat as a result of the XYZ affair. The Alien Act threatened to deport foreigners and made it harder for new immigrants to vote. The Sedition Act gave strong government control over individual actions. There could be no public opposition to the government. Republican newspaper editors were arrested and sometimes imprisoned. These acts violated individual protections. Kentucky and Virginia found the laws infalid in their states.