During the Washington, Adams, and the Jefferson administrations, the United States was thrust into the decision of joining either Britain or France, the two most powerful European nations. In determining the effects of foreign policy on the developing nation, one must establish the overall direction of the United States took. As a budding nation, George Washington proposed the idea of neutrality in order for the country to have no involvement in European affairs.
However, Federalists and Democratic Republicans were outraged by this decision since the Federalists supported the British while the Democratic Republicans supported the French. Neutrality also allowed the United States to temporarily smooth its relations with Europe because of commercial interest. Therefore, neutrality, instead of siding with either Britain or France or through their commercial interests, was the obvious direction taken by foreign policy.
After witnessing and being involved in uncontrollable European affairs, the growing nation of the United States concluded that an international policy of neutrality would be the best option in the area of foreign affairs. During his presidency, Washington decided that it was best for America to stay neutral. As stated in his Proclamation of Neutrality that any American providing assistance to any country at war would be punished with legal proceedings (D). He was aware of the possible dangers that would occur when allying with a certain country.
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The country was too new to enter any wars or deal with wars of foreign countries. “Europe has a set of primary interests…Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns” (J). Even in his farewell address, Washington advised the fledgling nation to not get involved in European affairs or make permanent alliances, to avoid sectionalism, and to not form political parties. After Washington resigned from office, John Adams tried to maintain the position of neutrality as the second president of the United States.
He did as much as he could in avoiding war with France. Even before his presidency, in response to a proposed alliance with France, he argued that “…we ought not to enter into any Alliance with her [France], which should entangle Us in any future wars in Europe, that We ought to lay it down as a first principle and a Maxim never to be forgotten, to maintain an entire Neutrality in all future European Wars” (A). However, after the XYZ Affair, in which French agents demanded a large bribe for the restoration of diplomatic relations with the United States, a Quasi War erupted between France and America.
The Convention of 1800, also known as the Treaty of Mortefontaine, was a treaty between the United States and France to settle the hostilities that erupted during that war (I). When Thomas Jefferson became president, it was a peaceful transition from Federalist to Democratic Republican. Despite the differences between these political parties, Jefferson also tried to maintain Washington’s idea of neutrality. In his Inaugural Address in 1801, he states “We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists” and that there would be “Equal and exact justice to all men, friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none…” (K).
Even as a last resort to the Louisiana Purchase, he told Monroe to make an alliance with Great Britain if the Louisiana Purchase did not work out. In all three of their presidencies, Washington, Adams, and Jefferson decided that it was best for the new nation to enter a state of neutrality. Despite its neutrality and unwillingness to enter war with the European nations, the United States were being forced to side with either Great Britain or France, Europe’s most powerful nations.
During Washington’s presidency, the revolutionary government of France sent diplomat Edmond-Charles Genet, also known as Citizen Genet, to America to propagandize the case for France in the French war against Great Britain, which created the network of Democratic Republicans. Washington demanded the French government recall Genet, and denounced the societies. The United States were in a conflict with Britain, as the British were seizing American ships and impressing sailors.
Hamilton and Washington designed the Jay’s Treaty to normalize trade relations with Britain, remove them from western forts, and resolve financial debts left over from the Revolution (F). John Jay negotiated and signed the treaty in 1794. However, many disputes rose from this decision. James Madison criticized that the treaty stated to open West India ports to the United States, yet Britain refused to follow these regulations (G). During Adam’s presidency, the XYZ Affair, which was supposed to have been the negotiation between America and France on the seizure of American ships, threw the United States into a Quasi War with the
French. In the aftermath of the undeclared naval war with France, the Alien and Sedition Acts were passed, which allowed the president to deport hostile aliens, increased residency requirements for citizenship, and banned criticism of government policies or officials. After the United States’ conflict with France, Jefferson, a Democratic Republican, considered the possibility of an alliance with Britain. While Britain and France were both seizing American ships, Britain had the strongest navy and was thus able to force the American sailors into its navy (M).
Jefferson believed that this conflict would cease if the United States agreed to establish an alliance with Britain. Torn between the conflict of siding with either France or Britain, the United States agreed to remain neutral. Although neutrality in the new nation was favored, there was a possibility of joining either Britain or France depending on which one was more financially beneficial. After Jay’s Treaty, which was signed with Great Britain during Washington’s presidency, Spain did not want the United States to side with the British and wanted to smooth its relations with the fledgling country.
Pinckney’s Treaty, signed on October 27, 1795, established the intentions of friendship between the United States and Spain. The treaty also granted the States use of the Mississippi and right of deposit at New Orleans (H). In the Treaty of Paris in 1783, “It is agreed that the people of the United States shall continue to enjoy unmolested the right to take fish of every kind on the Grand Bank…” and that “The navigation of the river Mississippi, from its source to the ocean, shall forever remain free and open to the subjects of Great Britain and the citizens of the United States” (E).
Thomas Paine stated that commerce would secure the friendship with Europe because Europe wants America to have a free port (B). Jefferson, fearing the power of the neighboring French in the Louisiana Territory, sent Monroe to Paris to negotiate the purchase in 1802. Their interest was only in the port and its environs. They did not anticipate the much larger transfer of territory that would follow. The purchase greatly benefited the United States because it granted them access to the entire Mississippi River.
Also, as a result of impressments of American sailors, Jefferson established the Embargo Act of 1807, also known as the Nonintercourse Acts, restricting American ships from engaging in foreign trade between the years 1807 to 1812. Jefferson believed that without trade with the United States, Britain and France would fall into an economic crisis. However, the Europeans nations did not bother with America and traded with other countries, causing the new nation’s economy to fall.
This outraged the general public, and when Jefferson left office, these acts were repealed. Commercial interest helped the United States to choose between siding with either of the European nations or remaining neutral. Throughout the Washington, Adams, and Jefferson administrations, Britain and France tried to force the United States into allying with either of the two nations. Although it was tough to maintain, neutrality was established in the country by Washington. The decision brought various problems for the budding nation, but it still stayed strong.
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