Foreign and Domestic Crises
During the Washington and Adams administrations, Federalists and Democratic-Republicans clashed over numerous foreign matters.
Analyze the key foreign-policy crises during the Washington and Adams administrations
- Along with other foreign and domestic uprisings, the French Revolution helped harden the political divide in the United States in the early 1790s.
- Democratic- Republicans welcomed the French Revolution as a harbinger of a larger republican movement inspired by the American Revolution.
- Federalists, however, viewed the excessive violence of the French Revolution with growing alarm, fearing that the radicalism of the Revolution might infect the minds of U.S. citizens.
- Jay’s Treaty in 1794 helped prevent war with England by settling issues left unresolved in the Treaty of Paris; however, it further divided the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans.
- Jay’s Treaty also angered France, which saw it as a violation of the Franco-American mutual defense treaty of 1778, and from 1798 to 1800, the United States and France engaged in an undeclared naval war known as the Quasi-War.
- Quasi-War: An undeclared conflict fought mostly at sea between the United States and the French Republic from 1798 to 1800.
- Jay’s Treaty: An act signed in 1794 that settled issues left unresolved by the Treaty of Paris.
- Alien and Sedition Acts: Four bills passed in 1798 by the Federalists in the aftermath of the French Revolution and during an undeclared naval war with France.
The French Revolution
In 1789, the French Revolution broke out, sending shock waves through Europe and the United States. From 1789 to 1792, as the French overthrew their monarchy and declared a republic, many Americans supported the revolution. Democratic-Republicans seized on the French revolutionaries’ struggle against monarchy as the welcome harbinger of a larger republican movement around the world. To the Federalists, however, the French Revolution represented pure anarchy, especially after the execution of the French king in 1793. Along with other foreign and domestic uprisings, the French Revolution helped harden the political divide in the United States in the early 1790s.
At first, in 1789 and 1790, the revolution in France appeared to most in the United States as part of a new chapter in the rejection of corrupt monarchy. A constitutional monarchy replaced the absolute monarchy of Louis XVI in 1791, and in 1792, France was declared a republic. Republican liberty, the creed of the United States, seemed to be ushering in a new era in France. Indeed, the American Revolution served as an inspiration for French revolutionaries.
The events of 1793 and 1794, however, challenged the simple interpretation of the French Revolution as a chapter of unfolding triumph of republican government over monarchy. The French king was executed in January 1793, and the next two years became known as “the Terror,” a period of extreme violence against perceived enemies of the revolutionary government. Revolutionaries advocated direct representative democracy, dismantled Catholicism, replaced that religion with a new philosophy known as “The Cult of the Supreme Being,” renamed the months of the year, and relentlessly employed the guillotine against their enemies. Federalists viewed these excesses with growing alarm, fearing that the radicalism of the French Revolution might infect the minds of citizens in the United States. Democratic-Republicans interpreted the same events with greater optimism, seeing them as necessary to eliminating the monarchy and aristocratic culture that supported the privileges of a hereditary class of rulers.
The controversy in the United States intensified when France declared war on Great Britain and Holland in February 1793. France requested that the United States make a large repayment of the money it had borrowed to fund the Revolutionary War. However, Great Britain would judge any aid given to France as a hostile act.
Apprehensive of foreign entanglements and war, President Washington’s official policy was one of neutrality. He knew that England and France, as well as Spain, would be quick to seize American resources and territory if given the excuse of war. His hope was that America could stay out of European conflicts until it was strong enough to face any serious foreign threat to its existence. Therefore, despite the mutual defense treaty the United States established with France in 1778, Washington and the Federalists declared that the French Revolution rendered previous agreements with France non-binding, and issued a formal Proclamation of Neutrality in 1793. Democratic-Republican groups, however, denounced neutrality and declared their support of the French republicans. The Federalists used the violence of the French revolutionaries as a reason to attack Democratic-Republicanism in the United States, arguing that Jefferson and Madison would lead the country down a similarly disastrous path.
During the same period in the 1790s, the British Royal Navy began encroaching on United States neutrality by pressing sailors into service from American commercial ships. Although the majority of sailors impressed into the British navy were English citizens working for American merchants (and receiving higher wages and achieving better standards of living), this violation infuriated Americans; this was compounded by the fact that England had not yet withdrawn its soldiers from posts in the Northwest Territory, as required by the Treaty of Paris of 1783.
In response, President Washington sent John Jay to negotiate a treaty with England. Jay’s Treaty, signed in 1794, guaranteed the removal of British forces from forts in the Northwest Territories, committed disputes over wartime debts to arbitration, gave the United States limited trading rights with British colonies, and restricted U.S. cotton exports. Although Jay’s Treaty helped prevent war with England, it provoked an outcry among American citizens who saw it as a concession to England. The Senate narrowly ratified Jay’s Treaty, but the debate it sparked solidified the Federalist and Democratic-Republican factions into full-scale political parties.
Undeclared Naval War with France
Jay’s Treaty also angered France, which saw it as a violation of the Franco-American mutual defense treaty of 1778. By 1797, French privateers began attacking American merchant shipping in the Caribbean and harassing vessels on American trade routes.
The result was an undeclared naval war—what later became known as the Quasi-War—with France, most of which was fought in the Caribbean from 1798 to 1800. During the war, the United States slowly pushed the French out of the West Indian trade system. Ultimately, the Quasi-War strengthened the U.S. navy and helped expand American commercial networks in the Caribbean. This was a victory for the Federalists, who sought to establish an American merchant presence in the Atlantic. Eventually, the United States and France agreed to end hostilities and to end the mutual defense treaty of 1778—an act that President Adams considered one of the finest achievements of his presidency.
The Quasi-War had a negative affect on political relations between Federalists and Democratic-Republicans. Democratic-Republicans, dismayed by the Quasi-War, often voiced their opinions in political speeches and writings. In response, Adams and the Federalist Congress passed the unpopular Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798. Although these acts openly justified the suppression of dangerous “aliens,” in reality, they restricted the free-speech rights of the opposing Republicans by censoring anti-Federalist writings. The Alien and Sedition Acts were widely unpopular and vehemently opposed by the American public.
Citizen Gênet Affair
The Citizen Genêt Affair threatened American neutrality during the French Revolutionary Wars.
Analyze the significance of minister Genêt’s embassy to the United States in late eighteenth-century Franco-American relations
- In 1793, the revolutionary French government sent Edmond-Charles Genêt to the United States to negotiate an alliance with the U.S. government in its conflict with Great Britain.
- Genêt immediately began commissioning American privateer ships and organizing volunteer American militias to attack Britain’s Spanish allies in Florida.
- The ” Citizen Genêt Affair,” as it came to be called, threatened America’s precarious international situation, caused an acute foreign crisis for President Washington, and further tested Franco-American relations during a period of extreme volatility.
- Citizen Genêt: A French ambassador to the United States during the French Revolution.
- Jacobins: The most radical and ruthless of the political groups formed in the wake of the French Revolution.
- Proclamation of Neutrality: A formal announcement issued by U.S. President George Washington on April 22, 1793, declaring the nation neutral in the conflict between France and Great Britain.
Citizen Edmond-Charles Genêt
The “Citizen Genêt Affair” refers to an event from 1793 to 1794, when a French minister, Edmond-Charles Genêt, was dispatched by the French National Assembly to the United States to enlist American support for France’s wars with Spain and Britain.
Instead of traveling to Philadelphia to present himself to President Washington for accreditation, Citizen Genêt arrived in Charleston, South Carolina, on April 8, 1793, where he remained after being met with great Democratic-Republican fanfare. His goals in South Carolina were to recruit and arm American privateers to join French expeditions against the British in the western Atlantic and Caribbean. Genêt commissioned four privateering ships (the Republicaine, the Anti-George, the Sans-Culotte, and the Citizen Genêt) and organized American volunteers to fight Britain’s Spanish allies in Florida.
After raising this militia, Genêt traveled to Philadelphia to meet Washington and formally request an official suspension of Washington’s Proclamation of Neutrality. Angered by Genêt’s audacity in recruiting privateers in blatant violation of American neutrality, Washington confronted Genêt in the presidential mansion in Philadelphia. When Genêt’s request was turned down, he was also informed that his actions were unacceptable. Genêt protested and continued to direct his privateers to capture British ships, threatening the United States’ position in the war between France and Britain.
Effects on Foreign Relations
Genêt continued to defy the wishes of the U.S. government, sending American recruits to capture British ships and rearm them as privateers. Washington sent Genêt an 8,000-word letter of complaint on Jefferson and Hamilton’s recommendation. Genêt refused to cease his activities, challenging Washington’s executive authority and blatantly disregarding official American policy.
The Citizen Genêt Affair spurred Great Britain to instruct its naval commanders in the West Indies to seize all ships trading with the French. The British captured hundreds of American ships and their cargoes, increasing the possibility of war between the two countries. The Affair came to an end when the Jacobins, having taken power in France in January 1794, sent an arrest notice to Washington that demanded that Genêt return to France. Genêt, knowing that he would likely be sent to the guillotine, asked Washington for asylum. It was Hamilton—Genêt’s fiercest opponent in the cabinet—who convinced Washington to grant him safe haven in the United States. With his mission and life of public service officially over, Genêt relocated to New York and lived the rest of his life as a private gentleman farmer.
Jay’s Treaty intended to relieve post-war tensions between Britain and the United States and represented a Federalist strategy to avoid war.
Describe the role Jay’s Treaty played in the political disputes of the early republic
- Federalists favored Jay’s Treaty, which was a highly unpopular agreement that strengthened economic ties with Great Britain and proposed arbitration methods to settle pre-war debts and claims of confiscated American merchant ships.
- Jay’s Treaty achieved the primary American goal of withdrawing the British Army from pre-Revolutionary War forts in the Northwest Territory, which had been designated as American territory in the Treaty of Paris.
- Jay’s Treaty was opposed by Democratic- Republicans, who feared that closer economic ties with Britain would strengthen the Federalist Party, promote commercial interests at the expense of yeoman agriculture, and undercut republicanism by tying the United States’ interests to the British monarchy.
- The treaty is credited, however, with facilitating a decade of relatively peaceful trade between the United States and Britain in the midst of the French Revolutionary Wars.
- Citizen Genêt Affair: An event from 1793 to 1794 during which a French minister traveled to the United States to enlist American support for France’s wars with Spain and Britain.
- impressment: The act of seizing for public use or pressuring an individual into public service.
The purpose of Jay’s Treaty, ratified on February 29, 1796, was to relieve post-war tensions between Great Britain and the United States. It was an agreement that is credited with averting war, resolving unaddressed issues from the Treaty of Paris in 1783, and facilitating ten years of relatively peaceful trade between the United States and Britain in the midst of the French Revolutionary Wars.
Background of the Treaty
When the thirteen British colonies in America declared their independence from Great Britain in 1776, their most obvious potential ally was France. The Treaty of Alliance was a defensive pact formed between France and the United States in 1778 (in the midst of the American Revolutionary War) that promised U.S. military support for France, indefinitely into the future, in case of attack by British forces. With the outbreak of the French Revolution, however, the United States declared its neutrality in the French-British conflict. After the Citizen Genêt Affair, relations between the United States and France were strained.
The Citizen Genêt Affair spurred Great Britain to instruct its naval commanders in the West Indies to seize all ships trading with the French. The British captured hundreds of American ships and their cargoes, increasing the possibility of war between the United States and Britain. In this tense situation, Great Britain worked to prevent a wider conflict by ending its seizure of American ships and offered to pay for captured cargoes. Hamilton saw an opportunity and recommended to President Washington that the United States negotiate. John Jay was sent to Britain—with instructions from Hamilton—to secure compensation for captured American ships; to ensure the British leave the northwest outposts they still occupied (despite the terms of the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which recognized this as American territory); and to gain an agreement for American trade in the West Indies.
For the British, ongoing war with France necessitated improved relations with the United States to prevent the States from supporting the French in the Revolutionary Wars. For the Americans, the most pressing foreign-policy issues were the following:
- British troops were still occupying forts on U.S. territory in the Great Lakes region (also known as the Northwest Territory) that were recognized as part of American soil by the Treaty of Paris.
- The British were continually impressing American merchant sailors into British service, thereby violating the American flag flying on American ships in the Atlantic.
- American merchants wanted compensation for approximately 250 merchant ships that the British had confiscated from 1793 to 1794.
- Southern slaveholders sought monetary compensation for the slaves that the British Army had evacuated or freed during the Revolutionary War.
- Merchants in both America and in the Caribbean wanted the British West Indies to be reopened to American trade.
Terms of the Treaty
The terms of the treaty were designed primarily by Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, and negotiated by John Jay, all with the support of President Washington. Overall, the treaty achieved the primary goal of the withdrawal of the British Army from the Northwest Territory of the United States: The British agreed to vacate the six western forts by June 1796. Furthermore, both the American and British negotiating parties agreed that disputes over wartime debts and the American-Canadian boundary were to be sent to arbitration commissions. Finally, the United States was granted limited rights to trade with British possessions in India and the West Indies in exchange for some limits on the American export of cotton.
The British also agreed to compensate American ship owners for captured vessels. In return, the United States designated Britain with a “most favored nation” trading status and acquiesced to British anti-French maritime policies. American commercial access to British territories was extended, and the United States guaranteed the payment of private pre-war debts owed by Americans to British merchants. However, Jay failed to negotiate an end to British impressments; this spurred arguments against ratifying the treaty and the issue remained unresolved until the War of 1812.
Political Division in the United States
Washington submitted Jay’s Treaty to the U.S. Senate for its consent in June 1794 (requiring a two-thirds vote to pass). Although the two nations reached an agreement, an accord between the Federalists and Democrat-Republicans proved difficult to attain. Jay’s Treaty was hotly contested by Democratic-Republicans, who feared that closer economic ties with Britain would strengthen the Federalist Party by promoting commercial interests at the expense of yeoman agriculture. They feared it would also undercut republicanism by tying the United States’ interests to the British monarchy. They were opposed to granting a “most favored nation” trading status to Britain, as they considered Britain the epitome of political corruption and aristocratic distinction and a major threat to the United States’ republican values.
The Federalists fought back and made a strong, systematic appeal to public opinion. They marshaled their own supporters and shifted the debate toward highlighting American neutrality and the other concessions won from Britain (such as the Northwest Territory and merchant compensations). Washington’s support proved decisive, and the treaty was ratified by a two-thirds majority of the Senate in November 1794. However, Jay’s Treaty remained a central issue of contention, with the Federalists favoring Britain and the Democratic-Republicans favoring France in the French-British conflict.
Effects of the Treaty
Traditionally considered a “diplomatic failure” or a “bad bargain” by most scholars, Jay’s Treaty has never seemed to overcome its initial unpopularity. Recently, however, historians have argued that Jay’s Treaty was a notable attempt by America to avoid war and long-term instability until the nation was prepared for it. As a fledgling republic, the United States had no effective navy and only a small standing army, and was isolated from the entanglements in Europe that had led to wars and violence throughout the Atlantic. Indeed, the controversial aspects of the treaty revolved not around the give-and-take terms that were to be expected from any diplomatic compromises, but rather around the outbreak of political hostilities between Federalists and Democrat-Republicans. Their polarized views of America’s foreign presence proscribed any agreement on international conduct during this tumultuous period.
Pinckney’s Treaty between Spain and the United States defined the boundaries of the Spanish colonies of West and East Florida.
Analyze the political circumstances leading up to and following the signing of the Pinckney’s Treaty
- Pinckney’s Treaty was established in order to promote amity and cooperation between Spain and the United States.
- Spain was driven to negotiate with the United States by a fear of an imminent alliance between the United States and Britain, rather than by any pressing desire to firmly delineate a boundary for the Florida territory.
- Unlike the contemporaneous Jay’s Treaty, Pinckney’s Treaty was quite popular with both political parties as well as with the American public.
- The signing of the treaty in 1795 settled the border between the United States and the Spanish colonies and established a trade agreement that granted access to Louisiana’s ports previously closed to Americans.
- Some historians argue that Pinckney’s Treaty was critical for the emergence of American expansionism, later known as “Manifest Destiny.”
- Pinckney’s Treaty: An agreement signed in San Lorenzo de El Escorial on October 27, 1795, that established intentions of friendship between the United States and Spain.
- West Florida: A region on the north shore of the Gulf of Mexico that underwent several boundary and sovereignty changes during its history.
Pinckney’s Treaty, also known as the Treaty of San Lorenzo or the Treaty of Madrid, was signed on October 27, 1795, and established formal intentions of amity between the United States and Spain. Primarily, it defined the boundaries between the United States and the Spanish colonies and guaranteed the United States navigation rights on the Mississippi River. Thomas Pinckney negotiated the treaty for the United States, and Don Manuel de Godoy represented Spain. Among other things, the treaty ended the first phase of the West Florida Controversy, a dispute between the two nations over the boundaries of the Spanish colony of West Florida.
Background to the Treaty
The Spanish acquired Florida and the southern coast along the Gulf of Mexico in the Treaty of Paris in 1783. The boundary of Florida had been in dispute since the British had expanded the territory of the Florida colonies while it was in their possession. After the American Revolution, Spain claimed the British border at the day of the Treaty of Paris, while the United States insisted on honoring the old boundary.
The Spanish were not driven by a pressing desire to reopen trade routes to American merchants or to delineate a boundary line in the Florida territory. Rather, their growing fear of an alliance between the United States and the British—prompted by the signing of Jay’s Treaty in 1794—spurred Spain to negotiate with the United States.
Terms of the Treaty
With the signing of the treaty in 1795, the border between the United States and the Spanish colonies of East and West Florida became what is now the line through the present-day states of Georgia and Florida, respectively, and the territory extended from the northern boundary of the Florida panhandle to the northern boundary of that portion of Louisiana East of the Mississippi.
The treaty also established a trade agreement that granted access to Louisiana’s ports previously closed to Americans. New Orleans was reopened, and Americans could transfer goods without paying cargo fees (right of deposit) when transferring goods from one ship to another.
Effects of the Treaty
Unlike the contemporaneous Jay’s Treaty, Pinckney’s Treaty was quite popular with both Federalists and Democratic-Republicans, as well as with the American public. Some historians argue that Pinckney’s Treaty was critical for the emergence of American expansionism (what later became known as “Manifest Destiny”). Spanish power in the region began to weaken, and Spain slowly ceded more territory. Finally, in 1800, under duress from Napoleon of France, Spain ceded an undefined portion of West Florida to France. When France then sold the Louisiana Territory to the United States in 1803, disputes arose again between Spain and the United States regarding which parts of West Florida Spain had ceded to France. These disputes would, in turn, determine which parts of West Florida were now U.S. property versus Spanish territory and would greatly affect the Jeffersonian administration.
The Northwest Territory
The Northwest Indian War (1785–1795) led to further expansion of the United States into American Indian territory.
Analyze the competing claims for control of the Northwest Territory in the years following the Revolutionary War
- In the Treaty of Paris (1783), Great Britain nominally ceded control of the Northwest Territory (which was primarily occupied by various American Indian tribes) to the United States.
- The Northwest Indian War refers to the post- American Revolution conflict between the United States and the Western Confederacy (a loose military alliance of multiple American Indian tribes) over occupation of the Northwest Territory.
- Although the United States military sustained heavy casualties throughout the course of the conflict, it decisively defeated the Western Confederacy at the Battle of Fallen Timbers.
- In the Treaty of Greenville, the Western Confederacy was forced to cede all land claims to the Northwest Territory.
- Northwest Territory: The area of land northwest of the Ohio River; an organized incorporated area of the United States that existed from July 13, 1787, until March 1, 1803, when the southeastern portion of the territory was admitted to the Union as the state of Ohio.
- Treaty of Greenville: An agreement signed in 1795 between the Western Confederacy and the United States following the Battle of Fallen Timbers that ended the Northwest Indian War.
- Western Confederacy: A loose military alliance of American Indians in the Great Lakes region following the American Revolutionary War.
In the Treaty of Paris (1783), Great Britain nominally ceded control of the Northwest Territory (which was primarily occupied by various American Indian tribes) to the United States. In reality, however, the British kept forts and enacted policies there that supported the American Indians living in those territories until Jay’s Treaty in 1794. During his presidency, George Washington directed the U.S. army to subdue ongoing hostilities between American Indian tribes and European American settlers.
Conflict in the Old Northwest
The Ohio territory became subject to overlapping and conflicting claims by the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and Virginia, which had little regard for the numerous American Indian tribes who already inhabited the land. While the British had suffered a major defeat at the Battle of Yorktown (1781), the American Indian tribes in the Old Northwest were not parties to the Treaty of Paris, and many leaders, especially Little Turtle and Blue Jacket, refused to recognize the United States’ claims to the area northwest of the Ohio River. The British remained in possession of their Great Lakes forts, through which they continued to supply American Indian allies with trade items and weapons in exchange for furs.
The Western Confederacy, an alliance among the American Indian nations dating back to the French colonial era, was renewed during the American Revolutionary War. The Western Confederacy came together in the autumn of 1785 at Fort Detroit, proclaiming that the parties to the Confederacy would deal jointly with the United States, rather than individually. The Confederacy was renewed in 1786 when member tribes declared the Ohio River as the boundary between their lands and those of European American invaders.
The Northwest Indian War
The Northwest Indian War, or Little Turtle’s War, resulted from conflict between the United States and the Western Confederacy over occupation of the Northwest Territory. During the 1780s and 1790s, British agents in the region continued to sell weapons and ammunition to the American Indians, encouraging attacks on European American invaders. Invaders retaliated with equally violent attacks on American Indians. In response to this escalation, President Washington and Secretary of War Henry Knox ordered General Josiah Harmar to launch a major western offensive into Shawnee and Miami country, beginning in October of 1790. After initial losses under Colonel Hardin and Major General St. Clair, Washington ordered General Anthony Wayne to form a well-trained force and subdue the American Indian forces. After extensive training, Wayne’s troops advanced into the territory and built Fort Recovery at the site of St. Clair’s defeat. Wayne’s legion continued to advance deeper into the territory of the Wabash Confederacy, and defeated the last of the American Indian forces at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in August 1794.
The Treaty of Greenville
Following the battle, the Western Confederacy and the United States signed the Treaty of Greenville on August 3, 1795, to end the Northwest Indian War. In exchange for goods valued at $20,000, the American Indian tribes were forced to cede most of the areas of Ohio and Indiana and to formally recognize the United States as the ruling power in the Old Northwest. The treaty also established what became known as the “Greenville Treaty Line,” which was for several years a boundary between American Indian territory and lands open to European American invaders; however, the latter frequently disregarded the treaty line as they continued to encroach on native lands west of the boundary.
Although the Northwest Indian War, known in the U.S. Army records as the “Miami Campaign,” was the first major military endeavor of the post-revolutionary United States, historians have sometimes overlooked it. However, the war was a key part of a long offensive in the Ohio Country, which included the Beaver Wars (1650s), the Seven Years’ War (1754–1763), Pontiac ‘s Rebellion (1763–1764), Lord Dunmore’s War (1774), and the American Revolution (1775–1783).