Foreign Policy - The Federalist Republic
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But Washington unwittingly aided the conflict by consulting the entire cabinet on all matters except those related to the Treasury. This gave Hamilton an opportunity to extend his activities into the domain of Jefferson without fear of a similar intrusion into this own departmental business. In the realm of foreign affairs, the two men were divided by Hamilton's strong sympathy for Great Britain and Jefferson's equally strong feelings toward France. When Britain proposed that the United States permit her troops to cross American soil should she find herself at war with Spain, Hamilton readily assented; but Jefferson seized upon the proposal as an opportunity to remind the British that, seven years after the signing of the Treaty of Paris, they still refused to relinquish their western posts to the Americans. The antagonism between the two men was sharpened by their differing views on the French Revolution.
French aspirations for liberty excited a widespread sympathy in the United States. "The liberty of the whole earth was depending on the issue of the contest," Jefferson later wrote, "and . . . rather than it should have failed, I would have seen half the earth devastated." To Hamilton and his supporters, the French revolution seemed increasingly an anarchistic attack on property, individual rights, and world peace. They felt certain that if the excesses of the revolution went unchecked, they themselves, as men committed to the stability of property and authority, would eventually feel the headsman's ax. France's decision in the winter of 1793 to proclaim herself a republic, declare war on Britain, and send Edmond Genet as minister to America, precipitated a major crisis. For once both Jefferson and Hamilton agreed on ends - the preservation of American neutrality - though not on means.
Under the treaty of alliance negotiated in 1778, the United States had agreed to help France retain her West Indian possessions, and to permit French warships the use of American ports. In 1792 Hamilton argued for the temporary suspension of this treaty on the grounds that the permanence of the new French government was not yet secured. He also opposed the reception of Genet, fearing that it would be tantamount to recognition of the French republic and would thus compel the United States to honor the 1778 treaty. Jefferson preferred to let circumstance determine the policy of the American government toward the French revolutionists. He suggested that the United States, rather than discuss the implications of the treaty, leave its intentions ambiguous. He hoped, thereby, to force both belligerents to bid for continued American neutrality. Once again the two men disagreed about the interpretation of the Constitution; Hamilton assumed that in the absence of Congress the President had the right to declare neutrality, while Jefferson contended that only Congress possessed the needed power.
Washington steered a course between the positions of the two men. He received Genet and refused to suspend the treaty, but he also declared that American neutrality would be applied impartially to the belligerents. Many Americans, mindful of French assistance during the Revolution and eager to aid a new sister republic, protested against this "desertion" of the French. They charged that the evil influence of Hamilton had led the President astray. The Secretary answered this charge by reminding his critics that France had acted out of self-interest in her aid during the Revolution, and that America could hardly be expected to do less.
Citizen Genet. The young French minister, Edmond Charles Edouard Genet, bursting with revolutionary doctrine, meant to guide the United States into forthright support of his embattled republic. He considered American proclamations of neutrality to be formalities only, behind which he could work to make the country a base for the conquest of Canada, Florida, and Louisiana, and he hired George Rogers Clark to organize an expedition against the latter territories. He also expected to use American ports as bases from which privateers would attack British shipping. Both Hamilton and Secretary of War Henry Knox flatly refused either financial or military assistance to Genet's schemes; but the outspoken sympathy of Americans for the new French republic kept the minister's expectations high. When Jefferson took the vivacious Frenchman into his confidence, he provided the country with an anomalous spectacle: its Secretary of the Treasury was keeping the British fully informed of state secrets, while its Secretary of State did the same for the French.
The French decision to throw open their colonial ports to American shipping added to the weight of pro-French sentiment in the United States. Thereupon Jefferson, using much the same justification employed earlier by Hamilton when he agitated for aid to the British attack upon Louisiana, agreed to assist Genet's plans for an attack on Florida, Louisiana, and Canada. Jefferson anticipated that this would resolve the irritating issue of the northern frontier posts, and would open the Mississippi to American shipping. Genet, now thoroughly convinced that Jefferson was in effect his aide-de-camp, commissioned twelve American privateers which seized no less than eighty-five merchantmen, some in American territorial waters. These ships were brought into American ports and sold by French consuls.
As the French minister took ever more aggressive actions, Washington and Hamilton became increasingly alarmed. Because of the damage to their merchant fleet, the British contemplated drastic retaliatory measures, made all the more ominous by the British minister's conviction that the Americans had lost all ability to control the cocky French minister. Only the desperate efforts of Hamilton prevented the British from taking immediate action. In August 1793, Genet, aware of the growing official displeasure, demanded that Washington convene Congress so that it could choose between the stand of the President and the demands of the French minister that America abandon its neutrality. Genet threatened to appeal directly to the American public if his wishes in this respect were not complied with. Jefferson, dismayed, undertook to check the French minister while maintaining friendly relations with the French republic. "Hot-headed, all imagination, no judgment, passionate, disrespectful & even indecent towards the President," was his new estimate of Genet. The emergence of the Jacobins as the dominant party in Paris resolved the administration's dilemma: Genet was ordered home. Finding the prospect of the guillotine unattractive, Genet asked for, and was granted, asylum. Thus ended a dangerous incident in the young republic's history.
Even as the Genet affair came to its ironic conclusion, Jefferson, convinced that Hamilton had usurped the conduct of foreign affairs, submitted his resignation (effective as of December 31, 1793). As Jefferson retired and the administration struggled to steer an even course, the British resolved upon an attack against the French West Indies; and as a complement to this joint naval-military action in the Western Hemisphere, the London government, on November 6, 1793, issued an Order in Council which authorized British commanders to seize all neutral ships supplying produce to, or transporting produce from, the French islands. The obvious target of this action was the American merchant marine, which carried the bulk of this trade. The ensuing seizure of some 250 American ships caused a rapid deterioration in relations between Britain and the United States.
The Northwest Frontier Posts. Further antagonisms were provoked by the ambiguous policy of the British military in retaining outposts along the northern American frontier. The British denied encouraging hostile incursions by the Indians into American territory, but supplied the Indians with arms and powder. In a series of savage outbreaks during 1790 and 1791, the Indians inflicted heavy losses along the Northwest Frontier. The further refusal of the British to withdraw from the Northwest territory during the spring of 1794 made war seem inevitable. Even the revocation, in January 1794, of the November 1793 Order in Council failed to lessen tension between the two countries. It was only the intervention of Hamilton in March 1794 that finally ended the drift toward war.
Jay's Treaty. Hamilton persuaded Washington to send Chief Justice John Jay (a strong Federalist) to London, as minister plenipotentiary. Though Edmund Randolph was the new Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury drew up Jay's instructions. In them, Jay was directed to obtain British withdrawal from the Western outposts, reparations for losses inflicted upon American shipping, compensation for slaves removed from the United States when the British army withdrew in 1783, and a commercial treaty. Jay, suave and sophisticated, moving easily in British society, viewed his task as one of friendly settlement rather than conference-table dispute. This simplified his negotiations with Lord Grenville, the British foreign secretary, who made it emphatically evident that the key to settlement was complete American neutrality. Jay was obliged to surrender the American conception of freedom of the seas, and to accept clauses in the treaty which employed the British definition of contraband, accorded Great Britain the most-favored-nation treatment, closed American ports to the warships and privateers of Britain's enemies, and secured privately held British debt in America from confiscation. In addition, the United States agreed to redeem debts held by British creditors and defaulted by American citizens.
In return for these concessions, the British agreed to withdraw from their Northwest posts by June 1796, to pay compensation for damage inflicted on American commerce, and to grant American ships the right to conduct restricted commerce with India. Small American craft were permitted to trade with the British West Indies, so long as the products obtained were consumed only in the United States. The treaty was conspicuously silent on the issue of the abducted slaves; his abolitionist sentiments made it almost impossible for Jay to demand that Britain pay for having freed slaves.
When the terms of the treaty became known to the American public, the response was a burst of outraged indignation. Only after bitter debate was the necessary two-thirds vote of confirmation obtained in the Senate. So many effigies of Jay were burned in the United States that he concluded he could find his way across the country by their light. Washington, who was unsure of the treaty's merits, had his dilemma resolved through revelations concerning his Secretary of State. Randolph had divulged state secrets to the French minister Fauchet, and had tried to obtain bribes from the same source for several Republican politicians. Fearful of war with Britain and American subordination to France, Washington signed the treaty on June 25, 1795. It still had to run the gantlet in the House of Representatives, where efforts were made to kill the appropriation needed to make the treaty effective. But this opposition was overcome in April 1796.
Thus, relations between the United States and Great Britain took a turn for the better; but domestic politics remained agitated, as supporters of Jefferson bewailed the American abandonment of neutrality. They neglected to note the inability of the United States to garrison many of the Northwest posts abandoned by the British in June 1796 - an inability which scarcely augured well for the United States should it go to war.
Pinckney's Treaty. While John Jay was still trying to resolve the Northwestern Frontier disputes, American attention was directed toward the equally turbulent Southwestern Frontier. Spanish control of Louisiana and New Orleans hindered American use of the Mississippi River, and Americans vainly demanded compensation for Spanish depredations against American commerce. As matters turned out, however, Jay's treaty aided the solution of America's problems in this region.
Although Spain was allied with Great Britain in the war against France, a succession of military disasters convinced the Spaniards that a negotiated peace with France was imperative, and a secret settlement was arrived at. On August 7, 1795, the treaty of peace was published in Madrid; but, fearful that England would seek revenge for this betrayal, Spain now struck up friendly relations with the United States. Thomas Pinckney, an affable, judicious South Carolinian, was already negotiating with Manuel de Godoy, the Spanish king's first minister, when news reached Spain of the secret treaty negotiated with Britain by Jay. Fearing that it was the forerunner of an anti-Spanish alliance between the Anglo-Saxon powers, Godoy decided to give the Americans evidence of Spain's good intentions. He was prepared to concede to them the right of navigation on the Mississippi, and to establish the border of Florida at latitude 31°, without an alliance or reciprocal guarantees of territory by either party. From that moment until. October 27, 1795, when the treaty was finally signed, there existed no doubt that the Americans had obtained a considerable concession at a small price. All Spain received in exchange was a brief delay before her final surrender of the Louisiana territory to France, and its subsequent sale to the United States.