Early American Foreign Affairs

As a new country to the world, America faced many challenges that threatened its stability. One of the most important of issues was America’s foreign policy towards larger powers. The United States' goal was mainly to keep a constant neutrality to allow its internal government time to become strong and settled in. However, it was inevitable that some issues arose like the Quasi War with France and the British impressments of trade ships.

The first of many problems was the matter of native relations. The series of ordinances passed between 1784 and 1787 led to many conflicts of border agreements with the Native Americans. As a result, many British or Spanish allied Indians would revolt and attack, but they were usually defeated. Article I of the Constitution stated that the natives were not allowed representation because they were exempt from taxes and Article VI allowed the US to control their trade. This led to even greater problems because people were unsure if the Indians were considered citizens or a nation within a nation. This issue has existed for more than two centuries.

Another important matter of foreign diplomacy was maintaining neutrality. In 1793, France had gone to war with England. They came looking to America for support, but secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton strongly opposed it because a war might destroy the fragile economy of America. In an attempt to change the United States mind, the French ambassador to America was sent to the US to negotiate. However, instead of heading to Washington in Philadelphia, he went straight to Charlestown, where he set up many ships as privateers, enlisted men to fight for the French and even commissioned George Rogers Clark to lead the American forces. However, when Washington did meet Genet, he requested to his country that he would be removed, but his political faction lost power and Genet was thus an illegal alien.

Yet another challenge of America’s neutrality arose when in early 1794, the British Navy began impressing the sailors of American trade ships under the assumption that they were deserters of past wars. The British governor of Canada also attempted to rally the Indians against America. To try and peacefully settle this issue, Hamilton sent John Jay to try to negotiate an agreement instead of sending the current secretary of state Edmund Randolph, whom Hamilton believed, would not be able to reach an agreement. However, Jay’s negotiation in 1794 failed to earn compensation for the crimes towards the sailors, remove British ships for American waters, and make a new trade treaty. Despite those failures, Jay did manage to prevent the upcoming war with England, give the United States total sovereignty over the entire Northwest and set up an agreeable trade with England. Many disagreed with the treaty because of republican views, but it was eventually ratified as Jay’s Treaty.

Spain’s involvement with America also was of great importance. After the signing of Jay’s Treaty, Spain began to realize that, their Northwest possessions were in danger. Thomas Pinckney was sent to negotiate with Spain and he received almost everything he asked for. Under Pinckney’s treaty in 1795, Spain recognized American’s rights to use the Mississippi River for trade as well as the city of New Orleans for shipping. It also moved Florida’s border to the 31st parallel and required that Spanish officials control Indian revolts.

Regardless of previous French diplomatic acts with America, France’s relationship quickly deteriorated. This time, Fence ships began stealing American Trade vessels and causing all sorts of havoc. When Charles Pinckney arrived in France to try to resolve the issue, they rejected him as an ambassador. So as a result, John Adams created a bipartisan committee consisting of Pinckney, John Marshall, and Elbridge Gerry to negotiate with the French. However, three French agents of the French foreign minister, Prince Talleyrand, demanded a bribe before they would speak. Outraged, the committee sent a message to Adams about the insults and Adams in turn, presented to congress that three men X, Y, and Z, which were the French agents with there names removed, had requested a bribe. The congress responded by cutting off trade with France and allowing the capture of French ships. America also created its first department of the navy, which proved useful in later years. The British also began to work closely with the United States against France. Eventually a treaty was signed between Napoleon, who now controlled France, and thus ended the “Quasi War”

As one can see, many different foreign affairs arose just within the few early years of the United States. French troops constantly imposed on America both politically and economically. England retained its harsh grudge against the United States after the revolution. In addition, Spain continued to be a problem for trade along the Mississippi River. Despite these problems, America had managed to achieve neutrality most of the time, but also great respect throughout the world.



Note:This is an original work. Please cite if used.

The part of U.S. American History usually taught as the isolationist period has, in actuality, more in common with imperialism. An isolationist country is one that favors domestic policy at the expense of foreign affairs. Generally speaking, one would leave other countries alone, and expect to be left alone in turn.

Common arguments for proving that the U.S. was isolationist include its staying out of WWI and the League of Nations. However, these actions are not necessarily isolationist, as neither the war nor the league would have assured a benefit to foreign affairs. Regardless, the U.S. foriegn policy is marked much more by imperialist characteristics.

Notice for instance, that between 1776 and 1945 the country grew 600 percent. Seemingly, the U.S. came by a continent of free land, but of course, that is ridiculous. So why do historians consider committing genocide on Native Americans a form of domestic growth rather than external expansion? Simple, it's called Manifest Destiny, or the widespread belief that God gave the Americans all the land between the Pacific and Atlantic. Even as an Yank, I find this similar to the delusion that al Qaeda's mission was given by God.

If the U.S. was an isolationist country, that only wanted to be left alone, then how did its soldiers end up killing 250,000 Filipino citizens? I don't mean to simply bring out all of the atrocities, but the Philippines are nowhere near the land mass that God supposedly ordained. The U.S. occupied them as an outpost on the rest of the world, an imperialist method rather than an isolationist. How did it get gunboats into China? Why did it intervene 180 times in Latin America? How did it fight the War of Intervention, the Quasi War, or the War of 1812, all of which were with nations on the other side of the Atlantic? The list goes on.

Truth be told, the U.S. has never been an isolationist country. The Marines' Hymn actually begins with the words, "From the Halls of Montezuma, To the Shores of Tripoli." Montezuma and Tripoli are not located anywhere near the original 13 colonies. Tripoli, in fact, is almost on the other side of the world. The only foreign countries that it isolated itself from are the ones that could challenge us in any significant way. Thus, the Monroe Doctrine. This was the policy that created a theoretical divide between the two hemispheres to prevent America's challengers, Europe, from colonizing the other Americas. (Colonization was the key to power at this time.)

Another effect of this was that the U.S. would be alone with malleable countries, including Latin America and, not coincidentally, the Halls of Montezuma. Because of this, the Monroe doctrine can be seen as selectively aggressive, not isolationist policy. True isolationist policy refers directly to staying out of foreign affairs, and so is not a term that can describe this period of U.S. history.

I don't pretend that I know everything. Truth is subjective to perception. So, if anyone has another viewpoint, please tell me about it. Comments are very welcome.

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