Building the State (1781-1797)

Expansion and Conflict

Summary Expansion and Conflict

American feelings toward France were generally strong, in one direction or the other. The conservative North generally disapproved of the recent French Revolution, while more liberal southerners generally supported it. Northern merchants realized that trade with Britain was, more than anything else, the force sustaining their economy. The largest portion of US trade went through British ports. New England businessmen thought an alliance with France might force British retaliation in the form of constriction of trade and/or all out war, while a pro-British stance might invite an expansion of trade. Southerners, on the other hand, saw reliance on British trade as a weakness of the national economy, and favored the expansion of trade with France. Additionally, southern plantation owners feared the intentions of the British toward the institution of slavery. Many based their opinions on this subject on rumors that claimed the British had begun a bloody slave uprising on the French-controlled island of Saint Domingue. They feared the British would attempt to abolish slavery in the American South, and thus advocated a pro-French foreign policy. The conflict over foreign policy in the early to mid 1790s was yet another struggle emblematic of the division of the nation into quarreling factions, largely based on the division between North and South.

Jay's Treaty, perhaps the most important diplomatic achievement of the Washington administration, was received poorly in the US, where critics saw it as a weak attempt at negotiation, allowing the British to continue to impress sailors and to restrict US trade with French ports in the Caribbean. Jay himself was criticized heavily by the public and denounced as a diplomatic failure. However, in retrospect, the treaty accomplished quite a lot, considering the circumstances. Most importantly, it halted the advance toward war with Britain before the outbreak of serious violence. Second, it ended the occupation of American land by British forts, which had lasted for twelve years. Finally, the treaty made crucial headway in resolving squabbles between the two nations revolving around the collection of prewar debts, which had gone on for over a decade.

In retrospect, the Washington administration accomplished a great deal in the realm of diplomacy. It defended American territorial rights, avoided war, and opened the crucial port of New Orleans. Though the administration had made great strides in the establishment of the US as an international power, internal divisions over policy showed that foreign policy was simply yet another area that gave rise to political conflict between American citizens.

Building the State (1781-1797): Popular pages