America’s first two presidents, George Washington and John Adams, both resolutelyadhered to the idea that America should endeavor to stay out of war at all times, and dideverything in their power to evade declaring and entering into war. Throughout theirreigns, war was ubiquitous in Europe, and many countries (especially Britain and France)made numerous attempts to obtain and secure America’s support. Washington andAdams both believed that America should not side with any foreign country during timesof war making the fundamental purport of America’s first foreign policy the elusion ofwar at all costs.
This policy was manifested throughout Washington and Adams’involvement in, and reactions to the following affairs: the Citizen Genet controversy, theOne of Washington’s initial attempts to pursue this policy was his counteractionto the Genet Affair. In 1793, George Washington proclaimed neutrality, thus declaringAmerica an uninvolved, nonpartisan country in times of war. Simultaneously, EdmondCharles Genet was sent to the United States as a special representative from France toimplore support in the French Revolution.
Genet had previously resolved that theproclamation of neutrality was a “harmless little pleasantry designed to throw dust in theeyes of the British”.
Commencing in Charleston, South Carolina, Genet traveledthroughout the United States presenting his credentials. In addition to his quest forsupport, he began to license American vessels to operate as privateers against Britishshipping and to grant French military commissions to a number of Americans in order toprepare expeditions against Spanish and British territorial claims in North America. These two actions were in direct defilement of American law. Washington demandedthat he cease his unlawful actions, but Genet continued to commission privateers becausehe enticed the public opinion.
This incident is a lucid manifestation of Washington’sample efforts to avoid war. Genet had copiously essayed to obtain American support inthe French Revolution, and in accordance with America’s foreign policy, Washingtonvehemently resisted any involvement in war. In an attempt to deplete the threat ofAmericans supporting the French, he avowed that Genet would be expelled. Washington’s reaction to this controversy verified his foreign policy by showing that hewas willing to avoid war at all costs, even if alliances were broken and foreign relationsIn addition to Washington’s response to the Genet affair, he further strived toavert involvement in war by signing the Jay Treaty.
This treaty was written to preventwar with Britain, but concurrently it strained America’s relationship with France bygoing against their alliance. The provisions made under this treaty did not benefitAmerica whatsoever. Under the Jay Treaty, the British agreed to evacuate the posts inthe west, promised to compensate American ship owners for seizures in the West Indiesand vowed to open up their colonies in Asia to American ships. The US, however,refused to accept it, because a provision opening the British West Indies to Americantrade was so obstructed with credentials that limited the size of American vessels and thetypes of goods allowed.
This treaty was embarrassing because most of what the US hadgained was already legally theirs. Furthermore, the treaty relinquished importantprinciples to a nation dependent upon foreign commerce. Many democratic Americansfelt that this treaty made the United States appear to be selling out to Britain. Despite thenegative aspects of the treaty, Washington believed that it was valuable for the UnitedStates.
It augmented the indication that Washington would go to great lengths to avoidwar, specifically humiliating the US and further maligning relations with France. Washington nonetheless held firmly to his foreign policy, advocating it to his successorand the American people in his ‘Farewell Address’. John Adams became president in 1796 and continued to preserve Washington’sforeign policy. One example that exhibits this was the XYZ Affair.
The French beganattacking American shipping because they were agitated by the Jay Treaty. John Adamsthen appointed three commissioners, Charles Pinckney, John Marshall and ElbridgeGerry, to try and arrange a moderate settlement that would eliminate their differenceswithout mentioning the merits. This task was a disaster. Talleyrand, the French foreignminister, sent an agent, later called X, to demand that the Americans pay tributes toFrance.
He also stated that the French would make a settlement only if the Americansagreed to pay these tributes. This demand was later made by two other agents known asY and Z. The Americans refused and the talks eventually ended. In 1798, PresidentAdams released the commissioners’ report.
These reports abashed the Americans’ senseof national esteem and led to the revoking of the French Alliance by Congress, thecreation of a Navy Department, and the preservation of sufficient funding to buildapproximately forty warships and triple the size of the army. Adams, who was neverextremely popular, was now seen as a national hero. Washington, who had alreadyretired, was brought back to lead the forces alongside Alexander Hamilton. TheAmerican privateers began to attack the French ships on the seas and many peoplepressed for war, but Adams did not want to declare war and go against his foreign policy.
Not declaring war and adhering to his foreign policy further evinced the fact that Adamswas willing to risk losing his increasing popularity, and therefore America did notIn corroboration with the previous examples, Washington and Adamsdeterminedly did all they could to avoid war at all costs and follow through with theirforeign policy. The risks taken by both presidents, and the end results of the Genetcontroversy, Jay Treaty, and XYZ affair, substantiated their policy by verifying theimportance of avoiding war and presenting the drastic measures taken by Washingtonand Adams to avoid war. Both of these great men were so tenacious about avoiding warthat their efforts to do so could have been the root of a war and of prospective damage toforeign alliances and connections. In conclusion, America’s first foreign policyessentially focused on eschewing war, and Washington and Adams were willing to makeall concessions necessary to do so.
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