Americas Growing Pains Essay

America’s Growing PainsAmerica’s first two presidents, George Washington and John Adams, both resolutely
adhered to the idea that America should endeavor to stay out of war at all times, and did
everything in their power to evade declaring and entering into war. Throughout their
reigns, war was ubiquitous in Europe, and many countries (especially Britain and France)
made numerous attempts to obtain and secure America’s support. Washington and
Adams both believed that America should not side with any foreign country during times
of war making the fundamental purport of America’s first foreign policy the elusion of
war at all costs. This policy was manifested throughout Washington and Adams’
involvement in, and reactions to the following affairs: the Citizen Genet controversy, the
Jay Treaty, and the XYZ Affair.
One of Washington’s initial attempts to pursue this policy was his counteraction
to the Genet Affair. In 1793, George Washington proclaimed neutrality, thus declaring
America an uninvolved, nonpartisan country in times of war. Simultaneously, Edmond
Charles Genet was sent to the United States as a special representative from France to
implore support in the French Revolution. Genet had previously resolved that the
proclamation of neutrality was a ?harmless little pleasantry designed to throw dust in the
eyes of the British?. Commencing in Charleston, South Carolina, Genet traveled
throughout the United States presenting his credentials. In addition to his quest for
support, he began to license American vessels to operate as privateers against British
shipping and to grant French military commissions to a number of Americans in order to
prepare expeditions against Spanish and British territorial claims in North America.
These two actions were in direct defilement of American law. Washington demanded
that he cease his unlawful actions, but Genet continued to commission privateers because
he enticed the public opinion. This incident is a lucid manifestation of Washington’s
ample efforts to avoid war. Genet had copiously essayed to obtain American support in
the French Revolution, and in accordance with America’s foreign policy, Washington
vehemently resisted any involvement in war. In an attempt to deplete the threat of
Americans supporting the French, he avowed that Genet would be expelled.
Washington’s reaction to this controversy verified his foreign policy by showing that he
was willing to avoid war at all costs, even if alliances were broken and foreign relations
were damaged.
In addition to Washington’s response to the Genet affair, he further strived to
avert involvement in war by signing the Jay Treaty. This treaty was written to prevent
war with Britain, but concurrently it strained America’s relationship with France by
going against their alliance. The provisions made under this treaty did not benefit
America whatsoever. Under the Jay Treaty, the British agreed to evacuate the posts in
the west, promised to compensate American ship owners for seizures in the West Indies
and 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 American
trade was so obstructed with credentials that limited the size of American vessels and the
types of goods allowed. This treaty was embarrassing because most of what the US had
gained was already legally theirs. Furthermore, the treaty relinquished important
principles to a nation dependent upon foreign commerce. Many democratic Americans
felt that this treaty made the United States appear to be selling out to Britain. Despite the
negative aspects of the treaty, Washington believed that it was valuable for the United
States. It augmented the indication that Washington would go to great lengths to avoid
war, specifically humiliating the US and further maligning relations with France.
Washington nonetheless held firmly to his foreign policy, advocating it to his successor
and the American people in his ?Farewell Address’.
John Adams became president in 1796 and continued to preserve Washington’s
foreign policy. One example that exhibits this was the XYZ Affair. The French began
attacking American shipping because they were agitated by the Jay Treaty. John Adams
then appointed three commissioners, Charles Pinckney, John Marshall and Elbridge
Gerry, to try and arrange a moderate settlement that would eliminate their differences
without mentioning the merits. This task was a disaster. Talleyrand, the French foreign
minister, sent an agent, later called X, to demand that the Americans pay tributes to
France. He also stated that the French would make a settlement only if the Americans
agreed to pay these tributes. This demand was later made by two other agents known as
Y and Z. The Americans refused and the talks eventually ended. In 1798, President
Adams released the commissioners’ report. These reports abashed the Americans’ sense
of national esteem and led to the revoking of the French Alliance by Congress, the
creation of a Navy Department, and the preservation of sufficient funding to build
approximately forty warships and triple the size of the army. Adams, who was never
extremely popular, was now seen as a national hero. Washington, who had already
retired, was brought back to lead the forces alongside Alexander Hamilton. The
American privateers began to attack the French ships on the seas and many people
pressed 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 Adams
was willing to risk losing his increasing popularity, and therefore America did not
officially enter into war.
In corroboration with the previous examples, Washington and Adams
determinedly did all they could to avoid war at all costs and follow through with their
foreign policy. The risks taken by both presidents, and the end results of the Genet
controversy, Jay Treaty, and XYZ affair, substantiated their policy by verifying the
importance of avoiding war and presenting the drastic measures taken by Washington
and Adams to avoid war. Both of these great men were so tenacious about avoiding war
that their efforts to do so could have been the root of a war and of prospective damage to
foreign alliances and connections. In conclusion, America’s first foreign policy
essentially focused on eschewing war, and Washington and Adams were willing to make
all concessions necessary to do so.
Political Science

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