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The Emerging Nation: A Documentary History of the Foreign Relations of the United States under the Articles of Confederation, 1780-1789, presents significant historical documents in three volumes. Volume One, Recognition of Independence, covers the extensive peace negotiations leading to the Treaty of Paris of 1783; Volume Two, Trials and Tribulations, explores the frustrations in diplomacy associated in part with the inability of the government under the Articles to control commerce, to tax the states for needed revenues, and to enforce treaties; Volume Three, Toward Federal Diplomacy, reflects continued diplomatic efforts to reach foreign agreements to enhance United States security in the world community while political leaders established a federal union.
It is the goal of the editors of this publication to make available significant documents to serve as a starting point for the study of United States diplomacy for the years 1780 to 1789. The documents begin with John Adams' acceptance of his commission as minister plenipotentiary to negotiate peace with Great Britain, continue with United States efforts to seek treaties and financial aid from European nations, and end with United States diplomatic efforts at the opening of the First Federal Congress.
In order to present the historical richness of as many documents as possible, introductions, headnotes, and annotations have been used judiciously in support of a basic understanding of the events. This editorial philosophy reflects the goal of the editors "to let the documents speak for themselves." As gathered here, they have much to say.
During the 17th and 18th centuries Great Britain and France engaged in a series of wars as they fiercely competed for territories in India, Africa, the West Indies, and North America. The capstone of these wars in North America came in 1754 when conflict over claims to land and trade west of the Appalachian Mountains by French and British colonials ignited the French and Indian War, 1754-1763, which became a worldwide conflict known as the Seven Years War, 1756-1763. At the close of hostilities, France relinquished to Great Britain its rights to Canada, Acadia, Cape Breton Island, the islands in the St. Lawrence River, and all territories east of the Mississippi River. It gave all French territories west of the Mississippi River and New Orleans to Spain. Although France retained fishing rights off the coast of Newfoundland by the terms of the Treaty of Paris of 1763, the result of defeat was virtual expulsion from the continent. Only Great Britain and Spain held colonies in North America.
But while the French were defeated, they remained undaunted. Some French leaders saw that the British in their victory had sown the seeds of future difficulties. The French presence in North America had made the American colonials dependent on British support. Now that the French presence was removed, the Americans were free to acquire additional territory, rely even more on their own local governing bodies, and in general pursue a more independent course.
Following the signing of the Treaty of Paris of 1763, postwar attempts by Parliament to enforce tighter controls and impose higher taxes on the colonies met with strong resistance. Disputes grew more serious from 1765 to 1775. In April 1775 open warfare erupted with the battles of Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts. In November of that year, the Continental Congress began to search abroad for financial aid and military stores to meet its obligations. A major, albeit clandestine, source was found in France. It was this secret aid that kept America's hopes for nationhood alive during the difficult years of 1775, 1776, and 1777.
America's victory at Saratoga in the fall of 1777 helped to precipitate formal French involvement in the war. France's leadership acted less from a conviction that the United States had demonstrated an ability to maintain its independence by force of arms, than from a concern that the Americans might accept a peace settlement with Great Britain. For its part, the United States was now prepared to ally itself with France, necessity having replaced earlier altruistic plans of minimal relations with foreign powers. American and French diplomats signed treaties of alliance and of amity and commerce on February 6, 1778. Congress ratified the treaties that Spring without substantive debate and proceeded to seek the assistance of other nations.
Spain's entry into the war as France's ally in June 1779 provided Congress with the opportunity to seek another alliance. Congress hoped for Spanish recognition of American independence and material aid in conducting the war. For its part, Spain was ready to provide assistance that might discomfit Great Britain, but regarded the American rebellion as a dangerous example for its own American colonies. In addition, the refusal of the United States to renounce its right to navigate the Mississippi River, or its claims to lands west of the Appalachians, gave Spain reason not to honor American requests. John Jay, who arrived in Spain in January 1780, spent two and a half years in negotiations with small success.
John Adams, who represented the United States in France, 1778-1779, returned to Europe in early 1780 as American commissioner to draw up a treaty of peace and a commercial agreement with Great Britain. Disputes with the Comte de Vergennes, the French Foreign Minister, over the proper timing of an announcement of his mission to London caused Adams to transfer his residence to Holland, where he might establish American credit with one or more of the Dutch banks. After many months filled with frustrations, Adams was successful in obtaining Dutch recognition and financial support in 1782.
Congress also sought aid from Russia. In late 1781, it sent Francis Dana, Adams' secretary, as minister plenipotentiary to the Court of St. Petersburg, with instructions to enroll the United States in the League of Armed Neutrality and to negotiate a treaty of amity and commerce with the Russian monarch. After spending almost two years in the Russian capital, Dana found that Catherine II had no intention of recognizing the United States. Thus his mission was a failure.
Peace negotiations with Great Britain, the most successful effort of United States diplomacy of the period, began in the spring of 1782. Under Lord Shelburne's direction, British representative Richard Oswald contacted Benjamin Franklin in April 1782 to begin talks. The negotiations culminated on November 30, 1782, with the American representatives (Adams, Franklin, Jay, and Henry Laurens) signing the preliminary articles. They agreed to terms without informing the French beforehand, thereby incurring the disapproval of Vergennes, whose own peace efforts were directed towards the negotiation of the European preliminary articles, signed in January 1783. The Anglo-American definitive treaty of peace signed on September 3, 1783, was basically the same as the preliminary treaty. Congress ratified the treaty on January 14, 1784, and Franklin and David Hartley exchanged instruments of ratification in June.
Following the signing of the preliminary treaty, the Anglo-American discussions continued in the hope of producing a commercial agreement in addition to the peace treaty. When Shelburne's ministry fell in February 1783, to be replaced by a Fox-North coalition, Richard Oswald was replaced by David Hartley as the British negotiator in Paris. Charles James Fox and Hartley at first seemed of one mind in their desire to resolve trade matters with the Americans. However, British public opinion quickly hardened against allowing the Americans to enjoy their prewar trade relationship with any part of the Empire. American withdrawal of all restrictions on trade with the former mother country in April 1783 accordingly met with no parallel British response. While American ships were permitted to bring American produce to Great Britain, an Order in Council in July 1783 banned all but small American ships from carrying produce to British possessions in the West Indies. Hartley spent several frustrating and unsuccessful months trying to change the British position on trade with the United States.
Failure to negotiate a trade agreement with Great Britain was but one difficulty in United States trade relations with the leading powers. The Franco-American treaty of amity and commerce specified most favorednation status for each country's trade goods. French goods should therefore have had an advantage over British goods in any competition for American markets. However, French commercial practices made no allowance for credit, and French manufacturers did not adapt their products to the American market. Despite the lack of an Anglo-American commercial agreement, British goods were made available on credit, and with the removal of American trade restrictions, soon commanded a lion's share of sales.
In spite of overwhelming difficulties, Congress sought to negotiate commercial treaties with the other nations of Europe based upon principles of reciprocity. While John Jay, soon to become Secretary for Foreign Affairs, returned to New York in 1784, Thomas Jefferson joined Franklin and Adams that year to participate in the negotiations. These three American commissioners, working together in Paris, notified more than twenty European nations of their readiness to treat, but the response was meager. Franklin had already negotiated a treaty with Sweden, and Adams and Jefferson would complete a treaty with Prussia. Despite preliminary talks with Denmark and Portugal, the commissioners signed no other commercial treaties with European states in the 1780s.
Congress appointed John Adams its minister to Great Britain in February 1785. Adams diligently reported on his reception in London, but soon perceived that the British were disinterested in any commercial arrangements with the United States. His protests regarding Britain's failure to evacuate the Northwest posts, to settle the Northeast boundary in Passamaquoddy Bay, or to provide compensation for slaves removed from the United States, were met by British complaints of American failure to repay British creditors or compensate loyalists for confiscated property. In response, Adams advised Congress to retaliate against British commerce by establishing imposts and prohibitions, emphasizing that the British government otherwise would refuse to resolve its differences with the United States. He also counselled the American States to facilitate strict observance of peace treaty terms.
Jefferson's experience in France was certainly more pleasant than that of Adams, but only slightly more productive. France wished to promote an expansion of Franco-American trade, but without disrupting its economic system or suffering a decline in government revenues. France made L'Orient, Bayonne, Dunkirk, and Marseilles free ports for American trade, but navigation fees charged American ships at these ports eliminated any possibility of profitable commerce. French notions of most-favored-nation status did not extend to certain privileges, such as admission of American whale oil on the same basis as that admitted from the Hanse towns, until Jefferson pointed out the anomaly. Jefferson also mounted a major effort to persuade the French to make the terms upon which the Farmers General (which collected taxes and duties on various categories of imported goods) purchased tobacco more congenial to American merchants. French officials were generally sympathetic to Jefferson's efforts, but France's antiquated economic system and precarious financial situation prevented a genuine Franco-American commercial rapprochement. The only really bright spot on America's trade horizon was its incipient China trade, which would yield handsome profits while stimulating America's shipbuilding industry and providing experience for future American naval officers.
Another difficulty that confronted the American envoys in Europe was the declaration of war on the United States by the Barbary pirates of North Africa. Congress authorized Adams and Jefferson to appoint agents to negotiate peace treaties with the North African rulers, setting aside $80,000 for use in this effort. The American diplomats sent Thomas Barclay, the U.S. Consul General in France, to handle the Moroccan negotiations. Morocco's ruler promptly released his American captives and signed a peace treaty. However, American efforts to negotiate with Algiers and Tripoli failed to reach a satisfactory conclusion. It is interesting to note that Jefferson favored building a fleet with which to suppress the Barbary corsairs, while Adams advocated raising adequate funds to meet the pirates' demands.
Congress had better success in matters relating to its authority regarding foreign diplomats and consuls in the United States. It refused to extradite a French adventurer calling himself the Chevalier de Longchamps for trial and punishment in France on the demand of the French government for his physical attack on the French Consul General, François Barbé de Marbois, on the principle of extraterritoriality, because the culprit had a valid claim to American citizenship. Longchamps was sentenced in an American court to an appropriate punishment for his crime, and the French government ultimately accepted the logic of the American position.
Congress had equal success in asserting its authority to approve the appointment of foreign consuls to posts in the United States, chiding Richard Soderstrom, the Swedish Consul at Boston, for proceeding to his post and soliciting an exequatur from the Governor of Massachusetts without first receiving congressional approval. When Sir John Temple, the British Consul General, overstepped his authority by approaching Secretary for Foreign Affairs John Jay in behalf of loyalists seeking redress of grievances in accordance with the terms of the definitive treaty of peace, Jay asked Adams to inform the British government that such requests were the province of a diplomat, not a consul.
As Secretary for Foreign Affairs, it fell to Jay to make a second effort to