America’s Growing Pains Americas 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 Americas support.
Washington and Adams both believed that America should not side with any foreign country during times of war making the fundamental purport of Americas 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 Washingtons 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 Washingtons ample efforts to avoid war. Genet had copiously essayed to obtain American support in the French Revolution, and in accordance with Americas 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.
Washingtons 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 Washingtons 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 Americas 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 Washingtons 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, Americas first foreign policy essentially focused on eschewing war, and Washington and Adams were willing to make all concessions necessary to do so. Political Science.