Assess the motivations and directions of American foreign policy between 1776 to 1801. Isolate and describe any such policy goals and support your position using the documents provided and your personal knowledge of that period.



In his private diary, John Adams kept detailed personal observations concerning the events of Revolutionary America. Here Adams examines the proposed alliance with France, but records his personal feelings that involvements with European nations should be approached with caution. The context in which Adams is writing indicates that he was commenting upon a discussion or perhaps a debate in the Continental Congress. Pay very close attention to the italicized portion of this document. What other American leader does Adams echo?


"Some Gentlemen doubted of the Sentiments of France, thought She would frown upon Us as Rebells and be afraid to countenance the Example. I replied to these Gentlemen, that I apprehended they had not attended to the relative Situation of France and England. That it was the unquestionable Interest of France that the British continental Colonies should be independent. That Britain by the Conquest of Canada and their naval Tryumphs during the last War, and by her vast Possessions in America and the East Indies, was exalted to a height of Power and Preeminence that France must envy and could not endure. But there was much more than pride and Jealousy in the Case. Her Rank, her Consideration in Europe, and even her Safety and Independence was at stake. The Navy of Great Britain was now Mistress of the Seas all over the Globe. the Navy of France almost annihilated. Its Inferiority was so great and obvious, that the Dominions of France in the West Indies and in the East Indies lay at the Mercy of Great Britain, and must remain so as long as North America belonged to Great Britain, and afforded them so many harbours abounding with Naval Stores and Resources of all kinds and so many Men and Seamen ready to assist them and Man their Ships. That Interest could not lie, that the Interest of France was so obvious, and her Motives so cogent, that nothing but a judicial Infatuation of her Council could restrain her from embracing Us. That our negotiations with France ought, however, to be conducted with great caution and with all the foresight We could possibly obtain. That We ought not to enter into any Alliance with her, which should entangle Us in any future Wars in Europe, that We ought to lay it down as a first principle and a Maxim never to be forgotten, to maintain an entire Neutrality in all future European Wars. That it never could be in our Interest to unite with France, in the destruction of England, or in any measure to break her Spirit or reduce her to a situation in which she could not support her Independence. On the other hand it could never be our Duty to unite with Britain in too great a humiliation of France. That our real if not our nominal Independence would consist in our Neutrality. If We united with either Nation, in any future War, We must become too subordinate and dependent on that nation, and should be involved in all European Wars as We had been hitherto. That foreign Powers would find means to corrupt our People to influence our Councils, and in fine We should be little better than Puppetts danced on the Wires of Cabinetts of Europe. We should be the Sport of European Intrigues and Politicks. that therefore in preparing Treaties to be proposed to foreign Powers and in the Instructions to be given to our Ministers, We ought to confine ourselves strictly to a Treaty of Commerce...."
                                           John Adams, private diary for 1775

SOURCE:   John Adams on a Proposed Alliance with France, 1775.



Long before George Washington issued his Neutrality Proclamation or the Farewell Address recommending American non-involvement in the political affairs of Europe, Thomas Paine suggested a similar course in his arguments supporting a Declaration of Independence from Great Britain.


"Much hath been said of the united strength of Britain and the Colonies, that in conjunction they might bid defiance to the world; But this is mere presumption, the fate of war is uncertain, neither do the expressions mean anything, for this Continent would never suffer itself to be drained of inhabitants, to support the British Arms in either Asia, Africa, or Europe.

Besides, what have we to do with setting the world at defiance? Our plan is commerce, and that well attended to, will secure us the peace and friendship of all Europe, because it is the interest of all Europe to have America a free port. Her trade will always be her protection....

I challenge the warmest advocate for reconciliation, to shew , a single advantage that this Continent can reap, by being connected with Great Britain. I will repeat the challenge, not a single advantage is derived. Our corn will fetch its price in any market in Europe and our imported goods must be paid for by them where we will.

But the injuries and disadvantages we sustain by that connection, are without number, and our duty to mankind at large, as well as to ourselves, instruct us to renounce the alliance; because any submission to, or dependence on Great Britain, tends directly to involve this Continent in European wars and quarrels. As Europe is our market for trade, we ought to form no political connection with any part of it....

Europe is too thickly planted with Kingdoms, to be long at peace, and whenever a war breaks out between England and any foreign power, the trade of American goes to ruin, because of her connection with Britain...."

SOURCE:   Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1776.



Following the Battle of Saratoga, the King of France being convinced that the American rebels serious intended their declarations of independence from Great Britain, the French government finally extended full and public support to the American Revolution. This treaty was the instrument of that agreement.

"A Treaty of Amity and Commerce. 6 Feb. 1778

The most Christian King and the united States of North America, to wit, New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhodes island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, having this Day concluded a Treaty of amity and Commerce,... have thought it necessary to take into consideration the means of strengthening those engagements and of rendering them useful to the safety and tranquility of the two parties, particularly in case Great Britain in Resentment of that connection... should break the Peace with France... his Majesty and the said united States having resolved in that Case to join their Councils and efforts against the Enterprises of their common Enemy, the respective Plenipotentiaries, impower'd to concert the Clauses & conditions proper to fulfil the said Intentions, have, after the most mature Deliberation, concluded and determined on the following Articles.

ART. 1.

If War should break out between France and Great Britain, during the continuance of the present War between the united States and England, his Majesty and the said united States, shall make it a common cause... as becomes good & faithful Allies.

ART. 2.

The essential and direct End of the present defensive alliance is to maintain effectually the liberty, Sovereignty, and independence absolute and unlimited of the said united States....

ART. 3.

The two contracting Parties shall each on its own Part, and in the manner it may judge most proper, make all the efforts in its Power, against their common Enemy, in order to attain the end proposed.

ART. 4.

The contracting Parties agree that in case either of them should form any particular Enterprise in which the concurrence of the other may be desired... they shall regulate by a particular Convention the quantity and kind of Succour to be furnished, and the Time and manner of its being brought into action, as well as the advantages which are to be its Compensation.

ART. 5.

If the united States should think fit to attempt the Reduction of the British Power remaining in the Northern Parts of America, or the Islands of Bermudas, those Countries or Islands in case of Success, shall be confederated with or dependent upon the said united States.

ART. 6.

The Most Christian King renounces for ever the possession of the Islands of Bermudas as well as of any part of the continent of North america which before the treaty of Paris in 1763....

ART. 7.

If his Most Christian Majesty shall think proper to attack any of the Islands situated in the Gulph of Mexico, or near that Gulph, which are at present under the Power of Great Britain, all the said Isles, in case of success, shall appertain to the Crown of France.

ART. 8.

Neither of the two Parties shall conclude either Truce or Peace with Great Britain, without the formal consent of the other first obtain'd; and they mutually engage not to lay down their arms, until the Independence of the united States shall have been formally or tacitly assured by the Treaty or Treaties that shall terminate the War.

ART. 9.

The contracting Parties declare, that being resolved to fulfil each on its own Part the clauses and conditions of the present Treaty of alliance, according to its own power and circumstances, there shall be no after claim of compensation on one side or the other whatever may be the event of the War.

ART. 10.

The Most Christian King and the united States, agree to invite or admit other Powers who may have received injuries from England to make common cause with them....

ART. 11.

The two Parties guarantee mutually from the present time and forever, against all other powers... their liberty, Sovereignty, and Independence absolute, and unlimited,....

ART. 12.

In order to fix more precisely the sense and application of the preceding article, the Contracting Parties declare, that in case of rupture between France and England, the reciprocal Guarantee declared in the said article shall have its full force and effect the moment such War shall break out....

ART. 13.

The present Treaty shall be ratified on both sides and the Ratifications shall be exchanged in the space of six months, sooner if possible.

In faith where of the respective Plenipotentiaries... have hereunto affixed their Seals

Done at Paris, this sixth Day of February, one thousand seven hundred and seventy eight."

SOURCE:   Franco-American Treaty of Alliance of 1778.



In this treaty, the United States and Britain brought the American Revolution to an end and determined the terms of peace.

"In the name of the most holy and undivided Trinity.

It having pleased the Divine Providence to dispose the hearts of the most serene and most potent Prince George the Third, by the grace of God, king of Great Britain...., and of the United States of America, to forget all past misunderstandings and differences that have unhappily interrupted the good correspondence and friendship which they mutually wish to restore.... have constituted and appointed, that is to say his Britannic Majesty on his part, David Hartley, Esqr..., and the said United States on their part, JohnAdams, Esqr...; Benjamin Franklin, Esqr...; John Jay, Esqr.... to be plenipotentiaries for the concluding and signing the present definitive treaty; who after having reciprocally communicated their respective full powers have agreed upon and confirmed the following articles.

Article 1:

His Brittanic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz., New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be free sovereign and independent states, that he treats with them as such, and for himself, his heirs, and successors, relinquishes all claims to the government, propriety, and territorial rights of the same and every part thereof.

Article 2:

And that all disputes which might arise in future on the subject of the boundaries of the said United States may be prevented, it is hereby agreed and declared, that the following are and shall be their boundaries, viz.; [treaty defines new boundaries of the United States]

Article 3:

It is agreed that the people of the United States shall continue to enjoy unmolested the right to take fish of every kind on the Grand Bank and on all the other banks of Newfoundland, also in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and at all other places in the sea, where the inhabitants of both countries used at any time heretofore to fish. [rights of fishermen defined]

Article 4:

It is agreed that creditors on either side shall meet with no lawful impediment to the recovery of the full value in sterling money of all bona fide debts heretofore contracted.

Article 5:

It is agreed that Congress shall earnestly recommend it to the legislatures of the respective states to provide for the restitution of all estates, rights, and properties, which have been confiscated belonging to real British subjects; and also of the estates, rights, and properties of persons resident in districts in the possession on his Majesty's arms and who have not borne arms against the said United States.....

Article 6:

That there shall be no future confiscations made nor any prosecutions commenced against any person or persons for, or by reason of, the part which he or they may have taken in the present war....

Article 7:

There shall be a firm and perpetual peace between his Brittanic Majesty and the said states, and between the subjects of the one and the citizens of the other, wherefore all hostilities both by sea and land shall from henceforth cease. All prisoners on both sides shall be set at liberty, and his Brittanic Majesty shall with all convenient speed, and without causing any destruction, or carrying away any Negroes or other property of the American inhabitants, withdraw all his armies, garrisons, and fleets from the said United States, and from every post, place, and harbor within the same; leaving in all fortifications, the American artilery that may be therein; and shall also order and cause all archives, records, deeds, and papers belonging to any of the said states, or their citizens, which in the course of the war may have fallen into the hands of his officers, to be forthwith restored and delivered to the proper states and persons to whom they belong.

Article 8:

The navigation of the river Mississippi, from its source to the ocean, shall forever remain free and open to the subjects of Great Britain and the citizens of the United States.

Article 10:

The solemn ratifications of the present treaty expedited in good and due form shall be exchanged between the contracting parties in the space of six months or sooner....

Done at Paris, this third day of September in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-three.





SOURCE:  Treaty of Paris, 1783.



When war broke out between revolutionary France and Great Britain, Washington realized that the worst possible situation for his young nation would be to be drawn into that European conflict. Immediately Washington proclaimed American neutrality notwithstanding the Treaty of 1778.

"A Proclamation

Whereas it appears that a state of war exists between Austria, Prussia, Sardinia, Great Britain, and the United Netherlands, of the one part, and France on the other; and the duty and interest of the United States require, that they should with sincerity and good faith adopt and pursue a conduct friendly and impartial toward the belligerent Powers;

I have therefore thought fit by these presents to declare the disposition of the United States to observe the conduct aforesaid towards those Powers respectfully; and to exhort and warn the citizens of the United States carefully to avoid all acts and proceedings whatsoever, which may in any manner tend to contravene such disposition.

And I do hereby also make known, that whatsoever of the citizens of the United States shall render himself liable to punishment or forfeiture under the law of nations, by committing, aiding, or abetting hostilities against any of the said Powers, or by carrying to any of them those articles which are deemed contraband by the modern usage of nations, will not receive the protection of the United States, against such punishment or forfeiture; and further, that I have given instructions to those officers, to whom it belongs, to cause prosecutions to be instituted against all persons, who shall, within the cognizance of the courts of the United States, violate the law of nations, with respect to the Powers at war, or any of them.

In testimony whereof, I have caused the seal of the United States of America to be affixed to these presents, and signed the same with my hand. Done at the city of Philadelphia, the twenty-second day of April, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the seventeenth.

George Washington

April 22, 1793

SOURCE:  Washington’s Proclamation of Neutrality, 1793.



Jay’s Treaty settled several outstanding issues between the United States and Great Britain which had cropped up during the British war with revolutionary France. It avoided the possibility of war between Britain and the United States and strengthened Washington’s policy of neutrality for the young nation.

"Treaty of Amity Commerce and Navigation

Concluded November 19, 1794; ratification advised by the senate with

amendment June 24, 1795; ratified by the President; ratifications exchanged October 28, 1795; proclaimed February 29, 1796.

His Britannic Majesty and the United States of America, being desirous, by a treaty of amity, commerce and navigation, to terminate their difference in such a manner, as, without reference to the merits of their respective complaints and pretensions, may be the best calculated to produce mutual satisfaction and good understanding... [do] conclude the said treaty....


There shall be a firm, inviolable and universal peace, and a true and sincere friendship between His Britannic Majesty, his heirs and successors, and the United States of America; and between their respective countries, territories, cities, towns and people of every degree, without exception of persons or places.


His Majesty will withdraw all his troops and garrisons from all posts and places within the boundary lines assigned by the treaty of peace to the United States. This evacuation shall take place on or before the first day of June, one thousand seven hundred and ninetysix....

The United States in the mean time, at their discretion, extending their settlements to any part within the said boundary line....


It is agreed that it shall at all times be free to His Majesty's subjects, and to the citizens of the United States, and also to the Indians dwelling on either side of the said boundary line, freely to pass and repass by land or inland navigation....

The river Mississippi shall, however, according to the treaty of peace, be entirely open to both parties;....


Whereas it is uncertain whether the river Mississippi extends so far to the northward as to be intersected by a line to be drawn due west from the Lake of the Woods, in the manner mentioned in the treaty of peace between His Majesty and the United States:

it is agreed that measures shall be taken in concert between His Majesty's Government in America and the Government of the United States, for making a joint survey of the said river....


Whereas doubts have arisen what river was truly intended under the name of the river St. Croix, mentioned in the said treaty of peace, and forming a part of the boundary therein described; that question shall be referred to the final decision of commissioners to be appointed....


Whereas it is alleged by divers British merchants and others His Majesty's subjects, that debts, to a considerable amount, which were bona fide contracted before the peace, still remain owing to them by citizens or inhabitants of the United States,... the United States will make full and complete compensation for the same to the said creditors....


Whereas complaints have been made by divers merchants and others, citizens of the United States, that during the course of the war in which His Majesty is now engaged, they have sustained considerable losses and damage, by reason of irregular or illegal captures or condemnations of their vessels and other property,... full and complete compensation for the same will be made by the British Government to the said complainants....


His Majesty consents that it shall and may be lawful, during the time hereinafter limited, for the citizens of the United States to carry to any of His Majesty's islands and ports in the West Indies from the United States, in their own vessels... [p]rovided always, that the said American vessels do carry and land their cargoes in the United States only....


His Majesty consents that the vessels belonging to the citizens of the United States of America shall be admitted and hospitably received in all the seaports and harbors of the British territories in the East Indies.... 


There shall be between all the dominions of His Majesty in Europe and the territories of the United States a reciprocal and perfect liberty of commerce and navigation.....


The ships of war of each of the contracting parties shall, at all times, be hospitably received in the ports of the other, their officers and crews paying due respect to the laws and Government of the country....

And His Majesty consents that in case an American vessel should, by stress of weather, danger from enemies, or other misfortune, be reduced to the necessity of seeking shelter in any of His Majesty's ports, into which such vessel could not in ordinary cases claim to be admitted, she shall, on manifesting that necessity to the satisfaction of the Government of the place, be hospitably received....

This treaty, when the same shall have been ratified by His Majesty and by the President of the United States, by and with the advice and consent of their Senate, and the respective ratifications mutually exchanged, shall be binding and obligatory on His Majesty and on the said States....

In faith whereof we, the undersigned Ministers Plenipotentiary of His Majesty the King of Great Britain and the United States of America, have singed this present treaty, and have caused to be affixed thereto the seal of our arms.

Done at London this nineteenth day of November, one thousand seven hundred and ninety four.



SOURCE:   Jay’s Treaty with Great Britain.



In a personal letter to Robert Livingston, Madison reveals his opposition to Jay’s Treaty. At that time Madison was a congressman from Virginia. What is the most telling charge that Madison makes against Jay and his treaty? How is that charge calculated to directly appeal to a key benchmark honored by both parties in American foreign policy.

"...Indeed, the Treaty from one end to the other must be regarded as a demonstration that the Party to which the Envoy belongs & of which he has been more than the organ than of the United States, is a British party systematically aiming at an exclusive connection with the British Government & ready to sacrifice to that object as well the dearest interests of our commerce as the most sacred dictates of National honour. This is the true Key to this unparalleled proceeding, & can alone explain it to the impartial & discerning part of the Public. The leaders of this Party stand self condemned in their efforts to plaite [sic] the Treaty by magnifying the necessity of the British commerce to the U.S. & the insufficiency of the U.S. to influence the regulation of it. You will find on turning to a Pamphlet addressed to your people by Mr. Jay when the Federal Constitution was before them, that he then could see our power under such a Constitution to extort what we justly claimed from G.B., & particularly to open the W. India ports to us. As an Agent for the Constitution he now voluntarily abandons the very object which as an advocate for the Constitution he urged as an argument for adopting it, -- read also the Paper No. XI in the Publication entitled the Federalist for the view of the subject then inculcated by another advocate, -- it is with much Pleasure I assure you that the sentiments & voice of the People in this State, in relation to the attempt to Prostrate us to a foreign & unfriendly Nation, are as decided & as loud as could be wished. Many, even of those who have hitherto allied to the most exceptionable Party measures, join in the general indignation against the Treaty...." James Madison, 1795

SOURCE:  James Madison’s Criticism of Jay’s Treaty, 1795 .



Following Jay’s Treaty signed by Britain and the United States earlier in 1795, the Spanish hastened to settle its primary dispute with the U.S.A. over navigation of the Mississippi. Fear that Britain and the U.S.A. were near agreement to a treaty of alliance that might endanger Spain was the main motivation to Spanish cooperation.


Treaty of Friendship, Limits, and Navigation Between Spain and The United States; October 27, 1795

Treaty of Friendship, Limits, and Navigation, signed at San Lorenzo el Real October 27, 1795. Original in English and Spanish Submitted to the Senate February 26, 1796. Resolution of advice and consent March 5,1796. Ratified by the United States March 7,1796. Ratified by Spain April 25, 1796. Ratifications exchanged at Aranjuez April 25, 1796. Proclaimed August 2, 1796.

His Catholic Majesty and the United States of America desiring to consolidate on a permanent basis the Friendship and good correspondence which happily prevails between the two Parties, have determined to establish by a convention several points, the settlement whereof will be productive of general advantage and reciprocal utility to both Nations....


There shall be a firm and inviolable Peace and sincere Friendship between His Catholic Majesty his successors and subjects, and the United States and their Citizens without exception of persons or places.


To prevent all disputes on the subject of the boundaries which separate the territories of the two High contracting Parties, it is hereby declared and agreed as follows: to wit: The Southern boundary of the United States which divides their territory from the Spanish Colonies of East and West Florida, shall be designated... (boundary described)... And it is agreed that if there should be any troops, Garrisons or settlements of either Party in the territory of the other according to the above mentioned boundaries, they shall be withdrawn from the said territory within the term of six months....


In order to carry the preceding Article into effect one Commissioner and one Surveyor shall be appointed by each of the contracting Parties who shall meet at the Natchez on the left side of The River Mississippi before the expiration of six months from the ratification of this convention, and they shall proceed to run and mark this boundary according to the stipulations of the said Article....


It is likewise agreed that the Western boundary of the United States which separates them from the Spanish Colony of Louisiana, is in the middle of the channel or bed of the River Mississippi... (boundary described)...; and his Catholic Majesty has likewise agreed that the navigation of the said River in its whole breadth from its source to the Ocean shall be free only to his Subjects, and the Citizens of the United States....


The two High contracting Parties shall by all the means in their power maintain peace and harmony among the several Indian Nations who inhabit the country....


Each Party shall endeavor by all means in their power to protect and defend all Vessels and other effects belonging to the Citizens or Subjects of the other....


And it is agreed that the Subjects or Citizens of each of the contracting Parties, their Vessels, or effects shall not be liable to any embargo or detention on the part of the other for any military expedition or other public or private purpose whatever....


In case the Subjects and inhabitants of either Party with their shipping whether public and of war or private and of merchants be forced through stress of weather, pursuit of Pirates, or Enemies, or any other urgent necessity for seeking of shelter and harbor to retreat and enter into any of the Rivers, Bays, Roads, or Ports belonging to the other Party, they shall be received and treated with all humanity, and enjoy all favor, protection and help...


All Ships and merchandise of what nature soever which shall be rescued out of the hands of any Pirates or Robbers on the high seas shall be brought into some Port of either State and shall be delivered to the custody of the Officers of that Port in order to be taken care of and restored entire to the true proprietor as soon as due and sufficient proof shall be made concerning the property there of.


The Citizens and Subjects of each Party shall have power to dispose of their personal goods within the jurisdiction of the other by testament, donation, or otherwise;... without molestation, and exempt from all rights of detraction on the part of the Government of the respective states....


No subject of his Catholic Majesty shall apply for or take any commission or letters of marque for arming any Ship or Ships to act as Privateers against the said United States

Nor shall any Citizen, Subject, or Inhabitant of the said United States apply for or take any commission or letters of marque for arming any Ship or Ships to act as Privateers against the subjects of his Catholic Majesty....


Consuls shall be reciprocally established with the privileges and powers which those of the most favoured Nations enjoy in the Ports where their consuls reside, or are permitted to be.


The present Treaty shall not be in force untill ratified by the Contracting Parties, and the ratifications shall be exchanged in six months from this time, or sooner if possible.

In Witness whereof We the underwritten Plenipotentiaries of His Catholic Majesty and of the United States of America have signed this present Treaty of Friendship, Limits and Navigation and have "hereunto affixed our seals respectively.

Done at San Lorenzo el Real this seven and twenty day of October one thousand seven hundred and ninety five.




SOURCE:  Pinckney’s Treaty, 1796.



George Washington’s Farewell Address was first given to his cabinet and then later printed in supportive pro-Federalist Philadelphia newspapers. It expressed Washington’s concerns for the future of the nation and his recommendation for its prosperity.

"The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so, for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad, of your safety, of your prosperity, of that very liberty which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee that from different causes and from different quarters much pains will be taken... to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth... it is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness....

For this you have every inducement of sympathy and interest. Citizens by birth or choice of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together. The independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint councils and joint efforts, of common dangers, sufferings, and successes....

Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy, to be useful, must be impartial, else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike for another cause those whom that actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people to surrender their interests.

The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations to have with with as little political connection as possible.So far as we have already formed engagements let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.

Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves in artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.

Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people, under an efficient government, the period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time to resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.

Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor, or caprice?..."

George Washington, September 17, 1796

SOURCE:   Washington Advises Nation to Stand Alone, 1796.



Relations with France had strained by 1797 when the Senate, with Francophile Thomas Jefferson as its President, serving in his capacity as Vice President of the U.S., endorsed Adams’ direction in this serious foreign policy problem.

"SIR: The Senate of the United States request you to accept their acknowledgments for the comprehensive and interesting detail you have given in your speech to both Houses of Congress on the existing state of the Union.

While we regret the necessity of the present meeting of the Legislature, we wish to express our entire approbation of your conduct in convening it on this momentous occasion.

The superintendence of our national faith, honor, and dignity being in a great measure constitutionally deposited with the Executive, we observe with singular satisfaction the vigilance, firmness, and promptitude exhibited by you in this critical state of our public affairs....

We are equally desirous with you to preserve peace and friendship with all nations, and are happy to be informed that neither the honor nor interests of the United States forbid advances for securing those desirable objects by amicable negotiation with the French Republic.... If we have committed errors and can be made sensible of them, we agree with you in opinion that we ought to correct them, and compensate the injuries which may have been consequent thereon; and we trust the French Republic will be actuated by the same just and benevolent principles of national policy.

We do therefore most sincerely approve of your determination to promote and accelerate an accommodation of our existing differences with that Republic by negotiation, on terms compatible with the rights, duties, interests, and honor of our nation.... Peace and harmony with all nations is our sincere wish.....

While we are endeavoring to adjust our differences with the French Republic by amicable negotiation, the progress of the war in Europe, the depredations on our commerce, the personal injuries to our citizens, and the general complexion of affairs prove to us your vigilant care in recommending to our attention effectual measures of defense.

Those which you recommend, whether they relate to external defense by permitting our citizens to arm for the purpose of repelling aggressions on their commercial rights, and by providing sea convoys, or to internal defense by increasing the establishments of artillery and cavalry, by forming a provisional army, by revising the militia laws, and fortifying more completely our ports and harbors, will meet our consideration under the influence of the same just regard for the security, interest, and honor of our country which dictated your recommendation....

Although the Senate believe that the prosperity and happiness of our country does not depend on general and extensive political connections with European nations, yet we can never lose sight of the propriety as well as necessity of enabling the Executive, by sufficient and liberal supplies, to maintain and even extend our foreign intercourse as exigencies may require, reposing full confidence in the Executive, in whom the Constitution has placed the powers of negotiation.

[Y]our resolution to observe a conduct just and impartial to all nations... contains principles which can not fail to secure to your Administration the support of the National Legislature.....

We are happy, since our sentiments on the subject are in perfect unison with yours, in this public manner to declare that we believe the conduct of the Government has been just and impartial to foreign nations....

And we are equally happy in possessing an entire confidence in your abilities and exactions in your station to maintain untarnished the honor... of our country....

To aid you in these arduous and honorable exertions, as it is our duty so it shall be our faithful endeavor... that the proceedings of the present session of Congress will manifest to the world that although the United States love peace, they will be independent; that they are sincere in their declarations to be just to the French and all other nations, and expect the same in return.

If a sense of justice, a love of moderation and peace, shall influence their councils, which we sincerely hope we shall have just grounds to expect; peace and amity between the United States and all nations will be preserved.

But if we are so unfortunate as to experience injuries from any foreign power... [your determination] not to surrender in any manner the rights of the Government... shall by us be steadily and inviolably supported.


Vice-President of the United States and President of the Senate.

MAY 23, 1797."

SOURCE:  Address of the Senate to John Adams, President of the United States, 1797.



By negotiating a settlement with France in 1800, Adams surrendered political popularity and the chance to be reelected as president. Later he would say of his actions: "I will defend my missions to France, as long as I have an eye to direct my hand, or a finger to hold my pen. They were the most disinterested and meritorious actions of my life. I reflect upon them with... satisfaction."

‘Convention between the French Republic, and the United States of America.

The Premier Consul of the French Republic in the name of the People of France, and the President of the United States of America, equally desirous to terminate the differences which have arisen between the two States... have agreed on the following articles.


There shall be a firm, inviolable, and universal peace, and a true and sincere Friendship between the French Republic, and the United States of America....


The Ministers Plenipotentiary of the two Parties, not being able to agree at present

respecting the Treaty of Alliance of 6th February 1778,... the Parties will negotiate further on these subjects at a convenient time, and untill they may have agreed upon these points, the said Treaties, and.... shall have no operation, and the relations of the two Countries shall be regulated as follows.


The Public Ships, which have been taken on one part, and the other, or which may be taken before the exchange of ratifications shall be restored.


Property captured, and not yet definitively condemned, or which may be captured before the exchange of ratifications, ... shall be mutually restored.... This article shall take effect from the date of the signature of the present Convention.....


The debts contracted by one of the two nations, with individuals of the other, or by the individuals of one, with the individuals of the other shall be paid, or the payment may be prosecuted in the same manner, as if there had been no misunderstanding between the two States....


Commerce between the Parties shall be free. The vessels of the two nations... shall be treated in the respective ports, as those of the nation the most favoured;...


The Citizens, and inhabitants of the United States shall be at liberty to dispose by testament, donation, or otherwise, of their goods, moveable, and immoveable, holden in the territory of the French Republic in Europe, and the Citizens of the French Republic, shall have the same liberty with regard to goods, moveable, and immoveable, holden in the territory of the United States....


To favor commerce on both sides, it is agreed that in case a war should break out between the two nations, which God forbid, the term of six months after the declaration of... war, shall be allowed to the Merchants and other citizens and inhabitants respectively, on one side, and the other, during which time they shall be at liberty, to with draw themselves, with their effects, and moveables, which they shall be at liberty to carry, send away, or sell, as they please, without the least obstruction....


Neither the debts due from individuals of the one nation, to individuals of the other, nor shares, nor monies which they may have in... public funds, or in the public, or private banks, shall ever, in any event of war, or national difference be sequestered, or confiscated


It shall be free for the two contracting parties to appoint commercial agents for

the protection of trade, to reside in France, and the United States.....


The Citizens of the French Republic shall pay in the ports, havens, roads, countries, islands cities, and towns of the United States, no other or greater duties, or imposts... which the nations most favored are, or shall be obliged to pay.... And the Citizens of the United States shall reciprocally enjoy in the territories of the French Republic, in Europe, the same priviledges, and immunities....

This Convention shall be ratified on both sides in due form, and the ratifications

exchanged in the space of six months or sooner if possible. In faith whereof the respect, plenipotentiaries have signed the above articles both in the French and English languages, and the have thereto fixed their seal ....

Done at Paris the thirtieth day of September, Ann Domini Eighteen Hundred.’

SOURCE:  The Convention of 1800.



In a letter to a correspondent who had asked about Adams’ feelings concerning his treatment by political enemies after he pushed the Convention of 1800 through Congress, Adams replied in the short statement given below. At another occasion Adams remarked that he would be satisfied to have on his tombstone only a statement that here lay a president who dared seek peace with France in 1800.

"I will defend my missions to France as long as I have an eye to direct my hand, or a finger to hold my pen. They were the most disinterested and meritorious actions of my life. I reflect upon them with... satisfaction." John Adams, 1815

SOURCE:  John Adams Comments on the Convention of 1800 .



Why does Jefferson continue the foreign policy of his two predecessors?


.... Let us, then, fellow-citizens, unite with one heart and one mind. Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things. And let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions.... But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it....

About to enter, fellow-citizens, on the exercise of duties which comprehend everything dear and valuable to you, it is proper you should understand what I deem the essential principles of our Government, and consequently those which ought to shape its Administration. I will compress them within the narrowest compass they will bear, stating the general principle, but not all its limitations. Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political; peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none; the support of the State governments in all their rights, as the most competent administrations for our domestic concerns and the surest bulwarks against antirepublican tendencies; the preservation of the General Government in its whole constitutional vigor, as the sheet anchor of our peace at home and safety abroad; a jealous care of the right of election by the people -- a mild and safe corrective of abuses which are lopped by the sword of revolution where peaceable remedies are unprovided; absolute acquiescence in the decisions of the majority, the vital principle of republics, from which is no appeal but to force, the vital principle and immediate parent of despotism; a well-disciplined militia, our best reliance in peace and for the first moments of war till regulars may relieve them; the supremacy of the civil over the military authority; economy in the public expense, that labor may be lightly burdened; the honest payment of our debts and sacred preservation of the public faith; encouragement of agriculture, and of commerce as its handmaid; the diffusion of information and arraignment of all abuses at the bar of the public reason; freedom of religion; freedom of the press, and freedom of person under the protection of the habeas corpus, and trial by juries impartially selected. These principles form the bright constellation which has gone before us and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation. The wisdom of our sages and blood of our heroes have been devoted to their attainment. They should be the creed of our political faith, the text of civic instruction, the touchstone by which to try the services of those we trust; and should we wander from them in moments of error or of alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty, and safety...."

SOURCE:  Thomas Jefferson First Inaugural Address,
4 March 1801.

DBQ Question created by
Mr. Gordon Price Utz, Jr.
Stratford Senior High School
Houston, TX