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Jay’s Treaty of 1794


Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson

Unfortunately for both Federalists and Democratic-Republicans, it was very hard for the United States to act as a free and neutral country in the international arena because of the wars that followed the establishment of a republic in France. The French republic became violent and expansionist, and Britain led three coalitions of European powers in wars against its expansionist activities. These wars affected the domestic policy and the foreign policy of the new United States. Federalists valued American sovereignty, but they also valued the old trading relationship with Britain; Americans did 90 percent of their trade with Britain. The Federalists also admired British political stability, and they sided with Britain in its wars against France.

In Jay’s Treaty of 1794 the Washington administration tried to create a postrevolutionary relationship with Britain.

The British agreed to abandon the forts they occupied in the Northwest Territory. An American army under General Anthony Wayne had defeated the northwestern Native Americans at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, and the British were glad to leave. But the British refused to allow Americans to trade internationally on any basis other than as part of the British mercantile system. The Federalists, knowing that they could ask for nothing better, agreed. The French regarded Jay’s Treaty as an Anglo–American alliance. They recalled their ambassador and began harassing American merchant ships at sea. By 1798 the Americans and the French were fighting an undeclared naval war in the Caribbean.

During this crisis, Federalists passed the Alien and Sedition Acts. These acts undermined civil liberties and were clearly directed against Jeffersonian newspaper editors, who were critical of the Federalist-dominated government. The Federalist government also began to raise a large army. The size of the Federalist government and the danger of Federalist repression were the principal issues in the election of 1800. Campaigning for civil liberties and limited government, Thomas Jefferson was elected president.

Jeffersonians cared more about farmers than about the merchants who carried their produce to Europe and imported European goods—particularly when those merchants operated within established British trade networks and voted for Federalist candidates. Jeffersonians demanded that the United States be free to trade with any nation (a demand unlikely to be granted during wartime) and that both France and Britain respect American sovereignty and neutral rights. During most of Jefferson’s first term, Europe was at peace during a break in the Napoleonic Wars. The one major foreign policy issue was a huge success: Jefferson’s purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803 (see Louisiana Purchase). The purchase gave western farmers free use of the river system that emptied below New Orleans, removed the French presence from the western border of the United States, and provided American farmers with vast new lands on which to expand their rural republic. Ignoring the fact that independent Native American peoples occupied the Louisiana Territory, Jefferson proclaimed his new land a great “empire of liberty.”

Britain and France again went to war a few weeks after the Louisiana Purchase. Americans once again tried to sell food and plantation crops and to carry goods between the warring European powers and their Caribbean colonies. Both sides permitted this trade when it benefited them and tampered with it when it did not. In 1805 the British destroyed the French navy at the Battle of Trafalgar off the Spanish coast and became dominant on the ocean. Britain outlawed American trade with France and maintained a loose blockade of the American coast, seizing American ships and often kidnapping American sailors into the Royal Navy. This happened to as many as 6,000 Americans between 1803 and 1812.

The Americans could not fight the British navy, and President Jefferson responded with “peaceable coercion.” Believing that Britain needed American food more than America needed British manufactures, he asked Congress in 1807 for an embargo that would suspend all U.S. trade with foreign nations. Jefferson hoped to coerce Britain and France into respecting American sovereignty. The embargo did not work, however. Britain found other sources of food, and the American economy—particularly in the seaports—stopped. American exports were valued at $108 million in 1807. They dropped to $22 million the following year. In 1808 James Madison, Jefferson’s friend and chosen successor, easily won the presidential election against a Federalist opposition. "USA" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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