Franco-American Treaties, Spanish Louisiana, French Republic, Edmond Genêt, Proclamation of Neutrality and Petit Démocrate

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 11th, 2012

Politics 101

The US enjoyed a Booming Economy due to Trade with Great Britain and the Protection of that Trade by Britain’s Royal Navy

In politics there is domestic policy.  Where politicians can really make a mess of the nation.  And then there’s foreign policy.  Where politicians can make an even bigger mess of things.  Because nations are not isolated from other nations in the world.  And what they say or do can have a great impact on those nations who threatened them.  And those nations who peacefully coexist with them.  Bad foreign policy can do anything from hurting the economy (by disrupting international trade).  To causing war.

America came into being in part due to the treaties they made with the King of France.  Louis XVI.  Who helped them overthrow their king’s rule.  An interesting thing for a king to do.  What with Louis being a king himself.  And the last thing he wanted was his subjects to overthrow him.  Which they would do a decade or so later.  As they were inflamed with the spirit of liberty.  Thanks to the American Revolution.  The very thing that Louis helped the Americans win.  Who did so to improve his position against his perpetual enemy.  Great Britain.  But in the end he lost his own kingdom.

The Franco-American treaties included a perpetual military alliance.  Such that if a hostile nation attacked France the U.S. was obligated to help protect the French West Indies.  Under a commercial treaty French privateers could use U.S. ports.  Meaning that if they captured an enemy ship, say a British ship, they could bring that prize into a U.S. port.  Even refitting the ship into another French privateer to go out and attack more British shipping.  All sensible and reasonable considering the U.S. was at war with Great Britain at the time they entered those treaties.  But the U.S. did not remain in a perpetual state of way with Great Britain.  In fact, the U.S. enjoyed a booming economy in part due to trade with Great Britain.  And the protection of that trade by Britain’s Royal Navy.  The most powerful navy in the world.

The Port of New Orleans was the Gateway for all American Farm Goods West of the Appalachians

So as war clouds loomed over Europe again with the outbreak of the French Revolution these treaties complicated matters for the young nation.  She had no navy.  Not much of a standing army.  And a lot of debt from the last war.  Which was not an enjoyable experience having lasted some 8 years before the Treaty of Paris of 1783 officially ended it.  Now the nation was enjoying peace and economic growth.  And the last thing they wanted was another war.  Which was going to be difficult to avoid.  And the animosity between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson didn’t help.  As they both wanted the young nation to remain neutral.  But they each wanted that neutrality to lean in opposite ways.

In 1790 war loomed between Great Britain and Spain.  The Spanish had allied themselves with France in the American Revolution to settle some old scores with Britain.  That war did not end as well as they had hoped.  As Gibraltar was still British.  So there was that.  Among other deeply held…differences.  When it looked like they would return to war the British in Canada sent an official to meet with the Washington administration.  To get permission for the passage of British troops on American territory to attack Spanish Louisiana.  Which is where the Mississippi River flowed through to the Port of New Orleans.  The gateway for all American farm goods west of the Appalachians.

This was a complex issue.  For the Spanish didn’t really like the Americans.  Wanting to keep them as far east of the Mississippi river as possible.  So on the one hand getting the Spanish out of North America completely might have been a good thing.  But replacing the Spanish with the British not so good.  Alexander Hamilton wanted to grant the British this passage.  In exchange for a guarantee of navigation rights on the Mississippi River.  He also wanted to grant them passage as he feared they would take it with or without the American’s permission.  And if they did without that permission the Americans would have no choice but to go to war to preserve American honor and her territorial sovereignty.  So supporting the British was the only way to save face in the international community without going to war.  In the end, though, the British and the Spanish resolved their differences peacefully.

Genêt refitted the British Brigantine Little Sarah into the Commerce Raider Petit Démocrate, Pushing the Americans Closer to War

The British didn’t go to war with the Spanish.  But the French and British did in 1793.  Which caused a lot of trouble in America.  For the American people still hated the British.  Despite a lucrative trade with them.  A trade protected by their Royal Navy.  But that did little to make them forget all those years of war.  Or forget the people who helped them win their independence.  The French.  So when the French Revolution broke out, and the French and the British went to war again, the American people sided with the French.  Despite what was happening in Paris.  The Terror.  And the execution of the king and queen.  As far as they were concerned the only good king was a dead king.  But that dead king posed a problem for American foreign policy.  Those Franco-American treaties were made with that now dead king.  And his court.  Which no longer existed.  So were the Americans still bound by those treaties?

Which brought up an even bigger question.  Should the Americans recognize the French Republic?  No other nation had.  And after the execution of King Louis and Marie Antoinette, it was unlikely any monarchy would.  So should the Americans be first?  Hamilton said, “No.”  While Jefferson said, “Yes.”  As far as the Franco-American treaties Hamilton did not want to honor them as that government no longer existed.  Jefferson insisted on honoring them as if they were made with the new French Republic.  Jefferson also insisted that Washington receive the new French envoy.  Citizen Edmond Genêt.  Washington ultimately consented to receiving Citizen Genêt.  But he also issued his Proclamation of Neutrality.  Telling the British and the French that America would remain friendly but impartial to both.  Which did not go over well with the French.  Or the American people.

Genêt landed in South Carolina.  And travelled overland to Philadelphia.  Getting a hero’s welcome along the way.  Genêt even said that Washington was jealous of him for how the American people loved him more than the president.  These actions and remarks did not endear Genêt to the Washington administration.  Washington and Hamilton gave him a cool reception.  While Jefferson gave him a very warm reception.  Telling him he had a friend in the Secretary of State.  Genêt demanded an advance on the money America owed France.  Hamilton refused.  Knowing what he wanted that money for.  To pay for the Armée du Mississippi and the Armée des Florides that George Rogers Clarke was putting together for him on paper.  To attack the Spanish in Louisiana and in Florida.  When Hamilton refused he complained to Jefferson.  Saying he was clearly favoring the British Crown over the Franco-American alliance.  And even lied.  Saying that if he agreed to use that money to contract with Hamilton’s friends he could have it.  Further convincing Jefferson of the corruption at the Treasury Department under Hamilton.

As bad as all of that was Genêt was also outfitting privateers that were attacking and capturing British shipping.  Worse, he was bringing these prizes back to American ports to sell.  Which did not look very neutral to Britain.  Who demanded their ships back.  And that the Americans close these ports to the French.  Which Washington did.  For the last thing the Americans wanted was another war with Britain.  Chaffing under the American restrictions Genêt refitted the British brigantine Little Sarah into the commerce raider Petit Démocrate.  Telling Jefferson he did so by the authority of the Franco-American treaties.  And when she set out to sea it captured one British ship after another.  Pushing the Americans closer to war with the British.  Turning the American people against the French.  And the Republican Party.  Who had so warmly embraced Citizen Genêt.  So that was the end of Genêt.  And the Franco-American treaties.  The Americans would remain neutral.  Even if that neutrality favored the British.  Which turned out to be a good thing.  As the whole world would be at war with France in a few years.  With even the American people demanding to go to war with France.  Thankfully, America’s second president, John Adams, was able to keep that from happening.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.

Blog Home