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.

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American Revolution, French Revolution, Jacobins, Girondins, Proclamation of Neutrality, Jay Treaty, Hamilton, Jefferson and Citizen Genêt

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 13th, 2012

Politics 101

The Americans stuck by the Rule of Law while the French descended into Mob Rule

The American Revolutionary War was pretty brutal at times.  Especially on the frontier.  And in the civil war in the South.  Where Patriot and Loyalist could be rather cruel to one time friends and neighbors.  But for the most part both the professional soldiers and politicians practiced restraint.  And prosecuted the war by international law.  And a code of honor.  When the Americans defeated Burgoyne’s army at Saratoga the defeated soldiers did not suffer cruel acts of vengeance.  Instead they got rather generous terms of surrender.

When the war was over there were a few flare ups such as Shays’ Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion.  But these were the exception.  Not the rule.  The newly independent states had problems.  Which they addressed through political debate in Philadelphia.  And they drafted a new constitution.  This unleashed bitter partisan debate.  But only bitter partisan debate.  The states ratified the Constitution.  And the new nation went forth.  It wasn’t quite like this in the French Revolution.  Where the streets literally ran with blood.

Jean-Paul Marat, Georges-Jacques Danton and Jacobin Maximillien Robespierre were no Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson or James Madison.  The Americans stuck by the rule of law.  While the French descended into mob rule.  Where competing mobs rallied around different movements.  The Jacobins, the Cordeliers and the Girondins.  Who all incited the mobs to violence.  Against the ancien régime.  The monarchy.  And the Church.  As well as any counterrevolutionaries.  And anyone lacking in revolutionary zeal.

In 1793 French Revolutionaries Guillotined King Louis and Marie Antoinette

The mobs became judge, jury and executioner.  The Paris Commune (the revolutionary ruling authority in Paris) sanctioned the mobs.  Who could act with impunity.  While the people even watched.  And cheered.  Revolutionaries fell on imprisoned political prisoners.  Priests.  The Swiss Guards who protected the king.  As well as the royal servants and clerics.  They forced prisoners to run a gauntlet of revolutionaries armed with swords, knives, pikes, axes and other blunt and sharp instruments.  And bludgeoned and hacked them to death as they ran screaming back and forth.

And the violence grew.  With torture becoming sport.  The level of barbarity reached such levels to include the butchering of women.  Including the hacking off of a woman’s breasts.  Then setting a bonfire beneath her spread legs.  While the people cheered.  They brutally killed Princess de Lamballe, consort of Marie Antoinette.  Bludgeoned with a hammer, stripped naked, mutilated and dragged through the streets of Paris.  Then guillotined.  But that wasn’t the end of it.  They cut out her heart and roasted it over a fire.  Then stuck her bloodied head on a pike.  Took it to a hair salon to fix her hair.  Then returned it to the pike.  As they impaled her naked body on another pike.  Her crime?  She refused to denounce her king and queen.

In 1793 they guillotined King Louis.  The executioner held up his severed head and the people cheered.  Later that year they guillotined Marie Antoinette.  The executioner held up her severed head and the people cheered.  And the processions to the guillotine increased.  Enemies of the revolution.  People falsely accused of being enemies of the revolution.  And a lot of Girondins.  Who the Jacobins condemned.  And guillotined.  Then the people condemned the Jacobins.  And guillotined them.  They even condemned American Patriot Thomas Paine (who was in Paris and even helped write one of the revolutionary constitutions—unfortunately for him it was with the Girondins) to the guillotine.  But he would escape the guillotine and return to America.  They even imprisoned George Washington’s ‘adopted’ son, the Marquis de La Fayette.  Who fought with him throughout the American Revolution.  But he, too, survived.  Though he would languish in a prison for some 5 years.

When Genêt arrived in Philadelphia Washington greeted him with Portraits of King Louis and Marie Antoinette conspicuously behind Him

The events in France would reverberate across the Atlantic.  And further divide an already divided Washington administration.  As the French Revolution escalated the Americans were negotiating the Jay Treaty to resolve some issues left over from the Revolutionary War.  The end result was that the British and the new United States of America moved closer together.  Which really offended the pro-French elements in the Washington administration.  In particular Jefferson and Madison.  While inflaming the French.  For following the Reign of Terror the French exported their revolution throughout Europe.  And soon were at war with the old European monarchies.  Including Great Britain.  Again.

Interestingly, neither Jefferson nor Madison fought in the Revolution.  While Alexander Hamilton and George Washington did.  And yet they were for closer ties to Britain and not revolutionary France.  Why?  America’s future depended on trade.  Most of that trade was with Great Britain.  And that trade enjoyed the protection of the world’s most powerful navy.  The Royal Navy.  It was the pragmatic choice.  Jefferson, though, thought it showed Hamilton’s true colors.  That he was an aristocrat who wanted to turn America into a monarchy like Britain.  That he wanted power for himself.  Not individual liberty.  As exemplified in the American republic.  And in the republic the French were fighting for.  The French believed so strongly in liberty that they turned to world conquest.  Bringing that liberty to oppressed people everywhere.  Which Jefferson liked.  He saw a republican revolution sweeping the world, leaving a swath of liberty in its wake.  Others saw mob rule in France and the execution of a king and queen.  Which absolutely appalled Washington.

George Washington issued a Proclamation of Neutrality in these new European wars.  Which meant they weren’t going to help their one time ally.  France.  Which irked Jefferson.  Then came the Jay Treaty.  Further irking Jefferson.  And the American people.  For the people were clearly behind the French.  And did not like the British at all.  Which made President Washington a very unpopular president at the time.  Then the French sent over Edmond-Charles Genêt.  Citizen Genêt.  The new French ambassador to the United States.  And he was on a mission.  To get American support for their wars against Spain and Great Britain.  Something Jefferson was eager to support.  He communicated with Genêt.  Who assured Genêt that the Franco-American alliance would persevere.  Despite any proclamation or treaty.  He looked forward to his arrival in Philadelphia.  But he didn’t go to Philadelphia to meet President Washington.  He went to South Carolina first.  Where he recruited American privateers to join the French on their attacks on British shipping.  And tried to raise armies to attack Spanish Florida and Louisiana.  And eventually the British in North America as well.  When word of these activities reached Washington he was furious.

When Genêt finally arrived in Philadelphia Washington greeted him with portraits of King Louis and Marie Antoinette conspicuously behind him.  The king that was America’s staunchest ally during the American Revolution.  And the king the French had recently executed.  Genêt asked Washington to suspend their neutrality.  The answer was no.  Even Jefferson agreed and told the French ambassador he was out of line.  Actually joining Hamilton on this one issue.  Soon the Jacobins back in France issued an arrest warrant for Citizen Genêt and asked him to return to France.  Knowing that meant a trip to the guillotine he asked Washington for asylum.  That Washington granted on the advice of Hamilton.  Thus ending the Genêt affair.  But the French Revolution still threatened the young American republic.  First by an overwhelming public sentiment to stand by France.  Then by overwhelming public sentiment to go to war against France.  Something that would threaten to tear apart the next presidential administration.

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Jefferson, Hamilton, Washington, Whiskey Rebellion, French Revolution, New French-British War and Proclamation of Neutrality

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 23rd, 2012

Politics 101

America’s First Tax was a 25% Excise Tax on American Whiskey made from Corn

Thomas Jefferson held a dinner party where he, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison met to resolve some issues.  Hamilton was stressed out.  He was facing strong opposition for his assumption plan.  Secretary of the Treasury Hamilton wanted to assume all the states’ debts and lump them into the federal debt.  To get the nation’s finances in order.  Establish good credit.  And raise revenue for the new nation.  The Virginians, Jefferson and Madison, offered their assistance if Hamilton would give them the nation’s capital.  Hamilton got his assumption.  And the Virginians got the nation’s new capital on the Potomac River.  Across from Virginia.  Where they could keep a close eye on the nation’s business.  And everyone lived happily ever after.

Well, not exactly.  There was already growing discontent across the land.  Hamilton understood business and commerce.  And banking.  Farmers don’t like bankers.  Or commerce.  Or business.  Many in the south and on the frontier worked the land.  As yeoman farmers.  Families working small farms that they owned.  They believed, as Jefferson believed, that the most honorable work in America was farming.  And that America’s future was the growth of farming.  Small farms.  Owned by families working the land.  Yeoman farmers.  Proud.  Pure.  And wholly American.  This despite Jefferson being a member of the slave-owning planter elite.  Who indulged in little physical labor.

So the south and the frontier were no Hamilton supporters.  They didn’t like his high finance ideas for the new nation.  And they especially didn’t like his whiskey tax.  A tax of 25% on western corn products.  Which you made whiskey from.  The new American alcoholic beverage of choice after they eschewed beer.  The beverage of choice before the rebellion.  When they were all content British citizens.  But an excise tax on corn products was little different from the excise taxes that caused the colonies to rebel against Great Britain in the first place.  Sure, there was one subtle difference this time.  The whiskey tax was taxation with representation.  And, technically speaking, legal.  But on corn?  The new tax seemed to fall unfairly on the West.  Which had a corn economy.  And used the whiskey they made from it for money.  So these frontier people were not just going to sit idly by and take this new taxation without a fight.

The Washington Administration took Decisive Action in Suppressing the Whiskey Rebellion

This first tax was to help finance Hamilton’s assumption.  But it was more important than the revenue it would raise.  The whiskey tax was a matter of principle.  It was probably poor policy.  And probably not the smartest thing to do.  Picking a fight with the toughest and most fiercely independent people in the country.  Frontier people.  Who lived off the land without any of the city comforts enjoyed back east.  But the tax was the law.  And the first test of the new nation.  If the government retreated in the face of opposition to a law passed by Congress their experiment in self-government would fail.  For as unpleasant as taxation was it was the reason they formed a new nation in 1787.  To levy taxes so they could pay their past debt.  And their current bills.  So President Washington and Hamilton hunkered down on the tax.

And the riots came.  The Whiskey Rebellion.  Around Pittsburg.  Kentucky (aka bourbon country).  The backcountry of the Carolinas.  And elsewhere.  They refused to pay the tax.  And attacked the tax collecting apparatus.  Even the courts.  It was war.  The spirit of ’76 was alive again.  Protesting a distant central power trying to impose a tax on them.  Washington offered amnesty if they just dispersed and went home.  They refused.  So Washington raised an army of some 13,000 strong.  Larger than any army he commanded during the Revolutionary War.  And led the army west with Hamilton to meet the insurrection.  The first and only time a sitting president led an army.  As the army approached resistance melted away.  So Washington handed command over to Henry “Lighthorse Harry” Lee (a Revolutionary War veteran and hero) and returned to the capital in Philadelphia.  Hamilton remained with the army.  As the army arrived the insurrection collapsed.  The army caught some rebels and tried them.  And two received death sentences.  Who Washington later pardoned.

Score one for the rule of law.  Washington was pleased with the outcome.  Hamilton, too.  They took decisive action to subdue an insurrection.  The people in general were happy that they restored peace.  And that the country didn’t collapse into anarchy.  All in all a win-win for the people and the government.  Almost.  Not everyone saw it in this light.  Some saw a king leading an army against his own people.  A professional army.  Little different from British redcoats.  Or Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army a century or so earlier.  A professional standing army squashing those who disagreed with the government.  And Jefferson did not like it.  Nor did a lot of those in the south.  Or on the frontier.

President Washington issued a Proclamation of Neutrality in the New War between Great Britain and France

Seeing Hamilton ride at the head of an army only reinforced Jefferson’s opinion of him.  A power-hungry, British-loving puppet master.  And the puppet was President Washington.  The dislike between Hamilton and Jefferson turned into outright hostility.  They had two different visions of America.  And these two visions were mutually exclusive.  Cabinet meetings became insufferable as Hamilton and Jefferson constantly fought.  And the French Revolution didn’t help matters any.  The radical Jefferson supported the radical French.  Who he knew and sat with in the Jacobin clubs while he was in France.  Jefferson was all for overthrowing monarchies.  So when the French and British declared war on each other it was a no brainer who to support for Jefferson.  Vive la France!

Of course there was only one problem with that position.  About 75% of U.S. exports went to Great Britain.  Even more of her imports (approximately 90%) came from Great Britain.  And then there was the Royal Navy (RN).  Who still ruled the high seas.  And all the international trade routes.  In addition to the RN there was the British Army.  Who still occupied forts on the American western frontier.  And who were still in contact with their Indian allies from the Revolutionary War.  Couple this with the fact that the U.S. had no comparable army or navy.  And was already having trouble on the frontier with the Indians (from the influx of settlers into the western territories).  So siding with France against Britain was not the smart move.  Yes, the French were instrumental in helping the Americans achieve their independence from Great Britain.  But America was a country emerging from 8 years of war that just had to suppress a tax rebellion over a sin tax.  She did not have the wealth to enter a European war.  Besides, the Americans were supported by the monarch (King Louis XVI) the French were overthrowing.  Which complicated matters.

Washington and Hamilton saw things differently than Jefferson.  More like realists than the idealist Jefferson.  The Revolution was over.  The British and Americans were no longer enemies.  But important trade partners.  That shared a common British past.  Of laws and traditions firmly established in what was once British America.  So Washington issued his Proclamation of Neutrality (1793).  They would support neither in this European war.  Which infuriated the French.  And Jefferson.  For though they were neutral it was clear that their neutrality would favor the British.  As well as Hamilton.  And it did.  But it also favored America’s best interests.  For another long war would have probably bankrupted the nation.  And perhaps resulted with her partitioned among the European nations.  For the French Revolution lasted for a decade.  And the Napoleonic Wars it begot lasted another 11 years.  Which let us not forget the French lost.  In large part due to the Royal Navy.  And Great Britain’s wealth generated by her international trade.  Something the Americans could not have altered had she entered the war on France’s side.  A wise foreign policy call by President Washington (and yet another time he saved his country).  But it was one that tore his administration apart.  Firmly establishing the opposition party.  With Jefferson at its head.  With but one purpose.  To destroy Hamilton.  And to lead the nation away from where Hamilton was taking it.

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