Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
Our Early Diplomacy in Europe
By Justin Winsor (18311897)
[Born in Boston, Mass., 1831. Died in Cambridge, Mass., 1897. Narrative and Critical History of America. Edited by Justin Winsor. Vol. VII. 1888.]
AN OPINION was very promptly formed in England, after the treaty of peace, that the bond of union among the States of the new Republic was far from perfect, and that disintegration must ensue. The British soon perceived that they could secure, as they thought, all the desired commercial advantages under the enforcement of navigation laws, which treated as aliens those who were lately subjects. At all events, any power of retaliation was not to be dreaded as long as the States remained jealous of one another and of Congress. The English government, if not the American people, saw the mockery of the action of Congress, as far, at least, as the relations of the two parts of the now dissevered empire were concerned, when it commissioned (12 May, 1784) Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson to make treaties of commerce with European powers. There was more sense than was willingly acknowledged in the States in the opinions of the British ministry, that a league without power to enforce treaties could hardly hope to negotiate treaties, when as many diplomatists as there were members of the league, each commissioned by his respective State, could only in conjunction effect a negotiation, the results of which could be compulsory upon the parties in contract. It also served the purpose of the ministry to divide the interests of the several States as much as possible, and this method of a distinct recognition of the parts, with no recognition of the whole, was a ready means to that end.
Congress not long after moved to bring this feeling to an issue, when it appointed John Adams (25 February, 1785) as minister to England; and a few days later it commissioned Jefferson as minister to France, for Franklin had before this urgently asked to be recalled. The last official act of that veteran servant of the States had been to affix his signature to a treaty with Prussia, in conjunction with Adams and Jefferson, in which Franklin had succeeded, without any serious opposition, in embodying his own views respecting the exemption of private property from capture at sea.
Adams passed over from Paris to London, to present his credentials. The aged Oglethorpe, the founder of Georgia, was the first to call on him. The new minister went through a memorable presentation to the king, and on June 2, 1785, he wrote home an account of it to Jay, in which we have a record of suave speeches on both sides, about a common language and the same strains in the blood. This was agreeable; and both the king and his former subject bore themselves with reassuring frankness. The royal graciousness did not, however, represent the prevailing sentiment of the British people. Before he left France Adams had written to Gerry that, as he looked about, almost the only comfort he found was in the fact that, should war again come, the treaty of 1783 had rendered it possible to fight without halters about our necks. When he reached England, the prospect was not more assuring, and he thought he saw a purpose in the English government to maintain a determined peace with all Europe, in order that they may war singly against America, if they should think it necessary. It was not very long before he wrote to Jay: It is very apparent that we shall never have a satisfactory arrangement with this country until Congress shall be made by the States supreme in matters of foreign commerce and treaties of commerce, and until Congress shall have exerted that supremacy with a decent firmness.
Adams, as soon as it was possible, had long interviews with Pitt respecting the frontier posts, the debts, the navigation acts, and other differences. Adams pressed the English minister hard, and Pitt was complacent, but would not talk much. Adams was not fitted to endure reticence or evasion. I wished for an answer, be it ever so rough or unwise, he wrote to Jay. In short, he again wrote a few days later, America has no party at present in her favor . I had almost said the friends of America are reduced to Dr. Price and Dr. Jebb . Nothing but retaliation, reciprocal prohibitions and imposts, and putting ourselves in a posture of defence will have any effect. He also complains that to match the British ministry in their system of espionage, and get information as readily as they do, was costly beyond his revenue. At another time he intimated to the ministry that the retention of the Western posts was likely to encourage the Indians, and that an Indian war, traceable to a breach of the treaty by England, would lead to consequences not to be calmly considered; and further, he said that if the surrender of the posts was contingent on the payment of debts to British subjects, it was quite as just that the debts should not be paid till the posts were surrendered. On November 30, 1785, Adams presented a formal demand for their surrender. Lord Carmarthen delayed long in his reply to this communication, but only to revert, when he did respond, to the undeniable fact that certain States had interposed obstacles to the collection of British debts. The States, said Adams, must either repeal these laws, or give Congress full power over commercial regulations, so that a compulsory influence may be exerted on Great Britain.
Again, Adams called on the Tripolitan ambassador in London, who unblushingly told him that Tripoli was at war with America because she attempted to navigate the Mediterranean without paying tribute. Adams told Jay that a description of this conference might be better for harlequin than for Congress, though there was civility enough shown on both sides in a strange mixture of Italian, lingua Franca, broken French, and worse English. Adams was in doubt whether this Tripolitan was a consummate politician or a philosopher, as he complacently called himself.
The Tripolitan mildly intimated that 30,000 guineas might induce his government to make a treaty which would exempt American shipping from devastation; but that it was probable that Tunis, Morocco, and Algiers would each demand as much or more. So Adams was obliged to communicate to his impoverished country that a sum of not much short of two hundred thousand pounds would be necessary to secure the desired immunity. The fact cannot be altered, and the truth cannot be concealed, he adds to Jay. Never, he said again, will the slave trade be abolished while Christian princes abase themselves before the piratical ensigns of Mahomet. Yet such were the requirements that he wrote to Bowdoin, of Massachusetts, pressing that two or three hundred thousand guineas spent in this way was cheaper than the cost of a war; and then reverting to what Congress had to spare for the purpose, he called it a sum that would be worse than thrown away. Adams and Jefferson were not wholly in accord in this matter; for, while Adams reckoned the costs of a war with the Barbary powers, Jefferson revolted at the abasement of a tribute, and hoped to join with Italy and Portugal in an expedition against them. This required ships, and Adams knew the difficulties of getting the States to respond to any naval requisition of Congress. They were indeed quite content that Portugal should order her fleet in the Mediterranean to protect American vessels, as she did in 1786. A treaty was finally negotiated with Morocco by Thomas Barclay, under the approval of Adams and Jefferson; but this was the only one of the African states which entered into treaty stipulations before the Constitution was put in force.
Jeffersons career in France was characteristic. He lost no opportunity to inculcate his principles of free trade. He did his best to buy American captives out of Algerine prisons. He strolled among the book-stalls, and notified his friends at home of all the new inventions. He purloined a little Italian rice and sent it to the Carolina planters for seed. He published his Notes on Virginia in English and French. He conferred with the political mentors of the coming French Revolution, and wrote to Jay to induce the shipment of American flour for the starving Parisians.
The treaty of commerce which England concluded with France in 1786 was not encouraging. Adams wrote: France and England are both endeavoring at this moment to impose on each other. The secret motive of both is to impose upon the United States . The time is not far distant when we may see a combination of England and the House of Bourbon against the United States. It is not in gloomy moments only, but in the utmost gayety of heart, that I cannot get rid of the persuasion that the fair plant of liberty in America must be watered in blood. With these forebodings, Adams had, as early as January, 1787, expressed a wish to be recalled. He wrote to Jay that a life so useless to the public and so insipid to myself, as mine is in Europe. has become a burden to me as well as to my countrymen. Congress granted his request, October 5, 1787. Great Britain meanwhile had not condescended to send any minister or other accredited agent to America.