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Article

Tyson Reeder

The United States has shared an intricate and turbulent history with Caribbean islands and nations since its inception. In its relations with the Caribbean, the United States has displayed the dueling tendencies of imperialism and anticolonialism that characterized its foreign policy with South America and the rest of the world. For nearly two and a half centuries, the Caribbean has stood at the epicenter of some of the US government’s most controversial and divisive foreign policies. After the American Revolution severed political ties between the United States and the British West Indies, US officials and traders hoped to expand their political and economic influence in the Caribbean. US trade in the Caribbean played an influential role in the events that led to the War of 1812. The Monroe Doctrine provided a blueprint for reconciling imperial ambitions in the Caribbean with anti-imperial sentiment. During the mid-19th century, Americans debated the propriety of annexing Caribbean islands, especially Cuba. After the Spanish-American War of 1898, the US government took an increasingly imperialist approach to its relations with the Caribbean, acquiring some islands as federal territories and augmenting its political, military, and economic influence in others. Contingents of the US population and government disapproved of such imperialistic measures, and beginning in the 1930s the US government softened, but did not relinquish, its influence in the Caribbean. Between the 1950s and the end of the Cold War, US officials wrestled with how to exert influence in the Caribbean in a postcolonial world. Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has intervened in Caribbean domestic politics to enhance democracy, continuing its oscillation between democratic and imperial impulses.

Article

From 1775 to 1815, empire served as the most pressing foreign relationship problem for the United States. Would the new nation successfully break free from the British Empire? What would an American empire look like? How would it be treated by other empires? And could Americans hold their own against European superpowers? These questions dominated the United States’ first few decades of existence and shaped its interactions with American Indian, Haitian, Spanish, British, and French peoples. The US government—first the Continental Congress, then the Confederation Congress, and finally the federal administration under the new Constitution—grappled with five key issues. First, they sought international recognition of their independence and negotiated trade deals during the Revolutionary War to support the war effort. Second, they obtained access to the Mississippi River and Port of New Orleans from Spain and France to facilitate trade and western settlement. Third, they grappled with ongoing conflict with Indian nations over white settlement on Indian lands and demands from white communities for border security. Fourth, they defined and protected American neutrality, negotiated a trade policy that required European recognition of American independence, and denied recognition to Haiti. Lastly, they fought a quasi-war with France and real war with Great Britain in 1812.

Article

The Federalist Era (1788–1800) witnessed the birth of the new American Constitution and ushered in a period of a strong Federal government headed by a president and a bicameral Congress. The new American government sought to protect American interests in a turbulent time. From threats from Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean Sea to the turmoil in Revolutionary France and to the slave revolt in Haiti, the young republic had to navigate difficult political waters in order to protect itself. Furthermore, it also had to deal with the British and Spanish, who remained in American territory, without starting another war. Additionally, the United States had to engage with various Native American tribes in the interior of the continent to end the threat of war on the American frontier. Later in the time period, tensions between the United States and the new French Republic became strained, which led to the diplomatic embarrassment of the XYZ Affair and an undeclared naval war between the United States and France. American foreign policy during the Federalist Era was a matter of trial and error because there had been no standard protocol for dealing with international incidents under the old government. George Washington, the first president under the new Constitution, shouldered the burden of creating the new American foreign policy. Washington, along with cabinet members such as Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, helped shape US foreign policy in the Federalist Era. Washington was succeeded by his vice president, John Adams, who guided America through tense times, which included conflict with France. With the creation of the American Constitution, Washington and other Federalist leaders had the difficult task of creating a new nation, which included forging a foreign policy. The goal of the fledgling American republic’s foreign policy was to protect American sovereignty in an era of perpetual threats.

Article

Philippe R. Girard

Haiti (known as Saint-Domingue until it gained its independence from France in 1804) had a noted economic and political impact on the United States during the era of the American Revolution, when it forced U.S. statesmen to confront issues they had generally avoided, most prominently racism and slavery. But the impact of the Haitian Revolution was most tangible in areas like commerce, territorial expansion, and diplomacy. Saint-Domingue served as a staging ground for the French military and navy during the American Revolution and provided troops to the siege of Savannah in 1779. It became the United States’ second-largest commercial partner during the 1780s and 1790s. After Saint-Domingue’s slaves revolted in 1791, many of its inhabitants found refuge in the United States, most notably in Philadelphia, Charleston, and New Orleans. Fears (or hopes) that the slave revolt would spread to the United States were prevalent in public opinion. As Saint-Domingue achieved quasi-autonomous status under the leadership of Toussaint Louverture, it occupied a central place in the diplomacy of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. The Louisiana Purchase was made possible in part by the failure of a French expedition to Saint-Domingue in 1802–1803. Bilateral trade declined after Saint-Domingue acquired its independence from France in 1804 (after which Saint-Domingue became known as Haiti), but Haiti continued to loom large in the African-American imagination, and there were several attempts to use Haiti as a haven for U.S. freedmen. The U.S. diplomatic recognition of Haiti also served as a reference point for antebellum debates on slavery, the slave trade, and the status of free people of color in the United States.

Article

The United States has engaged with Indigenous nations on a government-to-government basis via federal treaties representing substantial international commitments since the origins of the republic. The first treaties sent to the Senate for ratification under the Constitution of 1789 were treaties with Indigenous nations. Treaties with Indigenous nations provided the means by which approximately one billion acres of land entered the national domain of the United States prior to 1900, at an average price of seventy-five cents per acre – the United States confiscated or claimed another billion acres of Indigenous land without compensation. Despite subsequent efforts of American federal authorities to alter these arrangements, the weight of evidence indicates that the relationship remains primarily one of a nation-to-nation association. Integration of the history of federal relations with Indigenous nations with American foreign relations history sheds important new light on the fundamental linkages between these seemingly distinct state practices from the beginnings of the American republic.

Article

John Quincy Adams was one of the most significant statesmen-intellectuals of the Early American Republic. Highly intelligent, well-traveled, and massively educated, Adams was a Christian nationalist who believed that the American Republic was destined to be a shining example of democracy and liberty to the rest of the world. He was profoundly influenced by his parents, John and Abigail, and embraced his father’s political philosophy which was rooted in a written constitution and a strong three branch government constrained by checks and balances. Adams served as US minister to several European nations before becoming secretary of state in 1817 and then the sixth president of the United States in 1824. He began life as a Federalist but strongly supported the foreign policies of the Jefferson and Madison administrations. The three pillars of his foreign policy were neutrality toward Europe, continental expansion, and hemispheric hegemony. Adams chaired the US delegation that negotiated the Treaty of Ghent in 1814 and was the driving force behind the Convention of 1818 and the Transcontinental Treaty of 1819. Adams partnered with President James Monroe in formulating the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, which canonized the principles of the two hemispheres including European non-colonization in the Western hemisphere and US non-interference in European affairs. Domestically, Adams was a relentless exponent of the American System in which the federal government would fund a system of internal improvements—turnpikes, canals, ports—that would create a national market and bind the various regions together by means of a national economy. In this, he was disappointed in part because he had the misfortune to be president when Jacksonian democracy was taking hold in America and distrust of the federal power was growing. Defeated for re-election by Andrew Jackson in 1828, Adams briefly retired from public life but then accepted election to the House of Representatives in 1830 where he served until his death in 1846. In the House, he proved to be an avid opponent of the further extension of slavery into the territories, and ironically, of further continental expansion. He became convinced that a civil war was inevitable but held abolitionists at arm’s length because of their rejection of the Constitution as a means to achieve racial justice in America. Adams died with a deep sense of failure, believing that his earlier career as an expansionist had produced not an empire of liberty but an empire of slavery.

Article

While presidents have historically been the driving force behind foreign policy decision-making, Congress has used its constitutional authority to influence the process. The nation’s founders designed a system of checks and balances aimed at establishing a degree of equilibrium in foreign affairs powers. Though the president is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and the country’s chief diplomat, Congress holds responsibility for declaring war and can also exert influence over foreign relations through its powers over taxation and appropriation, while the Senate possesses authority to approve or reject international agreements. This separation of powers compels the executive branch to work with Congress to achieve foreign policy goals, but it also sets up conflict over what policies best serve national interests and the appropriate balance between executive and legislative authority. Since the founding of the Republic, presidential power over foreign relations has accreted in fits and starts at the legislature’s expense. When core American interests have come under threat, legislators have undermined or surrendered their power by accepting presidents’ claims that defense of national interests required strong executive action. This trend peaked during the Cold War, when invocations of national security enabled the executive to amass unprecedented control over America’s foreign affairs.

Article

Since the founding of the United States of America, coinciding with the height of the Atlantic slave trade, U.S. officials have based their relations with West Africa primarily on economic interests. Initially, these interests were established on the backs of slaves, as the Southern plantation economy quickly vaulted the United States to prominence in the Atlantic world. After the U.S. abolition of the slave trade in 1808, however, American relations with West Africa focused on the establishment of the American colony of Liberia as a place of “return” for formerly enslaved persons. Following the turn to “legitimate commerce” in the Atlantic and the U.S. Civil War, the United States largely withdrew from large-scale interaction with West Africa. Liberia remained the notable exception, where prominent Pan-African leaders like Edward Blyden, W. E. B. DuBois, and Marcus Garvey helped foster cultural and intellectual ties between West Africa and the Diaspora in the early 1900s. These ties to Liberia were deepened in the 1920s when Firestone Rubber Corporation of Akron, Ohio established a long-term lease to harvest rubber. World War II marked a significant increase in American presence and influence in West Africa. Still focused on Liberia, the war years saw the construction of infrastructure that would prove essential to Allied war efforts and to American security interests during the Cold War. After 1945, the United States competed with the Soviet Union in West Africa for influence and access to important economic and national security resources as African nations ejected colonial regimes across most of the continent. West African independence quickly demonstrated a turn from nationalism to ethnic nationalism, as civil wars engulfed several countries in the postcolonial, and particularly the post-Cold War, era. After a decade of withdrawal, American interest in West Africa revived with the need for alternative sources of petroleum and concerns about transnational terrorism following the attacks of September 11, 2001.