Early Foreign Policy

How did the foreign policy of Washington and Jefferson affect our nation?

America, having dealt with many vital questions regarding domestic
policy, also needed a coherent foreign policy. The constitution did
not make any suggestions regarding foreign policy so it was up to the
leadership of strong Presidents to set precedent.

I. Foreign Policy of Washington and Jefferson

There are essentially three foreign policy
choices a nation has. They are outlined below. Throughout history
we have moved from choice to choice at different times in our

Three Foreign Policy

1) Neutrality
– To not take sides.

2) Isolationism – To cut off al foreign
relations. To not be involved at all.

3) Interventionism – To get involved in
world affairs.


A. Washington Sets Foreign Policy Precedent

1. In his Farewell Address Washington urged
America to take a foreign policy of neutrality.

2. He urged America to build “commercial relationships” but to
“steer clear of permanent alliances.”

B. What was the basic foreign policy of Adams?

1. Adam’s administration began with a crisis with
France. The French had been outraged by a treaty from Britain that
they regarded a betrayal of the 1778 French-American alliance.

2. Rather than agree to war, Adams chose to send a three-man team
to Paris to negotiate. Three Frenchmen explained that there could be
no negotiations unless the foreign minister, Tallyrand, was “greased
with a bribe.” The Americans that returned home referred to the three
Frenchmen as X, Y, and Z. When the reports went public, it was
referred to as the XYZ Affair.

3. Congress created a navy department and authorized American
ships to seize French vessels. For the next 2 years, and undeclared
naval war raged on.

4. Adams received word that a new French government would now
welcome an American envoy without bribe money.

5. In 1799 he sent another three-man team to Paris and the two
sides agreed to “abandon the 1778 treaty and to work out there
difference peacefully.”

C. What was the basic foreign policy of Jefferson?

1. Jefferson continued the policy of Washington and
Adams and tried to stay out of conflict. The war between France and
England was still going on and American ships and seamen were being
seized. Jefferson chose not to react, a non action for which he was
soundly criticized.

2. Napoleon had received the Louisiana Territory from Spain in the
late 1700’s. While America did not fear the Spanish, we did fear the
more powerful France. Monroe was sent to France to negotiate a
purchase of the Louisiana Territory.

3. Napoleon offered the Louisiana Territory for the sum of 15
million dollars but Jefferson had a dilemma to wrestle with. As a
strict constructionist he found nothing in the Constitution that
justifies the purchase of land.

4. Jefferson compromised his strict Constructionist beliefs and
justified the purchase of the territory by using the elastic
. In doing so Jefferson took a Federalist position. While
some may call Jefferson a hypocrite or conclude that this represented
a retraction of his position it is more accurate to assume he was
willing to place the needs of the nation above his own political

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