Foreign Affairs in the Office of George Washington J. Calhoun Upon becoming President of the United States, George Washington almost immediately set two critical foreign policy precedents: He assumed control of treaty negotiations with a hostile power and for congressional approval once they were finalized. In addition, he sent American emissaries overseas for negotiations without legislative approval.
Taking a Global Position In 1789, the French Revolution sent shock waves across the Atlantic. Many Americans, mindful of French aid during their own struggle for independence, supported returning the favor. At the same time, the British were once again inciting Native Americans to attack settlers in the West, hoping to destabilize the fledgling Republic. American anger in response to these attacks served to reinforce sentiments for aiding France in any conflict with Great Britain. Washington was leery of any such foreign entanglement, considering his country too weak and unstable to fight another war with a major European power. His insistence on neutrality in foreign quarrels set another key precedent, as did his insistence that the power to make such a determination be lodged in the presidency.
GOSH DANGIT FRANCE Within days of Washington's second inauguration, France declared war on a host of European nations, England among them. Controversy over American involvement in the dispute redoubled. The Jefferson and Hamilton factions fought endlessly over the matter. The French ambassador to the U.S., Edmond Genet, had meanwhile been appearing nationwide, drumming up considerable support for the French cause. Washington was deeply irritated by this subversive meddling, and when Genet allowed a French-sponsored warship to sail out of Philadelphia against direct presidential orders, Washington demanded that France recall Genet.
Foreign Policy in Later Years A pair of treaties, one with Algiers and another with Spain, dominated the later stages of Washington's foreign policy. Pirates from the Barbary region of North Africa were seizing American ships, kidnapping their crew members, and demanding ransom. These Barbary pirates forced a harsh treaty on the U.S. that demanded annual payments to the ruler of Algiers. It was, in short, a shakedown for protection money, and it hardened Washington's resolve to construct a viable navy. The ships built during his administration would prove to be instrumental in naval actions that ended disputes with Algiers in later administrations.
Agreements With Spain The agreement with Spain had a much happier outcome for Washington. Spanish-controlled Florida agreed to stop inciting Native American attacks on settlers. More importantly, Spain conceded unrestricted access of the entire Mississippi River to Americans, opening much of the Ohio River Valley for settlement and trade. Agricultural produce could now flow on flatboats down the Ohio and Cumberland Rivers to the Mississippi River and on to New Orleans and Europe.