Even when the United States was still smoothing out the wrinkles in its constitution it had an incredible tendency of getting itself involved in European affairs. This involvement helped to shape the country to become the way it is today. It united and divided the people of the United States, both economically and politically. The Louisiana Purchase, the Chesapeake Affair, the Embargo Act of 1807, the Napoleonic Wars, and the War of 1812 were all contributing factors to the early foreign policy in America.
In 1802, Jefferson received word that the Louisiana Territory had been transferred from Spain to France due to the Treaty of San Ildefonso. Jefferson did not like having the French occupy the vast territory to the West, and in fact he proclaimed that whoever occupied New Orleans was “our natural and habitual enemy”. After the revolt in Haiti, led by Toussaint L’Overture, convinced Napoleon that an empire in North America wasn’t worth the trouble, he offered to sell the Louisiana Territory to the United States for $15 million; an offer that was readily accepted. The Louisiana Purchase was widely embraced by the Americans since it began to close off the British threat from Canada and had more than doubled the size of the nation. Merchants were especially glad because of their new unchallenged control over the Mississippi, since their products could now reach the Gulf of Mexico much more quickly than before. However, the American mercantile fleet wasn’t sailing in this expanded market for long when the European powers, particularly Britain, started to interfere with our neutral fleet and provoked an angry reaction from President Jefferson and Congress.
The British Navy was often called the “floating hell” by many of its sailors – whenever they had enough. Many sailors deserted the Navy at every chance they got; many joined the American mercantilist fleet to escape. Britain thought that it would only be just if they stopped and boarded American ships so it could re-impress its sailors, but they often were indiscriminate about who they took: Natural-born Americans, British, and the ships’ cargoes alike. A particularly moving event occurred when the USS Chesapeake refused to be boarded by the British Leopard. The Leopard opened fire on the Chesapeake and killed three. Citizens from the town of Norfolk, the town the Chesapeake had sailed from, were angry and vengeful. They sailed out in sailboats examining every ship that came in until they found one ship with 11 survivors from the Chesapeake on it. The citizens held a mass town meeting at which it was unanimously agreed that they would stop relations with any British men in the area (Tucker 1). Other Americans were outraged and united at this violation of their neutral rights and demanded that something be done about Britain’s horrendous actions.
In 1807 the Embargo Act was passed and American ships could not go to foreign ports. Since President Jefferson had never explained his “experiment” to the people, no one understood it and feelings of outrage were soon resounding throughout the country. Americans in New England were losing money in their trade business, ships were rotting in harbors, many sailors were unemployed, and many bank funds ran dry. The New York and Canadian border was in a state of insurrection and there was talk of secession in New England. Southern farmers were hurt as well, since agriculture prices dropped and they couldn’t get the imported supplies they often needed and depended on. The country was driven into a depression, so in 1809 Congress repealed the Act and replaced it with the Non-Intercourse Act, which only forbade trade with France and Britain.
The Napoleonic Wars in Europe had a strong effect on the United States. The Federalists and New England supported the British throughout the war; the Republicans and the West and South supported the French. Both the British and the French, which gave the Federalists and Republicans basis for argument, threatened America’s right as a sovereign nation. The British were, by far, considered the worse offenders of the two. They had interfered with neutral American trade vessels as if they were still thinking of the United States like their children. Anti-British sentiments had always existed in America and it was much easier to point the blame to the British than at the French, who had helped America win its independence from Britain in the first place.
During these attempts to keep peace and unity both within American borders and on the sea, so many conflicts that violated America’s rights arose. The nation was clamoring for war, especially the younger War Hawks, led primarily by John Calhoun (SC) and Henry Clay (KN), that were newly elected to House and Senate positions. Once the war of 1812 began, Federalists began to openly oppose the war and the country became divided. New England merchants worried that their commercial prosperity would be destroyed. Church leaders condemned the war as “immoral” and “useless” (Stephan 9). Many Federalists claimed that the anti- British policies of the Republicans represented subservience to Napoleonic France and a threat to the United States industry. They believed that the enterprise of this war equaled more costs and therefore taxes would have to be raised. Federalists feared that as the country grew due to western expansion, the eastern seaboard’s influence would weaken and it would invite the British to destroy activities in the ports.
On the other hand, the Republicans supported the war of 1812. The War Hawks wanted more land, such as taking Canada from the British and Florida from the Spanish, who had been allies to the British. America had a strong desire to kick European powers out of North America, especially since the British had been supplying and aiding the tribes so they could weaken the settlements on the Western Frontier. The Battle of Tippecanoe was a good example of these hostilities. The great Indian leader, Tecumseh, had left Prophetstown to unite more Indian tribes in the Mississippi when William Henry Harrison, Governor of the Northwest Territory, led an army, defeated the Indians, burned the village, and destroyed the Prophet’s reputation. Upon further examination of the village by the troops, they discovered British supplies and firearms and were angered.
Even though no country has ever made as many mistakes as the United States has and lived to tell about them, diversity in opinions was a major factor in shaping our country. Diversity in opinions is sometimes a key factor in maintaining stability in a nation, especially during a war. Without the unity of opposition to the Embargo Act, the embracing of the Louisiana Purchase, or the differential views in the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812, our country might not be standing today.
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