Diplomatic History/North America/United States

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The diplomatic history of the United States is older than the American Government. Prior to the creation of a true national government, the Continental Congress appointed and dispatched ministers (calling them Commissioners) to France and other European powers. With the outbreak of hostilities between the Colony of Massachusetts and Britain, the rebels were in dire need of powerful friends. As Virginia and the other colonies joined Massachusetts, it was clear that overseas allies would be critical. Specifically, supplies, money, and naval support were the greatest needs. Britain was the mightiest military power in the world. Her Royal Navy was the envy of all the great powers. Each of the thirteen colonies had militias, but they lacked funds and were nearly without a navy. They lacked the considerable amount of cash required to outfit and fight a continental army. Since, they lacked any legal or financial standing, it was nearly impossible to borrow money in the normal way. During the very first miliary engagement, the Battle of Lexington and Concord, the "Red Coats" seized precious gunpowder and ammunition.

After appointing Washington Commander-in-Chief, the General pledged his own funds to recruit and supply a significant number of troops. But Washington's offer, and the contributions of the thirteen militias was a small fraction of what was needed. So, the appointment of skilled and respected ministers was an urgent task.

France was the obvious prospective ally. She had been frequently at war with Britain, and was at that moment in time fighting the "Brits" in the Seven Years War. Her military power was nearly as great as that of England. Further, France had access to high quality gunpowder and a very capable navy to ship it. Although, the French Monarchy was already in debt, some loans to the fledgling nation were possible.

Three of the first ministers to France were: Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams. Franklin and Jefferson were especially effective in France. Eventually, the King would send army troops including field artillery, impressive naval forces, and massive amounts of powder and ammunition.

Franklin was so popular in Paris his likeness showed up on fine china and art. He was especially popular with the younger beautiful women of French high society. Jefferson also developed a personal popularity with his broad intellect and people skills. A very deep affection between America and France was born. The French nobleman La Fayette personified this relationship. La Fayette quickly became very close to Washington. General Washington describes the relationship almost like that of father and son. In his last years, La Fayette makes arrangements to be buried near Paris, but with American soil, shipped in to cover the coffin.

Other capitals in Europe receive American envoys during the War of Independence. The new diplomats must somehow refine very delicate political skills quickly. Most of their European counterparts have been polishing these skills since the mid-seventeenth century. Many of these Americans were faced with dangerous Atlantic crossings, linguistic disadvantages, and poor financial backing. Jefferson and Adams spent a considerable amount of their own money during their time in France.

In 1779, John Adams was sent to London to try to negotiate an acceptable peace (Encyclopædia Britannica, 1959, vol. 1, pg. 148). Obviously, the apple was not yet ripe. In the summer of 1780, he traveled to the Netherlands and worked vigorously securing diplomatic recognition for the rebel government, and a badly needed Dutch loan. Never one to give up easily, he resumed negotioans with London, competing a commercial agreement and temporary peace treaty following the ultimate American victory at Yorktown, Virginia in October 1781. The temporary treaty with Britain was signed by Adams, November 30, 1782(Ency. Britannica, 1959, vol. 1, pg. 148).

The permanent treaty with London, was primarily the work of John Jay. It followed extensive, tense negotiations. Old Mother England may have signed an armistice, but she was still a powerful and determined foe. It took many more years to secure the complete evacuation of British troops from the American side of the Canadian border. Other contentious issues such as freedom of shipping on the high seas, and repayment of loans from British merchants to former colonists, lingered unresolved. American diplomacy was born in a cloud of black powder and poverty. In the ensuing years, true peace and security would be elusive.