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CHAPTER VI

DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS

(1783-1788)

WHIL

HILE the Confederation was troubled with

poverty and discontent at home, its foreign relations were far from satisfactory; for here again the incompetence of Congress was shown, making it difficult to reach satisfactory conclusions with other powers. The nations of Europe were in no mood to take the trouble of pleasing the United States. France felt little or no interest in the political career of the country for whose cause she had been ostensibly fighting; she had little expectation that America would soon play a prominent rôle among the nations, and she had no desire to see the young republic push forward to prosperity and influence. The French statesmen were not unwilling to offer opportunities for trade, but were disappointed at the tendency of American merchants to carry on their commerce with England. English statesmen were cold and critical or absolutely unfriendly. They could see little to be gained by a consideration for the upstart republic which had been so anxious to cast aside the guiding hand of the mother country. Spain respected America, perhaps, somewhat more than before the war; and her ministers may have wondered whether they had shown superior intelligence in treating the American representatives abroad with such masterly hauteur ; but with this new respect, if such there was, came no addition of friendliness nor any purpose to surrender a portion of her policy. If she disliked and distrusted the states when they were fighting her detested enemy, England, she liked them no more when they had won their independence and were setting up titles to lands skirting her precious colonies on the Gulf of Mexico.

Some of the other European states showed an occasional gleam of interest in the possibility of securing some hold on the western trade. With Portugal especially there grew up an important commerce; Adams had succeeded in getting a treaty with Holland, even before the peace; in 1783 one was made with Sweden; and in 1785 a treaty of commerce was made with Prussia. But perhaps the Barbary pirates really had the most intelligent appreciation of the fact that the United States were no longer British colonies, and they naturally confined their attention to the seizure of American ships and seamen, an occupation in which they indulged with their customary success.

The most serious diplomatic questions that arose were, in their essentials, those which had proved most perplexing and troublesome during the Rev.

olution. Throughout the war Spain had haughtily refused to recognize the independence of the states or to enter into a treaty of alliance. Wishing to retain a monopoly of their colonial commerce, and fearing that the aggressive Americans would encroach upon their colonies, the anxious Spaniards had watched the course of the Revolution, vexed by irreconcilable fears and incompatible hopes, longing to see England humiliated and destroyed and dreading to see the impertinent rebels succeed.

When the treaty between England and the United States was published, Spain saw much cause for fault-finding. Her claims in the southwest, which she had for some years been steadily asserting and gradually extending, were by the treaty quietly ignored, for the line agreed on in the treaty ran down the Mississippi to the thirty-first parallel and thence by this parallel to the Appalachicola. England asserted at the same time the right of both England and America to navigate the Mississippi from its source to the gulf. In these cessions Spain had no intention of acquiescing. For some years she had been making much ado about the western country and the Mississippi, and even if the French ministers, with a half-amused shrug of the shoulders, were willing to recognize the results of the astute diplomacy of Jay and the other audacious Americans, Spain certainly would not yield up her claims. Less superciliously, but not less obstinately an before, she adhered to the purpose by cunning and by force to keep the western Americans away from her possessions; for the cardinal principle of the Spanish colonial policy was monopoly and seclusion. The idea of allowing the Americans to traffic with her subjects or to introduce into her colonies the dreadful notions of freedom was intolerable.

The secret clause of the treaty of 1783 could not long be kept from the knowledge of Spain. It was soon known at Madrid that America had promised, in case England in her negotiations with the other combatants succeeded in holding West Florida, to accept as her southern boundary between the Appalachicola and the Mississippi a line running through the mouth of the Yazoo.' The knowledge that such an arrangement had been made may have added to the ill-humor of Spain; but her wrath needed no stimulus; her course of opposition to the United States had been for years consistent and unflagging. She did not long delay in letting Congress know that she had no intention of abiding by the boundaries that England had set or of admitting the right of the Americans freely to navigate the Mississippi to its mouth. In the summer of 1784 Congress was formally warned that England had no right to make such generous cessions at a time when the two borders of the river were held by the arms of Spain;' and that, until the limits of Louisiana and the two Floridas should be settled

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See above, chap. ii.
Secret Journals of Congress, December 15, 1784.

and determined, American citizens, by seeking to navigate the Mississippi, would only expose their vessels to confiscation. Naturally this news was not relished by Congress. Its members had been debating the western land question for years, and when England surrendered practically all that was asked from her they were not pleased to find Spain standing in the way as unreasonably as ever.

Spain did not content herself with formal warnings. On this subject she was in earnest; on this one matter her ministers had convictions. She was determined to hold fast to her colonies, even though they were strangled in her grasp. There were various methods open to her, and she was under strong temptation to use all of them: first, to carry on frank and fair diplomatic negotiations, backed by a maintenance of her authority on the river and in the disputed territory; second, to intrigue with the Indians, who by sundry well-known methods could be induced to make the life of the western pioneer unpleasant and his residence in the Mississippi Valley unattractive;' third, to stir up dissatisfaction among the American settlers, and by bribes and threats help to bring about the separation of the western territory from the eastern states. Spanish gold looked good and fair to the average westerner, whose currency was often nothing better than otter skins or whiskey, and it was not hard to find

Gayarré, History of Louisiana, III., 185-iso

VOL. X.-8

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