John Adams and the Fight for an Independent American Foreign Policy

Barlow, Rhonda, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Stagg, John, Department of History, University of Virginia

John Adams was both an actor and thinker in early American foreign policy. As actor, Adams assumed a leadership role in the American Revolution, represented the revolutionaries in France, secured loans to America from the Dutch, was the first American minister at the Court of St. James, and served as the Republic’s first vice-president and second president. As thinker, he was a prolific writer of letters, treatises, and official documents. In 1776, Adams authored the Model Treaty, a blueprint for American foreign policy which called for a commercial treaty with France—but no military alliance—and obligated France to recognize the United States as the heir to all British and French territory in North America. His term as president was almost wholly occupied with the crisis with France and the Quasi-war. His loss of the presidency in 1800 which ended his public career did not end his interest in foreign policy.
It is therefore surprising to discover that no monograph on Adams and American foreign policy exists. This omission not only distorts our understanding of this period, but also has led to an artificial dichotomy that treats Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton as competing architects of early American foreign policy. Adams, however, offered an alternative that differed from both Jefferson and Hamilton. His “independent” foreign policy prioritized American interests, and secured those interests through naval strength and careful manoeuvring in the European balance of power. He called this philosophy of foreign policy “the system of Neutrality.”

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
American history, diplomacy, navy, foreign policy, John Adams
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