Each of the first four Presidents faced circumstances that could have led to United States involvement in a war. For Washington, the French Revolution pressed on the U.S. for involvment. The French had formally recognized and provided aid to the fledgling United States in the War for Independence with Great...
Each of the first four Presidents faced circumstances that could have led to United States involvement in a war. For Washington, the French Revolution pressed on the U.S. for involvment. The French had formally recognized and provided aid to the fledgling United States in the War for Independence with Great Britain, and Washington had two cabinet members campaigning for U.S. involvement, Jefferson to support the French and Adams to support Great Britain, but Washington felt the only way for the United States to be sure of survival as a nation would be to maintain neutrality and so he steered a careful course of neutrality. Washington believed that maintaining neutrality was essential and made this point of view well known through his famous Farewell Address.
John Adams inherited the problems with the French Revolution, and it became worse for him with the XYZ affair, an intercepted message which declared that the French would only talk to American diplomats with a bribe. But although Adams raised funds for war, he also sent a delegation for peace and managed to avoid war through diplomacy. While Adams could have pushed for War because of the XYZ Affair, he also recognized as President that war would be dangerous for the United States and his careful actions to avoid war were one of the successes of his Presidency.
Thomas Jefferson had the challenge of trying to keep out of the Napoleonic Wars raging in Europe. His answer was the Embargo Act of 1807 which basically closed off exports from the U.S. to either France or Britain. The Act was very unpopular as it hurt American businesses, but it did keep the United States out of war.
President Monroe was not able to avoid war. The Embargo of 1807 was so unpopular that it could not be kept and pressure to go to war increased in Congress. Britain continued to flagrantly reject recognition of U.S. sovereignty by seizing American ships, confiscating their cargo and impressing their sailors, forcing them to serve in the British Navy. In 1812 the United States declared War on Great Britain. The U.S. was not prepared for war so it was a good thing that Britain did not really want this war either. Even though the U.S. forces were defeated several times, the War was settled by negotation.