George Washington's Presidency

Start Free Trial

What problems did the US have with remaining neutral when France and Britain went to war?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The US was a new, fragile nation, and many (including George Washington) felt that the new nation needed to avoid foreign conflicts.

A major problem with remaining neutral in the war between Britain and France, however, was that the US had signed a Treaty of Alliance with France during the...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

The US was a new, fragile nation, and many (including George Washington) felt that the new nation needed to avoid foreign conflicts.

A major problem with remaining neutral in the war between Britain and France, however, was that the US had signed a Treaty of Alliance with France during the Revolutionary War. On the other hand, the United States received most of its imports from Great Britain, so going to war with them would be catastrophic, economically.

The two major political parties in the United States also disagreed over foreign policy. The Federalists wanted to protect their economic security and avoid a costly war for the new nation. Many Democratic-Republicans wanted to honor the United States's treaty with France.

As the 1790s and early 1800s progressed, many things occurred which heightened tensions with both France and Britain and made neutrality difficult to achieve. In the 1790s, a French minister in the US named Citizen Genet commissioned American privateers, despite George Washington's proclamation of neutrality.

Meanwhile, the British were violating parts of the Treaty of Paris by keeping posts in Ohio and Indiana and by selling arms to Indians who were attacking the US.

Finally, both Britain and France were interfering with US shipping.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There were two problems that the United States had.

First, the two political parties in the US each liked one side (either France or Britain) and wanted to help it.  The Federalists thought the French Revolution was a horrible thing and wanted to help Britain.  The  Democratic-Republicans hated monarchy and wanted to help France.

Second, both Britain and France kept interfering with US shipping.  Each side would stop and take US ships that were trying to trade with the other side.

Both of these factors made it hard for the US to stay neutral.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team