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Shaping a new republic: lesson overview

After the American Revolution, the French also decided to revolt against their monarchy. This conflict would determine foreign policy for the United States for decades afterward.

Key terms

French RevolutionInspired by the American Revolution, the French people fought against the French monarchy to establish a democracy. The Revolution caused a series of European wars, most notably between Britain and France.
Proclamation of Neutrality (1793)Washington signed this proclamation declaring American neutrality in the French Revolution.
Jay’s Treaty (1794)Chief Justice John Jay was sent to Britain to negotiate a treaty to end British harassment of American shipping. He was unsuccessful at fixing that problem and instead brought back a treaty in which Britain agreed to evacuate its posts on the US western frontier.
Pinckney’s Treaty (1795)A treaty in which Spain agreed to open the southern part of the Mississippi River and New Orleans to American trade and deemed Florida’s northern boundary at the 31st parallel.
Washington’s Farewell AddressAs George Washington left office, he wrote a farewell address to be published in newspapers that warned Americans not to: get involved in European affairs; make “permanent alliances” with other countries; form political parties; get distracted by regional differences between states.
XYZ AffairWhen Americans were sent to negotiate a treaty with France, three French diplomats, nicknamed “X”, “Y”, and “Z”, proceeded to ask for bribes to start negotiations. The story eventually made its way to the American public, inciting Americans to push Adams for armed conflict with the French.
Alien and Sedition ActsPassed during the Adams administration as a way to punish political rivals, the Alien Act allowed the federal government to deport non-citizens who were a threat to national security. The Sedition Act was a way to punish American citizens who falsely spoke about or criticized the American government during the quasi-war with France with the intent to harm the government’s position.

The US Capitol in 1800

Source: William Russell Birch, A view of the Capitol of Washington, Library of Congress, 1800

Key dates

1789Start of the French Revolution
1793Proclamation of Neutrality
1794Jay’s Treaty
1795Pinckney’s Treaty
1796Washington published his Farewell Address; John Adams is elected as the second President of the United States
1797Start of the XYZ Affair
1798Alien and Sedition Acts

Core historical themes

Tradition of neutrality and isolationism: After French revolutionaries rebelled against the French monarchy, there was a question within the United States as to whether or not American forces should intervene. On one hand, Thomas Jefferson and members of his faction argued for American intervention as the French had helped in the American Revolution. Alexander Hamilton and his faction argued that the United States was still recovering from its own war and could not offer support without severely hurting the American economy. President Washington agreed with Hamilton and issued the Proclamation of Neutrality.
The Proclamation of Neutrality, along with Washington’s Farewell Address, began a tradition of isolationism and neutrality in foreign conflicts that was upheld until the United States entered the First World War in 1917.
Violations of individual liberties: After the XYZ affair and conflicts with France over the US neutrality, Federalist President John Adams and his Congress issued the Alien and Sedition Acts, which allowed the federal government to deport non-citizens and punish American citizens who criticized the American government with imprisonment or a fine of up to $5000. Democratic-Republicans criticized these acts as violations of civil liberties.

Review questions

  • How did British control of the American colonies change after the Seven Years’ War?
  • In what ways did American colonists develop a unified sense of identity before the American Revolution?
  • What were three factors that led to increased tension between Britain and the colonies?

Want to join the conversation?

  • blobby green style avatar for user sschisler25
    What sense of identity did they develop before the USA revolution?
    (2 votes)
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    • cacteye green style avatar for user Arya Patel
      Before the American Revolution, American colonists developed a unified sense of identity through many ways. These shared experiences included representative assemblies, print culture, Enlightenment ideas, and resistance to British policies such as taxation acts (the Stamp Act, Townshend Acts, Tea Act, and Intolerable Acts). These factors played a significant role in laying the groundwork for the eventual Revolutionary War fought against Great Britain.
      (1 vote)
  • blobby blue style avatar for user Adira
    How do you view the presidency of John Adams?
    (1 vote)
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