Changing of the Guard Takes Time

If one looks at the patterns and foreign policy actions of U.S. and British leaders between 1783 and 1812, one can see that old feelings and hatreds are not easily overcome. They drove policy.

For example, as well done as the 1783 Treaty of Paris was, it still left unresolved issues on the table that both sides agreed to settle “later.” Unfortunately, the Confederation Congress (as the Continental Congress called itself) was powerless to deal with them now that the War for Independence was over. The Articles of Confederation gave most of the power to the 13 states and the Confederation Congress was powerless to adjudicate issues over simple items such as legal disputes between a citizens in two different states. Conducting foreign policy was beyond its capabilities even though it did so during the revolution.

The Confederation Congress could not use its power of the purse to change the behavior of state leaders because it was broke. It did not have the power to levy taxes and had to go to the individual states and ask (beg?) for money.

Our Founding Fathers, the same men who led a war against England, the richest and most powerful country in the world, shifted gears. They created the Constitution of the United States, which is the longest-serving document of its kind. But I digress.

Between 1783 and 1795, when the Jay Treaty was signed and ratified by Congress, the U.S. was often at loggerheads with Great Britain who was routinely violating the Treaty of Paris. The Jay Treaty brought some breathing space so the Founding Fathers could figure out how to make the newly ratified Constitution work.

Unfortunately, the French Revolution started in 1792, and Thomas Jefferson, an avowed Francophile, was up to his armpits helping those who wanted to create a republican France. Jefferson hated England and wanted to align the U.S. with France in its battle with the monarchies who were trying to put a Bourbon king back on the throne in France.

Jefferson fought tooth and nail to defeat the ratification of the Jay Treaty. He lost when President George Washington lobbied the Congress to ratify the agreement. Once he became president in 1801, Jefferson began to unravel the terms of the Jay Treaty and conduct economic warfare against Great Britain.

Here are just four posts from my blog on Jefferson’s policies that led to the War of 1812.

On the other side of the Atlantic, many British leaders who were in power in Parliament during the American Revolution had not gotten over the loss of the 13 Colonies. The creation of the upstart republic was an affront to them, and they still influenced British policy until the War of 1812. After which, their power began to wane.

So, when one looks at this, the first nine U.S. presidents – Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, and William Henry Harrison were all born before independence and were, therefore, British citizens until they declared independence. John Quincy Adams, Jackson, Van Buren, and Harrison were all children during the Revolutionary War, but teenagers in the tough years that followed which shaped their lives and perceptions.

In Great Britain, Lords North, Rockingham, Shelburne, Fox and William Pitt the younger were all in their graves by 1806. Three more PMs – Lord Perceval Portland II and Baron Grenville, who were young men during the American Revolution followed as PMs. It took Lord Liverpool to say enough is enough and end the War of 1812 on terms favorable to both sides.

That was the last war the U.S. fought against England. Several times over the next 50 years, we came close to fisticuffs, but cooler heads prevailed. What made it possible was that by 1816, the “old guard” of men on both sides were out of power, and their influence was waning. This let the scars from the bloody fight that ripped families apart heal.

The new leaders on both sides of the Atlantic look at the rapidly growing U.S. and traditional England and realize we have much more in common than differences. Sort of like parents learning to handle a rebellious, but prodigal son who has potential.

More on England’s offspring next week.

Image is the 1820 Painting of English Prime Minister Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool from the Royal Collection.

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