restricted access Introduction
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Introduction This is a book about how the United States of America came to be. At the start of the twenty-first century, when the American nation-state commands a position of nearly unrivaled political, commercial, and military strength—what, in 1999, French foreign minister Hubert Védrine provocatively labeled hyperpuissance, or hyperpower—it is scarcely imaginable that the United States ever occupied a position of abject weakness. Yet history tells us this was indeed the case. Far from being a historical constant, preeminent and preponderant American power is a development of relatively recent origin.∞ InthefirstfourdecadesfollowingtheAmericanCongress’sdeclarationof independence, the United States, while a subject of curiosity for some, was for most only a marginal presence in the wider world.≤ In the estimation of the vast majority of the European powers, the United States was politically peripheral and militarily impotent. American commerce expanded or contracted more on the basis of the changing tastes of Atlantic consumers and the shifting policies of the European imperial powers, than on anything Americans themselves did. And for a good part of its early life the United States of America was not a nation-state in the modern sense, but a loose confederation of thirteen polities, each of which jealously guarded its (still emerging) sovereign power and prerogatives. Concerted action to ameliorate America’s situation of weakness in the international system was di≈cult to imagine and even more di≈cult to bring to fruition. All told, the United States endured a fragile and contingent existence during its early life. From the rupture of the British Empire in the mid-1770s through the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, the viability of this new entity, the United States of America, remained an open question. 2 Revolutionary Negotiations When we reflect that so many developments of lasting importance for the American nation occurred against the backdrop of this struggle for survival, the question of how the United States navigated through this seemingly dark time calls for further investigation. The success of the American Revolution, the shaping of the American Constitution, the division of American public life into partisan factions (the so-called First American Party System), and the coalescence of the relationship between the American federal government and American Indian peoples into one of inequality and expropriation—all of these important historical developments are rendered more explicable, and their interconnections illuminated, through an appreciation and examination of the international context of the American Founding. Simply put, the American Revolution was an event in international history, and thus an event with an international history. Remembering that the United States once consisted of small and powerless new states in an anarchic world, itself in the midst of revolutionary change, sheds light on why the American Founding proceeded in the way that it did, and why, at least in part, the United States looks the way it does today. Exploring the international history of the American Founding has the potential to explode conventional wisdom and cherished national mythology . Consider the alleged long-standing isolationist impulse in American culture and politics, usually traced back to President George Washington’s Farewell Address, if not before.≥ Although it has often seemed to be a permanent part of the American political idiom, ‘‘isolationism’’ was, for the most part, not in the vocabulary of America’s Founding Fathers. The American leaders of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries understood that, for a variety of reasons, they could not turn inward upon themselves and hope to survive. The American states had to engage with the world beyond their borders: allies were needed to win independence; foreign markets had to be opened for American produce; order was needed on the United States’ North American borderlands. The rejection of isolationism (and, really, the inability to seriously conceive of it) had enormous implications.∂ At the same time that we acknowledge the international history of the American Revolution and the American Founding, it is profitable to reconsiderwhatexactlywemeanwhenweusetheterm ‘‘international.’’Duringthe Revolutionary Era, the leaders of the American states were forced to enter into negotiation with the leaders of a variety of sovereign polities: the Introduction 3 monarchies and republics of European Christendom come first to mind, but American leaders also engaged the ‘‘Barbary Regencies’’ of the Islamic Mediterranean and the villages and confederations of the various indigenous peoples of North America.∑ But these relations have rarely been considered together. Traditionally, the study of American interaction with European (and North African) sovereigns has been the subject of diplomatic...


pdf

Subject Headings

  • United States -- Foreign relations -- 1783-1865.
  • United States -- Foreign relations -- To 1775.
  • Indians of North America -- Government relations -- To 1789.
  • United States -- Foreign relations -- 1775-1783.
  • Indians of North America -- Government relations -- 1789-1869.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access