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A Revolutionary Dinner: U.S. Diplomacy toward Saint Domingue, 1798–1801


At a secret dinner in eighteenth-century Philadelphia, U.S. government officials moved beyond trading with the revolutionary French colony Saint-Domingue. They began to treat with the island's black leadership to secure American commerce in a hostile Atlantic world. President John Adams offered to Toussaint Louverture economic support and political encouragement. The administration, led by Secretary of State Timothy Pickering, forged the United States' first diplomatic relationship with a black-led government from a foundation of confidence and bilateral cooperation. Adams's foreign policy toward Saint-Domingue advanced U.S. trade interests without forfeiting the Declaration of Independence's pledge of natural rights. From 1798 to 1801, the United States and Saint-Domingue shared a similar moment within Atlantic world history: that of emerging republics striving to escape domination and finding their own way. At the cessation of Dominguan-American relations, following Adams's electoral defeat, the revolutionary colony stood upon the threshold of nationhood. For its part, the United States moved a step closer toward its aspirations to reshape the Atlantic world.

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