The United States, Great Britain, and British North America from the Revolution to the Establishment of Peace after the War of 1812

By A. L. Burt | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
THE GROWING CRISIS IN THE INTERIOR

THE year 1789 saw two events which combined to liquidate this western business by persuading Britain to withdraw. They were the adoption of the Constitution of the United States and the outbreak of the French Revolution. The former, through its creation of a real central government for the country, undermined both the excuse and the reason for British garrisons' remaining on American soil; the latter, through the war it let loose in Europe, forced Britain to make her peace with the United States. The result was Jay's Treaty of 1794. This was five years afterwards and it came rather suddenly, for the operations producing it were slow in getting under way. Indeed they were so slow that the international situation in the interior of America grew worse instead of better, and reached a dangerous crisis on the very eve of Jay's Treaty.

In the beginning of this five-year period, however, an incident on the Pacific Ocean started a train of events that brought Britain for a short while in 1790 to the verge of abandoning the western posts, thereby giving a foretaste of what the French Revolutionary War might do when it engulfed Britain. This was the famous Nootka Sound affair, already mentioned in connection with the Vermont negotiations. The Spanish seizure of a few English merchant vessels on the west coast of Vancouver Island in the summer of 1789 was not an occasion for war, but the subsequent correspondence provided sufficient cause. Spain justified the affront by asserting her exclusive right to the Pacific coast of America, and she did more. She called upon Britain to restrain her subjects by punishing such as would encroach upon this Spanish preserve. In her own eyes and in those of the world at the time, Spain was numbered among the mighty and Britain among the fallen. Britain had just lost her Empire; Spain's seemed as great as ever. Spain secretly began to prepare for war, and so did Britain; for the issue appeared to be worthy of such a test. It was whether Britain or Spain would cease to be a great power. One of them had to step down. This threat of war in the Old World shook the balance of power in the New. The weakness of the United States had played into Britain's hands, and now the embarrassment of Britain might give an advantage to the United States.

By mere coincidence, the American government again asked for the posts at the very time the Nootka Sound affair began to worry the British government. Diplomatic relations had been severed in 1788, when Adams withdrew from London on the failure of Britain to send a

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