When the United States and France signed their alliance in 1778, they both committed to defend each other when attacked. But, when France and Great Britain went to war in 1793, President George Washington issued the Neutrality Proclamation because he believed the United States was not strong enough to get involved in a war. Then, in 1795, the United States negotiated and signed Jay’s Treaty with the British. France felt betrayed. Partially because of what they perceived as betrayal, and partially because of military setbacks in the war with Great Britain, France began to threaten American shipping. The result was the “quasi-war” between France and the United States.
Between March and June 1797, France seized 316 American ships and threatened to continue doing so unless the United States stopped supporting and favoring Great Britain. Instead of apologizing, the Federalist-controlled Congress prepared for war. The XYZ Affair (see Chapter 24) only made matters worse. Following the president’s report about the XYZ Affair in the spring of 1798, Congress voted to triple the size of the army and authorized American privateers to attack French vessels. During the summer of 1798, Congress came within a few votes of declaring war on France, even though President John Adams had not requested such a declaration.
But President Adams knew that the United States was not ready for a war with France, Although he signed the Alien and Sedition Acts (see Chapter 25), he balked at doing anything else. In fact, he worked to defuse the situation. In 1799, he sent new American representatives to France: William Vans Murray, William R. Davie, and Oliver Ellsworth. Murray, also the ambassador to the Netherlands, was able to negotiate the Convention of Mortefontaine in September 1800. This agreement terminated the alliance of 1778 and finally ended the Quasi-War. The restoration of good relations with France set the stage for the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.