Chesapeake Politics, 1781-1800

By Norman K. Risjord | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIFTEEN
The Politics of Neutrality, 1793-1794

SEVENTEEN NINETY-THREE was a banner year in the evolution of the first party system. The execution of Louis XVI and the outbreak of war between the French republic and a coalition of monarchies organized by Great Britain injected a new and highly emotional issue into American politics. Americans generally agreed that they had to maintain an official neutrality, but privately they quickly chose sides. The European contest set a newborn republic and old friend, France, against a collection of staid monarchies, most of whom had sneered at the American experiment. Republicanism and Monarchy, the political symbols to which Americans most readily responded, were engaged in a death struggle.

When radical Jacobins seized power in the summer of 1793 and began a "reign of terror," the struggle took on a new meaning. To many Americans the disdainful monarchies became symbols of law and order, stability, and responsible government. Such symbols were already commonplace in American rhetoric; the European war merely enhanced their dramatic value. The new associations lent

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