Andrew Jackson 1767-1845 A brief biography

Jacksonian Foreign Relations; Whig Obstructionism in the French Crisis

The Whig organization, under Clay, continued to mature, and party lines became ever more rancorous during the 1834 election.

This helped complicate the greatest foreign crisis of the administration. The U.S. had for many years tried to get reparations from France for damage by the French to American shipping during the Napoleonic Wars. In July 1831, a treaty was finally signed stipulating payment of 25 million francs in six annual installments.

When the first payment came due, it was found that payment required an appropriation by the French Chamber of Deputies (more or less their Congress or Parliament). And that appropriation had never been made. When this became apparent, early in 1833, Jackson sent Edward Livingston, who had just resigned as Secretary of State, to France to obtain "prompt and complete fulfillment" of the treaty.

Nothing much happened until the President in his December 3, 1833 address to Congress, expressed his "deep regret" that the terms of the treaty remained unfulfilled. "Should I be disappointed in the hope ... the subject will be again brought to the notice of Congress in such manner as the occasion may require". Three months later, after two months of sitting in committee, the bill to fulfill the treaty was defeated by the Chamber of Deputies 176-168.

The French government declared they would seek a reversal in the next session of the Chamber. As there was to be a summer session, Jackson said he would wait for the result, and report the result to congress when it met in December. But the Chamber declared they would not take up the matter until their winter session; meaning Jackson would have to face Congress with the issue unresolved.

In his December 1, 1834 message to Congress, Jackson stated "It is my conviction that the United States ought to insist on a prompt execution of the treaty, and in case it be refused or longer delayed take redress into their own hands. After the delay on the part of France of a quarter of a century in acknowledging these claims by treaty, it is not to be tolerated that another quarter of a century is to be wasted in negotiation about the payment. The laws of nations provide a remedy for such occasions. It is a well settled principle ... that where one nation owes another a liquidated debt which it refuses or neglects to pay the aggrieved party may seize on the property belonging to the other... This remedy has been repeatedly resorted to, and recently by France herself toward Portugal under circumstances less questionable".

The French ambassador to the U.S. was recalled, and his counterpart, Livingston, was offered his passports, though not forced to leave.

In April 1835 the Chamber agreed to pay only if "the Government of France shall have received satisfactory explanations of the Message of the President of the United States ...". This was considered unacceptable, and Livingston withdrew.

Jackson's first response was "It would be disgraceful to explain or apologize to a foreign Government for anything said in a message (to Congress). It is the summit of arrogance in France, and insulting to us as an independent nation to ask it, and what no american will ever submit to".

The Whig Southern coalition denounced the presidents words as rash, and worse, refused authorization of a moderate amount to be used for armaments should hostilities break out during the congressional recess. This action (by the Senate; the House having made the appropriation) was met with a fierce denunciation by Jackson's old enemy John Quincy Adams (Adams was now serving in the lower House, as he would do till his death in 1848 in the middle of a speech).

In the December 7, 1835 message to Congress, Jackson gave the French their face saving device. After reviewing the events, and justifying U.S. actions, he said "The conception that it was my intention to menace or insult the Government of France ... unfounded". He also defended his message and denied that any nation had a right to question it. "The honor of my country shall never be stained by an apology from me for the statement of truth and the performance of duty".

Shortly thereafter, the French Chamber of Deputies authorized payment. This established America as entitled to the same respect as European powers. The Whigs, who had hoped to profit from painting Jackson as a reckless warmonger, were badly disappointed.

There were a few smaller diplomatic victories won by an unusual combination of firmness and tact, on the part of Jackson and his excellent Secretaries of State - Van Buren, Livingston, and McLane.