Amid a Warring World


Amid a Warring World

American Foreign Relations, 1775–1815

Robert W. Smith

Issues in the History of American Foreign Relations Series

240 pages


August 2012


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August 2012


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eBook (PDF)
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January 2012


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About the Book

The period between 1775 and 1815 could be called the “critical period” of American foreign relations. At no time in American history was the existence of the republic in greater physical peril. Questions of foreign policy dominated American public life in a way unequalled until World War II. From the American Revolution through the War of 1812, the United States was a small power confronted by great powers hostile to each other and to the United States. Furthermore, the era was dominated by two great revolutions that reshaped the Atlantic world. The problem for American diplomats and foreign policymakers was to preserve the United States, both as an independent nation and as a republic, in a decidedly unequal contest with the great powers.

According to Robert W. Smith, the question of American power lay at the heart of the debate over independence. The radicals believed that the American spirit and market were enough, and favored rapid independence and an aggressive promotion of neutral rights. The moderates doubted American power, and were inclined to move slowly and only with assured French assistance. By the end of the American Revolution, the moderates had won the debate. But their victory masked the defects of the confederation, until the diplomatic humiliations of the 1780s forced the United States to create a government that could properly harness American economic and military power. The debate over the power of the United States to reshape a hostile world remains as central today as in 1776.

Author Bio

Robert W. Smith is assistant professor of history at Worcester State College, where he teaches the history of American foreign relations. He is the author of Keeping the Republic: Ideology and Early American Diplomacy and is a contributing editor of the online edition of American Foreign Relations since 1600: A Guide to the Literature. He lives in Marshfield, Massachusetts.


“This sprightly survey of American foreign relations in the formative years is a welcome addition to the field. It is a well-written account of the vulnerable young nation in a hostile world. With its inclusion of the most recent scholarship on the period, it should be a useful supplement to an American history class.”—Lawrence S. Kaplan, professor emeritus of history, Kent State University, and author of Thomas Jefferson: Westward the Course of Empire and Alexander Hamilton: Ambivalent Anglophile

“Robert W. Smith’s new book provides an excellent overview and analysis of early American foreign policy and its role in the nation’s history. More than a mere summary, however, this solid book also makes important interpretive points and provides a framework for understanding the early republic. Thus, it will be a valuable resource for scholars and students alike.”—Todd Estes, author of The Jay Treaty Debate, Public Opinion, and the Evolution of Early American Political Culture

“Robert W. Smith has provided a much-needed explanation of the perils the United States faced during its most critical time. In sharp, engaging prose, he shows how the young nation strove to maintain its independence in a dangerous international environment where might often made right.”—Chris Tudda, historian, Department of State