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Andrew Jackson: Foreign Affairs

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Generally, foreign affairs were not a prominent concern of Jackson's administration. The President's agents negotiated a number of treaties to secure foreign trade openings and settle outstanding damage claims. Of these, only an agreement with Britain over the West Indies trade, which Jackson reached by repudiating the demands of the previous Adams administration, was in any way controversial.

Late in Jackson's presidency, however, an unseemly dispute with France nearly brought the two nations to the brink of war. In an 1831 treaty, France agreed to pay claims for Napoleonic depredations on American shipping. Nevertheless, the French Chamber of Deputies refused to appropriate the necessary funds. Jackson finally lost patience and asked Congress to authorize reprisals if the money was not paid. The French government then demanded retraction of this insult as a condition of payment. Jackson responded in effect that what he said to Congress was none of a foreign government's business. The impasse deepened through 1835: ministers were recalled and military preparations begun. Finally, under British urgings, the French agreed to construe a conciliatory passage in a later message of Jackson's as sufficient apology. France paid the debt and the crisis passed without repercussions.

The same could not be said of Jackson's dealings with Mexico. Jackson craved the Mexican border province of Texas for the United States and he made its purchase the first priority of his presidential diplomacy. Given the instability of Mexico's government and its suspicions of American designs, a Texas negotiation required great discretion and patience. Jackson's chosen agent, Anthony Butler, possessed neither of those qualities, and Jackson's own careless instructions encouraged Butler's clumsy dabbling in the diplomatic underworld of bribery and personal influence. His machinations, combined with the flow of American settlers into Texas, aroused Mexican apprehensions of American designs there. In 1835, American emigrants to Texas, led by Jackson's old Tennessee comrade Sam Houston, mounted a successful revolt against Mexico and declared their independence. Jackson prudently declined to endorse American annexation of Texas or even to recognize the new republic without prior congressional approval. Still, his earlier inept efforts to buy the province helped sow seeds of mutual distrust that would bear fruit in war between the United States and Mexico a decade later.

Citation Information

Consulting Editor

Daniel Feller

Professor Feller is a history professor and the Editor/Director of The Papers of Andrew Jackson at the University of Tennessee. His writing include:

The Jacksonian Promise: America, 1815–1840 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995)

The Public Lands in Jacksonian Politics (University of Wisconsin Press, 1984)