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Title pageAbout the Book

Dickinson, John.

An Address on the Past, Present, and Eventual Relations of the United States to France.

New York: Printed by T. and J. Swords, 1803.



In the of spring of 1798, relations between the United States and France still troubled John Dickinson, despite the publication of his second set of "Fabius Letters" the previous year. Thinking that the reception of these letters was not powerful enough, he sought to amplify them with another short pamphlet he titled A Caution; or Reflections on the Present Contest Between France and Great Britain (Philadelphia, 1798). In it, he first complained that current American foreign policy was provoking France and steering her away from her vital friendship; this, Dickinson felt, was a serious mistake for the young United States. He then took up the argument he had made as "Fabius" the year before - that France would eventually invade and defeat Great Britain - and he outlined ways in which that could be done. Events within France were moving quickly, however, as the century turned. There were clear acts of aggression against Spain, Germany, and northern Italy. Meanwhile, the steady rise of Napoleon Bonaparte towards an Imperial throne began the evaporation of any last support the French Revolution had in America. At last, John Dickinson was forced to recant his long held views in support of France. This he did in a pamphlet he called An Address on the Past, Present, and Eventual Relations of the United States to France (New York, 1803) over the signature "Anticipation."

The twenty page pamphlet takes the form of an imaginary address from the "President and Congress" and alerts the people to a solemn review of previous policy towards France. The writer first regrets the way in which the post-war United States was unable to foster a commercial relationship with France to replace that of the British and blames the lack of unity in trade policy among the states. He retains his deep gratitude for France in securing American independence and continues to admire the aspirations of the French Revolution. Still, painfully, he must warn that hopes had not been realized and that France has fallen again to become " a gigantic Power" driven by "the devastating spirit of conquest." He writes ominously that the "imperious sentence, 'FOR SUCH IS OUR PLEASURE,' is becoming the sole law of the world." Clearly, the acquisition of Louisiana by France is a step towards the domination of the New World in the way that Europe has suffered. France needs to be stopped, even if that means United States alliances with other powers, even Britain. Britain is the only nation that can counter France, and he believes that under certain conditions - he mentions the opening of British commerce worldwide to American interests and the abolition of the slave trade - this alliance could prosper, especially at sea.

As fate would have it, the Jefferson Administration was almost at that moment negotiating the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France. This removed Dickinson's main fear of Bonaparte on the doorstep and the need for an alliance with Britain to help protect the United States. In the end, Dickinson would pass on before the international politics of the Napoleonic Wars would involve the United States in war, ironically against Britain in 1812.

Researched and authored by John Osborne., Ph. D.


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