Felix Gilbert
To the Farewell Address

It was a long journey from the simple brick building of the State House in Philadelphia, with its unpretentious wood paneling, to the palaces of Paris and Versailles, abounding in marble and rosewood, chinoiseries, mirrors, and silk. How did the American leaders have the courage to proffer to the French government, ensconced in eighteenth-century splendor, a treaty which challenged all the diplomatic traditions of which France was the foremost practitioner?

The Americans were convinced of the immense value of the offer which they made to France: the ending of the English monopoly of trade with North America. The consequence would be not only to increase French economic prosperity, but also to weaken England, France's old rival. The Americans may have somewhat overestimated the extent to which the opening of the American ports to the ships of all nations would revolutionize the European state system. But in the American view, France would gain such far-reaching advantages that America had a right to determine the nature of the relationship which, in the future, should exist between America and the European powers.

The Model Treaty with which the Americans formulated their concept of this relationship shows the impact of the program which Paine had set forth in Common Sense. The Model Treaty and the accompanying instructions were designed to keep America out of European struggles and to secure for her peace and freedom by making all European powers interested partners in American trade. But behind these documents there lay an attitude which leads beyond the image which Painc had given of America's role in foreign policy. Paine's ideas are products of the age in which he was born, of the Enlightenment; but in Common Sense, he did not share its optimism. To Paine, the world, with the exception of America, was rotten and lost. 'Freedom hath been hunted around the globe. Asia and Africa have long expelled her, Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart.' America was to be preserved as the last bulwark of liberty, 'an asylum for mankind.' This censure of Europe corresponded to feelings deeply rooted in America's colonial past and facilitated the acceptance of the ideas of Common Sense in America. But American intellectual life was also strongly imbued with the spirit of the Enlightenment. Although most Americans may have agreed with Paine's condemnation of Europe's political and social life as it existed at the time, not all of them shared Paine's gloomy prognostications for Europe's future; many were in accord with the Enlightenment belief in progress and were convinced that a new and better age in the history of the human race was approaching. They believed the American Revolution had started a great experiment; they felt they were setting a pattern which the rest of the world would follow. Thus the Model Treaty had a double face. It was intended, on the one hand, as an instrument to achieve an independent existence for America, secure from the corrupting influence of Europe. On the other hand, by eliminating purely political issues like territorial settlements, by focussing on the regulation of commercial relations, and by placing them on such a liberal basis that the arrangements between France and America could easily be extended to the nations of the whole world, the Americans transformed the Model Treaty into a pattern for all future diplomatic treaties. The Americans entered the European scene as the representatives of the diplomacy of a new era. They did not feel confronted by an entirely hostile world. They might find little sympathy for their ideas with the rulers of France, who thought in terms of traditional diplomacy. But they felt they had many friends: their allies were all the progressive minds of Europe, the writers and thinkers whom we now call 'the philosophes.'

The philosophes' ideas on foreign policy and diplomacy throw light on the broad background from which the American views on this topic developed. The philosophes confirmed the Americans in their outlook on diplomacy and, for a number of years, were an important factor in determining the course of American foreign policy; finally, they infused a lasting idealistic element into the American attitude toward foreign affairs.

The views of the philosophes both on foreign policy and on domestic policy were based on the conviction that history had readied the end of a long and tortuous development; the contrasts and conflicts of the past would now be resolved in a great synthesis, and a permanent order could be accomplished. The confidence of the philosophes in the near approach of a golden age had its foundation in a peculiar constellation of historical factors.

We have spoken of the change in the political system of Europe signified by the Peace of Utrecht. One of the aspects of this change was the growing awareness of the importance of the non-European parts of the globe. The stipulations of the Treaty of Utrecht covered the entire world and thereby demonstrated to what extent the great European powers, though they remained of central importance, drew their strength from the resources of other continents. This is reflected in Turgot's statement that the trend of the time was to make the boundaries of the political world 'become identical with those of the physical world.'

This feeling that one civilization now encompassed the whole world was reinforced by the astounding growth of economic interdependence. In the centers of European civilization, people could rely on having a regular supply of goods from all over the world: sugar from the West Indies, tea and china from the Far East, coffee and chocolate from the Americas and Africa. The barriers that existed seemed artificial and ephemeral in comparison with the fine net by which the merchants tied the individuals of the different nations together like 'threads of silk.' As Sedaine says in his famous comedy Le philosophe sans le savoir, the merchants—whether they are English, Dutch, Russian, or Chinese—do not serve a single nation; they serve everyone and are citizens of the whole world. Commerce was believed to bind the nations together and to create not only a community of interests but also a distribution of labor among them—a new comprehensive principle placing the isolated sovereign nations in a higher political unit. In the eighteenth century, writers were likely to say that the various nations belonged to 'one society'; it was stated that all states together formed 'a family of nations,' and the whole globe a 'general and unbreakable confederation.'

  The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They, hand in hand, with wand'ring steps and slow,

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Through Eden took their solitary way.