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After forming a strong domestic government with the Constitution, the United States set out to form ties with foreign nations during the 1790s. These foreign affairs became the basis for most of the government's doings during this decade. Events such as the Jay Treaty and the XYZ affair created American's views of the British and the French. Another event, the Pinckney Treaty, helped form good relations with Spain and appeased the western-living Americans. At least one of these events had an effect on almost all Americans, so politics during the 1790s were based mostly on foreign affairs.

After America gained her freedom, Britain continued to harass Americans both at sea and by encouraging Indian raids on the western borders. Americans felt they had a right to freedom of the seas; meaning that British navy ships should not be able to attack and seize benign American merchant ships. To prevent the British from doing these things, John Jay traveled to London to create a treaty with Britain.

This treaty, called the Jay Treaty, provided to provisions for Britain. First, British troops needed to be withdrawn from the American Northwest. Second, financial disputes between British and Americans would be settled by arbitration commissions. Americans were very unhappy with the treaty because it did not provide freedom of the seas. American ships were still susceptible to British attack.

The XYZ Affair of 1797 dealt with France. Earlier in the decade, President Washington had proclaimed America's neutrality in the British-French fight. This enraged the French, who felt the Americans owed them for help received during the Revolution. In 1797, President Adams sent negotiators to Paris. These negotiators were told that in order to talk with the French, they must first pay large bribes. This enraged Americans against the French.

A second treaty from...