Philadelphia. May 4, 1798. p., on a folded folio sheet, docketed on verso of conjugate leaf. Old folds, two small areas of marginal loss to conjugate leaf from removed seal, not affecting text. Minor foxing and toning. Very good. Item #WRCAM56384
A letter from Philadelphia mayor Hilary Baker concerning measures taken to prevent any attack on the city's powder magazines and arsenal in anticipation of conflict with France during a particularly tense moment in American diplomatic history. After convening the Aldermen and Justices of the Peace of Philadelphia, Baker proposes a three-point plan to address the issue. He suggests that the city commissioners double the nightly watch, that four companies of soldiers under the command of General McPherson act in aid of the civil authority, and that the mayor inform the governor of the necessity for taking these actions. Baker writes that these measures represent "strong reasons for providing for the Safety of the Gunpowder magazine and which apply with equal Force to the Arsenal."
Philadelphia was the nation's capital during this period and fears of a war with France were running high. On the same day this letter was written, Congress appropriated $800,000 for the use of the President to purchase guns, cannons, and ammunition to prepare for possible conflict with France. Fears of an invasion of Philadelphia never materialized, as the actions that ultimately occurred were naval battles off the Atlantic coast and in the Caribbean. These activities were part of what became known as the "Quasi- War" with France, an undeclared conflict between the two countries during the Adams administration in the late 1790s. The war was the outgrowth of deteriorating Franco- American relations, which had been weakened earlier in the decade by the "Genet Affair" and the "XYZ Affair," and it wreaked havoc on commerce between the two nations.
Federalists in Congress pushed President Adams to declare open war with France, and in July 1798 the Congress abrogated the 1778 Treaty of Amity between the two nations. Adams also sought peace, however, sending three American commissioners to France in 1797 to re-establish good relations. The resultant "XYZ Affair" destroyed these hopes, however, when it was revealed that agents of French Foreign Minister Talleyrand demanded bribes from the Americans to even permit talks to begin. This resulted in an uproar in the United States. Conciliatory moves by Talleyrand encouraged President Adams to appoint another peace delegation to France in 1799. The American representatives presented their credentials to the new French First Consul, Napoleon, in March 1800, and negotiations commenced. These efforts culminated in the Convention of Mortefontaine, signed on September 30, 1800 in Paris. The agreement re-established peace between the United States and France, abrogated the 1778 treaty of alliance (the United States' first "entangling" alliance), restored captured naval vessels to each side, arranged for payments of debts, and re- affirmed the trade rights of neutral ships. These important measures to restore relations between the two nations helped smooth the way for the negotiations for the Louisiana Purchase just a few years later.
The present document is an interesting entry in the domestic effects of the failure of international diplomatic relations by a fledgling American government during the late federal period.