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Foreign Affairs and the Constitution in the Age of Fighting Sail

William R. Casto

The legal and political history of how the founders faced their first foreign policy crisis

Setting his examination of the Neutrality Crisis of 1793 against the fiery backdrop of marauding French privateers, the French foreign minister's diplomatic fiasco, and pro-French rallies in the port of Charleston, South Carolina, William R. Casto brings to life the first test of President George Washington's administration to establish a national foreign policy and to implement the separation-of-powers principles of the U.S. Constitution.

Casto's Foreign Affairs and the Constitution in the Age of Fighting Sail recounts the efforts of the French revolutionary republic to obtain support from the United States in its war with Great Britain. This situation forced Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and other founding fathers to wrestle for the first time with many of the problems inherent in the Constitution's allocation of powers between states and nation and among the three branches of government. Casto argues that the insights of the nation's founders about the Constitution and international affairs are as valuable and instructive today as they were in 1793.

Concentrating on the legal issues generated by the French maritime campaign—especially those rooted in constitutional debate—Casto illumines the continuing contest between Hamilton and Jefferson, two men who personified the conflict over the definition of neutrality rights. Casto offers close readings of Hamilton's Pacificus and Madison's Helvidius papers and of the Supreme Court's legendary refusal to advise the president.

Bridging legal, political, and diplomatic history, Casto maps the rough processes by which the founders moved from abstract theorizing to an implementation of the Constitution in the context of specific and highly controversial international incidents. Assessing the contemporary significance of these events more than two centuries later, Casto suggests that the Neutrality Crisis also exposed inherent structural problems in the Constitution about which the founders, particularly Hamilton, offered a source of abiding wisdom.

William R. Casto is the Alvin R. Allison Professor of Law at Texas Tech University and is a nationally recognized authority on the legal history of the founding era. His numerous past publications include The Supreme Court in the Early Republic: The Chief Justiceships of John Jay and Oliver Ellsworth, named a Choice Outstanding Academic Title. His writings on foreign affairs during the early days of the republic have been adopted and quoted by the Supreme Court of the United States. Casto lives in Lubbock, Texas.

"Drawing on political, naval, and legal sources, William Casto examines the policy of neutrality as shaped and tested by President Washington and his advisers in the 1790s. The result is a substantial contribution to the literature of the Federalist Era and the field of constitutional studies. Casto's most original contribution is his close reading of Hamilton's Pacificus and Madison's Helvidius papers, in which he demonstrates that despite the intent of Madison to combat Hamilton's view of neutrality, the two adversaries largely agreed on the nature of neutrality and the relative powers of the executive and Congress in setting that policy—an agreement that previous scholars have missed but that lends support to present interpretations of the constitutional powers of the three branches of government."—Jerald A. Combs, author of American Diplomatic History: Two Centuries of Changing Interpretations and The History of American Foreign Policy

"Texas Tech law professor William Casto claims there is much to learn today from the stories he tells of the successes and failures of leading figures in the Neutrality Crisis of 1793. How right he is—even more right than he admits. Casto shows the futility of U.S. neutrality in the face of the maneuverings of French minister Edmond Genet and his opposite, British minister George Hammond."—The American Journal of Legal History  



Book jacket for Foreign Affairs and the Constitution in the Age of Fighting Sail


6 x 9
216 pages
ISBN 978-1-57003-629-3
hardcover, $34.95s


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