The 1790s

The 1790s is a decade often only remembered for one thing, the French Revolution. However, the 1790s had more events in western history than remembered, and can be considered a decade of revolution, disease, change, and scandal.

In the year 1790, the U.S. had been internationally recognized as independent for seven years. George Washington is considered to be one of the greatest presidents in American history, and there is a lot of reason for that. One reason would be that he was commander-in-chief during the American Revolution and had led the continental armies to victory. Another reason was that Washington conducted himself as more of a citizen than a king, and wore a black velvet suit with gold buckles and powdered hair, which was the custom at the time, instead of ceremonial wear or a military uniform when giving speeches. Washington had put down the Whiskey Rebellion in Pennsylvania, which was sparked by taxes on alcoholic and distilled beverages, including whiskey. Twenty men were arrested during the rebellion in 1794, but all of them were acquitted. Washington lastly had a good humble, honest, and courageous character, which made him an even better president, especially since his opinion was unanimously respected. In the year 1795, three treaties were signed. The first, the Greenville Treaty had ended the Northwest Indian War, a conflict between the United States and a loose confederation of Native Americans that were backed by the British. This treaty gave the U.S. control of the Ohio Territory without further dispute. The second treaty, Pinckney’s Treaty, was arranged under peaceful conditions, and had given the U.S. control over the disputed Mississippi Territory, which is now the states of Mississippi and Alabama. The treaty was made between the U.S. and Spain, and had arranged safe passage through the Mississippi, without fear of the other country. The final and most controversial treaty was the Jay Treaty. The Jay Treaty broke a U.S. alliance with France, a country that had been going through a long and bloody revolution, and instead allied itself with Britain. This treaty was a surprising but successful ten-year treaty that had ushered an era of trade and prosperity.

The Jay treaty had angered France, and France had started stealing American merchant ships, especially ones suspected of trading with Britain. The next year, Washington had decided not to run for a third term, since he didn’t want to conduct himself like a king, but rather to peacefully hand over the presidency to John Adams. During John Adam’s presidency, he had sent three men across the Atlantic to France to work out a peace agreement between the two nations. Charles Pinckney, John Marshall, and Elbridge Gerry were the three men sent by Adams. They were carefully instructed to be neutral at all costs and not to accept bribes to work out a treaty when meeting the powerful French representative Charles Talleyrand.  Eventually Talleyrand edged Pinckney and Marshall out of the agreement, instead preferring Gerry. The two, at Talleyrand’s request, sailed back for America. When they arrived, they told Adams directly what had gone on and gave him three reports, one from each person. Adams, knowing the public would be infuriated at the news, tried to hide it, but the Democratic-Republicans forced Adams to make the news public. In Adams’ release, he named the men x, y, and z, which is where the name, the XYZ Affair, had come from. When the public heard this, they were enraged, and France had started the Quasi-War with the United States. The Quasi war was never official and entirely naval, but more American merchant ships had been captured or destroyed by the French. During the war, the Alien and Sedition acts were passed, which sent an uproar of Democratic-Republicans. Some thought these were in place to keep the Federalists in power, and Thomas Jefferson and James Madison declared the new bills unconstitutional. Both were nearly impeached by doing so. The Quasi-War was eventually ended in 1800 by the Convention of 1800.

Another significant event of the 1790s was Mozart’s death in 1791. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a renowned musical prodigy who had composed many classical and opera pieces. Mozart had learned how to play the clavier, an early keyboard similar to the piano and harpsichord, at the age of three, by watching his sister play. Once his father found out he could play the clavier, he toured him and his sister, also a good musician, to the royal courts of Europe. Mozart gained widespread recognition and was instantly a star. Classical composers never usually gained fame until after they died. Mozart was different, however, and he had gained fame not only when he was alive, but also as a child, something rare in history to begin with. One of these tours had been to Italy, where he had heard a Vatican choir song that only the church could sing. After hearing the song, Mozart replicated the song as he wrote it on paper. He almost got in trouble until the pope heard that Mozart copied the song from memory. The pope, instead of scorning Mozart, was stunned. He had given Mozart a necklace from the Order of the Golden Spur. Mozart went on becoming an excellent composer, and made his famous opera, Die Entführung aus dem Serail, after hearing the work of Bach and Handel. Mozart eventually became married and had six children, although only two had survived infancy.  Mozart was an excellent composer, but he wasn’t smart with his money, earning loads of it and blowing it soon afterward. This habit caused extreme financial difficulty at certain points in his lifetime, while others he was extravagant as if he was a king. Mozart eventually died at age 35 from an unknown cause. Some theories include influenza, mercury poisoning, and a rare kidney disease.

During the 1790s and early 19th century, the slave trade in Britain had been condemned by many. The slave trade was the enslavement of West Africans who were shipped on boats across the Atlantic to the Americas. Slaves were cramped in extremely tight quarters for around two months, and those who died were thrown overboard to be eaten by the sharks that followed those boats. The British started to turn down the profit of slave trade instead for those people’s rights, and by 1807, the slave trade was abolished in Britain. Britain was the first major power in the world to abolish slavery, and the next European power to follow suit was the Netherlands in 1814. The United States was one of the last major powers to abolish slavery, which had happened in 1865, 58 years after Britain abolished slavery. The cotton gin also had an impact on slavery as well. The cotton gin was a machine invented by Eli Whitney that would separate the valuable cotton seeds to make for clothing. However, instead of this helping slaves, their lives continued to get worse as they worked the plantation, planting enormous amounts of cotton to be put into cotton gins. The cotton gin was also a spark to the industrial revolution in the U.S., a period where industry and factories appeared across America and Europe.

In addition, a Yellow Fever outbreak occurred in Philadelphia in the year 1793. The Yellow Fever got its name from the yellow tint that had been seen on the skin and eyes of victims. Victims also had black vomit from internal bleeding in the stomach. Often times muscle cramps were the first sign of the illness, but after a short period of time the symptoms described in the sentence before this one were seen, and the patient usually dies. The outbreak began in the summer of 1793, where the weather in Philadelphia was unusually hot and the water level was extremely low. Also, around 2,000 immigrants from Santo Domingo, a French colony enduring a slave revolt, fled to Philadelphia in the same year. When the disease struck, the people were in a state of panic. 17,000 fled Philadelphia in fear of the deadly fever that had struck. Major port cities such as Baltimore and New York had quarantines for anyone arriving from Philadelphia to prevent outbreaks there, and nearby cities blocked all people from Philadelphia from entering. Washington and his cabinet fled the city in fear of the epidemic.  A man named Benjamin Rush stayed in Philadelphia to fight the disease. He had thought that the disease came from rotten coffee beans sitting on a dock, although he was wrong, and was actually caused by immigrants with yellow fever which was then spread to everyone else by mosquitos. He also thought that blacks were immune to the disease, but they eventually caught yellow fever and died at the same rate as whites did. Rush kept bleeding victims to try to help them heal, but now we know that bloodletting is a failed concept that usually makes a victim sicker when practiced. The deadly epidemic reached its peak in October, when the rate of deaths was well over thirty per day. Fortunately, when the disease was halted by frost, the death toll dropped, and around thirty people died in November before the disease stopped. Three more epidemics occurred in the years 1797 to 1799. Today, there is a vaccine for yellow fever, but the disease can defy vaccines in severe outbreaks.

In conclusion, each of these five points had an impact on Western History. The Jay Treaty and the XYZ Affair had caused tension in the French revolutionary government, and had led up to the Quasi-War, a strictly naval conflict that had resulted in the loss of many American merchant ships and the Alien and Sedition acts, which were declared unconstitutional by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, which nearly led to their impeachment. The death of Mozart had sprung his popularity even further than when he was alive. The invention of the cotton gin sparked the Industrial Revolution and further divided the US between north and south. Lastly, the Yellow Fever epidemic had impacted and nearly halved the population of Philadelphia, which was America’s most populous city and capital. This decade in history had much significance, and that is besides the already significant French Revolution that raged from 1789 to 1799. In 1800, America had emerged from disease, war, and scandal about to begin a new era in history, the Industrial Revolution.