(From the Gazette of the United States.)
June 29, 1793.
As attempts are making very dangerous to the peace, and, it is to be feared, not very friendly to the Constitution, of the United States, it becomes the duty of those who wish well to both, to endeavor to prevent their success.
The objections which have been raised against the proclamation of neutrality, lately issued by the President, have been urged in a spirit of acrimony and invective, which demonstrates that more was in view than merely a free discussion of an important public measure. They exhibit evident indications of a design to weaken the confidence of the people in the author of the measure, in order to remove or lessen a powerful obstacle to the success of an opposition to the government, which, however it may change its form according to circumstances, seems still to be persisted in with more untiring industry.
This reflection adds to the motives connected with the measure itself, to recommend endeavors by proper explanations, to place it in a just light. Such explanations, at least, cannot but be satisfactory to those who may not themselves have leisure or opportunity for pursuing an investigation of the subject, and who may wish to perceive that the policy of the government is not inconsistent with its obligations or its honor.
The objections in question fall under four heads:
- 1. That the proclamation was without authority.
- 2. That it was contrary to our treaties with France.
- 3. That it was contrary to the gratitude which is due from this to that country, for the succors afforded to us in our own revolution.
- 4. That it was out of time and unnecessary.
In order to judge of the solidity of the first of these objections, it is necessary to examine what is the nature and design of a proclamation of neutrality.
It is to make known to the Powers at war, and to the citizens of the country whose government does the act, that such country is in the condition of a nation at peace with the belligerent parties, and under no obligations of treaty to become an associate in the war with either, and that this being its situation, its intention is to observe a corresponding conduct by performing towards each the duties of neutrality; to warn all persons within the jurisdiction of that country to abstain from acts that shall contravene those duties, under the penalties which the laws of the land, of which the jus gentium is part, will inflict.
This, and no more, is conceived to be the true import of a proclamation of neutrality.
It does not imply that the nation which makes the declaration will forbear to perform to either of the warring Powers any stipulations in treaties which can be executed without becoming a party in the war. It therefore does not imply in our case that the United States will not make those distinctions between the present belligerent Powers which are stipulated in the 7th and 22d articles of our treaty with France, because they are not incompatible with the state of neutrality and will in no shape render the United States an associate or party in the war. This must be evident when it is considered that even to furnish determinate succors of ships or troops to a Power at war, in consequence of antecedent treaties having no particular reference to the existing quarrel, is not inconsistent with neutrality; a position equally well established by the doctrines of writers and the practice of nations.
But no special aids, succors, or favors, having relation to war, not positively and precisely stipulated by some treaty of the above description, can be afforded to either party without a breach of neutrality.
In stating that the proclamation of neutrality does not imply the non-performance of any stipulations of treaties which are not of a nature to make the nation an associate in the war, it is conceded that an execution of the clause of guaranty, contained in the eleventh article of our treaty of alliance with France, would be contrary to the sense and spirit of the proclamation because it would engage us with our whole force as an auxiliary in the war; it would be much more than the case of a definite succor, previously ascertained.
It follows that the proclamation is virtually a manifestation of the sense of government, that the United States are, under the circumstances of the case, not bound to execute the clause of guaranty.
If this be a just view of the force and import of the proclamation, it will remain to see whether the President, in issuing it, acted within his proper sphere, or stepped beyond the bounds of his constitutional authority and duty.
It will not be disputed that the management of the affairs of this country with foreign nations is confided to the Government of the United States.
It can as little be disputed that a proclamation of neutrality, when a nation is at liberty to decline or avoid a war in which other nations are engaged, and means to do so, is a usual and a proper measure. Its main object is to prevent the nation’s being responsible for acts done by its citizens, without the privity or connivance of the government, in contravention of the principles of neutrality ; an object of the greatest moment to a country whose true interest lies in the preservation of peace.
The inquiry, then, is, what department of our government is the proper one to make a declaration of neutrality, when the engagements of the nation permit, and its interests require that it should be done?
A correct mind will discern at once, that it can belong neither to the legislative nor judicial department, and therefore of course must belong to the executive.
The legislative department is not the organ of intercourse between the United States and foreign nations. It is charged neither with making nor interpreting treaties. It is therefore not naturally that member of the government which is to pronounce on the existing condition of the nation with regard to foreign powers, or to admonish the citizens of their obligations and duties in consequence; still less is it charged with enforcing the observance of those obligations and duties.
It is equally obvious, that the act in question is foreign to the judiciary department. The province of that department is to decide the litigation in particular cases. It is indeed charged with the interpretations of treaties, but it exercises this function only where contending parties bring before it a specific controversy. It has no concern with pronouncing upon the external political relations of treaties between government and government. This position is too plain to need being insisted upon.
It must, then, of necessity belong to the executive department to exercise the function in question, when a proper case for it occurs.
It appears to be connected with that department in various capacities:—As the organ of intercourse between the nation and foreign nations; as the interpreter of the national treaties, in those cases in which the judiciary is not competent—that is, between government and government; as the power which is charged with the execution of the laws, of which treaties form a part; as that which is charged with the command and disposition of the public force.
This view of the subject is so natural and obvious, so analogous to general theory and practice, that no doubt can be entertained of its justness, unless to be deduced from particular provisions of the Constitution of the United States.
Let us see, then, if cause for such doubt is to be found there.
The second article of the Constitution of the United States, section first, establishes this general proposition, that “the executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.”
The same article, in a succeeding section, proceeds to delineate particular cases of executive power. It declares, among other things, that the President shall be commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several States, when called into the actual service of the United States; that he shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties; that it shall be his duty to receive ambassadors and other public ministers, and to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.
It would not consist with the rules of sound construction, to consider this enumeration of particular authorities as derogating from the more comprehensive grant in the general clause, further than as it may be coupled with express restrictions or limitations; as in regard to the co-operation of the Senate in the appointment of officers and the making of treaties; which are plainly qualifications of the general executive powers of appointing officers and making treaties. The difficulty of a complete enumeration of all the cases of executive authority would naturally dictate the use of general terms, and would render it improbable that a specification of certain particulars was designed as a substitute for those terms, when antecedently used. The different mode of expression employed in the Constitution, in regard to the two powers, the legislative and the executive, serves to confirm this inference. In the article which gives the legislative powers of the government, the expressions are: “All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States.” In that which grants the executive power, the expressions are: “The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States.”
The enumeration ought therefore to be considered as intended merely to specify the principal articles implied in the definition of executive power; leaving the rest to flow from the general grant of that power, interpreted in conformity with other parts of the Constitution, and with the principles of free government.
The general doctrine of our Constitution, then, is, that the executive power of the nation is vested in the President; subject only to the exceptions and qualifications which are expressed in the instrument.
Two of these have been already noticed: the participation of the Senate in the appointment of officers, and in the making of treaties. A third remains to be mentioned: the right of the Legislature “to declare war, and grant letters of marque and reprisal.”
With these exceptions, the executive power of the United States is completely lodged in the President. This mode of construing the Constitution has indeed been recognized by Congress in formal acts, upon full consideration and debate; of which the power of removal from office is an important instance. It will follow, that if a proclamation of neutrality is merely an executive act, as, it is believed, has been shown, the step which has been taken by the President is liable to no just exception on the score of authority.
It may be said, that this inference would be just, if the power of declaring war had not been vested in the Legislature; but that this power naturally includes the right of judging whether the nation is or is not under obligations to make war.
The answer is, that, however true this position may be, it will not follow that the executive is in any case excluded from a similar right of judgment, in the execution of its own functions.
If, on the one hand, the Legislature have a right to declare war, it is on the other, the duty of the executive to preserve peace till the declaration is made; and in fulfilling this duty, it must necessarily possess a right of judging what is the nature of the obligations which the treaties of the country impose on the government; and when it has concluded that there is nothing in them inconsistent with neutrality, it becomes both its province and its duty to enforce the laws incident to that state of the nation. The executive is charged with the execution of all laws, the law of nations, as well as the municipal law, by which the former are recognized and adopted. It is consequently bound, by executing faithfully the laws of neutrality, when the country is in a neutral position, to avoid giving cause of war to foreign Powers.
This is the direct end of the proclamation of neutrality. It declares to the United States their situation with regard to the contending parties, and makes known to the community, that the laws incident to that state will be enforced. In doing this, it conforms to an established usage of nations, the operation of which, as before remarked, is to obviate a responsibility on the part of the whole society, for secret and unknown violations of the rights of any of the warring Powers by its citizens.
Those who object to the proclamation will readily admit, that it is the right and duty of the executive to interpret those articles of our treaties which give to France particular privileges, in order to the enforcement of them: but the necessary consequence of this is, that the executive must judge what are their proper limits; what rights are given to other nations, by our contracts with them; what rights the law of nature and nations gives, and our treaties permit, in respect to those countries with which we have none; in fine, what are the reciprocal rights and obligations of the United States, and of all and each of the Powers at war.
The right of the executive to receive ambassadors and other public ministers, may serve to illustrate the relative duties of the executive and legislative departments. This right includes that of judging, in the case of a revolution of government in a foreign country, whether the new rulers are competent organs of the national will, and ought to be recognized or not; which, where a treaty antecedently exists between the United States and such nation, involves the power of continuing or suspending its operation. For until the new government is acknowledged, the treaties between the nations, so far at least as regards public rights, are of course suspended.
This power of determining virtually upon the operation of national treaties, as a consequence of the power to receive public ministers, is an important instance of the right of the executive to decide upon the obligations of the country with regard to foreign nations. To apply it to the case of France, if there had been a treaty of alliance, offensive and defensive, between the United States and that country, the unqualified acknowledgment of the new government would have put the United States in a condition to become an associate in the war with France, and would have laid the Legislature under an obligation, if required, and there was otherwise no valid excuse, of exercising its power of declaring war.
This serves as an example of the right of the executive, in certain cases, to determine the condition of the nation, though it may, in its consequences, affect the exercise of the power of the Legislature to declare war. Nevertheless, the executive cannot thereby control the exercise of that power. The Legislature is still free to perform its duties, according to its own sense of them; though the executive, in the exercise of its constitutional powers, may establish an antecedent state of things, which ought to weigh in the legislative decisions.
The division of the executive power in the Constitution creates a concurrent authority in the cases to which it relates.
Hence, in the instance stated, treaties can only be made by the President and Senate jointly; but their activity may be continued or suspended by the President alone.
No objection has been made to the President’s having acknowledged the republic of France, by the reception of its minister, without having consulted the Senate; though that body is connected with him in the making of treaties, and though the consequence of his act of reception is to give operation to those heretofore made with that country. But he is censured for having declared the United States to be in a state of peace and neutrality with regard to the Powers at war, because the right of changing that state, and declaring war, belongs to the Legislature.
It deserves to be remarked, that as the participation of the Senate in the making of treaties, and the power of the Legislature to declare war, are exceptions out of the general “executive power” vested in the President, they are to be construed strictly, and ought to be extended no further than is essential to their execution.
While, therefore, the Legislature can alone declare war, can alone actually transfer the nation from a state of peace to a state of hostility, it belongs to the “executive power” to do whatever else the law of nations, co-operating with the treaties of the country, enjoin in the intercourse of the United States with foreign Powers.
In this distribution of authority, the wisdom of our Constitution is manifested. It is the province and duty of the executive to preserve to the nation the blessings of peace. The Legislature alone can interrupt them by placing the nation in a state of war.
But though it has been thought advisable to vindicate the authority of the executive on this broad and comprehensive ground, it was not absolutely necessary to do so. That clause of the Constitution which makes it his duty to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” might alone have been relied upon, and this simple process of argument pursued:
The President is the Constitutional executor of the laws. Our treaties, and the laws of nations, form a part of the law of the land. He who is to execute the laws must first judge for himself of their meaning. In order to the observance of that conduct which the laws of nations, combined with our treaties, prescribed to this country, in reference to the present war in Europe, it was necessary for the President to judge for himself, whether there was any thing in our treaties incompatible with an adherence to neutrality. Having decided that there was not, he had a right, and if in his opinion the interest of the nation required it, it was his duty as executor of the laws, to proclaim the neutrality of the nation, to exhort all persons to observe it, and to warn them of the penalties which would attend its non-observance.
The proclamation has been represented as enacting some new law. This is a view of it entirely erroneous. It only proclaims a fact, with regard to the existing state of the nation; informs the citizens of what the laws previously established require of them in that state, and notifies them that these laws will be put in execution against the infractors of them.
July 3, 1793.
The second and principal objection to the proclamation, namely, that it is inconsistent with the treaties between the United States and France, will now be examined.
It has been already shown that it does not militate against the performance of any of the stipulations in those treaties, which would not make us an associate or party in the war, and especially that it does not interfere with the privileges secured to France by the seventeenth and twenty-second articles of the treaty of commerce, which, except the clause of guaranty, constitute the most material discriminations to be found in our treaties in favor of that country.
Official documents have likewise appeared in the public papers, which serve as a comment upon the sense of the proclamation in this particular, proving that it was not deemed by the executive incompatible with the performance of the stipulations in those articles, and that in practice they are intended to be observed.
It has, however, been admitted that the declaration of neutrality excludes the idea of an execution of the clause of guaranty.
It becomes necessary, therefore, to examine whether the United States would have a valid justification for not complying with it, in case of their being called upon for that purpose by France.
Without knowing how far the reasons which have occurred to me may have influenced the President, there appear to me to exist very good and substantial grounds for a refusal.
The alliance between the United States and France is of the defensive kind. In the caption it is denominated a “treaty of alliance eventual and defensive.” In the body (article the second) it is called a defensive alliance. The words of that article are as follows: “The essential and direct and of the present defensive alliance is to maintain effectually the liberty, sovereignty, and independence, absolute and unlimited, of the United States, as well in matters of government as of commerce.”
The leading character, then, of our alliance with France being defensive, it will follow that the meaning, obligation, and force of every stipulation in the treaty must be tested by the principles of such an alliance, unless in any instance terms have been used which clearly and unequivocally denoted a different intent.
The principal question consequently is: What is the nature and effect of a defensive alliance? When does the casus fÆderis take place in relation to it?
Reason, the concurring opinions of writers, and the practice of nations will all answer: “When either of the allies is attacked,” when “war is made upon him, not when he makes war upon another”: in other words, the stipulated assistance is to be given “when our ally is engaged in a defensive, not when he is engaged in an offensive, war.” This obligation to assist only in a defensive war constitutes the essential difference between an alliance which is merely defensive and one which is both offensive and defensive. In the latter case there is an obligation to co-operate as well when the war, on the part of our ally, is of the latter, as when it is of the former, description. To affirm, therefore, that the United States are bound to assist France in the war in which she is at present engaged, will be to convert our treaty with her into an alliance offensive and defensive, contrary to the express and reiterated declarations of the instrument itself.
This assertion implies that the war in question is an offensive war on the part of France.
And so it undoubtedly is, with regard to all the Powers with whom she was at war, at the time of issuing the proclamation.
No position is better established than that the nation which first declares or actually begins a war, whatever may have been the causes leading to it, is that which makes an offensive war. Nor is there any doubt that France first declared and began the war against Austria, Prussia, Savoy, Holland, England, and Spain.
Upon this point there is apt to be some incorrectness of ideas. Those who have not examined subjects of such a nature are led to imagine that the party which commits the first injury, or gives the first provocation, is on the offensive side, though hostilities are actually begun by the other party.
But the cause or the occasion of the war, and the war itself, are things entirely distinct. It is the commencement of the war itself which decides the question, whether it be offensive or defensive. All writers on the laws of nations agree in this doctrine; but it is most accurately laid down in the following extracts from Burlemaqui.
“Neither are we to believe [says he] that he who first injures another begins by that an offensive war, and that the other who demands the satisfaction for the injury received is always on the defensive. There are a great many unjust acts which may kindle a war, and which, however, are not the war itself; as the ill treatment of a prince’s ambassadors, the plundering of his subjects, etc.”
“If, therefore, we take up arms to revenge such an unjust act, we commence an offensive but a just war; and the prince who has done the injury, and will not give satisfaction, makes a defensive but an unjust war.”
“We must therefore affirm, in general, that the first who takes up arms, whether justly or unjustly, commences an offensive war; and he who opposes him, whether with or without reason, begins a defensive war.”
France, then, being on the offensive in the present war, and our alliance with her being defensive only, it follows that the casus fÆderis, or condition of our guaranty, cannot take place; and that the United States are free to refuse a performance of that guaranty if demanded.
Those who are disposed to justify indiscriminately every thing in the conduct of France, may reply that though the war, in point of form, may be offensive on her part, yet in point of principle it is defensive; was in each instance a mere anticipation of attacks meditated against her, and was justified by previous aggressions of the opposite parties.
It is believed that it would be a sufficient answer to this observation to say, that in determining the legal and positive obligations of the United States the only point of inquiry is, whether the war was in fact begun by France, or by her enemies; that all beyond this is too vague, too liable to dispute, too much matter of opinion to be a proper criterion of national conduct; that when a war breaks out between two nations, all others, in regard to the positive rights of the parties, and their positive duties towards them, are bound to consider it as equally just on both sides; that consequently in a defensive alliance, when war is made upon one of the allies, it is the duty of the other to fulfil the conditions stipulated on its part, without inquiry whether the war is rightfully begun or not; as on the other hand, when war is commenced by one of the allies, the other is exempted from the obligation to assist, however just the commencement of it may have been.
This doctrine is founded upon the utility of clear and certain rules for determining the reciprocal duties of nations, in order that as little as possible may be left to opinion, and to the subterfuges of an over-refining or unfaithful casuistry.
Some writers indeed of high authority affirm, that it is a tacit condition of every alliance, that one ally is not bound to assist the other in a war manifestly unjust. But this is questioned by other respectable authorities on the ground which has been stated. And though the manifest injustice of the war has been affirmed by some to be a good cause for not executing the formal obligations of a treaty, I have nowhere seen it maintained that the abstract justice of a war will of itself oblige a nation to do what its formal obligations do not enjoin: if this however were not the true doctrine, an impartial examination would prove that with respect to some of the Powers, France is not blameless in the circumstances which preceded and led to the war; that if she received, she also gave, causes of offence; and that the justice of the war, on her side, is in those cases not a little problematical.
There are prudential reasons which dissuade from going largely into this examination, unless it shall be rendered necessary by the future turn of the discussion.
It will be sufficient here to notice cursorily the following facts:
France committed an aggression upon Holland, in declaring the navigation of the Scheldt free, and acting upon that declaration; contrary to treaties in which she had explicitly acknowledged, and even guaranteed, the exclusive right of Holland to the use of that river; and contrary also to the doctrines of the best writers, and the established usages of nations in such cases.
She gave a general and very serious cause of alarm and umbrage by the decree of the 19th of November, 1792, whereby the convention, in the name of the French nation, declare, that they will grant fraternity and assistance to every people who wish to recover their liberty; and charge the executive power to send the necessary orders to the generals to give assistance to such people, and to defend those citizens who have been, or who may be, vexed for the cause of liberty; which decree was ordered to be printed in all languages.
This very extraordinary decree amounted exactly to what France herself had most complained of—an interference by one nation in the internal government of another.
When a nation has actually come to a resolution to throw off a yoke, under which it may have groaned, and to assert its liberties, it is justifiable and meritorious in another, to afford assistance to the one which has been oppressed, and is in the act of liberating itself; but it is not warrantable for any nation beforehand, to hold out a general invitation to insurrection and revolution, by promising to assist every people who may wish to recover their liberty, and to defend those citizens of every country who have been, or who may be, vexed for the cause of liberty; still less to commit to the generals of its armies, the discretionary power of judging when the citizens of a foreign country have been vexed for the cause for liberty by their own government.
For Vatel justly observes, as a consequence of the liberty and independence of nations, “that it does not belong to any foreign Power to take cognizance of the administration of a sovereign of another country, to set himself up as a judge of his conduct, or to oblige him to alter it.”
It had a natural tendency to disturb the tranquillity of nations, and to excite everywhere fermentation and revolt; it therefore justified neutral Powers, who were in a situation to be affected by it, in taking measures to repress the spirit by which it had been dictated.
But the principle of that decree received a more particular application to Great Britain, by some subsequent circumstances.
Among the proofs of this are two answers, which were given by the President of the National Convention, at a public sitting on the 28th of November, to two different addresses: one presented by a deputation from “The Society for Constitutional Information in London,” the other by a deputation of English and Irish citizens at Paris.
The following are extracts from these answers:
“The shades of Penn, of Hampden, and of Sidney hover over your heads; and the moment, without doubt, approaches, in which the French will bring congratulations to the National Convention of Great Britain.”
“Nature and principles draw towards us England, Scotland, and Ireland. Let the cries of friendship resound through the two republics.”—“Principles are waging war against tyranny, which will fall under the blows of philosophy. Royalty in Europe is either destroyed or on the point of perishing, on the ruins of feudality; and the declaration of rights placed by the side of thrones, is a devouring fire which will consume them.”—“Worthy Republicans, etc.”
Declarations of this sort cannot but be viewed as a direct application of the principle of the decree to Great Britain, and as an open patronage of a revolution in that country; a conduct which, proceeding from the head of the body that governed France, in the presence and on behalf of that body, was unquestionably an offence and injury to the nation to which it related.
The decree of the 15th of November is a further cause of offence to all the governments of Europe. By that decree, “the French nation declares, that it will treat as enemies the people who, refusing or renouncing liberty and equality, are desirous of preserving their prince and privileged castes, or of entering into an accommodation with them, etc.” This decree was little short of a declaration of war against all nations having princes and privileged classes.
The formal and definitive annexation to France of the territories over which her arms had temporarily prevailed, is another violation of just and moderate principles, into which the convention was betrayed by an intemperate zeal, if not by a culpable ambition; and of a nature to justify the jealousy and ill-will of every neighboring state.
The laws of nations give to a Power at war nothing more than a usufructuary or possessory right to the territories which it acquires; suspending the absolute property and dominion till a treaty of peace, or something equivalent, shall have ceded or relinquished the conquered territory to the conqueror. This rule is one of primary importance to the tranquillity and security of nations—facilitating an adjustment of their quarrels and the preservation of ancient limits.
But France, by incorporating with herself in several instances the territories she had acquired, violated that rule, and multiplied infinitely the obstacles to peace and accommodation. The doctrine that a nation cannot consent to its own dismemberment but in a case of extreme necessity, immediately attached itself to all the conquered territories; while the progressive augmentation of the dominions of the most powerful empire in Europe, on a principle not of temporary possession but of permanent acquisition, threatened the independence of all other countries, and gave to neighboring neutral Powers the justest cause of discontent and apprehension. It is a principle well agreed, and founded on substantial reasons, that whenever a particular state adopts maxims of conduct contrary to those generally established among nations, calculated to interrupt their tranquillity and to expose their safety, they may justifiably make common cause to resist and control the state which manifests a disposition so suspicious and exceptionable.
Whatever partiality may be entertained for the general object of the French Revolution, it is impossible for any well-informed or sober-minded man not to condemn the proceedings which have been stated, as repugnant to the rights of nations, to the true principles of liberty, to the freedom of opinion of mankind; or not to acknowledge as a consequence of this, that the justice of the war on the part of France, with regard to some of the Powers with which she is engaged, is from those causes questionable enough to free the United States from all embarrassment on that score, if indeed it be at all incumbent upon them to go into the inquiry.
The policy of a defensive alliance is so essentially distinct from that of an offensive one, that it is every way important not to confound their effects. The first kind has in view the prudent object of mutual defence, when either of the allies is involuntarily forced into a war by the attack of some third Power. The latter subjects the peace of each ally to the will of the other, and obliges each to partake in the other’s wars of policy and interest, as well as in those of safety and defence. To preserve their boundaries distinct, it is necessary that each kind should be governed by plain and obvious rules.
This would not be the case if, instead of taking as a guide the simple fact of who began the war, it was necessary to travel into metaphysical niceties about the justice or injustice of the causes which led to it.
Inasmuch also as the not furnishing a stipulated succor, when it is due, is itself a cause of war, it is very requisite that there should be some palpable criterion for ascertaining when it is due. This criterion, as before observed, in a defensive alliance is the commencement, or not, of the war by our ally as a mere matter of fact.
Other topics serving to illustrate the position that the United States are not bound to execute the clause of guaranty, are reserved for another paper.
july 6, 1793.
France, at the time of issuing the proclamation, was engaged in war with a considerable part of Europe, and likely to be embroiled with almost all the rest, without a single ally in that quarter of the globe.
In such a situation, it is evident, that however she may be able to defend herself at home, of which her factions and internal agitations furnish the only serious doubt, she cannot make external efforts in any degree proportioned to those which can be made against her.
This state of things alone discharges the United States from an obligation to embark in her quarrel.
It is known that we are wholly destitute of naval force. France, with all the great maritime powers united against her, is unable to supply this deficiency. She cannot afford us that species of co-operation which is necessary to render our efforts useful to her, and to prevent our experiencing the destruction of our trade, and the most calamitous inconveniences in other respects.
Our guaranty does not look to France herself. It does not relate to her immediate defence, but to the defence and preservation of her American colonies; objects of which she might be deprived, and yet remain a great, a powerful, and a happy nation.
In the actual situation of this country, and in relation to a matter of only secondary importance to France, it may fairly be maintained that an ability in her to supply in a competent degree, our deficiency of naval force, is a condition of our obligation to perform the guaranty on our part.
Had the United States a powerful marine, or could they command one in time, this reasoning would not be solid; but circumstanced as they are, it is presumed to be well founded.
There would be no proportion between the mischiefs and perils to which the United States would expose themselves, by embarking in the war, and the benefit which the nature of their stipulation aims at securing to France, or that which it would be in their power actually to render her by becoming a party.
This disproportion would be a valid reason for not executing the guaranty. All contracts are to receive a reasonable construction. Self-preservation is the first duty of a nation; and though in the performance of stipulations relating to war, good faith requires that its ordinary hazards should be fairly met, because they are directly contemplated by such stipulations, yet it does not require that extraordinary and extreme hazards should be run, especially where the object to be gained or secured is only a partial or particular interest of the ally, for whom they are to be encountered.
As in the present instance, good faith does not require that the United States should put in jeopardy their essential interests, perhaps their very existence, in one of the most unequal contests in which a nation could be engaged, to secure to France—what? Her West India islands and other less important possessions in America. For it is always to be remembered, that the stipulations of the United States do, in no event, reach beyond this point. If they were, upon the strength of their guaranty, to engage in the war, and could make any arrangement with the belligerent Powers, for securing to France those islands and those possessions, they would be at perfect liberty instantly to withdraw. They would not be bound to prosecute the war one moment longer.
They are under no obligation in any event, as far as the faith of treaties is concerned, to assist France in defence of her liberty; a topic on which so much has been said, so very little to the purpose, as it regards the present question.
The contest in which the United States would plunge themselves, were they to take part with France, would possibly be still more unequal than that in which France herself is engaged. With the possessions of Great Britain and Spain on both flanks, the numerous Indian tribes under the influence and direction of those Powers, along our whole interior frontier, with a long extended sea-coast, with no maritime force of our own, and with the maritime force of all Europe against us, with no fortifications whatever, and with a population not exceeding four millions; it is impossible to imagine a more unequal contest than that in which we should be involved in the case supposed. From such a contest we are dissuaded by the most cogent motives of self-preservation, no less than of interest.
We may learn from Vatel, one of the best writers on the laws of nations, that “if a state which has promised succors finds itself unable to furnish them, its very inability is its exemption; and if the furnishing the succors would expose it to an evident danger, this also is a lawful dispensation. The case would render the treaty pernicious to the state, and therefore not obligatory. But this applies to an imminent danger threatening the safety of the state; the case of such a danger is tacitly and necessarily reserved in every treaty.”
If too, as no sensible and candid man will deny, the extent of the present combination against France is in a degree to be ascribed to imprudences on her part, the exemption to the United States is still more manifest and complete. No country is bound to partake in hazards of the most critical kind, which may have been produced or promoted by the indiscretion and intemperance of another. This is an obvious dictate of reason, with which the common sense and common practice of mankind coincide.
To the foregoing considerations, it may perhaps be added with no small degree of force, that military stipulations in national treaties contemplate only the ordinary case of foreign war, and are irrelative to the contests which grow out of revolutions of government, unless where they have express reference to a revolution begun, or where there is a guaranty of the existing constitution of a nation, or where there is a personal alliance for the defence of a prince and his family.
The revolution in France is the primitive source of the war in which she is engaged. The restoration of the monarchy is the avowed object of some of her enemies, and the implied one of all. That question, then, is essentially involved in the principle of the war, a question certainly never in the contemplation of the government with which our treaty was made, and it may thence be fairly inferred, never intended to be embraced by it.
The inference is, that the United States fulfilled the utmost that could be claimed by the nation of France, when they so far respected its decision as to recognize the newly constituted authorities, giving operation to the treaty of alliance for future occasions, but considering the present war as a tacit exception. Perhaps, too, this exception is in other respects due to the circumstances under which the engagements between the two countries were contracted. It is impossible, prejudice apart, not to perceive a delicate embarrassment between the theory and fact of our political relations to France.
On these grounds, also, as well as that of the present war being offensive on the side of France, the United States have valid and honorable pleas to offer against the execution of the guaranty if it should be claimed by France; and the President was in every view fully justified in pronouncing that the duty and interest of the United States dictated a neutrality in the war.
July 10, 1793.
A third objection to the proclamation is, that it is inconsistent with the gratitude due to France for the services rendered to us in our revolution.
Those who make this objection disavow, at the same time, all intention to maintain the position that the United States ought to take part in the war. They profess to be friends to our remaining at peace. What then do they mean by the objection?
If it be no breach of gratitude to refrain from joining France in the war, how can it be a breach of gratitude to declare that such is our disposition and intention?
The two positions are at variance with each other; and the true inference is, either that those who make the objection really wish to engage this country in the war, or that they seek a pretext for censuring the conduct of the Chief Magistrate, for some purpose very different from the public good.
They endeavor in vain to elude this inference by saying that the proclamation places France upon an equal footing with her enemies, while our treaties require distinctions in her favor, and our relative situation would dictate kind offices to her, which ought not to be granted to her adversaries.
They are not ignorant that the proclamation is reconcilable with both those objects, as far as they have any foundation in truth or propriety.
It has been shown that the promise of “a friendly and impartial conduct” toward all the belligerent Powers is not incompatible with the performance of any stipulations in our treaties, which would not include our becoming an associate in the war; and it has been observed that the conduct of the executive, in regard to the seventeenth and twenty-second articles of the treaty of commerce, is an unequivocal comment upon the terms. They were, indeed, naturally to be understood, with the exception of those matters of positive compact, which would not amount to taking part in the war; for a nation then observes a friendly and impartial conduct toward two contending Powers, when it only performs to one of them what it is obliged to do by stipulations and antecedent treaties, which do not constitute a participation in the war.
Neither do those expressions imply that the United States will not exercise their discretion in doing kind offices to some of the parties, without extending them to others, so long as they have no relation to war; for kind offices of that description may, consistently with neutrality, be shown to one party and refused to another.
If the objectors mean that the United States ought to favor France, in things relating to war, and where they are not bound to do it by treaty, they must in this case also abandon their pretension of being friends to peace. For such a conduct would be a violation of neutrality, which could not fail to produce war.
It follows then, that the proclamation is reconcilable with all that those who censure it contend for; taking them upon their own ground, that nothing is to be done incompatible with the preservation of peace.
But though this would be a sufficient answer to the objection under consideration, yet it may not be without use to indulge some reflections on this very favorite topic of gratitude to France, since it is at this shrine that we are continually invited to sacrifice the true interests of the country; as if “all for love, and the world well lost,” were a fundamental maxim in politics.
Faith and justice between nations are virtues of a nature the most necessary and sacred. They cannot be too strongly inculcated, nor too highly respected. Their obligations are absolute, their utility unquestionable; they relate to objects which, with probity and sincerity, generally admit of being brought within clear and intelligible rules.
But the same cannot be said of gratitude. It is not very often that between nations it can be pronounced with certainty that there exists a solid foundation for the sentiment; and how far it can justifiably be permitted to operate, is always a question of still greater difficulty.
The basis of gratitude is a benefit received or intended, which there was no right to claim, originating in a regard to the interest or advantage of the party on whom the benefit is, or is meant to be, conferred. If a service is rendered from views relative to the immediate interest of the party who performs it, and is productive of reciprocal advantages, there seems scarcely, in such a case, to be an adequate basis for a sentiment like that of gratitude.
The effect at least would be wholly disproportioned to the cause, if such a service ought to beget more than a disposition to render in turn a correspondent good office, founded on mutual interest and reciprocal advantage. But gratitude would require much more than this: it would exact to a certain extent even a sacrifice of the interest of the party obliged to the service or benefit of the one by whom the obligation had been conferred.
Between individuals, occasion is not unfrequently given for the exercise of gratitude. Instances of conferring benefits from kind and benevolent dispositions or feelings toward the person benefited, without any other interest on the part of the person who renders the service, than the pleasure of doing a good action, occur every day among individuals. But among nations they perhaps never occur. It may be affirmed as a general principle, that the predominant motive of good offices from one nation to another, is the interest or advantage of the nation which performs them.
Indeed, the rule of morality in this respect is not precisely the same between nations as between individuals. The duty of making its own welfare the guide of its action, is much stronger upon the former than upon the latter; in proportion to the greater magnitude and importance of national compared with individual happiness, and to the greater permanency of the effects of national than of individual conduct. Existing millions, and for the most part future generations, are concerned in the present measures of a government; while the consequences of the private actions of an individual ordinarily terminate with himself, or are circumscribed within a narrow compass.
Whence it follows that an individual may, on numerous occasions, meritoriously indulge the emotions of generosity and benevolence, not only without an eye to, but even at the expense of, his own interest. But a government can rarely, if at all, be justifiable in pursuing a similar course; and, if it does so, ought to confine itself within much stricter bounds. Good offices which are indifferent to the interest of a nation performing them, or which are compensated by the existence or expectation of some reasonable equivalent, or which produce an essential good to the nation to which they are rendered, without real detriment to the affairs of the benefactors, prescribe perhaps the limits of national generosity or benevolence.
It is not here meant to recommend a policy absolutely selfish or interested in nations; but to show, that a policy regulated by their own interest, as far as justice and good faith permit, is, and ought to be, their prevailing one; and that either to ascribe to them a different principle of action, or to deduce, from the supposition of it, arguments for a self-denying and self-sacrificing gratitude on the part of a nation which may have received from another good offices, is to misrepresent or misconceive what usually are, and ought to be, the springs of national conduct.
These general reflections will be auxiliary to a just estimate of our real situation with regard to France, of which a closer view will be taken in a succeeding paper.
July 13, 1793.
France, the rival, time immemorial, of Great Britain, had, in the course of the war which ended in 1763, suffered from the successful arms of the latter the severest losses and the most mortifying defeats. Britain from that moment had acquired an ascendant in the affairs of Europe, and in the commerce of the world, too decided and too humiliating to be endured without extreme impatience, and an eager desire of finding a favorable opportunity to destroy it, and to repair the breach which had been made in the national glory. The animosity of wounded pride conspired with calculations of interest to give a keen edge to that impatience, and to that desire.
The American revolution offered the occasion. It early attracted the notice of France, though with extreme circumspection. As far as countenance and aid may be presumed to have been given prior to the epoch of the acknowledgment of our independence, it will be no unkind derogation to assert, that they were marked neither with liberality nor with vigor; that they wore the appearance rather of a desire to keep alive disturbances which might embarrass a rival, than of a serious design to assist a revolution, or a serious expectation that it could be effected.
The victories of Saratoga, the capture of an army, which went a great way toward deciding the issue of the contest, decided also the hesitations of France. They established in the government of that country a confidence of our ability to accomplish our purpose, and, as a consequence of it, produced the treaties of alliance and commerce.
It is impossible to see in all this any thing more than the conduct of a jealous competitor, embracing a most promising opportunity to repress the pride and diminish the power of a dangerous rival, by seconding a successful resistance to its authority, with the object of lopping off a valuable portion of its dominions. The dismemberment of this country from Great Britain was an obvious and a very important interest of France. It cannot be doubted that it was both the determining motive and an adequate compensation for the assistance afforded to us.
Men of sense, in this country, derived encouragement to the part which their zeal for liberty prompted them to take in our revolution, from the probability of the co-operation of France and Spain. It will be remembered that this argument was used in the publications of the day; but upon what was it bottomed? Upon the known competition between those nations and Great Britain, upon their evident interest to reduce her power and circumscribe her empire; not certainly from motives of regard to our interest, or of attachment to our cause. Whoever should have alleged the latter, as the grounds of the expectation held out, would have been then justly considered as a visionary or a deceiver. And whoever shall now ascribe to such motives the aid which we did receive, would not deserve to be viewed in a better light.
The inference from these facts is not obscure. Aid and co-operation, founded upon a great interest, pursued and obtained by the party rendering them, is not a proper stock upon which to engraft that enthusiastic gratitude which is claimed from us by those who love France more than the United States.
This view of the subject, extorted by the extravagancy of such a claim, is not meant to disparage the just pretensions of France to our good-will. Though neither in the motives to the succors which the furnished, nor in their extent (considering how powerfully the point of honor, in such war, reinforced the considerations of interest when she was once engaged), can be found a sufficient basis for that gratitude which is the theme of so much declamation, yet we shall find, in the manner of affording them, just cause for our esteem and friendship.
France did not attempt, in the first instance, to take advantage of our situation to extort from us any humiliating or injurious concessions as the price of her assistance; nor afterwards, in the progress of the war, to impose hard terms as the condition of particular aids.
Though this course was certainly dictated by policy, yet it was a magnanimous policy, such as always constitutes a title to the approbation and esteem of mankind, and a claim to the friendship and acknowledgment of the party in whose favor it is practised.
But these sentiments are satisfied on the part of the nation, when they produce sincere wishes for the happiness of the party from whom it has experienced such conduct, and a cordial disposition to render all good and friendly offices which can be rendered without prejudice to its own solid and permanent interests.
To ask of a nation so situated, to make a sacrifice of substantial interest; to expose itself to the jealousy, ill-will, or resentment of the rest of the world; to hazard, in an eminent degree, its own safety for the benefit of the party who may have observed towards it the conduct which has been described, would be to ask more than the nature of the case demands, more than the fundamental maxims of society authorize, more than the dictates of sound reason justify.
A question has arisen, with regard to the proper object of that gratitude which is so much insisted upon: whether it be the unfortunate prince by whom the assistance received was given, or the nation of whom he was the chief or the organ? It is extremely interesting to the national justice, to form right conceptions on this point.
The arguments which support the latter idea are as follows:
“Louis the ⅩⅥ. was but the constitutional agent of the French people. He acted for and on behalf of the nation; it was with their money and their blood he supported our cause. It is to them, therefore, not to him, that our obligations are due. Louis the ⅩⅥ., in taking our part, was no doubt actuated by state policy. An absolute prince could not love liberty. But the people of France patronized our cause with zeal, from sympathy in its object. The people, therefore, not its monarch, are entitled to our sympathy.”
This reasoning may be ingenious, but it is not founded in nature or fact.
Louis the ⅩⅥ., though no more than the constitutional agent of the nation, had at the time the sole power of managing its affairs, the legal right of directing its will and its force. It belonged to him to assist us, or not, without consulting the nation; and he did assist without such consultation. His will alone was active; that of the nation passive. If there was kindness in the decision, demanding a return of goodwill, it was the kindness of Louis the ⅩⅥ.—his heart was the depository of the sentiment. Let the genuine voice of nature, then, unperverted by political subtleties, pronounce whether the acknowledgment, which may be due for that kindness can be equitably transferred from him to others who had no share in the decision; whether the principle of gratitude ought to determine us to behold with indifference his misfortunes, and with satisfaction the triumphs of his foes.
The doctrine, that the prince is the organ of his nation, is conclusive to enforce the obligations of good faith between two states—in other words, the observance of duties stipulated in treaties for national purposes; and it will even suffice to continue to a nation a claim to the friendship and good-will of another, resulting from friendly offices done by its prince; but it would be to carry the principle much too far, and to render it infinitely too artificial, to attribute to it the effect of transferring such a claim from the prince to the nation, by way of opposition and contrast. Friendship, good-will, gratitude for favors received, have so inseparable a reference to the motives with which, and to the persons by whom, they were rendered, as to be incapable of being transferred to another at his expense.
But Louis the ⅩⅥ., it is said, acted from reasons of state, without regard to our cause, while the people of France patronized it with zeal and attachment.
As far as the assertion with regard to the monarch may be well founded, and is an objection to our gratitude to him, it destroys the whole fabric of gratitude to France. For our gratitude is, and must be, relative to the services performed. The nation can only claim it on the score of their having been rendered by their agent with their means. If the views with which he performs them divested them of the merit which ought to inspire gratitude, none is due. The nation no more than their agent can claim it.
With regard to the individual good wishes of the citizens of France, as they did not produce the services rendered to us as a nation, they can be no foundation for national gratitude. They can only call for a reciprocation of individual good wishes. They cannot form the basis of public obligation.
But the assertion takes more for granted than there is reason to believe true.
Louis the ⅩⅥ. no doubt took part in our contest from reasons of state; but Louis the ⅩⅥ. was a man, humane and kind-hearted. The acts of his early youth had entitled him to this character. It is natural for a man of this disposition to become interested in the cause of those whom he protects or aids; and if the concurrent testimony of the period may be credited, there was no man in France more personally friendly to the cause of this country than Louis ⅩⅥ. I am much misinformed if repeated declarations of the venerable Franklin did not attest this fact.
It is a just tribute to the people of France to admit that they manifested a lively interest in the cause of America; but while motives are scanned, who can say how much of it is to be ascribed to the antipathy which they bore to their rival neighbor—how much to their sympathy in the object of our pursuit? It is certain that the love of liberty was not a national sentiment in France when a zeal for our cause first appeared among that people.
There is reason to believe, too, that the attachment to our cause, which ultimately became very extensive, if not general, did not originate with the mass of the French people. It began with the circles more immediately connected with the court, and was thence diffused through the nation.
This observation, besides its tendency to rectify ideas which are calculated to give a false current to the public feeling, may serve to check the spirit of illiberal invective, which has been wantonly indulged against those distinguished friends of America, who, though the authors of the French revolution, have fallen victims to it; because their principles would not permit them to go the whole length of an entire subversion of the monarchy.
The preachers of gratitude are not ashamed to brand Louis the ⅩⅥ. as a tyrant, La Fayette as a traitor. But how can we wonder at this, when they insinuate a distrust even of a—!!!
In urging the friendly disposition to our cause, manifested by the people of France, as a motive to our gratitude towards that people, it ought not to be forgotten, that those dispositions were not confined to the inhabitants of that country. They were eminently shared by the people of the United Provinces, produced to us valuable pecuniary aids from their citizens, and eventually involved them in the war on the same side with us. It may be added, too, that here the patronage of our cause emphatically began with the mass of the community, not originating as in France with the government, but finally implicating the government in the consequences.
Our cause had also numerous friends in other countries—even in that with which we were at war. Conducted with prudence, moderation, justice, and humanity, it may be said to have been a popular cause among mankind, conciliating the countenance of princes and the affection of nations.
The dispositions of the individual citizens of France can therefore in no sense be urged, as constituting a peculiar claim to our gratitude. As far as there is foundation for it, it must be referred to the services rendered to us, and, in the first instance, to the unfortunate monarch that rendered them. This is the conclusion of nature and reason.
July 17, 1793.
The very men who not long since, with a holy zeal, would have been glad to make an auto da fé of any one who should have presumed to assign bounds to our obligations to Louis the ⅩⅥ., are now ready to consign to the flames those who venture even to think that he died a proper object of our sympathy or regret. The greatest pains are taken to excite against him our detestation. His supposed perjuries and crimes are sounded in the public ear, with all the exaggerations of intemperate declaiming. All the unproved and contradicted allegations which have been brought against him are taken for granted, as the oracles of truth, on no better grounds than the mere general presumptions: that he could not have been a friend to a revolution which stripped him of so much power; that it is not likely the convention would have pronounced him guilty, and consigned him to so ignominious a fate, if he had been really innocent.
It is possible that time may disclose facts and proofs which will substantiate the guilt imputed to Louis; but these facts and proofs have not yet been authenticated to the world, and justice admonishes us to wait for their production and authentication.
Those who have most closely attended to the course of the transaction find least cause to be convinced of the criminality of the deceased monarch. While his counsel, whose characters give weight to their assertions, with an air of conscious truth, boldly appeal to facts and proofs, in the knowledge and possession of the convention, for the refutation of the charges brought against him, the members of that body, in all the debates upon the subject which have reached this country, either directly from France, or circuitously through England, appear to have contented themselves with assuming the existence of the facts charged, and inferring from them a criminality which, after the abolition of the royalty, they were interested to establish.
The presumption of guilt drawn from the suggestions which have been stated is more than counter-balanced by an opposite one, which is too obvious not to have occurred to many, though I do not recollect yet to have met with it in print. It is this:
If the convention had possessed clear evidence of the guilt of Louis, they would have promulgated it to the world in an authentic and unquestionable shape. Respect for the opinion of mankind, regard for their own character, the interest of their cause, made this an indispensable duty; nor can the omission be satisfactorily ascribed to any other reason than the want of such evidence.
The inference is, that the melancholy catastrophe of Louis ⅩⅥ. was the result of a supposed political expediency, rather than of real criminality.
In a case so circumstanced, does it, can it consist with our justice or our humanity, to partake in the angry and vindictive passions which it is endeavored to excite against the unfortunate monarch? Was it a crime in him to have been born a prince? Could this circumstance forfeit his title to the commiseration due to his misfortunes as a man?
Would gratitude dictate to a people, situated as are the people of this country, to lend their aid to extend to the son the misfortunes of the father? Should we not be more certain of violating no obligation of that kind, and of not implicating the delicacy of our national character, by taking no part in the contest, than by throwing our weight into either scale?
Would not a just estimate of the origin and progress of our relations to France, viewed with reference to the mere question of gratitude, lead us to this result—that we ought not to take part against the son and successor of a father, on whose sole will depended the assistance which we received; that we ought not to take part with him against the nation, whose blood and whose treasure had been, in the hands of the father, the means of that assistance?
But we are sometimes told, by way of answer, that the cause of France is the cause of liberty; and that we are bound to assist the nation on the score of their being engaged in the defence of that cause. How far this idea ought to carry us, will be the subject of future examination.
It is only necessary here to observe that it presents a question essentially different from that which has been in discussion. If we are bound to assist the French nation, on the principle of their being embarked in the defence of liberty, this is a consideration altogether foreign to that of gratitude. Gratitude has reference only to kind offices received. The obligation to assist the cause of liberty must be deduced from the merits of that cause and from the interest we have in its support. It is possible that the benefactor may be on one side; the defenders and supporters of liberty on the other. Gratitude may point one way, the love of liberty another. It is therefore important to just conclusions, not to confound the two things.
A sentiment of justice, more than the importance of the question itself, has led to so particular a discussion respecting the proper object of whatever acknowledgment may be due from the United States, for the aid which they received from France during their own revolution.
The extent of the obligation which it may impose is by far the most interesting inquiry. And though it is presumed, that enough has been already said to evince, that it does in no degree require us to embark in the war, yet there is another and a very simple view of the subject, which is too convincing to be omitted.
The assistance derived from France was afforded by a great and powerful nation, possessing numerous armies, a respectable fleet, and the means of rendering it a match for the force to be encountered. The position of Europe was favorable to the enterprise; a general disposition prevailing to see the power of Britain abridged. The co-operation of Spain was very much a matter of course, and the probability of other Powers becoming engaged on the same side not remote. Great Britain was alone, and likely to continue so; France had a great and persuasive interest in the separation of this country from her. In this situation, with much to hope and little to fear, she took part in our quarrel.
France is at this time singly engaged with the greatest part of Europe, including all the first-rate Powers except one; and in danger of being engaged with the rest. To use the emphatic language of a member of the national convention, she has but one enemy, and that is all Europe. Her internal affairs are, without doubt, in serious disorder; her navy comparatively inconsiderable. The United States are a young nation: their population, though rapidly increasing, still small; their resources, through growing, not great; without armies, without fleets; capable, from the nature of the country and the spirit of its inhabitants, of immense exertions for self-defence, but little capable of those external efforts which could materially serve the cause of France. So far from having any direct interest in going to war, they have the strongest motives of interest to avoid it. By embarking with France in the war, they would have incomparably more to apprehend than to hope.
This contrast of situations and inducements is alone a conclusive demonstration, that the United States are not under an obligation, from gratitude, to join France in the war. The utter disparity between the circumstances of the service to be rendered, and of the service received, proves that the one cannot be an adequate basis of obligation for the other. There would be a manifest want of equality, and consequently of reciprocity.
But complete justice would not be done to this question of gratitude, were no notice to be taken of the address which has appeared in the public papers (the authenticity of which has not been impeached), from the convention of France to the United States, announcing the appointment of the present Minister Plenipotentiary. In that address the convention informs us, that “the support which the ancient French court had afforded the United States to recover their independence, was only the fruit of a base speculation; and that their glory offended its ambitious views, and the ambassadors of France bore the criminal orders of stopping the career of their prosperity.”
If this information is to be admitted in the full force of the terms, it is very fatal to the claim of gratitude toward France. An observation similar to one made in a former paper occurs here. If the organ of the nation, on whose will the aid which was given depended, acted not only from motives irrelative to our advantage, but from unworthy motives, or, as is alleged, from a base speculation; if afterward he displayed a temper hostile to the confirmation of our security and prosperity, he acquired no title to our gratitude in the first instance, or he forfeited it in the second. And the people of France, who can only demand it in virtue of the conduct of their agent, must together with him, renounce the pretension. It is an obvious principle, that if a nation can claim merit from the good deeds of its sovereign, it must answer for the demerit of his misdeeds.
But some deductions are to be made from the suggestions in the address of the convention, on account of the motives which evidently dictated the communication. Their zeal to alienate the good-will of this country from the late monarch, and to increase the odium of the French nation against the monarchy, which was so ardent as to make them overlook the tendency of their communication to deprive their votaries among us of the plea of gratitude, may justly be suspected of exaggeration.
The truth probably is, that the base speculation charged, amounts to nothing more than that the government of France, in affording us assistance, was actuated by the motives which have been attributed to it, namely, the desire of promoting the interest of France, by lessening the power of Great Britain, and opening a new channel of commerce to herself; that the orders said to have been given to the ambassadors of France, to stop the career of our prosperity, are resolvable into a speculative jealousy of the ministers of the day, lest the United States, by becoming as powerful and great as they are capable of being under an efficient government, might prove formidable to the European possessions in America. With these qualifications, the address offers no new discovery to the intelligent and unbiassed friends of their country. They knew long ago, that the interest of France had been the governing motive of the aid afforded; and they saw clearly enough in the conversation and conduct of her agents, while the present Constitution of the United States was under consideration, that the government, of which they were the instruments, would have preferred our remaining under the old form. They perceived, also, that these views had their effect upon some of the devoted partisans of France among ourselves; as they now perceive, that the same characters are embodying, with all the aid they can obtain, under the same banner, to resist the operation of that government of which they withstood the establishment.
All this was and is seen, and the body of the people of America are too discerning to be long in the dark about it; too wise to have been misled by foreign or domestic machinations, they adopted a Constitution which was necessary to their safety and to their happiness; too wise still to be ensnared by the same machinations, they will support the government they have established, and will take care of their own peace, in spite of the insidious efforts which are employed to detach them from the one and to disturb the other.
The information which the address of the convention contains ought to serve as an instructive lesson to the people of this country. It ought to teach us not to overrate foreign friendships, and to be upon our guard against foreign attachments. The former will generally be found hollow and delusive; the latter will have a natural tendency to lead us aside from our own true interest, and to make us the dupes of foreign influence. Both serve to introduce a principle of action which in its effects, if the expression may be allowed, is anti-national. Foreign influence is truly the Grecian horse to a republic. We cannot be too careful to exclude its entrance. Nor ought we to imagine that it can only make its approaches in the gross form of direct bribery. It is then most dangerous when it comes under the patronage of our passions, under the auspices of national prejudice and partiality.
I trust the morals of this country are yet too good to leave much to be apprehended on the score of bribery. Caresses, condescensions, flattery, in unison with our prepossessions, are infinitely more to be feared; and as far as there is opportunity for corruption, it is to be remembered that one foreign Power can employ this resource as well as another, and that the effect must be much greater when it is combined with other means of influence than where it stands alone.
July 20, 1793.
The remaining objection to the proclamation of neutrality still to be discussed is, that it was out of time and unnecessary.
To give color to this objection it is asked, why did not the proclamation appear when the war commenced with Austria and Prussia? Why was it forborne till Great Britain, Holland, and Spain became engaged? Why did not the government wait till the arrival at Philadelphia of the minister of the French Republic? Why did it volunteer a declaration not required of it by any of the belligerent parties?
To most of these questions, solid answers have already appeared in the public prints; little more can be done than to repeat and enforce them.
Austria and Prussia are not maritime powers. Contraventions of neutrality as against them were not likely to take place to any extent, or in a shape that would attract their notice. It would, therefore, have been useless, if not ridiculous, to have made a formal declaration on the subject, while they were the only parties opposed to France.
But the reverse of this is the case with regard to Spain, Holland, and England. These are all commercial and maritime nations. It was to be expected that their attentions would be immediately drawn toward the United States with sensibility, and even with jealousy. It was to be feared that some of our citizens might be tempted by the prospect of gain to go into measures which would injure them, and hazard the peace of the country. Attacks by some of these Powers upon the possessions of France in America were to be looked for as a matter of course. While the views of the United States as to that particular were problematical, they would naturally consider us as a Power that might become their enemy. This they would have been the more apt to do on account of these public demonstrations of attachment to the cause of France, of which there has been so prodigal a display. Jealousy, everybody knows, especially if sharpened by resentment, is apt to lead to ill treatment; ill treatment, to hostility.
In proportion to the probability of our being regarded with a suspicious, and consequently an unfriendly, eye by the Powers at war with France; in proportion to the danger of imprudences being committed by any of our citizens, which might occasion a rupture with them, the policy on the part of the government, of removing all doubt as to its own disposition, and of deciding the condition of the United States, in the view of the parties concerned, became obvious and urgent.
Were the United States now, what, if we do not rashly throw away the advantages we possess, they may expect to be in fifteen or twenty years, there would have been more room for an insinuation which has been thrown out, namely, that they ought to have secured to themselves some advantage as the consideration of their neutrality,—an idea, however, the justice and magnanimity of which cannot be commended. But in their present situation, with their present strength and resources, an attempt of that kind could have only served to display pretensions at once excessive and unprincipled. The chance of obtaining any collateral advantage, if such a chance there was, by leaving doubt of their intentions as to peace or war, could not wisely have been put, for a single instant, in competition with the tendency of a contrary conduct to secure our peace.
The conduciveness of the delcaration of neutrality to that end was not the only recommendation to the adoption of the measure. It was of great importance that our own citizens should understand, as soon as possible, the opinion which the government entertained of the nature of our relations to the warring parties, and of the propriety or expediency of our taking a side or remaining neuter. The arrangements of our merchants could not but be very differently affected by the one hypothesis or the other; and it would necessarily have been very detrimental and perplexing to them to have been left in uncertainty.
It is not requisite to say how much our agriculture and other interests would have been likely to have suffered by embarrassments to our merchants.
The idea of its having been incumbent on the government to delay the measure for the arrival of the minister of the French republic, is as absurd as it is humiliating. Did the executive stand in need of the logic of a foreign agent to enlighten it as to the duties or interests of the nation? Or was it bound to ask his consent to a step which appeared to itself consistent with the former, and conducive to the latter?
The sense of our treaties was to be learnt from the instruments themselves. It was not difficult to pronounce beforehand that we had a greater interest in the preservation of peace, than in any advantages with which France might tempt our participation in the war. Commercial privileges were all that she could offer of real value in our estimation, and a carte blanche on this head would have been an inadequate recompense for renouncing peace, and committing ourselves voluntarily to the chances of so precarious and perilous a war. Besides, if the privileges which might have been conceded were not founded in a real, permanent, mutual interest, of what value would be the treaty that should concede them? Ought not the calculation, in such case, to be upon a speedy resumption of them, with perhaps a quarrel as the pretext? On the other hand, may we not trust that commercial privileges, which are truly founded in mutual interest, will grow out of that interest, without the necessity of giving a premium for them at the expense of our peace?
To what purpose, then, was the executive to have waited for the arrival of the minister? Was it to give opportunity to contentious discussions, to intriguing machinations, to the clamors of a faction won to a foreign interest?
Whether the declaration of neutrality issued upon or without the requisition of any of the belligerent Powers, can only be known to their respective ministers, and to the proper officers of our government. But if it be true that it issued without any such requisition, it is an additional indication of the wisdom of the measure.
It is of much importance to the end of preserving peace, that the belligerent nations should be thoroughly convinced of the sincerity of our intentions to observe the neutrality we profess; and it cannot fail to have weight in producing this conviction, that the declaration of it was a spontaneous act, not stimulated by any requisition on the part of either of them, but proceeding purely from our own view of our duty and interest.
It was not surely necessary for the government to wait for such a requisition, while there are were advantages, and no disadvantages, in anticipation. The benefit of an early notification to our merchants conspired with the consideration just mentioned to recommend the course which was pursued.
If, in addition to the rest, the early manifestation of the views of the government has had any effect in fixing the public opinion on the subject, and in counteracting the success of the efforts which, it was to be foreseen, would be made to distract and disunite, this alone would be a great recommendation of the policy of having suffered no delay to intervene.
What has been already said, in this and in preceding papers, affords a full answer to the suggestion that the proclamation was unnecessary. It would be a waste of time to add more.
But there has been a criticism several times repeated, which may deserve a moment’s attention. It has been urged that the proclamation ought to have contained some reference to our treaties; and that the generality of the promise to observe a conduct friendly and impartial towards the belligerent Powers, ought to have been qualified with expressions equivalent to these, “as far as may consist with the treaties of the United States.”
The insertion of such a clause would have entirely defeated the object of a proclamation, by rendering the intention of the government equivocal. That object was to assure the Powers at war, and our own citizens, that in the opinion of the executive it was consistent with the duty and interest of the nation to observe neutrality, and that it was intended to pursue a conduct corresponding with that opinion. Words equivalent to those contended for would have rendered the other part of the declaration nugatory, by leaving it uncertain whether the executive did or did not believe a state of neutrality to be consistent with our treaties. Neither foreign Powers nor our own citizens would have been able to have drawn any conclusion from the proclamation, and both would have had a right to consider it as a mere equivocation.
By not inserting any such ambiguous expressions, the proclamation was susceptible of an intelligible and proper construction. While it denoted on the one hand that, in the judgment of the executive, there was nothing in our treaties obliging us to become a party in the war, it left it to be expected, on the other, that all stipulations compatible with neutrality, according to the laws and usages of nations, would be enforced. It follows that the proclamation was, in this particular, exactly what it ought to have been.
The words, “make known the disposition of the United States,” have also given a pretext for cavil. It has been asked, how could the President undertake to declare the disposition of the United States? The people, for aught he knew, may have a very different sentiment. Thus, a conformity with republican propriety and modesty is turned into a topic of accusation.
Had the President announced his own disposition, he would have been chargeable with egotism, if not presumption. The constitutional organ of intercourse between the United States and foreign nations, whenever he speaks to them, it is in that capacity; it is in the name and on the behalf of the United States. It must, therefore, be with greater propriety that he speaks of their disposition than of his own.
It is easy to imagine that occasions frequently occur in the communications to foreign governments and foreign agents, which render it necessary to speak of the friendship or friendly disposition of the United States, of their disposition to cultivate harmony and good understanding, to reciprocate neighborly offices, and the like. It is usual, for example, when public ministers are received, for some complimentary expressions to be interchanged. It is presumable that the late reception of the French minister did not pass without some assurance on the part of the President of the friendly disposition of the United States towards France. Admitting it to have happened, would it be deemed an improper arrogation? If not, why was it more so, to declare the disposition of the United States to observe a neutrality in the existing war?
In all such cases, nothing more is to be understood than an official expression of the political disposition of the nation, inferred from its political relations, obligations, and interests. It is never to be supposed that the expression is meant to convey the precise state of the individual sentiments or opinions of the great mass of the people.
Kings and princes speak of their own dispositions, the magistrates of republics of the dispositions of their nations. The President, therefore, has evidently used the style adapted to his situation, and the criticism upon it is plainly a cavil.