Front Page Titles (by Subject) NO. III - The Works of Alexander Hamilton, (Federal Edition), vol. 4
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NO. III - Alexander Hamilton, The Works of Alexander Hamilton, (Federal Edition), vol. 4 
The Works of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Henry Cabot Lodge (Federal Edition) (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). In 12 vols. Vol. 4.
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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.”1
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.1
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.
See Book Ⅲ., chap. ⅵ., § 92.
Puffendorf, Book Ⅷ., chap. ⅸ., § 9.