Front Page Titles (by Subject) NO. V - The Works of Alexander Hamilton, (Federal Edition), vol. 4
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NO. V - 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 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.