Front Page Titles (by Subject) I - The Works of Alexander Hamilton, (Federal Edition), vol. 5
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I - Alexander Hamilton, The Works of Alexander Hamilton, (Federal Edition), vol. 5 
The Works of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Henry Cabot Lodge (Federal Edition) (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). In 12 vols. Vol. 5.
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February 1, 1794.
The two following papers were prepared some time since, but from particular circumstances have been postponed. The fresh appearances of a covert design to embark the United States in the war, induce their publication at this time.1
An examination into the question how far regard to the cause of Liberty ought to induce the United States to take part with France in the present war, is rendered necessary by the efforts which are making to establish an opinion that it ought to have that effect. In order to a right judgment on the point, it is requisite to consider the question under two aspects.
If either of these questions can be answered in the negative, it will result that the consideration which has been stated ought not to embark us in the war.
A discussion of the first point will not be entered upon. It would involve an examination too complicated for the compass of these papers; and, after all, the subject gives so great scope to opinion, to imagination, to feeling, that little could be expected from argument. The great leading facts are before the public; and by this time most men have drawn their conclusions so firmly, that the issue alone can adjust their differences of opinion. There was a time when all men in this country entertained the same favorable view of the French Revolution. At the present time, they all still unite in the wish that the troubles of France may terminate in the establishment of a free and good government; and dispassionate, well-informed men must equally unite in the doubt whether this be likely to take place under the auspices of those who now govern the affairs of that country. But, agreeing in these two points, there is a great and serious diversity of opinion as to the real merits and probable issue of the French Revolution.
None can deny that the cause of France has been stained by excesses and extravagances, for which it is not easy, if possible, to find a parallel in the history of human affairs, and from which reason and humanity recoil. Yet many find apologies and extenuations with which they satisfy themselves; they still see in the cause of France the cause of liberty; they are still sanguine in the hope that it will be crowned with success; that the French nation will establish for themselves not only a free but a republican government, capable of promoting solidly their happiness. Others, on the contrary, discern no adequate apology for the horrid and disgusting scenes which have been, and continue to be, acted. They conceive that the excesses which have been committed, transcend greatly the measure of those which, with every due allowance for circumstances, were reasonably to have been expected. They perceive in them proofs of atrocious depravity in the most influential leaders of the revolution. They observe that among these, a Marat1 and a Robespierre, assassins still reeking with the blood of their fellow-citizens, monsters who outdo the fabled enormities of a Busiris and a Procrustes, are predominant in influence as well as iniquity. They find everywhere marks of an unexampled dissolution of all the social and moral ties. They see nowhere any thing but principles and opinions so wild, so extreme, passions so turbulent, so tempestuous, as almost to forbid the hope of agreement in any rational or well-organized system of government. They conclude that a state of things like this is calculated to extend disgust and disaffection throughout the nation, to nourish more and more a spirit of insurrection and mutiny, facilitating the progress of the invading armies, and exciting in the bowels of France commotions, of which it is impossible to compute the mischief, the duration, or the end; that if by the energy of the national character, and the intrinsic difficulty of the enterprise, the enemies of France shall be compelled to leave her to herself, this era may only prove the commencement of greater misfortunes; that after wading through seas of blood, in a furious and sanguinary civil war, France may find herself at length the slave of some victorious Sylla, or Marius, or Cæsar: and they draw this afflicting inference from the whole view of the subject, that there is more reason to fear that the Cause ofTrueLiberty has received a deep wound in the mismanagements of it, by those who, unfortunately for the French nation, have for a considerable time past maintained an ascendant in its affairs, than to regard the revolution of France in the form it has lately worn, as entitled to the honors due to that sacred and all-important cause, or as a safe bark in which to freight the fortunes, the liberties, and the reputation of this now respectable and happy land.
Without undertaking to determine which of these opposite opinions rests most firmly on the basis of facts, I shall content myself with observing, that if the latter is conceived to have but a tolerable foundation, it is conclusive against the propriety of our engaging in the war, merely through regard for the cause of Liberty. For when we resolve to put so vast a stake upon the chance of the die, we ought at least to be certain that the object for which we hazard is genuine, is substantial, is real.
Let us then proceed to the discussion of the second question. To judge of the degree of aid which we could afford to France in her present struggle, it may be of use to take a brief view of the means with which we carried on the war, that accomplished our own revolution.
Our supplies were derived from six sources: 1st, paper money; 2d, domestic loans; 3d, foreign loans; 4th, pecuniary taxes; 5th, taxes on specific articles; 6th, military impress.
The first of these resources, with a view to a future war, may be put out of the question. Past experience would forbid its being again successfully employed, and no friend to the morals, property, or industry of the people, to public or private credit, would desire to see it revived.
The second would exist, but probably in a more limited extent. The circumstance of a depreciating paper, which the holders were glad, as they supposed, to realize, was a considerable motive to the loans obtained during the late war. The magnitude of them, however, even then, formed a small proportion to the aggregate expense.
The third resource would be equally out of the question with the first. The principal lending powers would be our enemies, as they are now those of France.
The three remaining items—pecuniary taxes, taxes on specific articles, military impress—could be employed again in a future war, and are the resources upon which we should have chiefly to rely; for the resource of domestic loans, though valuable, is not a very extensive one, in a community where capitals are so moderate as in ours.
Though it is not to be doubted, that the people of the United States would hereafter, as heretofore, throw their whole property into a common stock for their common defence against internal invasion or an unprovoked attack, who is there sanguine enough to believe, that large contributions of any kind, could be extracted from them to carry on an external war, voluntarily undertaken for a foreign and speculative purpose?
The expectation were an illusion. Those who may entertain it ought to pause and reflect, whatever enthusiasm might have been infused into a part of the community would quickly yield to more just and sober ideas, inculcated by experience of the burthens and calamities of war. The circuitous logic by which it is attempted to be maintained, that a participation in the war is necessary to the security of our own liberty, would then appear as it truly is, a mere delusion, propagated by bribed incendiaries, or hare-brained enthusiasts; and the authors of the delusion would not fail to be execrated as the enemies of the public weal.
The business would move on heavily in its progress, as it was in its origin impolitic, while the faculty of the government to obtain pecuniary supplies, would, in the case supposed, be circumscribed within a narrow compass; levies of men would not be likely to be more successful. No one would think of detaching the militia for distant expeditions abroad; and the experiences we have had in our Indian enterprises, do not authorize strong expectations of going far by voluntary enlistments, where the question is not, as it was during the last war, the defence of the fundamental rights and essential interests of the whole community. The severe expedient of drafting from the militia, a principal reliance in that war, would put the authority of government in the case to a very critical test.
This summary view of what would be our situation and prospects, is alone sufficient to demonstrate the general position, that our ability to promote the cause of France, by external exertions, could not be such as to be very material to the event.
Let us, however, for more complete elucidation, inquire to what particular objects they could be directed.
Fleets we have not, and could not have, in time, or to an extent, to be of use in the contest.
Shall we raise an army and send it to France? She does not want soldiers. Her own population can amply furnish her armies. The number we could send, if we could get them there at all, would be of no weight in the scale.
The true wants of France are of system, order, money, provisions, arms, military stores.
System and order we could not give her by engaging in the war. The supply of money in that event would be out of our power. At present we can pay our debt to her in proportion as it becomes due—then we could not do this. Provisions and other supplies, as far as we are in condition to furnish them, could not be furnished at all. The conveyance of them would become more difficult, and the forces we should be obliged ourselves to raise would consume our surplus.
Abandoning, then, as of necessity we must, the idea of aiding France in Europe, shall we turn our attention to the succor of her islands? Alas! we should probably have here only to combat their own internal disorders—to aid Frenchmen against Frenchmen, whites against blacks, or blacks against whites! If we may judge from the past conduct of the powers at war with France, their effort is immediately against herself; her islands are not, in the first instance, a serious object. But grant, as it is not unlikely, that they become so, is it evident that we can co-operate efficaciously to their preservation; or if we can, what will this have to do with the preservation of French liberty? The dangers to this arise from the invasion of foreign armies, carried into the bosom of France—from the still more formidable assault of civil dissension and the spirit of anarchy.
Shall we attack the islands of the powers opposed to France?
How shall we without a competent fleet carry on the necessary expeditions for the purpose? Where is such a fleet? How shall we maintain our conquests after they are made? What influence could the capture of an island or two have upon the general issue of the contest? These questions answer themselves—or shall we endeavor to make a diversion in favor of France, by attacking Canada on the one side and Florida on the other? This certainly would be the most, indeed the only eligible mode of aiding France in war since these enterprises may be considered as within the compass of our means.
But while this is admitted, it ought not to be regarded as a very easy task. The reduction of the countries in question ought not to be undertaken without considerable forces, for reinforcements could be brought to both those countries from the WestIndia possessions of their respective sovereigns; relying on their naval superiority, they could spare from the islands all the troops which were not necessary for the preservation of their internal tranquillity.
These armies are then to be raised and equipped, and to be provided with all the requisite apparatus for operation. Proportionate magazines are to be formed for their accommodation and supply.
Some men, whose fate it is to think loosely, may imagine that a more summary substitute could be found in the militia. But the militia, an excellent auxiliary for internal defence, could not be advantageously employed in distant expeditions, requiring time and perseverance. For these, men regularly engaged for a competent period are indispensable. The conquest of Canada, at least, may with reason be regarded as out of the reach of a militia operation.
If war was resolved upon, the very preparation of the means for the enterprises which have been mentioned would demand not less than a year; before this period was elapsed, the fate of France, as far as foreign invasion is concerned, would be decided. It would be manifest, either that she could or could not be subjugated by force of external coercion. Our interposition would be too late to benefit her. It appears morally certain, that the war against France cannot be of much duration. The exertions are too mighty to be long protracted.
The only way in which the enterprises in question could serve the cause of France, would be by making a diversion of a part of those forces which would otherwise be directed against her. But this consequence could not be counted upon. It would be known, that we could not be very early ready to attack with effect, and it would be an obvious policy to risk secondary objects rather than be diverted from the efficacious pursuit of the main one. It would be natural in such case to rely for indemnification on the successful result of the war in Europe. The governments concerned imagine that they have too much at stake upon that result, not to hazard considerably elsewhere, in order to secure the fairest chance of its being favorable to their wishes.
It would not probably render the matter better, to precipitate our measures for the sake of a more speedy impulse. The parties ought in such case to count upon the abortion of our attempts from their immaturity, and to rely the more confidently upon the means of resistance already on the spot. Indeed, that very precipitation would leave no other option.
We could not therefore flatter ourselves that the expedient last proposed—that of attacking the possessions of Great Britain and Spain in our neighborhood, would be materially serviceable to the cause of France.
But to give the argument its fairest course, I shall take notice of two particulars in respect to which our interference would be more sensibly felt. These are the depredations which our privateers might make upon the commerce of the maritime enemies of France, and what is of far greater consequence, the direct injury which would accrue to that of Great Britain from the interruption of intercourse between the two countries. Considering the shock lately sustained by mercantile credit in that country—the real importance to it of our imports from thence, and our exports thither—the large sums which are due, and in a continual course of remittance from our merchants—a war between the United States and Great Britain could not fail to be seriously distressing to her.
Yet it would be weak to calculate upon a very decisive influence of these circumstances. The public credit of Great Britain has still energy sufficient to enable her to struggle with much partial derangement. Her private credit, manifestly disordered by temporary causes, and propped as it has been by the public purse, seems to have recovered, in a great degree, its impaired tone. Her commerce, too, suddenly interrupted by the breaking out of the war, may be presumed to have resumed its wonted channels, in proportion as the progress of her naval preparations has tended to give it protection, and though the being at war with us would be very far from a matter of indifference either to her commerce or to her credit, yet it is not likely that it would arrest her career, or overrule those paramount considerations which brought her into her present situation.
When we recollect how she maintained herself under a privation of our commerce, through a seven years’ war with us, united for certain periods of it with France, Spain, and Holland, though we perceive a material difference between her present and her then situation, arising from that very effort, yet we cannot reasonably doubt that she would be able, notwithstanding a similar privation, to continue a war, which in fact does not call for an equal exertion on her part, as long as the other powers with which she is associated shall be in condition to prosecute it with a hope of success; nor is it probable, whatever may be the form or manner of the engagement, that Great Britain could, if disposed to peace, honorably make a separate retreat. It is the interest of all parties, in such cases, to assure to each other a cooperation; and it is presumable that this has taken place in some shape or other between the powers at present combined against France.1
The conclusion from the several considerations which have been presented, carefully and dispassionately weighed, is this, that there is no probable prospect of this country rendering material service to the cause of France, by engaging with her in the war.
It has been very truly observed in the course of the publications on the subject, that if France is not in some way or other wanting to herself, she will not stand in need of our assistance; and if she is, our assistance cannot save her.
These papers were published at the moment when Madison’s resolutions, founded on Jefferson’s commercial report, were before the House, and when every effort was making to draw the lines between a French and an English party, such as the opposition strove to construct. Americanus appeared originally in the Daily Advertiser. The date is that of their reprint by Fenno in the Gazette of the United States.
This man has lately met a fate which, though the essential interests of society will not permit us to approve, loses its odium in the contemplation of the character.
The treaties between Great Britain, Spain, Russia, and Prussia, which since writing the above have made their appearance, confirm what is here conjectured.