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no . II - 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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Previous to a more particular discussion of the merits of the treaty, it may be useful to advert to a suggestion which has been thrown out, namely: that it was foreseen by many that the mission to Great Britain would produce no good result, and that the event has corresponded with the anticipation.
The reverse of this position is manifestly true.
All must remember the very critical posture of this country at the time that mission was resolved upon. A recent violation of our rights, too flagrant and too injurious to be submitted to, had filled every American breast with indignation, and every prudent man with alarm and disquietude. A few hoped, and the great body of the community feared, that war was inevitable.
In this crisis two sets of opinions prevailed: one looked to measures which were to have a compulsory effect upon Great Britain, the sequestration of British debts, and the cutting off intercourse wholly or partially between the two countries; the other to vigorous preparations for war, and one more effort of negotiation, under the solemnity of an extraordinary mission, to avert it.
That the latter was the best opinion, no truly sensible man can doubt; and it may be boldly affirmed that the event has entirely justified it.
If measures of coercion and reprisal had taken place, war, in all human probability, would have followed.
National pride is generally a very untractable thing. In the councils of no country does it act with greater force than in those of Great Britain. Whatever it might have been in her power to yield to negotiation, she could have yielded nothing to compulsion, without self-degradation, and without the sacrifice of that political consequence which, at all times very important to a nation, was peculiarly so to her at the juncture in question. It should be remembered, too, that from the relations in which the two countries have stood to each other, it must have cost more to the pride of Great Britain to have received the law from us than from any other power.
When one nation has cause of complaint against another, the course marked out by practice, the opinion of writers, and the principles of humanity, the object being to avoid war, is to precede reprisals of any kind by a demand of reparation. To begin with reprisals is to meet on the ground of war, and put the other party in a condition not to be able to recede without humiliation.
Had this course been pursued by us, it would not only have rendered war morally certain, but it would have united the British nation in a vigorous support of their government in the prosecution of it; while, on our part, we should have been quickly distracted and divided. The calamities of war would have brought the most ardent to their senses, and placed them among the first in reproaching the government with precipitation, rashness, and folly for not having taken every chance, by pacific means, to avoid so great an evil.
The example of Denmark and Sweden is cited in support of the coercive plan. Those powers, it is asserted, by arming and acting with vigor, brought Great Britain to terms.
But who is able to tell us the precise course of this transaction, or the terms gained by it? Has it appeared that either Denmark or Sweden has obtained as much as we have done—a stipulation of reparation for the violation of our property, contrary to the laws of war?
Besides, what did Denmark and Sweden do? They armed, and they negotiated. They did not begin by retaliations and reprisals. The United States also armed and negotiated, and, like Denmark and Sweden, prudently forbore reprisals. The conduct of the three countries agreed in principle, equally steering clear of a precipitate resort to reprisals, and contradicting the doctrines and advice of our war party.
The course pursued by our government was, then, in coincidence with the example of Denmark and Sweden—and, it may be added, was in every view the wisest.
Few nations can have stronger inducements than the United States to cultivate peace. Their infant state in general, their want of a marine in particular, to protect their commerce, would render war, in an extreme degree, a calamity. It would not only arrest our present rapid progress to strength and prosperity, but would probably throw us back into a state of debility and impoverishment, from which it would require years to emerge.
Our trade, navigation, and mercantile capital would be essentially destroyed. Spain being an associate of Great Britain, a general Indian war might be expected to desolate the whole extent of our frontier; our exports obstructed, agriculture would of course languish; all other branches of industry would proportionately suffer; our public debt, instead of a gradual diminution, would sustain a great augmentation, and draw with it a large increase of taxes and burthens on the people.
But these evils, however great, were, perhaps, not the worst to be apprehended. It was to be feared that the war would be conducted in a spirit which would render it more than ordinarily calamitous. There are too many proofs that a considerable party among us is deeply infected with those horrid principles of Jacobinism which, proceeding from one excess to another, have made France a theatre of blood, and which, notwithstanding the most vigorous efforts of the national representation to suppress it, keeps the destinies of France, to this moment, suspended by a thread. It was too probable, that the direction of the war, if commenced, would have fallen into the hands of men of this description. The consequences of this, even in imagination, are such as to make any virtuous man shudder.
It was, therefore, in a peculiar manner, the duty of the government to take all possible chances for avoiding war. The plan adopted was the only one which could claim this advantage.
To precipitate nothing, to gain time by negotiations, was to leave the country in a situation to profit by any events which might turn up, tending to restrain a spirit of hostility to Great Britain, and to dispose her to reasonable accommodation.
The successes of France, which opportunely occurred, allowing them to have had an influence upon the issue, so far from disparaging the merit of the plan that was pursued, serve to illustrate its wisdom. This was one of the chances which procrastination gave, and one which it was natural to take into the calculation.
Had the reverse been the case, the posture of negotiation was still preferable to that of retaliation and reprisal; for in this case, the triumphs of Great Britain, the gauntlet having been thrown by us, would have stimulated her to take it up without hesitation.
By taking the ground of negotiation in the attitude of preparation for war, we at the same time carried the appeal to the prudence of the British Cabinet, without wounding its pride, and to the justice and interest of the British nation, without exciting feelings of resentment.
This conduct was calculated to range the public opinion of that country on our side, to oppose it to the indulgence of hostile views in the Cabinet, and, in case of war, to lay the foundation of schism and dissatisfaction.
But one of the most important advantages to be expected from the course pursued, was the securing of unanimity among ourselves, if, after all the pain taken to avoid the war, it had been forced upon us.
As, on the one hand, it was certain that dissension and discontent would have embarrassed and enfeebled our exertions, in a war produced by any circumstances of intemperance in our public councils, or not endeavored to be prevented by all the milder expedients usual in similar cases; so, on the other, it was equally certain that our having effectually exhausted those expedients would cement us in a firm mass, keep us steady and persevering amidst whatever vicissitudes might happen, and nerve our efforts to the utmost extent of our resources.
This union among ourselves and disunion among our enemies were inestimable effects of the moderate plan, if it had promised no other advantage.
But to gain the time was of vast moment to us in other senses. Not a seaport of the United States was fortified, so as to be protected against the insults of a single frigate. Our magazines were, in every respect, too scantily supplied. It was highly desirable to obviate these deficiencies before matters came to extremity.
Moreover, the longer we kept out of war, if obliged to go into it at last, the shorter would be the duration of the calamities incident to it.
The circumstances of the injury of which we more immediately complain afforded an additional reason for preceding reprisals by negotiation. The order of the 6th of November directed neutral vessels to be brought in for adjudication. This was an equivocal phrase; and though there was too much cause to suspect that it was intended to operate as it did, yet there was a possibility of misconstruction; and that possibility was a reason, in the nature of the thing, for giving the English Government an opportunity of explaining before retaliations took place.
To all this it may be added, that one of the substitutes for the plan pursued, the sequestration of debts, was a measure no less dishonest than impolitic; as will be shown in the remarks which will be applied to the 10th article of the treaty.
But is it unimportant to the real friends of republican government, that the plan pursued was congenial to the public character which is ascribed to it? Would it have been more desirable that the government of our nation, outstripping the war maxims of Europe, should, without a previous demand of reparation, have rushed into reprisals, and consequently into a war?
However this may be, it is a well-ascertained fact, that our country never appeared so august and respectable as in the position which it assumed upon this occasion. Europe was struck with the dignified moderation of our conduct; and the character of our government and nation acquired a new elevation.
It cannot escape an attentive observer, that the language which, in the first instance, condemned the mission of an Envoy Extraordinary to Great Britain, and which now condemns the treaty negotiated by him, seems to consider the United States as among the first-rate powers of the world in point of strength and resources, and proposes to them a conduct predicated upon that condition.
To underrate our just importance would be a degrading error. To overrate it may lead to dangerous mistakes.
A very powerful state may frequently hazard a high and haughty tone with good policy; but a weak state can scarcely ever do it without imprudence. The last is yet our character; though we are the embryo of a great empire. It is, therefore, better suited to our situation to measure each step with the utmost caution; to hazard as little as possible, in the cases in which we are injured; to blend moderation with firmness; and to brandish the weapons of hostility only when it is apparent that the use of them is unavoidable.
It is not to be inferred from this, that we are to crouch to any power on earth, or tamely to suffer our rights to be violated. A nation which is capable of this meanness will quickly have no rights to protect, or honor to defend.
But the true inference is, that we ought not lightly to seek or provoke a resort to arms; that, in the differences between us and other nations, we ought carefully to avoid measures which tend to widen the breach; and that we should scrupulously abstain from whatever may be construed into reprisals, till after the employment of all amicable means has reduced it to a certainty that there is no alternative.
If we can avoid a war for ten or twelve years more, we shall then have acquired a maturity, which will make it no more than a common calamity, and will authorize us, in our national discussions, to take a higher and more imposing tone.
This is a consideration of the greatest weight to determine us to exert all our prudence and address to keep out of war as long as it shall be possible; to defer, to a state of manhood, a struggle to which infancy is ill adapted. This is the most effectual way to disappoint the enemies of our welfare; to pursue a contrary conduct may be to play into their hands, and to gratify their wishes. If there be a foreign power which sees with envy or ill-will our growing prosperity, that power must discern that our infancy is the time for clipping our wings. We ought to be wise enough to see that this is not a time for trying our strength.
Should we be able to escape the storm which at this juncture agitates Europe, our disputes with Great Britain terminated, we may hope to postpone war to a distant period. This, at least, will greatly diminish the chances of it. For then there will remain only one power with whom we have any embarrassing discussions. I allude to Spain, and the question of the Mississippi; and there is reason to hope that this question, by the natural progress of things, and perseverance in an amicable course, will finally be arranged to our satisfaction without the necessity of the dernier ressort.
The allusion to this case suggests one or two important reflections. How unwise would it have been to invite or facilitate a quarrel with Great Britain at a moment when she and Spain were engaged in a common cause, both of them having, besides, controverted points with the United States! How wise will it be to adjust our differences with the most formidable of these two powers, and to have only to contest with one of them!
This policy is so obvious, that it requires an extraordinary degree of infatuation not to be sensible of it, and not to view with favor any measure which tends to so important a result.
This cursory view of the motives which may be supposed to have governed our public councils in the mission to Great Britain, serves not only to vindicate the measures then pursued, but warns us against a prejudiced judgment of the result, which may, in the end, defeat the salutary purposes of those measures.
I proceed now to observe summarily that the objects of the mission, contrary to what has been asserted, have been substantially obtained. What were these? They were principally:
Both these objects have been provided for, and it will be shown, when we come to comment upon the articles which make the provisions in each case, that it is a reasonable one, as good a one as ought to have been expected; as good a one as there is any prospect of obtaining hereafter; one which it is consistent with our honor to accept, and which our interest bids us to close with.
The provisions with regard to commerce were incidental and auxiliary. The reasons which may be conceived to have led to the including of the subject in the mission will be discussed in some proper place.