Front Page Titles (by Subject) no. xxiv - The Works of Alexander Hamilton, (Federal Edition), vol. 6
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no. xxiv - Alexander Hamilton, The Works of Alexander Hamilton, (Federal Edition), vol. 6 
The Works of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Henry Cabot Lodge (Federal Edition) (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). In 12 vols. Vol. 6.
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However uniform may have been the law of Europe in relation to the colonial establishments, no pains have been spared to create an opinion that France has been guided by a more liberal policy than the other colonizing powers, and that the regulations of her colony trade were essentially dissimilar from theirs; moreover, that her disinterestedness was so great, that she not long since proposed to our Government to establish, by treaty, a trade between us and her West India colonies equally free with that which prevails in her own intercourse with them. The object of these attempts is readily perceived.
As there was no probability that Great Britain would consent to our trading with her West India colonies on the same terms as she herself does; as it was foreseen that limitations and conditions would accompany any agreement that should be made on this subject; to extol the liberty of France, and exclaim against the monopolizing views of Great Britain, were deemed suitable means to excite a prejudice against the expected adjustment of the commercial intercourse between us and the British West India colonies.
A comparison of the footing by which our trade stood with the French and British West India colonies, after the completion of our Revolution, and before the present war in Europe, with a concise exposition of the real views of France on the subject of a new commercial treaty, will best demonstrate the want of candor and patriotism in those Americans who have submitted to become agents in propagating these errors.
France, like England, has endeavored to secure the greatest possible portion of advantage to herself, by her colonial laws, and the concessions yielded to foreigners have been only such deviations from an entire monopoly as her own interest has rendered indispensable. France, in imitation of the English navigation law, as early as 1727, established an ordinance, confirming to the mother country the monopoly of the trade to her colonies, and excluding thereby all foreigners. Experience proved the necessity of moderating the rigor of their ordinance, and relaxations in favor of a limited foreign intercourse existed at the time when our commercial treaty with France was concluded, by the thirtieth article of which it is agreed that France will continue to the citizens of the United States the free ports, which have been and are open in her West India islands, to be enjoyed agreeable to the regulations which relate to them. A system of regulations relative to the trade of foreigners with the French islands was promulgated in 1784. This ordinance established one free port at St. Lucie, another at Martinique, another at Guadaloupe, another at Tobago, and three others at St. Domingo, to which foreign vessels of the burthen of sixty tons and upward might carry for sale woods of all sorts, pit coal, live animals, fatted beef, salted fish, rice, Indian corn, vegetables, green hides, peltry, turpentine, and tar. This was followed by the arrêts of September, 1785, which by imposing heavy duties on foreign salted fish, and establishing large bounties on those of the national or French fishery, materially affected the foreign commerce with the French islands in this important article of supply and consumption.
Such were the duties on the foreign and the premiums on the national fish, that together they would have been equivalent to a prohibition of the former, had the national fishery been able to supply the consumption.
In return for these articles, which alone were permitted to be imported by foreigners into the French islands, and which it will be observed excluded some of our principal staples, especially flour, they were allowed to purchase and bring away of the productions of the islands only molasses and rum.
All cotton, coffee, sugar, and other productions (rum and molasses excepted) were prohibited; and we could, except occasionally by local relaxations of the general law, rightfully obtain none of them from the French West India islands. This was the footing of our trade under our treaty and the standing edict which preceded the French Revolution, and even this was liable to still further limitations, whenever France should think proper to impose them; the treaty securing only a right to as free a commerce as France should grant to other foreign nations.
Great Britain has permitted the importation into her West India colonies of all the foreign articles allowed by France to be imported into her islands (salted fish and salted beef excepted), and she moreover permitted the importation of foreign tobacco, flour, meal, biscuit, wheat, and various other grains which France prohibited. In return for these commodities, Great Britain permitted the exportation from her islands to our country, of rum and molasses, and moreover of sugar, coffee, cocoa, ginger, and pimento, together with such other articles as are allowed to be carried from their islands to any other foreign country.
Great Britain prohibited the importation and exportation of most of these articles to and from all foreign nations, except the United States; France permitted the intercourse with her colonies, under the same limitations to us in common with all other foreign nations.
The articles received from us by Great Britain, for the supply of her West India islands, exceeded in variety those received from us by France for the supply of her islands; the British West Indies were, therefore, in the ordinary and established course, more extensive customers to us than the French West Indies. Again, the articles which we received from the British West Indies, and which we were prohibited from receiving from the French West Indies, were among the most valuable of their productions, and, from the force of habit, some of them are included in the catalogue of articles of the first necessity in our consumption. In point of supply, therefore, the British were better furnishers, their colonial laws being much less restrictive than those of France.
Though the regulations of the British West India trade were more favorable to agriculture than those of France, and though the articles with which we were supplied from the British islands were more numerous and valuable than those obtained from the islands of France, the colony system of the latter was preferable to that of the former in relation to our navigation. France permitted our vessels of and above sixty tons burthen to carry and bring away the articles not prohibited in the foreign trade with her islands, while Great Britain confined the trade to her own vessels and excluded those of all foreign nations.
Difference of situation, and not of principle, produced this variety or distinction in the colony system of the two nations. France being able from her resources to supply most of the articles requisite for the consumption of her West Indies, and from her great population, having a proportionate demand for the productions of her islands, she has been carefully restrictive in the trade between her colonies and foreign countries as to the articles of import and export.
All the productions of her islands must go to the mother country, except rum and molasses; these articles were not confined to France, because they would have directly interfered with the valuable manufacture of her brandies. On the other hand, Great Britain, being less able from her internal resources to supply the articles necessary for the consumption of her West Indies, and her population or home demand not requiring the whole productions of her islands, she has been more liberal in the trade allowed to be carried on between her colonies and foreign countries as to the articles of import and export. But her navigation being adequate to the whole trade of all her dominions, while that of France required the addition of foreign bottoms, Great Britain has excluded entirely from her colony trade the foreign vessels of all nations, while France has admitted them to share in the foreign trade permitted to her West India islands.
Both France and Great Britain relax their colonial laws in times of occasional scarcity, and when they are engaged in war; during which, the intercourse with their West India possessions is laid more open to foreigners. The catalogue of supplies is sometimes enlarged, and Great Britain, as well as France, during these relaxations, permits American vessels to resort to, and engage in the commerce of, their islands.
It is, notwithstanding, from the permanent laws alone of these nations, that we are able to infer their views in relation to their colony trade; the exceptions and deviations that become necessary, by reason of accidental scarcity or the embarrassments of war, serve only to explain more clearly the principles of the permanent system.
The result of this comparison affords no support for the assertion that France has been less exclusive or more liberal in her colony system, than Great Britain. Both these nations have in the establishment of their colonial laws alike disregarded the interests of foreign nations, and have been equally under the control of the principles of self-interest, which ever have and ever will govern the affairs of nations.1
Nothing can be more erroneous, than the opinion that any nation is likely to yield up its own interest, in order, gratuitously, to advance that of another. Yet we frequently hear declarations of this kind, and too many honest citizens have surrendered themselves to this delusion; time and experience will cure us of this folly.
Equal artifice has been practised, and no less credulity displayed, on the subject of a new treaty of commerce, which, it is boldly asserted, France from the most disinterested motives has offered to us. It should be recollected that France already has a treaty of commerce with us, a treaty that is not limited to two years, nor twelve years, but one that is to endure forever. This treaty is as favorable to France as she can desire, or we in our utmost fondness be disposed to make. It secures to her our acquiescence in an exclusion from her Asiatic dominions, and in fresh regulations as her interest shall dictate relative to our intercourse with her West India possessions; it excludes us from her fisheries on the Banks of Newfoundland, which she was unwilling to share with us, and it gives to her every commercial favor or privilege which by treaty we may yield to any other nation, freely when freely granted, and when otherwise on yielding the same equivalent; her productions, her manufactures, her merchandises, and her ships may come into all our ports to which any other foreign productions, manufactures, merchandises, or ships may come; they are severally to pay only the lowest duties paid by any other nation, and no other nation in its intercourse and trade with us is, in any instance, to have a preference over her. A variety of other regulations are inserted in this treaty useful to France and not particularly disserviceable to us.
This treaty has been religiously observed and executed on our part; France has repeatedly violated it in the article which makes enemy’s goods free in neutral bottoms, while it is understood she has faithfully observed it in the article that makes neutral goods lawful prize when found in enemy bottoms.
If it be true that nations, in justice to themselves, are bound to decline the abandonment of their own interest, for the purpose of promoting, at their own expense and detriment, the interest of others, ought we too readily to credit an opposite opinion? Ought we not to expect full proof of the sincerity of those declarations that are intended to produce a belief of this disinterested and self-denying course? Ought not the very proposal of such a measure, from its extraordinary nature, inspire circumspection, and put a prudent nation on its guard? If, moreover, the overture should occur at a moment when we have ascertained that those who make it desire, and are, in fact, pursuing objects incompatible with the disinterestedness which it avows; if while it is said we wish that you should remain in peace with those who hold this language, neglect no means to engage our citizens to violate their neutral duties and thereby expose their country to war; if when we are told “we rejoice in the freedom of a sister republic,” all the arts of intrigue, so much more dangerous by our unsuspicious temper, and unlimited affection for those who practise them, were employed to alienate our attachment from our own Government, and to throw us into a state of anarchy; if when the fascinating proposal of opening new channels of commerce, which were to give unbounded riches to our merchants, was received with more caution than was desired, we are told that in case of refusal, or evasion (mark the generosity), France would repeal her existing laws which had been dictated by an attachment to the Americans, what must have been our infatuation, what the measure of our folly, had we given implicit credit to words so much at variance with cotemporary actions? But it is asked, do not the letters of Mr. Genet to Mr. Jefferson, which have been published, prove that France desired and offered to enter into a new, disinterested, and liberal treaty of commerce with us? The question shall be fairly examined.
There are two letters from Mr. Genet on this subject. Immediately after his arrival at Philadelphia, in a letter to Mr. Jefferson of the 23d May, 1793, he says: “The French republic has given it in charge to me to propose to your Government to consecrate by a true family compact, by a national covenant, the liberal and fraternal basis on which it wishes to establish the commercial and political system of two people whose interests are inseparably connected.”
If the object of this proposal was a revision of our commercial treaty, in order to render the intercourse between us more free and advantageous, this minister was singularly unfortunate in his expressions. He might have employed the fine phrase of consecrating by a true family compact, by a national covenant, the liberal and fraternal basis on which it was wished to establish the commercial system of the two countries, and have been intelligible; but when he tells us, that he is instructed to open a negotiation with our Government, for the purpose of establishing the commercial and political system of the two countries, what are we to understand? That trade and its regulations are alone in view? Or that a family compact establishing the political as well as the commercial system of the two nations, must include likewise the league, or treaty of alliance, whereby the strength and wealth of the two nations should be closely united in the prosecution of a common object?
This ambiguous overture, if its meaning is not too plain to allow the epithet, was received in the most friendly manner by our Government, and on the suggestion that the Senate are united with the President in making treaties, it was understood between Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Genet, that the subject should be deferred till the meeting of Congress.
Before that period, however, Mr. Genet, in a letter of the 30th of September, 1793, renews the proposal to open the negotiation relative to the proposed family compact between us and France; and proves to us that our benefit was its principal exclusive object, by affectionately intimating in the conclusion of his letter, that he is further instructed to tell us, in case of refusal or evasion on our part to enter into this family agreement, that France will repeal the laws dictated by the attachment of the French for the Americans.
Had it before been doubted whether political engagements relative to war were intended to be connected with the proposed treaty, these doubts must have disappeared on the receipt of this second letter from Mr. Genet; the intimation that the laws of France which operated favorably to our trade with their dominions would be repealed, in case we refused or evaded the conclusion of a new treaty, cannot be reconciled with the belief, that this treaty was sought for from motives purely commercial, or solely to enlarge and add prosperity to our trade.
Mr. Genet at this time had so outraged our Government as to have compelled them to request his recall; he must, therefore, have been convinced, that no conference would be held with him except on points of urgent importance, and such as would not admit of delay. He was therefore answered by Mr. Jefferson on the 5th of November, that his letter had been laid before the President, and would be considered with all the respect and interest that its objects necessarily required; and in Mr. Jefferson’s letter to Mr. Morris of the 23d of August, we are informed that our Government were desirous to go into a commercial negotiation with France, and, therefore, requested that the powers given to Mr. Genet on that subject should be renewed to his successor. It has not appeared that this was ever done. His immediate successor, Mr. Fauchet, it is believed, gave no evidence of his having any powers relative to a commercial treaty; and if reports, which arrived with the present minister, having great marks of authenticity, may be credited, he has power only to digest the articles of such a treaty, not to conclude one.
Notwithstanding the internal evidence contained in the two letters of Mr. Genet was sufficient to have satisfied a sensible people, that something beyond a commercial treaty was connected with the proffered negotiation, and though this conjecture acquired strength from the cautious procedure of our Government on the occasion, yet these letters, and that procedure, have been pressed upon the public as conclusive evidence that France had offered, and our Government refused, to enter into a new treaty of commerce, that would have been highly beneficial to our trade and navigation.
The refutation of this opinion, so injurious to a reasonable and salutary confidence in the integrity and patriotism of our own executive Government, and which the agents of its propagation had spread far and wide, might have been more difficult, had not the minister of France, for the purpose of justifying his own conduct, published his hitherto secret instructions.
By these instructions it appears, that the essential object of this proffered negotiation, was to engage the United States to make common cause with France in the war then foreseen, and which soon broke out with Spain and England; that the advantages to be yielded by a new commercial treaty were to be purchased by our uniting with France in extending the empire of liberty, in breaking up the colonial and monopolizing systems of all nations, and finally in the emancipation of the New World.1 This was laying out a large and difficult work, in the accomplishment whereof arduous and numerous perils must be met, to encounter which we were called by no obligation to others, to avoid which we were admonished by all the duties which require us to cherish and preserve our own unparalleled freedom, prosperity, and happiness.
However contradictory this extraordinary project may appear to the friendly communications that had been made by the French Government to ours; however repugnant to the soothing declarations pronounced by Mr. Genet, of the fraternal and generous sentiments of his country toward ours, and of the republican frankness and sincerity that should characterize his deportment, let the following extracts from his instructions published by himself in December, 1793, be consulted in confirmation of this statement, and as an authentic exposition of the genuine views of the French executive council in the mission of Mr. Genet—viz.:
“The executive council have examined the instructions given to the predecessors of the Citizen Genet in America, and they have seen with indignation, that while the good people of America have expressed to us their gratitude in the most lively manner, and given us every testimony of their friendship, both Vergennes and Montmorin have thought that the interests of France required, that the United States should not obtain that political order and consistency of which they were capable, because they would thereby quickly attain a strength which they might probably be inclined to abuse. These ministers, therefore, enjoined it upon the representatives of Louis XVI. in America, to hold a passive conduct, and speak only of the personal vows of the king for the prosperity of the United States. The same machiavelism directed the operations of the War of Independence; the same duplicity presided in the negotiations of peace. The deputies of Congress had expressed a desire that the cabinet of Versailles should favor the conquests of the Floridas, of Canada, of Nova Scotia; but Louis and his ministers constantly refused their countenance, regarding the possession of those countries by Spain and England, as useful sources of disquietude and anxiety to the Americans.”
After declaring that the executive council proposes to itself a different course, and that it approves of the overtures, which had been made as well by General Washington, as by Mr. Jefferson, to Mr. Ternant, relative to the means of renewing and consolidating the commercial regulations between the two countries, they proceed to declare further, “that they are inclined to extend the latitude of the proposed commercial treaty (observe, the first proposal of a new commercial treaty came from us, and not from France) by converting it into a national compact, whereby the two people should combine their commercial with their political interests, and should establish an intimate concert to befriend, under all circumstances, the extension of the empire of liberty, to guarantee the sovereignty of the people, and to punish the nations who shall continue to adhere to a colonial system, and an exclusive commerce, by declaring that the vessels of such nations should not be received into the ports of the two contracting parties. This agreement, which the French people will support with all the energy that distinguishes them, and of which they have given so many proofs, will quickly contribute to the emancipation of the New World. However vast this project may appear, it will be easily accomplished, if the Americans will concur in it, and in order to convince them of this, no pains must be spared by the Citizen Genet. For, independent of the benefits that humanity will draw from the success of this negotiation, France, at this moment, has a particular interest that requires us to be prepared to act with efficacy against England and Spain, if, as every circumstance announces, these, in hatred of our principles, shall make war upon us.” In this state of things, we ought “to employ every means to reanimate the zeal of the Americans, who are also interested that we should disappoint the liberticide designs of George the Third, of which they likewise may possibly be an object.” “The executive council has reason to believe that these reflections, joined to the great commercial advantages which we are disposed to grant to the United States, will decide their Government to agree to all that the Citizen Genet shall propose to them on our part; but as from the rumors respecting our interior, our finances, and our marine, the American administration may observe a wavering timid conduct! The executive council, in expectation that the American Government will finally decide to make common cause with us, charges the Citizen Genet to take such steps as shall be most likely to serve the cause of liberty and the freedom of the people.”
In a supplemental instruction, the executive council say: “As soon as the negotiation concerning a new treaty of commerce shall be practicable, Citizen Genet must not omit to stipulate a positive reciprocity of the exemption from the American tonnage duty.” The mutual naturalization of French and American citizens, so far as respects commerce, that has been proposed by Mr. Jefferson and approved by the executive council (this, it is presumed, in the eyes of certain characters, would be free from objection, though the naturalization by treaty, of the subjects of any nation but France, would be treason against the Constitution and against liberty), “will render this exemption from the tonnage duties less offensive to the powers who have a right by their treaties to claim the same exemption, for the casus fœderis by this mutual naturalization will be entirely changed in respect to them. The reciprocal guaranty of the possessions of the two nations, stipulated in the XIth article of the treaty of 1778, must form an essential clause in the new treaty to be concluded! The executive council, therefore, instructs Citizen Genet early to sound the American Government on this point, and to make it an indispensable condition of a free trade to the French West Indies, so interesting for the United States to obtain. It concerns the peace and prosperity of the French nation, that a people whose resources and strength increase in a ratio incalculable, and who are placed so near to our rich colonies, should be held by explicit engagements to the preservation of these islands. There will be the less difficulty in making these propositions relished by the United States, as the great commerce which will be their price, will indemnify them beforehand for the sacrifices they must make in the sequel. Besides, the Americans cannot be ignorant of the great disproportion between their means and those of the French Republic; that for a long time the guaranty will be merely nominal for them, while it will be real on the side of France. And moreover, that we shall, without delay, take measures to fulfil it on our part, by sending to the American ports, a force sufficient to shelter them from all insults and dangers, and to facilitate their intercourse with our islands and with France”;—“and to the end that nothing may retard the conclusion of the negotiations of Citizen Genet with the Americans, and that he may have in his hands all the means which may be employed in forwarding the success of his exertions to serve the cause of liberty, the council, in addition to the full powers hereunto annexed, have authorized the Minister of Marine to supply him with a number of blank letters of marque, to be delivered to such Frenchmen or Americans as should equip privateers in America; the Minister of War will likewise supply him with commissions in blank for the different grades of the army.”1
These were extraordinary means to enable the French minister to conclude with our Government a pacific treaty of commerce. The above extracts, though not an entire translation of the whole of Mr. Genet’s instructions, many parts of which are foreign to the point in discussion, are a faithful abstract of such parts of them as relate to the principles and conduct of the French monarchy toward us, and are explanatory of the views of the executive council on the subject of a new treaty of commerce. It will, I think, prove, if the assertions of that council are to be credited, that the gratitude, of which we have heard so much, ought not to be demanded on account of the principles that influenced the monarchy of France during our war, or subsequent to the peace; and furthermore, it will prove that the real view of the French executive council in the mission of Mr. Genet, was to engage us, by advantages to be conceded in a new commercial treaty, to make common cause with France, in the expected war with Great Britain and the coalesced powers. If, then, the established footing of our trade with the British islands has been dictated by that colonial system of monopoly which forms a fundamental law in Europe; and if, moreover, the opinion that we could have procured a new and more liberal treaty of commerce with France, without plunging our country in the present war, is an error, that has been artfully imposed on the public, by exposing these truths, the examination of the treaty with Great Britain is at once freed from the objections and aspersions that have proceeded from these errors.
[1.]The opinion heretofore cited of Montesquieu, a Frenchman, agreeing with facts, is a positive testimony that the principle of the French system, like the English, is monopoly.
[1.]This mad scheme, the joining in which was to be the price of the proffered advantages, has since been renounced by France herself as a political chimera
[1.]This measure countenances a conclusion, that it was the intent of the instructions he should take the measures he did with regard to privateering and military expeditions from our territories, to force us into the war in spite of the “wavering and timid conduct of our administration.”