Today in History, April 22, 1793:
President George Washington issues a Proclamation of Neutrality, making it clear to the great powers of Europe, and France in particular, that the newly born United States would not participate in a war then sweeping the old countries.
[Philadelphia, 22 April 1793]
“Whereas it appears that a state of war exists between Austria, Prussia, Sardinia, Great-Britain, and the United Netherlands, of the one part, and France on the other, and the duty and interest of the United States require, that they should with sincerity and good faith adopt and pursue a conduct friendly and impartial toward the belligerent powers:
I have therefore thought fit by these presents to declare the disposition of the United States to observe the conduct aforesaid towards those powers respectively; and to exhort and warn the citizens of the United States carefully to avoid all acts and proceedings whatsover, which may in any manner tend to contravene such disposition.
And I do hereby also make known that whosoever of the citizens of the United States shall render himself liable to punishment or forfeiture under the law of nations, by committing, aiding or abetting hostilities against any of the said powers, or by carrying to any of them those articles, which are deemed contraband by the modern usage of nations, will not receive the protection of the United States, against such punishment or forfeiture: and further, that I have given instructions to those officers, to whom it belongs, to cause prosecutions to be instituted against all persons, who shall, within the cognizance of the courts of the United States, violate the Law of Nations, with respect to the powers at war, or any of them.
In testimony whereof I have caused the Seal of the United States of America to be affixed to these presents, and signed the same with my hand. Done at the city of Philadelphia, the twenty-second day of April, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the seventeenth.”
By the President.
The assertion of neutrality did not set well with many Americans, and certainly not with the French. After all, powerful France had been instrumental in the winning of American independence, finalized in the Treaty of Paris only ten years previous in 1783. Now France had been inspired to undergo their own Revolution, and expected America to reciprocate in support of her war with the other European nations. French Edmond Genet was then in the United States, appealing directly to the people for support. President Washington was none too pleased with Genet’s attempts to bypass the American Federal government in his efforts.
Jefferson, Madison and Hamilton debated the subject in the newspapers using aliases, Pacificus and Helivicus.
It wasn’t that President Washington and his cabinet were unfaithful to their first ally. They were practical. The French Revolution had taken on a different tone than the American Revolution, with the beheading of King Louis XVI.
Even more importantly, Washington knew America was not yet a world power. The British did not yet entirely respect American sovereignty, despite the Treaty of Paris. Washington new the nation needed decades to build it’s resources and to unify politically before playing a meaningful part in world affairs.
America is truly fortunate to have had the guidance and forethought of our Founding Fathers. The nation would certainly have plenty of opportunities to return the favors France had provided…World War I, World War II most prominent.