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THE SYSTEM OF NEUTRALITY
BETWEEN 1776, when independence was proclaimed, and 1789, when the government under the Constitution was inaugurated, the United States entered into fourteen treaties - six with France, three with Great Britain, two with the Netherlands, and one each with Sweden, Prussia, and Morocco; but a majority of all were negotiated and signed in France, at Paris or at Versailles. Eight were subscribed, on the part of the United States, by two or more plenipotentiaries; and among their names we find, either alone or in association, that of Franklin, ten times; the name of Adams, seven times; that of Jefferson, three times; and that of Jay, twice. These early treaties covered a wide range of subjects, embracing not only war and peace, and, as did those with France, political alliance, but also commercial intercourse and the rights of consuls. Among their various stipulations, we find provisions for liberty of conscience, and for the removal of the disability of aliens in respect of their property and their business. Stipulations for the mitigation of the evils of war are numerous. A fixed time is allowed, in the unfortunate event of hostilities, for the sale or withdrawal of goods; provision is made for the humane treatment of prisoners of war; the exercise of visit and search at sea is regulated and restrained; the acceptance by a citizen of the one country of a privateering commission from the enemy of the other is assimilated to piracy; and an effort is made to limit the scope of belligerent captures at sea. But, prior to the establishment of the Constitution, it was easier for the United States to make treaties than to enforce them. In spite of the engagement of the treaty of peace, that his Britannic Majesty should with "all convenient speed" withdraw his “armies, garrisons and fleets" from the United States, important posts within the northern frontier continued to be occupied by the British forces; and when the government of the United States protested, the British government pointed to the refusal of the State courts to respect the treaty pledge that British creditors should meet with no lawful impediment to the recovery of their confiscated debts. For similar reasons, the act of the United States in sending John Adams, soon after the peace, as minister to the court of St. James, remained unreciprocated.
The termination of the period of divergence and of incapacity for uniform action among the several States came none too soon. Perils were close at hand, the disruptive impulses of which the old confederation could not have withstood. They were even to test the efficacy of the new Constitution. In 1789, when that instrument was put into operation, France was in the first throes of the great revolution which was eventually to involve all Europe in a struggle of unprecedented magnitude and severity. What attitude was the United States to hold towards this impending conflict? Even apart from the treaties with France of 1778, the question was fraught with grave possibilities. For generations, Europe had been a vast battle-ground, on · which had been fought out the contests not only for political but also for commercial supremacy. Of the end of these contests, there appeared to be no sign; nor, in spite of their long continuance, had the rights and duties of non-participant or neutral nations been clearly and comprehensively defined. Indeed, so intricate were the ramifications of the European system that, when discords arose, it seemed to afford little room for neutrality. The situation of the United States was essentially different. Physically remote from the Old World, its political interests also were detached from those of Europe. Except as it might be drawn into disputes affecting the fate of existing colonies or the formation of new ones in America, it was not likely to become embroiled in European wars. Not only, therefore, did it enjoy the opportunity to be neutral, but its permanent interest appeared
to be that of neutrality; and the importance of preserving this interest was greatly enhanced by the necessity of commercial and industrial development. The new nation, though born, was yet to demonstrate to a world somewhat sceptical and not altogether friendly its right and its power to live and to grow. It was easy to foresee that its enterprise would penetrate to the farthest corners of the globe, and that its commerce, overspreading the seas, would be exposed to hazards and vexations of which the most uncertain and potentially the most disastrous were those arising from the exorbitant pretensions of belligerents. To resist these pretensions would fall to the lot of a neutral power; and upon the results of this resistance would depend the right to be independent in reality as well as in name, and to enjoy the incidents of independence.
In circumstances such as these it is not strange that Washington and his advisers watched with anxiety the progress of the French Revolution, as, growing in intensity and in violence, it encountered, first, the agitated disapprobation, and then the frantic opposition of other powers. It was not till 1793, when England entered into the conflict, that the war, by assuming a distinctively maritime form, raised a question as to the obligations of the United States under the treaties with France; but, long prior to that event, popular feeling in America was deeply stirred. Although the treaties of 1778 were made with Louis XVI., yet in the sounds of the French Revolution the American people discerned a reverberation of their own immortal declaration. From Boston to Savannah, there were manifestations of the liveliest sympathy and enthusiasm. To set bounds to this tendency, obviously would require the exercise of unusual prudence and firmness on the part of those intrusted with the affairs of government. America had fought for freedom, but her statesmen were not mere doctrinaires. Their aims were practical. They understood that the peaceful demonstration of the beneficence of their principles, in producing order, prosperity, and contentment at home, was likely to accomplish far more for the cause of liberty than an armed propagandism, which perchance might ultimately degenerate into military despotism. It was therefore important to avoid premature commitments. To a perception of this fact is no doubt to be ascribed the appointment by Washington, on January 12, 1792, of Gouverneur Morris as minister to France. In his own country Morris had been a supporter of the Revolution, a member of the Continental Congress, assistant to Robert Morris in the management of the public finances, and a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1787. From the beginning, however, he had exhibited a distrust of the revolution in France. He instinctively recoiled from the excesses that were committed when his forebodings