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would understand that no tame submission was intended, and yet no resentment was expressed. The same tone can be noticed in a widely different direction. Washington foresaw that the troubles in France, sooner or later, would involve her in war with England. The United States, as the former allies of the French, were certain to attract the attention of the mother country, and so he watched on that side also with equal caution. England, if possible, was to be made to understand that the American policy was not dictated by anything but the interests and the dignity of the United States, and their resolve to hold aloof from European complications. In June, 1792, he wrote to Morris: “One thing, however, I must not pass over in silence, lest you should infer from it that Mr. D. had authority for reporting that the United States had asked the mediation of Great Britain to bring about a peace between them and the Indians. You may be fully assured, sir, that such mediation never was asked, that the asking of it never was in contemplation, and I think I might go further and say that it not only never will be asked, but would be rejected if offered. The United States will never have occasion, I hope, to ask for the interposition of that power, or any other, to establish peace within their own territory."
Here is again the same note, always so true and clear, that the United States are not colonies but an independent nation. So far as it was in the
power of the President, this was something which should be heard by all men, even at the risk of much reiteration. It was a fact not understood at home and not recognized abroad, but Washington proposed to insist upon it so far as in him lay, until it was both understood and admitted.
Meantime the flames were ever spreading from Paris, consuming and threatening to consume the heaped up rubbish of centuries, and also burning up many other more valuable things, as is the way with great fires when they get beyond control. Many persons were interested in the things of worth now threatened with destruction, and many others in the rubbish and the tyrannous abuses. It was clear that war of a wide and far-reaching kind could not be long put off. In March, 1793, Washington wrote: “All our late accounts from Europe hold up the expectation of a general war in that quarter. For the sake of humanity, I hope such an event will not take place. But if it should, I trust that we shall have too just a sense of our own interest to originate any cause that may involve us in it."
Even while he wrote, the general war that he anticipated, the war between France and England, had come.
The news reached him at Mount Vernon, and in the letter to Jefferson announcing his immediate departure for Philadelphia he said: “War having actually commenced between France and Great Britain, it behooves the government of this country to use every means in its power to
prevent the citizens thereof from embroiling us with either of those powers, by endeavoring to maintain a strict neutrality. I therefore require that you will give the subject mature consideration, that such measures as shall be deemed most likely to effect this desirable purpose may be adopted without delay.” These instructions were written on April 12, and on the 18th Washington was in Philadelphia, and had sent out a series of
questions to be considered by his cabinet and answered on the following day. After much discussion, it was unanimously agreed to issue a proclamation of neutrality, to receive the new French minister, and not to convene Congress in extra session. The remaining questions were put over for further consideration.
Hamilton framed the questions, say the historians; Randolph drafted the proclamation, says his biographer, in a very instructive and fresh discussion of the relations between the Secretary of State and the Attorney-General. It is interesting to know what share the President's advisers took when he consulted them on this momentous question, but the leading idea was his own. When the moment came, the policy long meditated and matured was put in force. The world was told that a new power had come into being, which meant to hold aloof from Europe, and which took no interest in the balance of power or the fate of dynasties, but looked only to the welfare of its own people and to the conquest. and mastery of a
continent as its allotted tasks. The policy declared by the proclamation was purely American in its conception, and severed the colonial tradition at a stroke. In the din then prevailing among civilized men, it was but little heeded, and even at home it was almost totally misunderstood; yet nevertheless it did its work. For twenty-five years afterward the American people slowly advanced toward the ground then taken, until the ideas of the neutrality proclamation received their final acceptance and extension at the hands of the younger Adams, in the promulgation of the Monroe doctrine. The shaping of this policy which was then launched was a great work of far-sighted and native statesmanship, and it was preëminently the work of the President himself.
Moreover, it did not stop here. A circular to the officers of the customs provided for securing notice of infractions of the law, and the task of enforcing the principles laid down in the proclamation began. As it happened, the theory of neutrality was destined at once to receive rude tests of its soundness in practice. The new French minister was landing on our shores, and beginning his brief career in this country, while the proclamation was going from town to town and telling the people, in sharp and unaccustomed tones, that they were Americans and not colonists, and must govern themselves accordingly.
Everything, in fact, seemed to conspire to make the path of the new policy rough and thorny. In
the excitement of the time a large portion of the population regarded it as a party measure aimed against our beloved allies, while, to make the situation worse, France on one side and England on the other proceeded, as if deliberately, to do everything in their power to render neutrality impossible, and to drive us into war with some one.
The new minister, Genet, could not have been better chosen, if the special errand for which he had been employed had been to make, trouble. Light-headed and vain, with but little ability and a vast store of unintelligent zeal, the whirl of the French revolution flung him on our shores, where he had a glorious chance for mischief. This opportunity he at once seized. As soon as he landed he proceeded to arm privateers at Charleston. Thence he took his way north, and the enthusiastic popular acclaim which everywhere greeted his arrival almost crazed him, and drew forth a series of high-flown and most injudicious speeches. By the time he reached Philadelphia, and before he had presented his credentials, he had induced enough violations of neutrality, and sown the seeds of enough trouble, to embarrass our government for months to come.
Washington had written to Governor Lee on May 6: “I foresaw in the moment information of that event (the war) came to me, the necessity for announcing the disposition of this country towards the belligerent powers, and the propriety of restraining, as far as a proclamation would do it,