To George Washington
New York Jan 19. 1791
Mrs. De Neuville widow of Mr. De Neuville formerly of Holland lately passed through this City.2 On her way she called upon me and announced her intention to make application to Congress on the ground of the political services rendered the UStates by her husband, as in fact a principal cause of his pecuniary misfortunes—and expressed a wish that I would bring her case under your eye. I told her that your situation did not permit you to take an agency on similar matters depending before Congress and that you was very delicate on such subjects. She replied that you might perhaps indirectly promote her cause and that from a letter from you to her husband3 she was encouraged to think you would be disposed to befriend her. I yielded at last to female importunity & promised to mention the matter. I do not know what the case admits of, but from some papers which she shewed me it would seem that she has pretensions on the kindness of this Country.
Our Merchants here are becoming very uneasy on the subject of the French captures and seizures.4 They are certainly very perplexing and alarming—and present an evil of a magnitude to be intolerable if not shortly remedied. My anxiety to present Peace with France is known to you—and it must be the wish of every prudent man that no honorable expedient for avoiding a Rupture be omitted. Yet there are bounds to all things. This Country cannot see its Trade an absolute prey to France without resistance. We seem to be where we were with G Britain when Mr Jay was sent there—and I cannot discern but that the Spirit of the Policy then pursued with regard to England will be the proper one now in respect to France (viz) a solemn and final appeal to the Justice and interest of France & if this will not do, measures of self defence. Any thing is better than absolute humiliation. France has already gone much further than Great Britain ever did.
I give vent to my impressions on this subject though I am persuaded the train of your own reflections cannot materially vary.
With respectful & Affect Attachmen I have the honor to remain Sir Yr. very Obedt
The President of the U States
ALS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress; copy, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.
1. H mistakenly dated this letter “1796.”
3. Washington to John de Neufville, January 6, 1784 (LC, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress).
4. The French policy of seizing American ships was based on a resolution of the Directory on July 2, 1796. This resolution stated in part: “… All neutral or allied Powers shall, without delay, be notified that the flag of the French republic, will treat neutral vessels, either as to confiscation, as to searches, or captures, in the same manner as they shall suffer the English to treat them” (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Foreign Relations, I, 577).
A second translation of this resolution reads: “It shall be notified, without delay, to all the neutral or allied Powers that the flag of the French republic shall be used against neutral vessels, be it for the purpose of confiscation, search, or detention, (visite ou prehension) in the same manner that they suffer the English to use theirs in regard thereto” (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Foreign Relations, III, 287).
In a letter dated October 27, 1796, Pierre Auguste Adet, French Minister to the United States, sent a copy of the July 2, 1796, resolution to Timothy Pickering and wrote: “… The French Government, then, finds itself, with respect to America, at the present time, in circumstances similar to those of the year 1793; and, if it sees itself obliged to abandon, with respect to them and neutral Powers in general, the favorable line of conduct it had pursued, and to adopt different measures, the blame should fall upon the British Government. It is their conduct which the French Government has been obliged to follow.
“The undersigned minister plenipotentiary conceives it his duty to remark to the Secretary of State, that the neutral Governments, or the allies of the republic, have nothing to fear as to the treatment of their flag by the French, since, if keeping within the bounds of their neutrality, they cause the rights of that neutrality to be respected by the English, the republic will respect them. But if, through weakness, partiality, or other motives, they should suffer the English to sport with that neutrality, and turn it to their advantage, could they then complain, when France, to restore the balance of neutrality to its equilibrium, shall act in the same manner as the English? No, certainly; for the neutrality of a nation consists in granting to belligerent Powers the same advantages; and that neutrality no longer exists, when, in the course of the war, that neutral nation grants to one of the belligerent Powers advantages not stipulated by treaties anterior to the war, or suffers that Power to seize upon them. The neutral Government cannot then complain if the other belligerent Power desires to enjoy advantages which its enemy enjoys, or if it avails itself of them; otherwise, that neutral Government would deviate, with respect to it, from the line of neutrality, and would become its enemy.” (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Foreign Relations, I, 577).
For an account of French spoliations of United States commerce, including a list of 316 captured American vessels, see “Report of the Secretary of State respecting the depredations committed on the commerce of the United States, since the 1st of October, 1796” which Timothy Pickering submitted to President John Adams on June 21, 1797 (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Foreign Relations, II, 28–65).