George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the Cabinet, 18 April 1793

To the Cabinet

Philadelphia April 18th 1793.


The posture of affairs in Europe, particularly between France and Great Britain, places the United States in a delicate situation; and Requires much consideration of the measures which will be proper for them to observe in the War betwn those Powers. With a view to forming a general plan of conduct for the Executive, I have stated and enclosed sundry questions to be considered preparatory to a meeting at my house to morrow; where I shall expect to see you at 9 ’oclock, & to receive the result of your reflections thereon.

Go: Washington

Philada April 18th 1793.

Question I. Shall a proclamation issue for the purpose of preventing interferences of the Citizens of the United States in the War between France & Great Britain &ca? Shall it contain a declaration of Neutrality or not? What shall it contain?

Questn II Shall a Minister from the Republic of France be received?1

Quest. III If received shall it be absolutely or with qualifications; and if writh qualifications, of what kind?

Quest. IV Are the United States obliged by good faith to consider the Treaties heretofore made with France as applying to the present Situation of the parties. May they either renounce them, or hold them suspended ’till the Government of France shall be established.2

Questn V If they have the right is it expedient to do either—and which?

Questn VI If they have an option—would it be a breach of Neutrality to consider the Treaties still in operation?

Quest. VII If the Treaties are to be considered as now in operation is the Guarantee in the Treaty of Alliance applicable to a defensive war only, or to War either offensive or defensive?

VIII Does the War in which France is engaged appear to be offensive or defensive on her part? or of a mixed & equivocal character?

IX If of a mixed & equivocal character does the Guarantee in any event apply to such a War?

X What is the effect of a Guarantee such as that to be found in the Treaty of Alliance between the United States and France?

XI Does any Article in either of the Treaties prevent Ships of War, other than Privateers, of the Powers opposed to France, from coming into the Ports of the United States to act as Convoys to their own merchantmen? or does it lay any other restraint upon them more than wd apply to the Ships of War of France?

XII Should the future Regent of France send a Minister to the United States ought he to be received?3

XIII Is it necessary or advisable to call together the two Houses of Congress with a view to the present posture of European Affairs?4 If it is, what should be the particular objects of such a call?

Go: Washington

ALS, DLC: Jefferson Papers; ALS (letterpress copy), DLC:GW; LS (incomplete), DLC: Hamilton Papers; LB, DNA: RG 59, George Washington’s Correspondence with His Secretaries of State; LB (photocopy), DLC:GW; LB (three copies), DLC:GW ; translation (French), FrPMAE: Correspondence Politique, États Unis, vol. 45. The LS in DLC: Hamilton Papers contains only GW’s questions. The translation is certified as accurate by Pierre-Auguste Adet.

Before his return from Mount Vernon to Philadelphia on 17 April, GW had already called for Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson to formulate a policy of U.S. neutrality in the war between France and Great Britain (GW to Hamilton, 12 April, to Jefferson, 12 April). At its meeting on 19 April, the cabinet addressed only the first two of the president’s questions (Minutes of a Cabinet Meeting, 19 April, Jefferson’s Notes on a Cabinet Meeting, 6 May; JPP, description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends 114). Although the cabinet met again on 22 April to discuss the remaining questions, the only result of that meeting was the approval of Edmund Randolph’s draft of a proclamation of neutrality (JPP, description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends 117; Neutrality Proclamation, 22 April). Cabinet disagreement over U.S. policy toward the European belligerent powers often found Henry Knox and Hamilton opposing Randolph and Jefferson. This dissent ultimately led to individual and paired written responses to the rest of GW’s queries (Jefferson to GW, 28 April, Hamilton and Knox to GW, 2 May, Randolph to GW, 6 May, and the memoranda on privateers by Hamilton, Jefferson, Knox, and Randolph, dated, respectively, 15, 16, 16, 17 May). The dispute grew particularly rancorous over issues raised by question 11 (Jefferson’s Notes on a Cabinet Meeting, 6 May, Jefferson’s Notes, 6–12 May, Cabinet Opinion, 8 July, Hamilton and Knox to GW, 8 July). As late as July and August 1793, GW was still trying to formulate permanent rules on neutrality (Jefferson to GW, 18 July, Cabinet Opinion, 3 Aug., GW to Cabinet, 3 Aug., to Jefferson, 4 Aug., U.S. Supreme Court to GW, 8 August).

1For the arrival of Edmond Genet, the new French minister to the United States, see Provisional Executive Council of France to GW, 30 Dec. 1792, note 2, and GW to Alice Delancey Izard, 20 April 1793).

2In 1778 the United States had signed the Treaty of Amity and Commerce and the Treaty of Alliance with France (Miller, Treaties, description begins Hunter Miller, ed. Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America. Vol. 2, 1776-1818. Washington, D.C., 1931. description ends 3–47). The neutrality question centered around whether these treaties were still in force after the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of the French republic.

3French revolutionaries had beheaded King Louis XVI on 21 Jan. 1793. Louis-Charles de France, dauphin of France, was 7 years old at that time. He was declared king as Louis XVII by French royalists, but he died in prison in 1795.

4According to Jefferson’s personal notes of 6 May, the cabinet decided unanimously that it was not necessary to convene Congress (Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 25:665–66).

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