George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Civis, 12 March 1794

From Civis

March 12th 1794.


As a Citizen of the United States, anxiously observing their critical Situation, and the hostile Measures pursued by one, at least, of the belligerent Powers—being perhaps more inclined to propose, than capacitated to suggest, the necessary Means of Relief, I yet take the Liberty of addressing your Excellency.

Without further Apology, permit me to submit to your Consideration, the following Propositions. viz.

1st. That an Embargo be laid upon all Shipping, & Exportations from the United States, for the term of six months.1 2d. That the Debts due [(] Vattel Book 3d Chap. 5th §. 77.[)] from the Citizens of the U.S., to the Subjects & Citizens of any of the belligerent Powers, be sequestered, or retained by Government, as a Pledge for the Restoration of the Property spoliated, and for the Injuries & Damages sustained by the Citizens of the United States, through any of the belligerent Powers, contrary to the Laws of Nations, or to the Faith of Treaties.2 3d. That the Citizens of the U.S. be required within a given, short time, to send forward to Commissioners to be appointed therefor, their Estimates of Losses, and Damages, to be accompanied with the best Evidences, which their Cases will admit of, in order that they may be arranged & transmitted to Europe, as expeditiously as possible. 4th. That special Commissioners be sent to the several belligerent Powers,3 for the purposes of demanding in some Instances, and of stating in others, the losses & Damages sustained by the Citizens of the U.S. through Infractions of the Laws of Nations, & of assuring the said Powers respectively, of the pacifick Disposition of the United States, and of their determination to continue their impartial Neutrality, so long as it shall comport with the Honour of the Government, and the just Rights of the Citizens of the united States. 5th. That a Demand of an imeadiate Recall of all Orders, which are, or may be given to the Commanders of Ships of War, or Privateers, under the Authority of any of the belligerent Powers, contravening the Rights of Neutrality, according to the Laws of Nations, & that upon Refusal thereof, or upon the denial of Justice, in regard to the Injuries already sustained, to notify to the respective Governments, that the Government of the U.S. holds itself bound to its Interests, to retain the Debts due from the Citizens of the U.S. to their Citizens or Subjects, for the Purposes aforementioned, & to take such other Steps in the Premises, as their Honour & Interest may further dictate. 6th. That one or more Commissioners be sent to the Nations not engaged in the present War, for the Purpose of ascertaining, & vindicating the Rights of neutral Nations.

By a Policy of the kind before suggested, It is apprehended, the United States will gain Time, not only to recover their great Property, but numerous Seamen now abroad, but will be enabled by the Events of the approaching Campaign to judge with more Certainty, of the Measures proper to be pursued.

Time does not permit me at present, to enter particularly into the Reasons, upon which the foregoing Propositions are grounded: It is, however my Opinion, that the Measures suggested are purely defensive, & can in no Construction of them, be considered as Acts of Aggression; but on the contrary result from the necessity of the case, & are both just & prudent, & will probably unite the Sentiments of the commercial Interest of the

U.S. With Sentiments of the highest Respect & Esteem: I am, your Excellency’s most obedet hble Servt



1On 26 March, GW approved a joint resolution of Congress that imposed a thirty-day embargo “on all ships and vessels in the ports of the United States” (Stat description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends . 1:400).

2This is a reference to Emmerich de Vattel’s three-volume work, which was published in English as The Law of Nations; or Principles of the Law of Nature: Applied to the Conduct and to the Affairs of Nations and Sovereigns (London, 1760). Chapter five is entitled, “Of the Enemy, and of Things Belonging to the Enemy,” and Section 77 is “Things due to the enemy by the third party.”

3On GW’s appointment of John Jay as “envoy extraordinary of the United States” to Great Britain, see GW to U.S. Senate, 16 April (first letter).

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