Alexander Hamilton Papers

Cabinet Meeting. Opinion on a Proclamation of Neutrality and on Receiving the French Minister, [19 April 1793]

Cabinet Meeting. Opinion on a
Proclamation of Neutrality and on Receiving
the French Minister

[Philadelphia, April 19, 1793]

At a meeting of the heads of departments & the Attorney general at the President’s Apr. 19. 1793. by special summons to consider of several questions previously communicated to them in writing by the President.1

Qu. I. Shall a Proclamation issue &c.? (see the questions)

agreed by all that a Proclamation shall issue, forbidding our citizens to take part in any hostilities on the seas with or against any of the belligerant powers, and warning them against carrying to any such powers any of those articles deemed contraband according to the modern usage of nations, and enjoining them from all acts and proceedings inconsistent with the duties of a friendly nation towards those at war.2

Qu. II. Shall a Minister from the Republic of France be received? agreed unanimously that he shall be received.

Qu. III If received, shall it be absolutely &c.

[The Attorney general & Secretary of state are of opinion he shoud be received absolutely & without qualifications.

The Secretaries of the Treasury & War?]3

This & the subsequent questions are postponed to another day.4

D, in the handwriting of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress; LC, RG 59, State Department Correspondence, 1791–1796, National Archives.

2The neutrality proclamation was issued on April 22, 1793. For the text, see John Jay to H, April 11, 1793, note 1.

3The bracketed words were crossed out on the MS. For the opinion of H and Knox on this point, see H and Knox to Washington, May 2, 1793.

4An account of the debate in the cabinet meeting on this date was kept by Jefferson, who wrote: “We met. The 1st. question whether we should receive the French minister Genest was proposed, & we agreed unanimously that he should be received, Hamilton at the same time expressing his great regret that any incident had happnd. which should oblige us to recognize the govmt. The next question was whether he shd. be received absolutely, or with qualificns. Here H. took up the whole subject, and went through it in the order in which the questions sketch it.… Knox subscribed at once to H’s opn that we ought to declare the treaty void, acknoleging at the same time, like a fool as he is, that he knew nothing about it. I was clear it remained valid. E. R. declared himself of the same opn. but on H’s undertaking to present to him the authority in Vattel (which we had not present) & to prove to him that, if the authority was admitted, the treaty might be declared void, E. R. agreed to take further time to consider. It was adjourned. We determd Unanimly. the last qu.… Congress shd nt be called …” (AD, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress). This statement, on which Jefferson wrote “May 6 written,” is printed in the “Anas” (Ford, Writings of Jefferson description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (New York, 1892–1899). description ends , I, 226–27).

In his opinion on the treaties sent to Washington on April 28, 1793, Jefferson described the position taken by H at this cabinet meeting as follows: “In the Consultation at the President’s on the 19th. inst. the Secretary of the Treasury took the following position’s & consequences. ‘France was a monarchy when we entered into treaties with it: but it has now declared itself a Republic, & is preparing a Republican form of government. Or it may issue in a Republic or a military despotism, or in something else which may possibly render our alliance with it dangerous to ourselves, we have a right of election to renounce the treaty altogether, or to declare it suspended till their government shall be settled in the form it is ultimately to take; & then we may judge whether we will call the treaties into operation again, or declare them forever null. Having that right of election now, if we receive their minister without any qualifications, it will amount to an act of election to continue the treaties; & if the change they are undergoing should issue in a form which should bring danger on us, we shall not be then free to renounce them. To elect to continue them is equivalent to the making a new treaty at this time in the same form, that is to say, with a clause of guarantee; but to make a treaty with a clause of guarantee, during a war, is a departure from neutrality, and would make us associates in the war. To renounce or suspend the treaties therefore is a necessary act of neutrality’” (ADS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress).

Index Entries