From Rufus King1
[New York] 24 Ap. 1793
Averse to any connexion with the war beyound what may be permitted by the laws of strict neutrality, we are pleased to see the Proclamation.2 I have no precedents with which to compare it, but I could have wished to have seen in some part of it the word “Neutrality,” which every one would have understood and felt the force of.
Having anxiously considered the point respecting which we conversed when I was with you last, I hope you are founded in your opinions. The change which has happened will not perhaps justify us in saying “the Treaties are void”—and whether we may contend in favor of their suspension is a point of delicacy and not quite free from doubt. The authority of the present government is as extensive with their Territory, which is free from the possession of their antagonists.
Prudence would seem to require us to move with caution, and by delay to insure a safe decision. The mere reception of the minister will do us no injury, although I am in Mind to believe, that in order to avoid being pressed on points we may wish not to decide, it will be best to qualify the reception of the Minister in such manner, as will save our commitment in reference to those questions, we wish to stand open.
Our Treaty with Holland may be used with advantage.3 The report of Mr. Le Brun4 to the convention respecting perfidy of the monarchy towards us is proof of such a want of good Faith as poinsons the whole Treaty. Have you noticed that the 16th. article of the Treaty of commerce between Eng. and France,5 is in the Teeth of the 22d. article of the Treaty of commerce between France & us?6 On the principle that all the articles of a Treaty have the force of conditions, the violation of this article by France, wd. give us the power to renounce the whole Treaty.
Examining our Laws respecting the registry of our Ships & vessels7 I was struck with a difficulty which will luckily be in the way of our purchasing Prizes brought into our ports by any of the powers at war. It is worth your attention. As the law stands, I do not perceive that any such vessels can be protected by the american Flag, even though owned bona fide by american Citizens. Of this point however I will not be confident—such vessels will beyound doubt be liable to pay the foreign Tonnage.
The conduct of England in searching our ships, and impressing seamen engaged under our Flag, is very different in the present armament from what it was in the late armament against Spain.8 The masters of our ships which have arrived here from England, as also those who have arrived from Ireland, speak with the appearance of national pride, when they mention the hotness of the Press, and the intire exemption of Ships which sail under our Flag. The circumstance is one from which we may make pretty certain inferences. Farewel, I wish I could give assistance to the measures & maxims you will pursue. We must not become intangled with this mad War.9
ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.
1. For background to this letter, see George Washington to H, Thomas Jefferson, Henry Knox, and Edmund Randolph, April 18, 1793; “Cabinet Meeting. Opinion on a Proclamation of Neutrality and on Receiving the French Minister,” April 19, 1793.
2. Washington’s proclamation of neutrality, dated April 22, 1793, was published in the [Philadelphia] Gazette of the United States on April 24, 1793. For the text, see John Jay to H, April 11, 1793, note 1.
3. King is referring to the Treaty of Amity and Commerce concluded between the United States and the Netherlands on October 8, 1782.
4. Pierre Henri Hélène Marie Lebrun-Tondu was French Minister of Foreign Affairs from August 12, 1792, to June 2, 1793. The “report” was a letter from Lebrun to the president of the National Assembly, dated December 20, 1792. In this letter Lebrun, in commenting on the relationship between the monarchy and the United States, wrote that “dans le temps même où ce bon peuple nous exprimait de la manière la plus touchante son amitié et sa reconnaissance, Vergennes et Montmorin pensaient ‘qu’il ne convenait pas à la France de lui donner tout la consistance dont il était susceptible, parce qu’il acquerrait une force dont il serait probablement tenté d’abuser’” (Archives Parlementaires description begins Archives Parlementaires de 1787 à 1860 (Paris, 1868– ). description ends , LV, 349).
5. The commercial treaty between France and England was signed at Versailles on September 26, 1786. Article XVI reads as follows: “It shall not be lawful for any foreign privateers, not being subjects of either crown, who have commissions from any other Prince or State, in enmity with either nation, to arm their ships in the ports of either of the said two kingdoms, to sell what they have taken, or in any other manner whatever to exchange the same; neither shall they be allowed even to purchase victuals, except such as shall be necessary for their going to the nearest port of that Prince from whom they have obtained commissions” (George Chalmers, A Collection of Treaties Between Great Britain and Other Powers [London, 1790], I, 528).
6. King is referring to Article 24 of the Franco-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce of 1778. For a discussion of the discrepancies in the numbering of the articles of this treaty, see H to John Jay, April 9, 1793, note 2. Article 24 reads as follows: “It shall not be lawful for any foreign Privateers, not belonging to Subjects of the most Christian King nor Citizens of the said United States, who have Commissions from any other Prince or State in enmity with either Nation to fit their Ships in the Ports of either the one or the other of the aforesaid Parties, to sell what they have taken or in any other manner whatsoever to exchange their Ships, Merchandizes or any other lading; neither shall they be allowed even to purchase victuals except such as shall be necessary for their going to the next Port of that Prince or State from which they have Commissions” (Miller, Treaties, II description begins Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America (Washington, 1931), II. description ends , 19–20).
7. See “An Act concerning the registering and recording of ships or vessels” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 287–99 [December 31, 1792]).
8. This is a reference to the Nootka Sound controversy of 1790.
9. An undated and unsigned copy of an essay on the position of the United States in reference to the French treaties, which is in the Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress, touches upon some of the points raised by King in this letter. Although this document is in an unidentified handwriting, it is an earlier version of an essay by King which is printed in Charles R. King, The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King (New York, 1894), I, 440–54. Since the copy in the Hamilton Papers contains many alternative words and phrases, King had apparently submitted it to H for his opinion.