George Washington Papers

Cabinet Opinion on the Rules of Neutrality, 3 August 1793

Cabinet Opinion on the Rules of Neutrality

[Philadelphia, 3 August 1793]

  • 1. The original arming and equipping of vessels in the ports of the United States by any of the belligerent parties, for military service offensive or defensive, is deemed unlawful.
  • 2. Equipments of merchant vessels by either of the belligerent parties in the ports of the United States, purely for the accommodation of them as such, is deemed lawful.
  • 3. Equipments in the ports of the United States of vessels of War in the immediate service of the Government of any of the belligerent parties, which if done to other vessels would be of a doubtful nature, as being applicable either to commerce or War, are deemed lawful; except those which shall have made prize of the subjects, people, or property of France coming with their prizes into the Ports of the United States pursuant to the seventeenth Article of our Treaty of Amity and commerce with France.1
  • 4. Equipments in the Ports of the united States, by any of the parties at war with France, of vessels fitted for Merchandize and War, whether with or without Commissions, which are doubtful in their nature as being applicable either to commerce or War, are deemd lawful; except those which shall have made prize, &c.
  • 5. Equipments of any of the vessels of France, in the Ports of the United States, which are doubtful in their nature, as being applicable to commerce or war, are deemed lawful.
  • 6. Equipments of every kind in the Ports of the United States, of privateers of the Powers at War with France, are deemed unlawful.
  • 7. Equipments of vessels in the Ports of the United States, which are of a nature solely adopted to war, are deemed unlawful; except those stranded or wrecked, as mentioned in the eighteenth Article of our Treaty with France⟨,⟩ the sixteenth of our Treaty with the United Netherlands, the ninth of our Treaty with Prussia, and except those mentioned in the nineteenth Article of our Treaty with France, the seventeenth of our Treaty with the United Netherlands, the eighteenth of our Treaty with Prussia.2
  • 8. Vessels of either of the parties not armed, or armed previous to their coming into the ports of the United States, which shall not have infringed any of the foregoing rules, may lawfully engage or inlist therein their own Subjects or Citizens, not being inhabitants of the United States; except privateers of the Powers at War with France, and except those vessels which shall have made prize, &c.

August 3. 1793

The foregoing rules having been considered by us at several meetings, and being now unanimously approved, they are submitted to the President of the United States.3

Th: Jefferson
Alexandr Hamilton
H. Knox.
Edm: Randolph

DS, in George Taylor, Jr.’s writing, DLC:GW; copy (letterpress copy), DLC: Jefferson Papers; LB, DLC:GW; Df, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, DLC: Jefferson Papers; copy, DNA: RG 46, Third Congress, 1793–1795, Senate Records of Legislative Proceedings, President’s Messages; copy (letterpress copy of an unidentified original), in George Taylor, Jr.’s writing, DLC:GW. Tobias Lear’s docket on the receiver’s copy reads “Rules to be observed respecting the equipment of vessels &c. belonging to the Belligerant Powers—in the Ports of the U.S.” The closing date and final sentence, which appear only on the receiver’s copy, are in Edmund Randolph’s writing. In his “Chronological Index of Letters, 1779–1826” Jefferson recorded “Hamilton’s rough draught of rules. fair copy” under 1 Aug. 1793 (DLC: Jefferson Papers). For a printed version of the draft, see Hamilton Papers description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends , 15:168–69. On a small sheet filed with the draft Hamilton wrote “the following rules were proposed but not agreed to.” The rejected rules have not been identified. The copy in DNA: RG 46 and the letter-book copy have the addition of a statement by Bartholomew Dandridge, Jr., to certify that each is “a true copy from the original.”

1For this article, see 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 , 16–17.

2For these articles, see ibid., 17–18, 73–74, 168, 174–75.

3In an attempt to clarify the administration’s neutrality policy, especially as it related to foreign vessels in U.S. ports, the cabinet held a series of meetings on the issue. On the discussions among Hamilton, Knox, Jefferson, and Randolph of 29, 30 July, 1, 2 August that produced these eight rules, see Jefferson’s Notes of Cabinet Meeting on Neutrality, 29 July, Notes on Treaties and Neutrality, 29–30 July, and Notes of Cabinet Meeting on Neutrality, 30 July, 3 Aug. 1793, 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 , 26:579–81, 588, 607–8; JPP description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends , 210–13. Jefferson submitted the signed opinion to GW on 3 Aug. (ibid., 213). GW indicated his approval of the rules in a letter to Jefferson of 4 Aug. 1793. Henry Knox included the eight rules in his first circular letter to the state governors of 7 Aug. 1793 (Knox to Richard Dobbs Spraight, 7 Aug. 1793, Nc-Ar: Governors’ Papers; Knox to Thomas Mifflin, 7 Aug. 1793, PHarH: Executive Correspondence, 1790–99; JPP description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends , 216). For a second opinion produced by the cabinet during these meetings, see Cabinet Opinion on French Privateers, 3 Aug. 1793.

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