The Revolutionary Era: Primary Documents on Events from 1776 to 1800

By Carol Sue Humphrey | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 21

American Neutrality, 1793

The European war that broke out in 1793 created many problems for Americans, as debates occurred over whether to support France or Great Britain. Many people, including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and most Republicans, believed that the United States should support France because of the similarities between the American and French revolutions and because of commitments made under the alliance signed in 1778. Other Americans, led by Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists, believed that Americans should support the British because the French Revolution had gone too far, as shown by the Reign of Terror, and because Americans had much more in common with the former mother country than with the new European republic.

President George Washington hesitated over what to do. He had been happy over the early success of the revolution in France, but reacted with horror when the Reign of Terror began. He came to agree with Hamilton that the United States had more in common with Great Britain. But, ultimately, he believed the United States could not afford to get involved in the war at all. He thought that the United States was too young as a nation to get involved in an international war. He discussed the issue with his Cabinet in detail. Then, on April 22, 1793, Washington declared the United States neutral in the war between Great Britain and France.

The Republicans criticized Washington’s action, stating that he had overstepped his authority. Alexander Hamilton, in an effort to defend Washington’s action, wrote a series of seven essays under the pseudonym Pacificus. They appeared in the Gazette of the United States from June 29 to July 27, 1793.

Thomas Jefferson worried that Americans would accept Hamilton’s emphasis on broad executive powers without question. He urged James Madison to respond to Pacificus: “Nobody answers him, and his doctrine will

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