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Formation of the Union By Albert Bushnell Hart Characters: 3067

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


[Sidenote: Neutrality proclamation.]

On April 5, 1793, the news of the outbreak of war was received at Philadelphia. Washington at once summoned his cabinet for the most important discussion which it had yet held. Was the United States to consider itself bound to enter the war and to defend the French West Indies against Great Britain? Should the President declare that the United States stood neutral in this contest? The question was new. For the first time in history there was an independent American power,-a nation so far removed by distance and by interest from European conflicts that it might reasonably ask that it should not be drawn into the struggle. Hamilton was inclined to hold the treaties abrogated by the change of government in France; Jefferson insisted that they were binding; both agreed that the President ought to issue a proclamation announcing that the United States would take no part on either side. The neutrality proclamation, issued April 22, was therefore an announcement to the world that the United States stood outside the European system, and might continue friendly relations with both belligerent powers.

[Sidenote: Genet's mission.]

This attitude was anything but what France had expected. On April 8 a French minister, Genet, landed in Charleston, armed with a quantity of blank commissions for privateers. He was a man twenty-eight years old, whose diplomatic experience had culminated in the disruption of one of the weaker neighbors of France. He had no doubt that the sympathy o

f the American people was with his country. He proposed, therefore, to act as though he stood upon his own soil: men were enlisted; privateers were commissioned; prizes were taken in American waters and brought into American ports for condemnation. Genet advanced northward in a kind of triumphal procession. Throughout the South and West, Democratic clubs were organized, modelled on the French Jacobin and other revolutionary clubs.

[Sidenote: Genet and Washington.]

He reached Philadelphia, to be confronted by the Neutrality Proclamation and by the firmness of the President. His privateers were checked. He does not appear to have demanded of the United States a fulfilment of the treaty of 1778, but he did ask for advance payment of money due to France, and for other favors. To his chagrin, Congress was not to meet until December, and he insisted in vain that there should be an extra session. In July Genet proceeded to fit out a captured British vessel, the "Little Sarah," as a privateer; and, contrary to the remonstrances of the government and his own implied promise, she was sent to sea. Encouraged by this success, he determined to make a public appeal to the people to override the President. His purpose was made known, and his career was at an end. When the United States asked for his recall, it was cheerfully accorded by the French government. In three months Genet had contrived to offend the principal officers of government and to insult the nation. The current of feeling was thus set toward England.

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