Pacificus No. 2

Image: Alexander Hamilton, John Trumbull (c. 1805) White House, 1962.203.1.

No study questions

No related resources

The second and principal objection to the proclamation [of Neutrality], namely, that it is inconsistent with the treaties between the United States and France, will now be examined…

The alliance between the United States and France is of the defensive kind. In the caption it is denominated a “treaty of alliance eventual and defensive.” In the body (article the second) it is called a defensive alliance. The words of that article are as follows: “The essential and direct and of the present defensive alliance is to maintain effectually the liberty, sovereignty, and independence, absolute and unlimited, of the United States, as well in matters of government as of commerce.”…

The principal question consequently is: What is the nature and effect of a defensive alliance? When does the casus fæderis take place in relation to it?

Reason, the concurring opinions of writers, and the practice of nations will all answer: “When either of the allies is attacked,” when “war is made upon him, not when he makes war upon another“: in other words, the stipulated assistance is to be given “when our ally is engaged in a defensive, not when he is engaged in an offensive, war.” This obligation to assist only in a defensive war constitutes the essential difference between an alliance which is merely defensive and one which is both offensive and defensive. … To affirm, therefore, that the United States are bound to assist France in the war in which she is at present engaged, will be to convert our treaty with her into an alliance offensive and defensive, contrary to the express and reiterated declarations of the instrument itself.

This assertion implies that the war in question is an offensive war on the part of France. And so it undoubtedly is, with regard to all the Powers with whom she was at war, at the time of issuing the proclamation.

No position is better established than that the nation which first declares or actually begins a war, whatever may have been the causes leading to it, is that which makes an offensive war. Nor is there any doubt that France first declared and began the war against Austria, Prussia, Savoy, Holland, England, and Spain….

It will be sufficient here to notice cursorily the following facts:

France committed an aggression upon Holland, in declaring the navigation of the Scheldt free, and acting upon that declaration; contrary to treaties in which she had explicitly acknowledged, and even guaranteed, the exclusive right of Holland to the use of that river; and contrary also to the doctrines of the best writers, and the established usages of nations in such cases.

She gave a general and very serious cause of alarm and umbrage by the decree of the 19th of November, 1792, whereby the convention, in the name of the French nation, declare, that they will grant fraternity and assistance to every people who wish to recover their liberty; and charge the executive power to send the necessary orders to the generals to give assistance to such people, and to defend those citizens who have been, or who may be, vexed for the cause of liberty; which decree was ordered to be printed in all languages.

This very extraordinary decree amounted exactly to what France herself had most complained of—an interference by one nation in the internal government of another.

When a nation has actually come to a resolution to throw off a yoke, under which it may have groaned, and to assert its liberties, it is justifiable and meritorious in another, to afford assistance to the one which has been oppressed, and is in the act of liberating itself; but it is not warrantable for any nation beforehand, to hold out a general invitation to insurrection and revolution, by promising to assist every people who may wish to recover their liberty, and to defend those citizens of every country who have been, or who may be, vexed for the cause of liberty; still less to commit to the generals of its armies, the discretionary power of judging when the citizens of a foreign country have been vexed for the cause for liberty by their own government…

The decree of the 15th of November is a further cause of offence to all the governments of Europe. By that decree, “the French nation declares, that it will treat as enemies the people who, refusing or renouncing liberty and equality, are desirous of preserving their prince and privileged castes, or of entering into an accommodation with them, etc.” This decree was little short of a declaration of war against all nations having princes and privileged classes…

No prior document in this Era
No next document in this Era
Teacher Programs

Conversation-based seminars for collegial PD, one-day and multi-day seminars, graduate credit seminars (MA degree), online and in-person.

Our Core Document Collection allows students to read history in the words of those who made it. Available in hard copy and for download.