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our own citizens should understand, as soon as possible, the opinion which the government entertained of the nature of our relations to the warring parties, and of the propriety or expediency of our taking a side, or remaining neuter. The arrangements of our merchants could not but be very differently effected by the one hypothesis or the other, and it would necessarily have been very detrimental and perplexing to them to have been left in uncertainty. It is not requisite to say, how much our agriculture and other interests would have been likely to have suffered by embarrassments to our merchants.
The idea of its having been incumbent on the government to delay the measure for the arrival of the minister of the French republic, is as absurd as it is humiliating. Did the executive stand in need of the logic of a foreign agent to enlighten it as to the duties or interests of the nation? Or was it bound to ask his consent to a step which appeared to itself consistent with the former, and conducive to the latter ?
The sense of our treaties was to be learnt from the instruments themselves. It was not difficult to pronounce beforehand, that we had a greater interest in the preservation of peace, than in any advantages with which France might tempt our participation in the war. Commercial privileges were all that she could offer of real value in our estimation, and a carte blanche on this head, would have been an inadequate recompense for renouncing peace, and committing ourselves voluntarily to the chances of so precarious and perilous a war. Besides, if the privileges which might have been conceded were not founded in a real permanent mutual interest, of what value would be the treaty that should concede them ? Ought not the calculation, in such case, to be upon a speedy resumption of them, with perhaps a quarrel as the pretext? On the other hand, may we not trust that commercial privileges which are truly founded in mutual interest, will grow out of that interest; without the necessity of giving a premium for them at the expense of our peace?
To what purpose then was the executive to have waited for the arrival of the minister? Was it to give oppor
tunity to contentious discussions; to intriguing machinations; to the clamours of a faction won to a foreign interest?
Whether the declaration of neutrality issued upon or without the requisition of any of the belligerent powers, can only be known to their respective ministers, and to the proper officers of our government. But if it be true, that it issued without any such requisition, it is an additional indication of the wisdom of the measure.
It is of much importance to the end of preserving peace, that the belligerent nation should be thoroughly convinced of the sincerity of our intentions to observe the neutrality we profess; and it cannot fail to have weight in producing this conviction, that the declaration of it was a spontaneous act; not stimulated by any requisition on the part of either of them; but proceeding purely from our own view of our duty, and interest.
It was not surely necessary for the government to wait for such a requisition ; while there were advantages, and no disadvantages, in anticipation. The benefit of an early notification to our merchants, conspired with the consideration just mentioned to recommend the course which was pursued.
If, in addition to the rest, the early manifestation of the views of the government has had any effect in fixing the public opinion on the subject, and in counteracting the success of the efforts which it was to be foreseen would be made to distract and disunite, this alone would be a great recommendation of the policy of having suffered no delay to intervene.
What has been already said in this and in preceding papers, affords a full answer to the suggestion, that the proclamation was unnecessary. It would be a waste of time to add more.
But there has been a critisim several times repeated, which may deserve a moment's attention. It has been urged, that the proclamation ought to have contained some reference to our treaties, and that the generality of the promise to observe a conduct friendly and impartial towards the belligerent powers, ought to have been qualified with expressions equivalent to these, "as far as may consist with the treaties of the United States."
The insertion of such a clause would have entirely defeated the object of the proclamation, by rendering the intention of the government equivocal. That object was to assure the powers at war and our own citizens, that in the opinion of the executive, it was consistent with the duty and interest of the nation to observe neutrality, and that it was intended to pursue a conduct correspond. ing with that opinion. Words equivalent to those con. tended for, would have rendered the other part of the declaration nugatory; by leaving it uncertain, whether the executive did or did not believe a state of neutrality to be consistent acith our treaties. Neither foreign powers, por our own citizens, would have been able to have drawn any conclusion from the proclamation, and both would have had a right to consider it as a mere equivocation.
By not inserting any such ambiguous expressions, the proclamation was susceptible of an intelligible and proper construction. While it denoted on the one hand, that in the judgment of the executive, there was nothing in our treaties obliging us to become a party in the war, it left it to be expected on the other, that all stipulations compatible with neutrality, according to the laws and usages of nations, would be enforced. It follows, that the proclamation was in this particular, exactly what it ought to have been.
The words, “make known the disposition of the “ United States," have also given a pretext for cavil. It has been asked, how could the president undertake to declare the disposition of the United States? The people, 'for aught he knew, may have a very different senti. ment. Thus a conformity with republican propriety and modesty, is turned into a topic of accusation.
Had the president announced his own disposition, he would have been chargeable with egotism, if not pre. sumption. The constitutional organ of intercourse between the United States and foreign nations; whenever he speaks to them, it is in that capacity; it is in the dame, and on the behalf of the United States. It must therefore be with greater propriety, that he speaks of their disposition than of his own.
It is easy to imagine, that occasions frequently occur in the communications to foreign governments and foreign agents, which render it necessary to speak of the friendship or friendly disposition of the United States, of their disposition to cultivate harmony and good understanding, to reciprocate neighbourly offices, and the like. It is usual, for example, when public ministers are received, for some complimentary expressions to be interchanged. It is presumable, that the late reception of the French minister did not pass, without some assurance on the part of the president, of the friendly disposition of the United States towards France. Admitting it to have happened, would it be deemed an improper arrogation? If not, why was it more so, to declare the disposition of the United States to observe a neutrality in the existing war ?
In all such cases, nothing more is to be understood, than an official expression of the political disposition of the nation, inferred from its political relations, obligations and interests. It is never to be supposed, that the expression is meant to convey the precise state of the individual sentiments or opinions of the great mass of the people.
Kings and princes speak of their own dispositions. The magistrates of republics, of the dispositions of their nations. The president, therefore, has evidently used the style adapted to his situation, and the criticism upop it is plainly a cavil.
THE LETTERS OF HELVIDIUS.
BY JAMES MADISON.
SEVERAL pieces with the signature of PACIFTcus were lately published, which have been read with singular pleasure and applause, by the foreigners and degenerate citizens among us, who hate our republican government, and the French revolution; whilst the publication seems to have been too little regarded, or too much despised by the steady friends to both.
Had the doctrines inculcated by the writer, with the natural consequences from them, been nakedly presented to the public, this treatment might have been proper. Their true character would then have struck every eye, and been rejected by the feelings of every heart. But they offer themselves to the reader in the dress of an elaborate dissertation; they are mingled with a few truths that may serve them as a passport to credulity; and they are introduced with professions of anxiety for the preservation of peace, for the welfare of the government, and for the respect due to the present head of the execative, that may prove a snare to patriotism.
In these disguises they have appeared to claim the at. tention I propose to bestow on them; with a view to shew, from the publication itself, that under colour of vindicating an important public act, of a chief magistrate who enjoys the confidence and love of his coun. try, principles are advanced which strike at the vitals of its constitution, as well as at its honour and true interest.
As it is not improbable that attempts may be made to apply insinuations, which are seldom spared when particular purposes are to be answered, to the author of