Proclamation of Neutrality
From the issue of the Columbian Centinel, May 4, 1793
When France declared war on England on February 1, 1793, the United States faced a thorny political problem. France was America’s ally during the Revolutionary War, yet Great Britain’s financial support was important to American shipowners.
Nonetheless, Washington issued the proclamation, warning American citizens to avoid involvement in the hostilities, a strictly European war. This admonition proved to be a harbinger of one of Washington’s themes in his Farewell Address to the Nationthree and a half years later in which he would warn against America’s involvement in “permanent alliances.”President Washington met with members of his cabinet who agreed with him that a policy of neutrality was in the best interests of the country. Although both Hamilton and Jefferson favored a neutral position, Hamilton sided with Britain and Jefferson with France. And James Madison questioned the president’s authority to issue the proclamation without congressional approval.
Notice that nowhere in his proclamation does Washington use the word “neutrality.” It was omitted in order not to offend Great Britain, with whom America had ongoing business relationships.
The proclamation was signed on April 22, 1793, in Philadelphia by Washington.
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