University of Virginia Library

Search this document 
The Jeffersonian cyclopedia;

a comprehensive collection of the views of Thomas Jefferson classified and arranged in alphabetical order under nine thousand titles relating to government, politics, law, education, political economy, finance, science, art, literature, religious freedom, morals, etc.;

expand sectionA. 
expand sectionB. 
expand sectionC. 
expand sectionD. 
expand sectionE. 
expand sectionF. 
expand sectionG. 
expand sectionH. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionJ. 
expand sectionK. 
expand sectionL. 
expand sectionM. 
collapse sectionN. 
expand sectionO. 
expand sectionP. 
expand sectionQ. 
expand sectionR. 
expand sectionS. 
expand sectionT. 
expand sectionU. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionW. 
expand sectionX. 
expand sectionY. 
expand sectionZ. 

expand section 
expand section 


“On the declaration of
war between France and England, the United
States being at peace with both, their situation
was so new and unexperienced by themselves,
that their citizens were not, in the first instant,
sensible of the new duties resulting therefrom,
and of the laws it would impose even on their
towards the belligerent powers.
Some of them imagined (and chiefly their
transient sea-faring citizens) that they were
free to indulge those dispositions, to take side
with either party, and enrich themselves by
depredations on the commerce of the other, and
were meditating enterprises of this nature, as
was said. In this state of the public mind, and
before it should take an erroneous direction
difficult to be set right, and dangerous to themselves
and their country, the President thought
it expedient, by way of Proclamation, [359] to remind
our fellow-citizens that we were in a state
of peace with all the belligerent powers; that
in that state it was our duty neither to aid nor
injure any; to exhort and warn them against
acts which might contravene this duty, and particularly
those of positive hostility, for the
punishment of which the laws would be appealed
to, and to put them on their guard also
as to the risks they would run if they should
attempt to carry articles of contraband to any.
Very soon afterwards we learnt that Genet was
undertaking the fitting and arming vessels in
that port [Charleston], enlisting men, foreigners
and citizens, and giving them commissions
to commit hostilities against nations at peace
with us; that these vessels were taking and
bringing prizes into our ports; that the consuls
of France were assuming to hold courts of admiralty
on them, to try, condemn and authorize
their sale as legal prizes, and all this before
Mr. Genet had presented himself or his credentials
to the President, before he was received
by him, without his consent or consultation, and
directly in contravention of the state of peace
existing and declared to exist in the President's
proclamation, and which it was incumbent on
him to preserve till the constitutional authority


Page 633
should otherwise declare. These proceedings
became immediately, as was naturally
to be expected, the subject of complaint by the
representative here of that power against whom
they would chiefly operate.” This was the true
sense of the proclamation in the view of the
draftsman and of the two signers; but H.
[Hamilton] had other views. The instrument
was badly drawn, and made the President go
out of his line to declare things which, though
true, it was not his province to declare. The
instrument was communicated to me after it
was drawn, but I was busy, and only ran an eye
over it to see that it was not made a declaration
of neutrality, and gave it back again, without,
I believe, changing a tittle.—
To James Madison. Washington ed. iv, 29. Ford ed., vi, 368.
(Aug. 1793)


In sending this explanation of the intention of
the proclamation to Madison, Jefferson wrote: “ Having
occasion to state it (the intention, &c.) in a
paper which I am preparing, I have done it in the
following [above quoted] terms. Edmund Randolph
called on me just as I had finished so far [within the
quotation marks], and he said it presented fairly his
view of the matter. He recalled to my mind that I
had, at the time, opposed its being made a declaration
of neutrality, on the ground that the Executive
was not the competent authority for that, and, therefore,
that it was agreed the instrument should be
drawn with great care.”—Editor.