Navigating Neutrality explores the unexpected role George Washington’s 1793 Neutrality Proclamation played in energizing the U.S. government’s constitutional responsibilities to support and promote America’s commercial and sovereign interests. Designed to avoid warfare as Great Britain and France battled in the Atlantic during the French Revolutionary Wars, neutrality encompassed a wide range of issues, including diplomacy, law, defense, commerce, and domestic politics.
Proclaiming neutrality proved easier than enforcing it. American citizens eagerly accepted lucrative French privateering commissions, and Britain retaliated by attacking American ships, cargos, and sailors. In response, Washington and his cabinet formulated policies to enforce neutrality across all three branches of the government and around the globe. Maritime citizens, stranded in the Caribbean and Mediterranean, especially came to appreciate the government’s rescue efforts. As Sandra Moats shows, enforcing neutrality galvanized all three branches of the nascent U.S. government, serving as a manifesto of the young nation’s quest to be respected in its independence and helping to build a U.S. government capable of supporting its global aspirations.
Open-access publication of Navigating Neutrality has been enabled by funding from SHMP, the Sustainable History Monograph Pilot, with the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.