Enforcing Neutrality across the Federal Government
August 1793 marked an important turning point for Washington and his administration in their enforcement of neutrality. Having reached unanimous decisions on how to handle privateering and privateers, the president and his cabinet operated from a position of increasing confidence as they confronted new challenges to U.S. sovereignty from France and Britain. The involvement of the government’s other two branches in enforcing neutrality further strengthened their position. By 1794, Congress emerged as an eager constitutional partner through its passage of laws to protect the nation’s shipping and defend its coastal ports. The courts continued to struggle with their role and authority, particularly in neutrality cases, but eventually found their constitutional voice in a landmark 1794 Supreme Court ruling. When the executive branch formulated and enforced neutrality, Washington insisted on consensus within his cabinet to ensure that it had the administration’s full backing in order to be successful. With this policy now gaining tangible support across the federal government, the nation affirmed its sovereignty by speaking in a single diplomatic voice, both at home and abroad.
As August 1793 came to a close, the last item on the administration’s enforcement docket concerned a diplomatic controversy: the fate of the troublesome Citizen Genet. Employing the consensus approach that had proved effective in the Neutrality Proclamation’s formulation and in its initial implementation, Washington solicited the cabinet’s opinions about Genet individually and then crafted their ideas into a unanimous statement. While the minister’s transgressions had been piling up since his arrival in the United States in April 1793, July 23 marked the first time the administration discussed requesting an end to his tenure. Washington’s comments to the cabinet left little doubt where he stood. “We must shortly determine what was to be done with Mr. Genet,” he declared, offering two guiding principles for his advisors to keep in mind: affirming U.S. friendship with France while “insisting on the recall of Genet.”1 After a summer spent responding to the minister’s outrageous actions and demands, the normally reticent Washington had reached his breaking point. He commented to Jefferson on July 27 after receiving one communication, “Another insulting letter, written in French, by the French minister.” Washington, of course, did not read or speak French (Jefferson and later Randolph provided translations). Through his prolific correspondence, Genet had found an additional way to antagonize the president of the United States.2
Amid the many delicate compromises associated with the Neutrality Proclamation’s formulation and implementation, Genet’s removal proved to be particularly volatile. First, his privateering activities directly violated America’s neutral stance and threatened its sovereignty and authority as an autonomous nation. Allowing his actions to go unpunished was simply not an option if the United States hoped to attain the international and domestic respect it sought. Second, France remained a valuable ally, and the recall of its minister needed to focus on his transgressions while avoiding a diplomatic crisis that could threaten American neutrality and even lead to war. Third, Genet’s indiscretions placed him at the center of the partisan disagreements that Washington had largely managed to keep at bay through earlier compromises. Any statement on the minister’s misdeeds could have easily favored Hamilton’s Federalist supporters or disparaged Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans, with the controversy’s larger national significance getting lost in the partisan crossfire. As the administration took the unprecedented step in American history of asking for the recall of another country’s diplomat, the United States’ status as an autonomous and sovereign nation faced a monumental test.
Despite these strong personal and partisan tensions, the cabinet agreed quickly and unanimously that Genet’s tenure must end. What proved controversial was determining how to proceed with requesting his dismissal and deciding what justifications to provide to the French government. The administration chose to convey the message through established diplomatic channels rather than taking the more provocative step of writing directly to the leaders of the French republic. The U.S. minister to France, Gouverneur Morris, would present the recall request to the French governing body, the Executive Council, and would also share Genet’s inflammatory correspondence. The cabinet also agreed to notify Genet of this action, although Jefferson had initially dissented on this point because he did not want to further agitate the unpredictable minister. Amid these agreements, partisanship intruded. Hamilton wanted to share the recall statement with the American public in order to undercut domestic support for the French republic and even redefine America’s diplomatic relationship with France.3 With some of the parameters set (and now one unresolved), the four cabinet members turned their attention to drafting the crucial letter that would explain the reasons for Genet’s removal.
While Genet’s privateering activities and his disrespect for the U.S. government’s authority offered ample justifications for his recall, his support among Democratic-Republicans added a partisan wrinkle to an otherwise airtight case. Since his arrival in Philadelphia, Genet had been the darling of a pro-French political coalition who celebrated the new minister, the French Revolution, and the newly established republic. Genet, who found himself “in the midst of perpetual fetes,” erroneously believed these public and partisan outpourings translated into tangible American support for France’s revolutionary wars. He also profoundly misunderstood how the federal government operated, with Jefferson repeatedly explaining the Constitution’s separation of powers and the unique responsibilities that each branch possessed.4 These two misinterpretations led Genet to believe he could defy the executive branch’s decisions on neutrality and privateering because he thought Congress possessed ultimate authority on these matters. Even more controversial, he intended to make an appeal to the American people, if necessary, to overturn the government’s neutral stance.5 If Genet proceeded with his foolish plans, Hamilton saw a golden partisan opportunity to discredit the Democratic-Republicans as well as the French cause by publicly announcing the minister’s recall.6
Despite Hamilton’s designs on composing the letter to Minister Morris, the responsibility for drafting it fell to Jefferson as the nation’s chief diplomatic officer. The secretary of state approached Genet’s dismissal with understandable ambivalence. On the one hand, he possessed great hopes for the French Revolution and its republican aspirations. Nonetheless, he had witnessed firsthand Genet’s deficiencies as a diplomat and the threat he posed to American neutrality. Writing privately to Representative Madison in July 1793, Jefferson offered this blistering critique: “Never in my opinion, was so calamitous an appointment made, as that of the present minister of F. [France] here. Hotheaded, all imagination, no judgment, passionate, disrespectful & even indecent towards the P. [president] in his written as well as verbal communications, talking of appeals from him to Congress, from them to the people, urging the most unreasonable & groundless propositions, & in the most dictatorial style.”7 Jefferson’s decision to submit his resignation letter to Washington amid the Genet recall underscored his competing roles as partisan leader and chief enforcer of American neutrality. Of course, Washington asked him to postpone his departure until the end of the year, meaning the task of penning the rationale for the minister’s dismissal would fall to Jefferson.8
In the end, Genet’s appeal to the American people never materialized, nor did a spontaneous uprising of public support for him or the French cause take place. Instead, resolutions from towns and cities poured into Philadelphia expressing support for American neutrality, with some specifically denouncing Genet’s behavior. An August 14 resolution from Kent County, Delaware, declared: “Resolved unanimously, That the citizens now convened do approve of the Proclamation of Neutrality issued by the President of the United States; and that in their opinions, it was prudent and well timed.”9 During August, similar resolutions came from coastal cities such as New Haven, Norfolk, and New York.10 With the partisan time bomb defused, Washington backed Jefferson’s and Randolph’s separate recommendations that the recall be done quietly through diplomatic channels without a public announcement. With the obstacles in the cabinet resolved, Jefferson dedicated the next several weeks to drafting the letter to Morris, incorporating the suggestions of Washington, Hamilton, and the other cabinet members.11
The final version of Jefferson’s letter, weighing in at twenty handwritten pages and echoing the Declaration of Independence, began with a brief history of America’s desire for neutrality during the current war. It then shifted into an indictment of Genet’s systematic violation of this stance in six detailed sections: first, Genet’s assertion of “his right of arming in our ports, and of enlisting our citizens and that we have no right to restrain him or punish them”; second, his unwillingness to recognize America’s admiralty authority over prize cases occurring in U.S. ports; third, the minister’s lack of respect for a British merchant ship defending itself against illegal seizure because he incorrectly believed that the ship should be considered a hostile privateer; fourth, his insistence that French privateers had the right to sell their prizes in American ports; fifth, the minister’s frustration that the “English take French goods out of American vessels” despite these seizures being “one of those deplorable and unforeseen calamities” of war; and sixth, Genet’s acting as if he were a “co-sovereign of the [American] territory” and exercising the powers of the U.S. government as he “arms vessels, levies men, gives commissions of war, independently of them, and in direct opposition to their orders and efforts.” The secretary of state also specifically mentioned the French minister’s decision to allow the Little Sarah to sail away despite explicit orders from the U.S. government to detain the ship. In concluding his instructions to Morris, Jefferson stressed, “our friendship for the nation [France] is constant and unabating,” but the French government must “replace an agent, whose dispositions are such a misrepresentation of theirs.”12
With Jefferson’s draft completed, the cabinet and Washington met several times to review and revise this letter. On August 23, they unanimously agreed to send it to Morris under Jefferson’s signature.13 The secretary of state delivered these materials to a trusted ship captain, William Culver of the Hannah, for its transatlantic journey.14 Jefferson shrewdly delayed telling Genet of his recall until September 7 so the minister could not intercept its transmittal.15 The request for Genet’s recall represented a bold affirmation of the federal government’s neutrality policy, but now the waiting began. With a one-way trip across the Atlantic taking at least six to eight weeks, it would be several months before the administration would know if France would honor the U.S demand. In the meantime, the specific problems Genet had caused and the additional controversies he would generate provided Washington and his cabinet with ample opportunities to extend the executive branch’s enforcement of neutrality.
One outstanding issue dealt with establishing the United States’ ocean boundaries. On June 29, 1793, Jefferson had requested Genet’s assistance in determining where the British ships William and Fanny had been captured, with the minister promising to help.16 In September, Jefferson learned that the French consul stationed in Philadelphia had died, which meant that these cases had been languishing in his office since the summer. Genet’s negligence and the consul’s death put these unresolved jurisdictional issues back into American hands.17 With the hope of resolving the William and Fanny cases and future ones like them, the administration issued three landmark enforcement decisions establishing America’s coastal boundary. On November 8, Jefferson announced to the foreign ministers based in the United States, including Genet, that the administration had established the nation’s coastal boundary as “one sea-league or three geographical miles from the sea shores.” Acknowledging that a nation’s coastal boundary might be as wide as “the extent of human sight, estimated at upwards of 20 miles,” or as small as “the utmost range of a cannon ball, usually stated at one sea league,” Jefferson explained that the United States had chosen the lesser distance because it was more consistent with current treaties. Using the newly established policy to resolve the case of the Fanny, the November 8 letters also concluded that, since the vessel was captured “four or five miles from land,” the United States bore no responsibility for its indemnification.18
With the country’s coastal boundaries defined, Jefferson’s November 10 letter recognized and authorized U.S. district attorneys “as the persons the most capable of discharging” the investigation of such jurisdictional cases “with knowledge, with impartiality and with that extreme discretion” necessary in international disputes.19 He then obeyed his own instructions by referring the case of the William, seized closer to the U.S. coastline, to U.S. District Attorney Rawle for resolution.20 The third policy decision, also issued on November 10, contained procedures for foreign ministers and their consuls to follow when belligerent ships were seized in U.S. territorial waters. First, the consuls should notify the governor of the nearest state, who should “immediately” alert the “attornies [sic] of their respective districts,” who would investigate such cases. Jefferson’s guidelines also emphasized the importance of consuls reporting seizures in a timely manner so busy district attorneys could interview maritime witnesses before they returned to sea. Also, “this prompt procedure . . . will enable the President by an immediate delivery of the vessel and cargo to the party having title, to prevent the injuries consequent on long delay,” such as the spoilage of goods and loss of income.21
Through the assertion of its executive authority, the federal government defined the country’s Atlantic boundary and instituted a policy for reporting and investigating ship seizures occurring within this jurisdiction. Already committed to indemnifying ships captured within its ports and its territorial waters, the U.S. government finally had a clear definition of what composed those waters. Following its newly established guidelines, the executive branch resolved its backlog of privateering complaints and addressed the new cases washing up on its shores almost daily. Many claims were deemed ineligible for compensation because of where the ships were seized. Several did qualify, including the William, whose long judicial ordeal finally ended in 1795, when its owners received damages of $1,580 from the federal government.22
During the fall of 1793, as the administration consolidated its enforcement efforts, officials discovered that Citizen Genet was not the only French citizen disrespecting American neutrality. The district attorney for Massachusetts, Christopher Gore, reported that Boston’s French vice consul, Antoine Duplaine, had recently commissioned an American ship, the Roland, as a privateer, and it had subsequently brought an English prize, the Greyhound, into Boston harbor.23 The French commission of the ship and its resulting privateering activities clearly violated neutrality. Yet these transgressions represented only part of the story. On August 21, with the owners of the Greyhound challenging its capture, the federal marshal took possession of that vessel, awaiting legal resolution of the case pursuant to the administration’s instructions. That evening Vice Consul Duplaine took the bold step of dispatching “twelve armed marines” and their commander to seize control of the Greyhound, declaring it French property.24 This “daring violation of the laws,” as Jefferson described it, generated a swift response from Washington’s cabinet.25 They unanimously agreed to revoke Duplaine’s exequatur and directed Gore to prosecute him.26
As the supervisor of U.S. attorneys, Jefferson laid out to Gore the administration’s case against Duplaine. He emphasized a vice consul’s “unfounded right” to exercise admiralty jurisdiction, “probably meaning to assert it by this act of force.” These directives also clarified Duplaine’s status as “a foreigner, clothed with a public character,” and included Jefferson’s reminder that “consuls are not diplomatic characters, and have no immunities whatever against the laws of the land.” He concluded, “Consequently, Mr. Duplaine is liable to arrest, imprisonment, and other punishment, even capital, as other foreign subjects resident here.” Jefferson informed the district attorney, “The president therefore desires that you will immediately institute such a prosecution against him, as the laws will warrant.”27 Gore responded on September 10 that he had arrested Duplaine, who had posted a bond of $1,000 to guarantee his appearance before the next circuit court.28
The Duplaine case also provided an opportunity for the federal government to remind all French consuls and vice consuls operating within the United States of the limits of their powers. Addressing this cohort on September 7, Jefferson noted that “several of the Consuls of France are exercising, within the United States a general admiralty jurisdiction,” including assessing the validity of prizes. (The failure of the U.S. courts to exercise this authority had created an administrative vacuum that the French consuls eagerly filled.) He added, “Moreover that they are undertaking to give commissions within the United States, and to enlist, or encourage the enlistment of men, natives or inhabitants of these states, to commit hostilities on nations with whom the United States are at peace.” Reminding these French nationals that such actions violated American laws, Jefferson asserted the government’s right to revoke exequaturs and to prosecute and punish those consuls and vice consuls engaged in such activities.29
As the case made its way through the federal courts, Jefferson revoked Duplaine’s exequatur as vice consul for New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island pursuant to his own September 7 instructions. On October 3, the secretary of state explained to him that, “as Vice-Consul of the republic of France, you have with an armed force, opposed the laws of the land. . . . [T]he President of the United States has considered it as inconsistent with the authority of the laws . . . that you should any longer be permitted to exercise the functions, or enjoy the privileges of vice consul in these United States.”30 Letters announcing this revocation were sent to the appropriate diplomatic officials, Morris and Genet. The federal government also published this statement in the nation’s newspapers to send a clear message to the maritime community and to other consuls and vice consuls regarding the limits of French authority in U.S. ports.31
Amid these decisive steps, the federal government’s efforts to prosecute Duplaine proved more disappointing. Following Jefferson’s instructions, District Attorney Gore prepared a case against the vice consul, but he failed to get a unanimous decision from the circuit court’s grand jury. As Gore explained to Jefferson, “Eleven of the jury were for making the presentment, but more could not be convinced of its legality.” Once again, the Neutrality Proclamation’s lack of legal authority proved problematic: “they agreed that the facts were proved; but doubted of the law.”32 Despite this failure in the courts, the administration, by revoking his exequatar, successfully used its diplomatic authority to block Duplaine from further violating American neutrality as a vice consul.
Along with Genet’s and Duplaine’s activities in American ports, the administration soon learned that France’s neutrality violations were not limited to privateering in the Atlantic. In late August, Jefferson received a letter from two Spanish diplomats who described a statement circulating in Louisiana “for the purpose of stirring up that province and making it independent from” Spain. Genet, of course, had authored this recruitment plea, with the hope of regaining Louisiana for France.33 Several months later the same diplomats offered tangible evidence of his military preparations: four Frenchmen were “under authorization from the French minister, Mr. Genet, to head for Kentucky, and make as many recruits as they can along the way, of Americans and Frenchmen.” Additionally, they were to travel by ship “on the Ohio and Mississippi [Rivers] to Louisiana to attack the first post in the province . . . and to proceed to New Orleans,” where they would be met by a French fleet.34 Besides Kentucky, Genet was also offering commissions to U.S. citizens in South Carolina and Georgia in order to forcibly seize not only Spanish Louisiana but also East Florida.35
Alarmed by this news, Jefferson, at Washington’s behest, alerted Kentucky’s governor, Isaac Shelby, to stress “that they [agents for France] may not be permitted to excite within our territories or carry then any hostilities into the territory of Spain.” He reminded Shelby that “these illegal expeditions” threatened the peace of the United States and urged him to use the state militia to put down any resulting rebellions, if necessary.36 Jefferson also enlisted Secretary of War Knox to write the governor that if the “course of laws . . . should be ineffectual,” he should use “military force” to prevent the French invasion of Louisiana.37 Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, the shameless Genet published a declaration in a Philadelphia newspaper on December 27, 1793, denying any involvement in these activities: “the minister of the French republic, has not authorized the recruiting, formation, or assembling of any armed force or any military corps on the territory of the United States.”38 In early 1794, Edmund Randolph, having replaced Jefferson as secretary of state, received confirmation that Genet had successfully recruited over 2,000 Americans to invade Spanish Louisiana.39
During the summer and fall of 1793, troubling reports of British assaults on American merchant ships demonstrated that France was not the only warring nation violating U.S. neutrality. While France’s maritime transgressions had largely focused on enticing merchant ships to serve as privateers to bolster its navy, Britain adopted aggressive wartime policies that targeted the cargoes of American merchant ships to strip them of their neutral status. The British government’s first order in council, dated June 8, 1793, and arriving in Philadelphia on September 12, identified wheat, flour, and meal as contraband and authorized the Royal Navy to detain and seize any ships headed to enemy ports with these items.40 With the United States serving as a major supplier of grain to France, this policy resulted in the capture of at least fourteen American merchant ships en route to the European continent.41 On November 6, the British government issued a second order in council that extended this starvation policy to France’s West Indian colonies and expanded the scope of goods included. It authorized “the seizure of all ships laden with goods the produce of any colony belonging to France or carrying provisions or other supplies for the use of any such colony.”42 Because of the Caribbean’s proximity to the United States, the November 6 order hit American shipping particularly hard, with 250 vessels seized, and 150 of those condemned. No longer in possession of their ships and cargoes, captains and seamen became stranded in the West Indies as they awaited the interminable adjudication of their cases.43
Reports of ship seizures connected to the June 8 order reached Philadelphia in late summer, as Washington and his cabinet prepared for Congress’s constitutionally mandated convening later in the year. These British polices stood as a direct assault on American neutrality, particularly their underlying philosophical doctrine that “free ships make free goods.” But the outbreak of a yellow-fever epidemic in the nation’s capital interfered with the administration’s ability to respond to these encroachments and delayed its preparations for the upcoming congressional session in December. The likely source of the required infestation of female mosquitoes, which transmitted yellow fever, was the arrival of shiploads of refugees and their cargoes from the war-torn Caribbean island of Santo Domingo, present-day Hispaniola.44 Philadelphia’s population of 55,000, as did those of other American cities, absorbed about 2,000 Santo Domingans. By August, Philadelphians began to exhibit the disease’s “colorful” symptoms, including yellow skin and black vomit.45 Highly contagious, yellow fever cut a wide swath of infection across Philadelphia, resulting in staggering weekly death tolls during the months of September and October.
With the yellow-fever outbreak showing no signs of abating, Philadelphia’s mayor urged residents to evacuate, and Washington and his cabinet complied. Attorney General Randolph sought higher ground and less contagious air in Germantown, Pennsylvania, while Hamilton, who had contracted the disease in early September, recuperated in a mansion outside of the capital.46 By mid-September, Washington reluctantly relocated to Mount Vernon, at his wife’s urging, to escape the “malignant fever,” while Jefferson returned home to Monticello.47 With the national government geographically scattered, Jefferson paid a visit to Mount Vernon on September 22 to resolve the growing backlog of governance issues.48 One of the topics Washington raised was the temporary relocation of the nation’s capital until the epidemic ended. Specifically, he asked the cabinet, as well as Representative Madison and others, whether the president possessed the constitutional authority to convene the upcoming Congress in a city other than the capital.49 While Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution states, that the president “may, on extraordinary occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them,” it does not specify whether this power extended to changing Congress’s venue. The responses were unanimous: the president lacked the authority unless a positive law was passed. Madison explained: “From the best investigation I have been able to make in so short a time,” summoning Congress “at a time and place to be named by” the president “seems to require an authority that does not exist under the Constitution and laws of the United States.”50 While Congress would eventually grant this authority, such a change would not be possible prior to the December 1793 session.51
As yellow fever raged into November, Randolph reported to Washington, “The mayor and the physicians dissuade people from returning yet, and especially in great numbers.”52 In response, the president and his cabinet took up temporary residence in nearby Germantown in order to conduct the government’s business in a less geographically scattered manner. The administration’s primary task was drafting Washington’s annual address to Congress. While the Neutrality Proclamation and the subsequent challenges to it—privateering, Genet, and relations with France and Great Britain—dominated these discussions, the cabinet disagreed on the best way to explain the proclamation to Congress. They also debated whether to include other issues in this address, such as Indian affairs and the government’s financial health.53 Remarkably, despite the swirl of events surrounding American neutrality since the proclamation’s issuance, Congress had not been officially notified of this policy. The president’s message to the two chambers would need to comprehensively address what had transpired since April, including Genet’s myriad privateering violations, designs on Spanish Louisiana, and the subsequent recall request. Along with Britain’s orders in council, France and Spain posed additional diplomatic challenges, with the former rescinding its “free ships make free goods” policy for U.S. ships and the latter encroaching on U.S. territory along the Florida border and the Mississippi River.54
Over the course of several meetings in November and through the preparation of numerous drafts, the cabinet debated how best to share these problems with Congress while maintaining their partisan edge. Jefferson, of course, wanted to emphasize the Franco-American friendship, despite Genet’s pending recall and France’s May 9 policy of targeting neutral merchant ships traveling to enemy ports.55 Hamilton and Knox, not surprisingly, chose the opposite tack: denounce France and praise Britain, despite that country’s new hostile trade policies. At the November 28 meeting, Washington once again demonstrated his political savvy (and limitless patience) by approving a balanced approach that highlighted American difficulties with both countries.56 By the time Congress gathered in December, the long epidemic was drawing to a close, as freezing temperatures killed off the infectious mosquitoes. During the interminable fall of 1793, yellow fever had claimed the lives of at least 4,000 Philadelphians and resulted in the distribution of over $36,000 in relief funds to survivors.57
Washington’s annual address to Congress actually consisted of four separate speeches, all written by Jefferson but blessed by the cabinet. The first one most closely resembled a traditional annual address, or “State of the Union,” with the speech emphasizing the year’s highlights.58 At noon on December 3, Washington entered the Senate chamber, accompanied by his cabinet and Chief Justice Jay, and addressed both houses of Congress.59 His speech provided an update on the administration’s policies of the past year, beginning with neutrality. Washington explained the need for the proclamation: “As soon as the War in Europe had embraced those powers, with whom the United States have the most extensive relations; there was reason to apprehend that our intercourse with them might be interrupted, and our disposition for peace, drawn into question.” With Congress now officially informed of the neutrality policy, he invited the legislators in their “wisdom . . . to correct, improve or enforce this plan of procedure; and it will probably be found expedient to extend the legal code.”60 Acknowledging the weakness of the judicial branch in its handling of privateering cases, he also advised that “the jurisdiction of the courts of the United States . . . demand some further provisions.” As he concluded this section of the speech, Washington clarified that neutrality did not mean pacifism: “There is a rank due to the United States among Nations, which will be withheld, if not absolutely lost by the reputation of weakness.” Instead, “if we desire to avoid insult, we must be able to repel it; if we desire to secure peace, one of the most powerful instruments of our rising prosperity, it must be known, that we are at all times ready for war.” To this end, the president reported that an inventory was being prepared of the nation’s “arms and military stores.”61
Washington presented three additional speeches that highlighted America’s specific diplomatic difficulties with Europe and in the Mediterranean Sea. The second speech, delivered on December 5, updated the House and Senate on relations between the United States and France and Great Britain. While affirming France’s “friendly attachment to this country,” it also noted the National Assembly’s hostile new policy of May 9 “making enemy goods lawful prize in the vessel of a friend, contrary to our treaty.” The address also announced Genet’s transgressions, including his “tendency . . . to involve us in war abroad, and discord and anarchy at home,” and included the numerous letters leading to the request for his recall. Washington also highlighted Britain’s aggressive actions against American shipping and its commerce, specifically that nation’s “orders . . . to restrain generally our commerce in corn and other provisions to their own ports and those of their friends.”62
The third and fourth messages to the House and Senate, both occurring on December 16, focused on challenges to American neutrality and U.S. sovereignty beyond the Atlantic. Washington’s third speech highlighted Spain’s territorial encroachments against the United States, including the disputed Florida border, where “the southern Indians” engaged in “hostilities” against Americans, and along the Mississippi River, where Spain had erected navigational barriers to U.S. trade.63 Washington’s other address that day dealt with the difficulties American ship captains encountered in the Mediterranean from the Barbary States, including the need to pay ransoms in order to free maritime citizens.64 The challenges to neutrality the president described on December 5 and 16 would require future diplomatic missions and congressional actions to resolve.
Washington’s composite address received enthusiastic responses from both houses of Congress. On December 7, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Democratic-Republican Frederick Muhlenberg of Pennsylvania, praised the Neutrality Proclamation on behalf of his colleagues: “We accordingly witness with approbation and pleasure the vigilance with which you have guarded against an interruption of that blessing, by your proclamation.”65 In Washington’s brief response to the House, he wrote, “It is truly gratifying for me to learn, that the proclamation has been considered, as a seasonable guard against the interruption of the public peace.”66 The Senate’s response, delivered by its president (and the nation’s vice president), John Adams, also affirmed the wisdom of the Neutrality Proclamation: “we therefore contemplate with pleasure, the proclamation by you issued, and give it our hearty approbation,” adding, “we deem it a measure well timed, and wise.”67 In his reply to the Senate, Washington singled out “the decided approbation, which the Proclamation now receives from your house,” and reaffirmed the importance of this policy to his administration.68 With neutrality receiving the blessing of both houses of Congress, the legislative branch became an energetic constitutional partner in its implementation.
As the Third Congress began its work in January 1794, members eagerly embraced Washington’s instructions to “correct, improve or enforce” neutrality through the passage of legislation designed to support it. Although the president’s December addresses detailed trading violations against American ships from France, Britain, and the Barbary States, his description of British “vexations and spoliations” made a particularly strong impression on Congress as it considered a variety of remedies. This perspective had received additional credence on December 16, 1793, when Jefferson submitted his long-delayed valedictory “Report on Commerce” to Congress, originally requested in 1791. In this report, the outgoing secretary of state portrayed America’s positive trading relationships with Spain, Portugal, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden, in contrast to its negative experiences with Britain.69 Jefferson summarized depredations against American commerce stemming from its orders in council: the Royal Navy’s seizure of “800–900 vessels and nearly 40,000 tons of cargo” as well as the “proportional loss of seamen, shipwrights, and shipbuilding.” In response to these hostilities, Jefferson proposed that the United States dramatically shift its trading relationships away from Britain and toward friendlier commercial partners, most notably France.70
With Jefferson concluding his tenure as secretary of state several weeks after submitting this report, the task of implementing these ideas fell to his friend and Democratic-Republican ally, Representative Madison. On January 3, 1794, Madison introduced seven resolutions intended to increase America’s commercial independence from Britain. The specific proposals included punitive measures: the imposition of import and tonnage duties and port restrictions on nations, including Great Britain, that did not have a commercial treaty with the United States, and the application of these funds to compensate American victims of the Royal Navy.71 In addition, his resolutions encouraged domestic manufacturers, increased international trade with other nations, and sought to break Britain’s monopoly on America’s importation of manufactured goods.72 With the House of Representatives controlled by Democratic-Republicans and the Senate equally divided between them and the Federalists, Madison’s legislative proposals attracted more debate than decisions.73
Congressional anger toward Britain increased with the submission of Secretary of State Randolph’s lengthy report “The Vexations and Spoliations on Our Commerce, since the Commencement of the European War” on March 5, 1794.74 Unlike Jefferson’s December 16 report that characterized America’s European trading partners, with the exception of Great Britain, in a positive light, Randolph made clear that French “privateers harass our trade no less than those of the British,” among its other transgressions. In addition, Randolph summarized the number of American shipping complaints: “the British were thirty-two; against the French twenty-six; against the Spanish ten; and against the Dutch one.”75 His report provoked a new round of outrage from members of Congress, who sought a more aggressive approach to defending U.S. maritime commerce.
On March 12 Congressman Theodore Sedgwick of Massachusetts, a Federalist, led the response with a legislative package emphasizing U.S. defense preparations. Among his proposals was the establishment of fifteen regiments of auxiliary troops, consisting of one thousand men, serving for two to three years, as well as presidential authority to call an embargo.76 These initiatives borrowed generously from the recommendations of Treasury Secretary Hamilton, who had previously suggested them to Washington.77
As Madison’s and Sedgwick’s competing proposals awaited consideration in the House, Washington submitted another report to Congress on March 25 detailing assaults on American shipping, this time in the West Indies. The U.S. consul to French Martinique, Fulwar Skipwith, offered a devastating portrait of the Royal Navy’s ruthless campaign against American commerce: “The ship Delaware with thirty three other American vessels have been condemned in the Vice-Court of Admiralty of Montserrat—about the same number have been also in St. Kitts, and upwards of one hundred and fifty more have been arrested and carried into the different ports of the English Windward Islands, and no doubt will share the same fate.”78 These captures, of course, had been authorized under the British government’s November 6, 1793, order in council. With the two March reports detailing that country’s unofficial war against a neutral United States, a furious Congress sprang into action.
Abandoning the competing proposals of Madison and Sedgwick (and Jefferson and Hamilton) for the time being, a unified Congress supported an immediate response to protect American shipping. Beginning on March 26, 1794, it ordered “that an embargo be laid on all ships and vessels in the ports of the United States . . . bound to any foreign port or place, for the term of thirty days,” and directed the executive branch to enforce its provisions, including potential exemptions.79 As the gatekeepers of the nation’s ports, the Treasury Department instructed the customs collectors to take the lead in prohibiting ships from sailing, while the War Department, then lacking a standing navy, relied upon state militias, under the authority of the governors, to provide military support.80 Treasury also fielded requests for noncommercial exemptions to this ban, including transporting political news (such as word of the embargo) or sailing out for humanitarian reasons.81 In the latter case, numerous vessels applied for sea passports to rescue stranded American seamen whose ships had been seized in the Caribbean. One successful application stressed its adherence to the embargo’s goals because “no goods, wares or merchandise of any kind or nature will be sent, and the boat so permitted shall bring back any American seamen that are there.”82 Another approved request involved two vessels sailing to Saint Domingue (Hispaniola) “to carry as passengers any habitants of that island wishing to return, along ‘with their clothing, baggage and sea stores.’”83
With Congress extending the thirty-day embargo until May 25, the economic hardships on ship captains and seamen increased, as did the request for sea passports to escape these difficulties.84 In a May 1 letter to Washington, Hamilton questioned whether the latest batch of passport applications was for humanitarian purposes or “a cover for carrying on mercantile speculations contrary to the true spirit of the embargo.”85 While the president approved the eight passports, he also agreed with Hamilton’s suspicions: “I am so fully impressed with the necessity of discontinuing the issuing of them without some restrictions.”86 Although intended to protect America’s transatlantic commerce, the embargoes harmed the maritime community’s ability to earn a living and also proved increasingly difficult to enforce. The unpopularity of the embargo was confirmed on May 12, when a proposal to extend it until June 20 was overwhelming defeated in the House of Representatives 73 to 13.87
While the executive branch did its part to enforce the congressionally mandated embargoes, Washington came to realize that a more enduring solution would be needed to uphold American neutrality and to protect the nation’s commerce. Rejecting Madison’s unrealistic plans for redefining Anglo-American commerce and Sedgwick’s belligerent proposals, he offered a third approach: the appointment of a special envoy to Britain to resolve America’s trading difficulties. Randolph had originally suggested this idea, and by mid-April, Washington concurred, explaining, “my objects are, to prevent a war.”88 The next day he nominated Chief Justice Jay to serve “as envoy extraordinary of the United States, to his Britannic majesty.”89 This appointment was quintessential Washington: diplomatic, peaceful, and a reminder to Congress that the executive branch, not the legislature, initiated U.S. foreign policy.
Despite Congress’s failure to redefine U.S. diplomacy, it proved more successful in passing a series of laws designed to protect American commerce and to ultimately promote neutrality. This prolific legislative output, relying on the Sedgwick-Hamilton recommendations as well as Knox’s reports, included the Defence [sic] of Certain Ports and Harbors, the establishment of a Naval Armament, the erecting and repair of Arsenals and Magazines, the creation of a corps of artillerists and engineers to support and build these facilities, and an $80,000 appropriation to build a six-ship naval fleet, with the vessels including the USS Constellation.90 Lastly, on April 19 the Senate approved Jay’s appointment as special envoy 18 to 8, opening a new front in the implementation of neutrality, this time through international diplomacy.91
With congressional authorizations to strengthen the nation’s coastal defenses in place, Secretary of War Knox devoted his energies to implementing these measures. First, he appointed engineers, including Pierre L’Enfant, to fortify the port cities of Philadelphia, New York, and Wilmington in consultation with their state governors.92 Despite the federal government’s efforts to lead the way in enforcing neutrality, it lacked the firepower to do so, and once again it turned to the states for assistance. As Knox explained to Washington, “The governors are commanders in chief of the militia of their respective states” and had been called upon in the previous year “in the name of the president of the United States to perform certain unpleasant duties relative to the preservation of our neutrality.” He further requested that, as “a conciliatory and grateful measure” to the governors as commanders of the militia, they should be consulted on the fortification of their ports. Additionally, they should share their recommendations with the president and secretary of war. Lacking a strong military presence in the federal government, Washington had little choice but to agree to Knox’s proposal.93
Among the military legislation was the Naval Armaments Act, which authorized the construction of the six vessels, with four mounting forty-four guns and the remainder thirty-six. In his plans for building the nation’s first navy, Knox sought frigates that “combine the greatest possible force, with adequate strength, and swiftness of sailing, so as to render them equal or superior to any ships . . . belonging to the powers of Europe.” In distributing them, Knox acknowledged that “the government is the government of the whole people,” and he proposed that the busy ports of Charleston, Norfolk, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston each receive one of the warships.94 On June 3, Washington nominated six officers who would serve as captains of the ships.95 With the help of these newly appointed officers, Knox also submitted plans for the uniforms of the U.S. Navy, sparing no detail in each description. The specifics of each uniform made clear who held what rank: a captain wore a “full dress coat to be blue with long buff lapels,” while a lieutenant’s coat would be “blue with half lapels of buff.” The lower-ranking midshipmen would wear a “plain frock coat of blue . . . without lapels,” and marines would wear “plain short coats of blue, turned up with red.” Amid these careful deliberations, Knox dismissed the captains’ proposal for “embroidery” on the uniforms as an “expensive ornament for a Republican Navy.”96
By June 1794, Washington could point to an impressive list of accomplishments in the enforcement of American neutrality. His four speeches to Congress in December 1793, based on compromises he forged within his cabinet, offered the rationale for neutrality as the wisest policy for the young nation to pursue. Additionally, the president presented further domestic and international challenges the government needed to tackle and encouraged the legislative branch to join in the effort. Amid partisan divisions in his administration and in Congress, Washington shrewdly sought a middle ground in its implementation because he saw neutrality as a national policy that promoted U.S. political and commercial interests while keeping the country at peace. With the enactment of laws to strengthen the nation’s coastal defenses joining the administration’s earlier bans on privateering, the paper proclamation began to develop a backbone and become a national priority.
The year 1794 marked another important turning point in the government’s enforcement of neutrality, with the timid judicial branch finding its constitutional voice in the landmark case Glass v. Sloop Betsey.97 With roots in Citizen Genet’s notorious commissions, this case began in July 1793, when his prolific namesake, the Citizen Genet, captured the sloop Betsey and brought it into Baltimore as a prize. Exercising admiralty authority, the French consul affirmed the legality of the capture. The Betsy’s owners, hailing from the neutral nations of Sweden and United States, filed a suit in the U.S. district court in Maryland to overturn the French consul’s ruling and ultimately recover their ship and its cargo. The district court judge, William Paca, accepted the French consul’s authority over the matter, arguing “that the admiralty-courts of neutral countries have no such jurisdiction,” only those of warring nations. When the owners appealed to the U.S. circuit court for Maryland, the presiding justice, William Paterson, upheld the lower court’s ruling but paved the way for the case to appear before the Supreme Court.98
As the Supreme Court considered the fate of the Betsey, Chief Justice Jay (just before his appointment as special envoy to Great Britain) saw an opportunity to affirm the neutrality proclamation (which he had helped draft) to thwart France’s war preparations and to exercise the admiralty authority that some European countries chose to cede to belligerents.99 With this in mind, the court asked two central questions: first, did the district court have the authority to exercise prize jurisdiction, and second, did a foreign country have the authority to erect admiralty courts in the United States? In answering the first question, Jay located the judicial branch’s authority in Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution, “to all cases affecting admiralty and maritime jurisdiction,” with the district courts serving as the starting point for these cases, according to Section 9 of the 1789 Judiciary Act. Since the federal courts possessed sovereign authority over admiralty in the United States, Jay concluded, “the admiralty jurisdiction, which has been exercised in the United States by the consuls of France . . . is not of right.” In its unanimous ruling, issued on February 18, 1794, the Supreme Court returned the case of the Betsey to the district court for resolution and, more importantly, prohibited foreign countries from exercising admiralty authority in the United States.100 With Jay’s bold opinion, the Supreme Court finally exercised the jurisdiction over international law and commerce that the Constitution and the Judiciary Act had authorized. In turn, the district court assumed its newly recognized role in the case of the Betsey, which resulted in the release of the ship and the payment of $2,400 to its owners.101
In the aftermath of this landmark decision, the federal courts issued a series of rulings in prize cases that further clarified the U.S. government’s jurisdiction over neutrality violations. Building on the precedent established in Sloop Betsey, these rulings also relied on existing treaty obligations as well as the role of U.S. citizens. Interestingly, all four cases originated in the privateering hotspot of Charleston. In 1794, the U.S. district court of South Carolina ruled in Jansen v. Vrow Christina Magdalena that federal courts have jurisdiction on “matters arising on the high seas,” an authority that came from treaties with Holland, Prussia, Sweden, and the 1778 treaties with France.102 In a ruling that repudiated the Henfield case, the Supreme Court in Talbot v. Jansen (1795) concluded that a U.S. citizen captaining an American ship had violated the nation’s neutrality laws when he privateered for France.103 That same year, in Williamson v. Betsey, the district court distinguished between a ship’s previous national affiliation and its current one. This case concerned a former American privateer that had been dismantled and sold. Having been rebuilt in a French port and now possessing a French commission, the court ruled that this vessel did not violate American neutrality.104 In 1796, the Supreme Court affirmed in Moodie v. Ship Phoebe Anne that a French privateer can enter an American port for repairs pursuant to the 1778 treaties with France (and consistent with the administration’s August 3, 1793, policy).105 Despite a slow start, the federal courts embraced their admiralty authority with gusto and contributed to the federal government’s enforcement of neutrality.
Along with the Sloop Betsey ruling, the eventful months of 1794 also finally brought news from France concerning Genet’s fate. Gouverneur Morris’s October 18, 1793, letter to Washington, transported to Philadelphia by the trusted ship captain William Culver and arriving in mid-January 1794, announced “that your intentions are fulfilled” regarding Genet.106 France’s government had undergone dramatic changes since the minister’s appointment, with the more aggressive Jacobins seizing power from the Girondins. The Reign of Terror had begun, with the execution of Marie Antoinette occurring the same week that the Jacobins approved Genet’s recall.107 In a second letter, dated November 12, 1793, Morris informed Washington that Genet’s replacement would consist of a four person “commission,” with Jean Antoine Fauchet serving as France’s new minister to the United States.108 In February 1794, Fauchet and his delegation arrived in Philadelphia, avoiding the detours and delays that had doomed Genet. On February 22, in an unexpected birthday gift to Washington, Fauchet presented his credentials to the president, bringing Genet’s challenging ten-month tenure to an end.109
Genet’s recall, however, came with several stipulations. In its October communications with Morris, the Jacobin government demanded that the minister be sent back to France as a “prisoner” and “should be punished.” Morris clarified to the French government that the United States wanted his dismissal, not his head.110 In February, Secretary of State Randolph officially affirmed that Genet’s recall had satisfied the U.S. government’s demands.111 Washington, who had once described Genet as “entirely unfit for the mission on which he is employed,” became his unlikely savior.112 Instead of facing deportation to France and execution by guillotine, the deposed minister moved to New York State, married Cornelia Clinton, became a U.S. citizen, and lived happily as a gentleman farmer until his death in 1834.113 Ironically, his now father-in-law, Governor George Clinton, had dealt with numerous privateering violations generated by his future son-in-law.
France’s second stipulation dealt with the tenure of U.S. Minister to France Morris. As early as September 1793, the French republic had sought the ouster of Morris, who they considered hostile to their revolution.114 With Genet’s recall, French authorities saw their opening. Minister Fauchet, who Washington praised as “temperate and placid” and his predecessor’s opposite “in all his movements,” made the request in a conversation with Randolph on April 9.115 France’s diplomatic quid pro quo sent the administration into a political tailspin as it scrambled to find someone willing to accept the job. On April 29, Washington wrote to two prominent New Yorkers, Robert Livingston and Chief Justice Jay (who had not departed for Britain yet), to gauge their interest in this post, but both demurred.116 The ever-eager Hamilton submitted a bipartisan list of twenty-eight names that included his political rivals Jefferson, Madison, and Randolph (perhaps to remove them from the national government), while Randolph offered five suggestions.117 In the end, Washington selected someone who did not appear on any of these lists but who had close philosophical and geographical ties to Jefferson and Madison: James Monroe of Virginia.118
Born into the Virginia gentry in 1758, Monroe initially pursued a career in the Continental Army. His failure to raise a regiment, despite the rank of lieutenant colonel and the support of General Washington, resulted in his return to the College of William and Mary. He gained a lifelong friend and mentor in Jefferson (who was Virginia’s governor at the time) when he studied law in his office. Monroe served in the Virginia House of Delegates as well as the nation’s Confederation Congress, where he acquired another influential friend in Madison.119 In appointing Monroe, given his close ties to Jefferson and Madison and his pro-French sentiments, Washington hoped to balance the partisan tensions associated with his nomination of the pro-British and Federalist Jay to London.120 This bipartisan appointment, however, proved to be an embarrassment. Monroe failed to uphold American neutrality, and Washington was forced to recall him in 1796.121 This setback in France, however, did not hinder his later political career, in part due to his powerful political allies. He later served as governor of Virginia, secretary of state and acting secretary of war during the War of 1812, and the nation’s fifth president. Despite their earlier philosophical differences, Monroe’s presidency saluted Washington’s, as he also toured the nation to promote national unity and affirmed the ideas of the Neutrality Proclamation in the Monroe Doctrine, his statement of U.S. hemispheric autonomy and sovereignty.122
While Washington and his cabinet breathed a sigh of relief over the installation of the new French minister, his predecessor’s antics continued to generate problems. Despite Jefferson’s exhortation to Kentucky’s governor to stop American citizens from participating in the invasion of Spanish Louisiana, a letter from one of the state’s U.S. senators, John Brown, reported that these enlistments continued with impunity. Written on January 25 but reaching Randolph on February 27, Brown described the numerous military units that had been organized and were already engaged in attacking “Spanish dominions in Louisiana.” Among the leaders of these regiments were Generals George Rogers Clark and Benjamin Logan, who were then leading 2,000 men down the Mississippi River. Another Revolutionary War veteran, Colonel John Montgomery, had raised 200 soldiers and had positioned them at the mouth of the Cumberland River to head off the Spanish. The senator lamented the surprising ease with which these and other regiments were being formed: “So popular is the undertaking here that I fear the government will want power, either to prevent it or punish the adventurers.”123
In dramatic contrast with his controversial predecessor, Fauchet moved quickly to put an end to the invasion of Spanish territories and to affirm American neutrality. In a statement appearing in Philadelphia’s General Advertiser on March 6, 1794, the minister proclaimed: “Every Frenchman is forbid [sic] to violate the Neutrality of the United States. All commissions or authorizations tending to infringe that neutrality are revoked and returned to agents of the French Republic.”124 Additionally, Arthur St. Clair, governor of the Northwest Territory, had delivered his own statement on December 8, 1793, directing the territory’s inhabitants “to observe a strict neutrality towards Spain; and to abstain from every act of hostility against the subjects and settlements of that crown.”125 Yet despite Fauchet’s and St. Clair’s efforts, the volatile situation required a more sweeping pronouncement from the federal government.
On March 24, 1794, the administration issued a second neutrality proclamation in order to prevent a war on its western borders. Like its April 22, 1793, predecessor, the western proclamation was a collaborative effort, with each cabinet member offering his suggestions. The new attorney general, William Bradford, wrote the final version, as Randolph had previously done for the original. It also did not include the word “neutrality,” in a nod to the philosophical compromise that had resulted in the first statement. The western proclamation differed from its predecessor in one important regard: it placed Washington at the center of the document with the repeated use of the personal “I”: “Whereas I have received information.” This emphasis demonstrated the importance of neutrality to the president as well as his growing frustration with the violations of this policy, particularly by fellow Revolutionary War veterans.
The March 24 proclamation focused on the recruitment activities in Kentucky, where American citizens had “assembled an armed force for the purpose of invading and plundering the territories of a nation at peace with said United States.” The statement warned that citizens engaged in unauthorized military activities did so “at their peril” and were admonished “to refrain from enlisting, enrolling, or assembling themselves for such unlawful purposes.” Lastly, Washington directed “all court magistrates and other officers . . . to exert the powers . . . to prevent and suppress all such unlawful assemblages.”126 This second proclamation provided two important reminders. First, the United States faced threats to its sovereignty and autonomy not just along the Atlantic but also to its west and south. Second, there were still U.S. citizens eager to take up arms in a conflict that did not involve or concern their own country. Despite these dramatic developments in Spain’s North American holdings, the 1794 Neutrality Proclamation has failed to garner the historical attention of its 1793 counterpart.127
Despite some setbacks, the first half of 1794 witnessed a succession of triumphs in the government’s enforcement of neutrality, including congressional measures to protect American trade and ports, the judiciary’s recognition of its admiralty authority, the successful recall of a disrespectful European diplomat, and the issuance of a western neutrality proclamation. The culmination of the government’s comprehensive enforcement occurred in June, with the passage of the Neutrality Act of 1794.128 With the abortive invasions of Spanish Louisiana and Florida fresh on his mind, Washington urged both houses of Congress to act. Writing on May 20, the president asked “for a stronger and more vigorous opposition” than existed under current law “to keep America in peace” and to prevent its citizens from participating in foreign wars.129 Although divided along partisan lines, with the vice president breaking the tie in the Senate and the House voting only 48 to 38 in favor, Washington gained the law he was seeking.130
The sweeping Neutrality Act gave long-overdue legal authority to the proclamations and the policy decisions that composed the government’s enforcement efforts. Containing ten sections, this law systematically addressed the array of neutrality violations the executive branch had encountered on both the land and sea since April 1793 while also offering legal remedies to resolve these challenges. Sections 1 and 2 embodied the original intention of both neutrality proclamations by making it illegal for American citizens to accept commissions from a foreign prince or state and by prohibiting all persons within the United States “from enlisting or hiring other persons to enlist in the service of any foreign prince or state.” If an American were to accept such a wartime commission, he could be fined up to $2,000 and imprisoned for three years.131 Sections 3 and 4 addressed privateering by banning “the fitting out and arming [of] vessels within the ports of the United States” for the purpose of supporting a war “against a prince or state with [which] the United States are at peace” as well as the augmenting ships of war within the jurisdiction of the United States.132
Section 5, building on the 1794 Neutrality Proclamation, prohibited the presence of military expeditions on American soil “to be carried on against the territory of a foreign prince or state with [which] the United States are at peace.” Section 6 gave long overdue authority to the U.S. district courts to hear “cases of captures made within the territorial waters of the United States.” The seventh section authorized the president to enforce these provisions with “the land or naval forces of the United States.” The eighth provision, building on the administration’s August 1793 privateering policy, authorized the president to order the departure of foreign vessels whose presence violated U.S. treaties. Section 9 addressed treason and piracy, while the final provision authorized this law until 1797. Its reauthorization that year and then permanent establishment in 1800 affirmed the wisdom and necessity of America’s neutrality.133
The year 1794 proved to be a watershed in the implementation of American neutrality. No longer just an idealistic policy, it became the law of the land as the government’s three branches embraced their constitutional responsibilities in support. The executive branch, having initiated the proclamation, led the way in its enforcement by energizing government officials, banning privateering, initiating lawsuits, defining the nation’s coastal boundaries, and punishing errant foreign officials. But this ambitious stance required the full support of the entire federal government to be successful. Congress emerged as an eager partner, passing laws to protect American shipping and ports and to codify the neutrality doctrine. The courts also joined in its enforcement by finally embracing its constitutional and legal mandates to defend U.S. sovereignty on the high seas. Even the nation’s maritime citizens began to see the value of neutrality as the government helped them recover their illegally seized ships and cargoes and to receive indemnification for their losses. Washington’s vision of building a strong national government capable of promoting and protecting U.S. sovereignty and commercial interests through a policy of neutrality came to fruition during this productive year. With a united federal government successfully enforcing neutrality at home, Washington and his administration turned their attention to resolving international threats, with diplomatic missions to Britain and Spain as well as to points in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean Seas.