Title Reviewed:
American Neutrality in 1793: A Study in Cabinet Government

Author Reviewed:
Charles Marion Thomas

Ernest M. Linton


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 27, Issue 4, pp 347-349

Article Type:
Book Review

Download Source:

American Neutrality in. 1793: A Study in Cabinet Government (Columbia University Studies in History, Economics and Public Law, No. 350). By Charles Marion Thomas. Columbia University Press, New York, 1931. Pp. 249, $4.50.

This study is concerned with the formulation and the application of the American policy of neutrality during the year 1793, when France was at war with Austria, Prussia, Sardinia, Great Britain, and the United Netherlands. The author's first object, as he states in the preface, was to discover the contributions of Thomas Jefferson (Secretary of State in 1793) to the American policy of neutrality, but his search for such contributions developed into a study of cabinet government, that is, the influence of Cabinet deliberations upon the course of governmental policy during this troublous year. France had recently (in 1792) repudiated the monarchy and become a republic, and in 1793 was at war with Great Britain and other European powers. There was in this country much sentiment favoring France, and Jefferson was strongly pro-French in his sympathies. Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury, leaned in sympathy toward England rather than toward France, but both Jefferson and Hamilton, as well as the other members of President Washington's Cabinet, were thoroughly convinced that the United States must avoid war as long as possible, whatever the cost. They differed only in their views as to the best way of doing this. The result of this variety of opinions, and their frequent expression in Cabinet meetings, led to numerous compromises and produced a neutral course "more nearly in the middle of the way, more impartial, than that which any individual could have found."

The topics discussed in the six chapters of the volume are: the Proclamation of Neutrality; the Preliminary Questions and the Arrival of Genet; the Limit of American Territory; the Prohibition of the Fitting Out of Armed Vessels in the Ports of the United States; the Prohibition of Foreign Recruiting and the Usurpation of Consular Jurisdiction; the Effect of Genet's Mission on American Neutrality‚ÄĒNeutral Duties and Neutral Rights.

The study reveals clearly how Genet, the French Minister to the United States, by his varied and continued activities, jeopardizing our status as a neutral power (such as giving orders for the fitting out of French privateers in American ports, and sanctioning their use of our ports as bases of operation) alienated public opinion in this country and finally caused even Jefferson to approve a request for Genet's recall by the French government.

The author has evidently made a careful study and evaluation of documentary materials and makes frequent references to them. The reader is thorougly convinced of the importance of Cabinet deliberations at this time when our federal Constitution was very new and when the government based upon it had been functioning for only four years. Of special importance was the work of Jefferson, which is characterized by the author as "indispensable in the formulation of a policy so truly impartial as that laid down by the United States in 1793". The work of Hamilton, while not quite so important, in the author's words, was "almost indispensable". Washington's mind, unaided, could not have conceived the correct solution to all the problems that arose during this eventful year, but from the opinions of members of his Cabinet, and particularly from those of Jefferson and Hamilton, he was enabled to choose "that which was most truly in accord with his neutral policies".


Published by the Indiana University Department of History.