What Does the Proclamation of Neutrality State?

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The Proclamation of Neutrality asserted the U.S.'s position of neutrality with regards to the conflict between England and France. It was issued by George Washington in 1793.

In February of 1793, Revolutionary France declared war on Great Britain. This news did not make it to American shores for months. When George Washington was finally apprised of the conflict, he called an emergency meeting of his cabinet.

The young country was not in a position to enter the conflict; the military was too small and the nation had little established international presence. What Washington's cabinet discussed was not the issue of whether to send military aid, but whether to declare neutrality. The cabinet was split. Thomas Jefferson believed that actively declaring neutrality was unnecessary, but he was overruled by Alexander Hamilton and his supporters.

The official proclamation was released on April 22, 1793. It asserted the decision of the United States government to stay neutral during the conflict and declared that any United States citizen caught aiding the war effort would be punished.

The Pacificus-Helvidius Debates

The release of the proclamation led to the Pacificus-Helvidius debates. Hamilton wrote under the pen name Pacificus and stated the case of the Federalist party. He asserted that the proclamation was constitutional, that it did not violate any of the nation's treaties with France and that siding with France would have opened the U.S. to attacks from Britain and Spain. James Madison refuted these points for the Jeffersonian party, writing under the pen name Helvidius.