Summary of the 1793 Proclamation of Neutrality
The French Neutrality Crisis — also known as the Citizen Genêt Affair — was a diplomatic incident between France and the United States that took place from 1793–1794. At the time, France was caught up in the French Revolution, which was popular in America. In 1793, France declared war on Britain and Spain and then sent Edmond Charles Genêt to the United States to negotiate with Congress and raise volunteers to fight against Britain and Spain. Instead of meeting with President Washington and his Cabinet, Genêt started gathering volunteers to fight France’s enemies. The United States was at peace with all three nations, but Genêt’s actions threatened to pull the country into the European conflict, which would undoubtedly carry over into North America. In an effort to warn Americans from becoming involved, President Washington decided to protect the interests of the United States and issued the Proclamation of Neutrality on April 22, 1793.
Text of Washington’s Proclamation of Neutrality — April 22, 1793
Whereas it appears that a state of war exists between Austria, Prussia, Sardinia, Great-Britain, and the United Netherlands, of the one part, and France on the other, and the duty and interest of the United States require, that they should with sincerity and good faith adopt and pursue a conduct friendly and impartial toward the belligerent powers:
I have therefore thought fit by these presents to declare the disposition of the United States to observe the conduct aforesaid towards those powers respectively; and to exhort and warn the citizens of the United States carefully to avoid all acts and proceedings whatsover, which may in any manner tend to contravene such disposition.
And I do hereby also make known that whosoever of the citizens of the United States shall render himself liable to punishment or forfeiture under the law of nations, by committing, aiding or abetting hostilities against any of the said powers, or by carrying to any of them those articles, which are deemed contraband by the modern usage of nations, will not receive the protection of the United States, against such punishment or forfeiture: and further, that I have given instructions to those officers, to whom it belongs, to cause prosecutions to be instituted against all persons, who shall, within the cognizance of the courts of the United States, violate the Law of Nations, with respect to the powers at war, or any of them.
Significance of the Proclamation of Neutrality
The Proclamation of Neutrality is important to the history of the United States because it established the concept that American citizens cannot become involved in wars with nations the United States is at peace with. Washington’s Cabinet further clarified the idea when it agreed to the “Rules of Neutrality” on August 3, 1793. Further, Congress made it a law when it passed the Neutrality Act of 1794.