John A. (John Adams) Dix.

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Pinckney, who was then in Amsterdam, not being permitted
to reside in France, (pages 158 and 159,) that the spolia-
tions on our commerce by French cruisers were daily in-
creasing ; that every just principle was set at defiance; that,
" if their acts were simply the violation of our treaty with
France, the injuries would be comj)aratively trifling ; but
their outrages extend to the capture of our vessels, merely
because going to or from a British port ; nay, more, they
take them when going from a neutral to a French port."
(Page 154.)

By a decree of the Executive Directory, dated March 2,
1797? (page 160,) a series of orders was adopted, by which
the treaty of amity and commerce of 177^? between France
and the United States, was virtually abrogated in all the
leading particulars which had constituted the groundwork of
her complaints against the United States. She annulled the
agreement that free ships should make free goods, by declar-
ing enemy's property in neutral vessels lawful prize. She
annulled the stipulation that certain articles only should be
contraband, by adding new ones to the list. And in other
particulars she either annulled express stipulations in the
treaty of 177^, or introduced new rules entirely subversive
of them. Among other innovations was that of requiring



what she denominated a role cV equipage^ or crew's list,
agreeably to an ordinance, nearly, if not quite, as ancient as
the marine ordinances of Louis XIV., issued in 1681. In
default of such a list a vessel was declared to be a good

It is worthy of remark that these orders were issued the
day before General Washington's term of office, as President
of the United States, expired. He had occupied that high
station during the whole period of our difficulties with
France. He was responsible for all the acts of our govern-
ment towards her down to that period of time ; and in the
early stages of our dissensions with her, Mr. Jefferson had
filled the office of Secretary of State, and had given to the
treaties of 1778 the interpretations of which she complained
as a violation of our engagements with her, and as a justifica-
tion of her aggressions upon us. I will certainly not assume
that the course of our government was right merely because
it was directed by these distinguished statesmen and patriots;
but the fact that they had so large a share in the transactions
of that day is sufficient to make me hesitate long before I
will call in question the wisdom or justice of the public
measures, in respect to our difficulties with France, at a
period so remote from our own times. And I cannot
overlook the consideration, that, if there was any injustice,
any ingratitude, any breach of good faith, any violation of
treaties with France, down to this period of time, when our
diplomatic intercourse with her was suspended, Washington,
the upright President and the friend of Lafayette, was
responsible for it.

The Senator from Delaware has cited, with great empha-
sis, a circular letter of Mr. Jefferson, as Secretary of State
of the United States, for the purpose of charging on our
government the obligation of paying the indemnities claimed
for spoliations. I think this letter will be found, on exami-
nation, neither to have been extraordinary as a public act, nor
to have created any liability on the part of the government,


which was not fully discharged. The letter was written on
the 27th August, 1793, and will be found at page 216. It
began by stating, that, " complaint having been made to the
government of the United States of some instances of unjus-
tifiable vexation and spoliation committed on our merchant-
vessels by the privateers of the Powers at war,, and it being
possible that other instances may have happened of which no
information has been given to the government," he had it
in charge to say, that "due attention would be paid to any
injuries they might suffer; and that, on their forwarding
well-authenticated evidence of the same, proper proceedings
would be adopted for their relief." And it added the ex-
pression of the confidence of the government in the just and
friendly dispositions of the belligerent powers.

It is a well-known fact that there were at the time numer-
ous complaints ; and the government not being able with
convenience to correspond with all the complainants, probably
adopted this method of inviting them to present the evidence
of their injuries, that redress might be sought through the
customary channels of diplomatic intercourse ; and it held
out the same assurance of aid in cases of future wrong. It
looked not merely to the future, but to the past also.

By referring to page 253, it will be seen that President
Washington, in his Annual Message in December, 1793,
referred to this circular in the following terms : —

" The vexations and spoliations understood to Lave been committed
on our vessels and commerce by the cruisers and officei-s of" some of
the belligerent Powers appeared to require attention. The proofs of
these, however, not having been brought forward, the description of cit-
izens supposed to have suffered were notified, that, on furnishing them
to the Executive, due measures would be taken to obtain redress of the
past, and more effectual provisions against the future."

These assurances, as we shall see, were redeemed by the
government to the extent of its ability. They were given
under a generous confidence in the justice of the belligerents.
The government was justified in entertaining this confidence,



at least in respect to France, On the 27th of September,
1793, a month after the circular was written, Citizen Genet
(page 2^6) wrote to the Secretary of State, giving him the
strongest assurances of the friendly disposition of the
French government, and informing him that the decree of
the 9th of May had been modified by an exception in favor
of American commerce, although at this time the decree of
the 27th July, reviving that of the 9th of May, had been in
force two months.

Our confidence was abused, but the government will
surely not be held responsible for the bad faith of foreign
powers. The whole extent of its responsibility, under this
circular, which, as we have seen, was designed chiefly to
notify the merchants to present evidence of their claims to
indemnity, was that of seeking the redress of the injuries
complained of in every just mode; and this responsibility, as
I shall show hereafter, was met and discharged.

I desire to impress the fact on the Senate, that, as early
as 1793, the treaty of 1778 was virtually annulled and abro-
gated by France. It was so in 1797? ^s far as it could be
by her own act. It required only the act of the other con-
tracting party to work a complete abrogation of it ; and, as
we shall see, this act was not long wanting.

I also desire to note here that the decree of the 2d of
March, 1797? was characterized by the Secretary of State,
in that year, " as a palpable violation of our treaty with
France, which the Directory, without our participation, un-
dertook to modify, professedly to make it conform to our
treaty with Great Britain," (page 406 ; see, also, page 163.)
And, in his Message to Congress in December, 1798, the
President denounced another law of France, (pages 875-
377?) passed in January of that year, in relation to the cap-
ture and condemnation of neutrd vessels, " as an unequivo-
cal act of war on the commerce of the nations it attacks,"
(page 429.)

Having thus shown that France had avowedly assumed to


modify the treaty of amity and commerce of 1778? so far as
she held that it was not in accordance with the stipulations
of our treaty with Great Britain, and that she had virtually
abrogated it by an utter disregard of her engagements with
us, I will now proceed to show by what measures her viola-
tion of the treaty was met on our part. I shall not trouble
the Senate with a detail of all the acts passed by Congress to
meet the extraordinary emergency produced by the legisla-
tion of France, but shall merely refer to the general tenor of
the most important. A series of such laws will be found,
commencing on the 28th of May, 1798, and ending in Feb-
ruary, 1800. By an act of 28th May, 1798, the capture of
the armed vessels of France, found hovering on our coasts for
the purpose of committing depredations on our vessels, was
authorized; by an act of 13th June, 1798, the commercial
intercourse between France and the United States was sus-
pended ; by an act of 25th June, 1798, the merchant-ves-
sels of the United States were authorized to arm, to repel
by force any attempt by French cruisers to search, restrain,
or seize them, to subdue and capture such cruisers, and to.
recapture any vessels of the United States which such cruis-
ers may have taken ; by an act of 28th June, 1798, the
forfeiture, condemnation, and sale of captured vessels, and
the distribution of the proceeds, were provided for, as well
those captured by vessels belonging to citizens of the United
States as by our public armed vessels ; by an act of 9th
July, 1798, the public armed vessels of the United States
were authorized to capture on the high seas any armed
French vessel ; and the President was authorized to grant
commissions to private armed vessels, with the same author-
ity to subdue, seize, and capture any armed French vessel, as
the public armed vessels of the United States possessed.

To crown these acts of open hostility, the United States
were, by an act of Congress of the Jth July, 1798, declared
to be of right freed and exonerated from the stipulations of
the treaties and of the Consular Convention, " heretofore "


— I quote the language of the act — " concluded between
the United States and France." These were the treaty of
alliance and the treaty of amity and commerce of February,
177^-> and the Consular Convention of November, 1788.
On referring to the act of the 7th July, 1798, it will be
seen that the declaration of our government, that we were
freed from the stipulations of the treaties, was put upon the
distinct ground of their infraction by France.

I will not argue the question whether a nation, bound to
another by treaty-stipulations, has, under circumstances like
those in which the United States were placed, the right to
declare those stipulations void. Such a right — a right to
be exercised with prudence and wisdom, and under a strong
sense of obligation to the dictates of justice — seems to me
to be inherent in the very constitution of sovereign States,
responsible to no common superior. And if any one doubts
its existence, I will refer him to Vattel, Book 2, c. 13.

I have already shown that the treaty of amity and com-
merce had been avowedly modified by France on her own
separate action, and against our earnest and persevering
remonstrances ; and that it had been virtually abrogated by
a system of flagrant depredations on our commerce, not only
in violation of the express stipulations of that treaty, but
against the received principles and rules of international law.
I hold, therefore, that the treaties existing between France
and the United States in 1793, when their differences com-
menced, were terminated by the acts and declarations of both
parties. The declarations of France were less comprehen-
sive than those of the United States ; her acts were open,
palpable, and direct. The declaration of the United States
was full and unequivocal. She pronounced herself freed and
liberated from the obligation of the treaties ; and she acted
in conformity to the declaration.

But if any doubt remains as to the fact that the treaties
had ceased to be of any obligation, it appears to me it must
be dissipated by a reference to the hostile acts to whisters


have referred. The two countries were, for all essential
purposes, in a state of war. The public armed vessels of
the United States met those of France as enemies, captured
them, brought them within our jurisdiction, and, by regu-
larly authorized judicial processes, they were condemned and
sold, and the proceeds of the sale distributed among the
captors. Private armed vessels, under a like authority, were
scouring the ocean, capturing the armed vessels of France,
and brinoing- them in for condemnation. I am aware that
this state of hostilities was not preceded by any general
declaration of war, and that it was confined, by the acts of
Congress referred to, within certain specified limits. But it
was not the less a state of open hostility. And though it
was denied that it was technically war, I apprehend that a
man of that day, who had been told, in the face of the sur-
rounding circumstances, that the United States were at peace
with France, would, to say the least, have been somewhat
surprised at the information. It was a state of hostility so
nearly resembling actual war, that it could only be terminated
by a convention or treaty. The parties could never other-
wise have resumed their ancient peaceful and friendly rela-
tions. And when the French Ministers, at the opening of
the negotiation in 1800, (page 584,) required that "the
armed ships of the United States should no longer attack
the ships of the Republic," our Ministers replied (same
page) that they were not authorized even to give assurances
on this point, " otherwise than by incorporating them in a

I repeat, that I consider the treaties of 177^ abrogated
by both the contracting parties : first, by declarations, par-
tial on the one side, and full on the other ; and, second, by
the acts of both, — by an avowed disregard, by an open vio-
lation of the stipulations of those treaties on one side, and
on the other by authorized, declared acts of hostility, which
were not distinguishable from acts of war. And, with the
the-ore respect I entertain for the opinion of the Senator


from Delaware, I cannot but regard the abrogation of the
treaties to have been as effectual as though it had been done
by mutual consent.

Previous to this entire disruption of the amicable rela-
tions of the two countries, Messrs. Pinckney, Marshall,
and Gerry, who were sent out as Ministers to France in
1797j had, to use the language of one of our official doc-
uments, " been refused a reception, treated with indignities,
and finally driven from its territories.'* (Page 561.)

I will now take up the transactions between the two
countries when negotiations were resumed, and see in
what light they regarded their relations to each other.

Early in 1799, Oliver Ellsworth, Patrick Henry, and
William Vans Murray — the latter being then Minister at
the Hague — were appointed Envoys Extraordinary and
Ministers Plenipotentiary to France, but with a distinct
intimation to the French government, that they would not
be sent out until we were assured that they would be re-
ceived. The assurance was given ; William R. Davie was
appointed in place of Patrick Henry, who declined ; and
in March, 1800, they reached Paris.

I desire to state, in order to do justice to the subject,
one of the strong points on which the claimants rely. In
the instructions to our Ministers, they were directed to
inform the Ministers of France " that the United States
expect from France, as an indispensable condition of the
treaty, a stipulation to make to the citizens of the United
States full compensation for all losses and damages, which
they shall have sustained by reason of irregular or illegal
captures or condemnations of their vessels and other prop-
erty, under color of authority or commissions from the
French Republic or its agents." (Page 562.)

These claims to indemnity, which were large in amount,
I cannot find that the French government ever unconditionally
recognized, at any stage of the negotiation ; and the diplo-
matic correspondence which ensued between our Ministers


on the one side, and the French Ministers — Messrs. Jo-
seph Bonaparte, Fleurieu, and Roederer — on the other,
was conducted with a good deal of adroitness and perti-
nacity. The latter, with a view to avoid the payment of
indemnities to citizens of the United States for spolia-
tions, set up a claim to the restoration of the ancient trea-
ties, (page 381.) Indeed, they claimed that the treaties of
1778 had never been abrogated ; and that, if France in-
demnified citizens o£ the United States for a violation of
those treaties, the United States should acknowledge the
treaties as then existing, and thus give France the benefit
of the stipulations they contained. The Ministers of the
United States insisted, on the other hand, that the treaties
had been dissolved by the acts of both parties (page 612);
that the act dissolving them could not be recalled (page
592) ; and that we were under no obligation to renew

The first proposition of our Ministers at the commence-
ment of the negotiation was, " to ascertain and discharge
the equitable claims of the citizens of either nation upon
the other." (Page 581.) The French Ministers replied,
by saying that the first object should be to determine " the
regulations and steps to be followed for the estimation
and indemnification of injuries for which either nation
may make claim for itself or for any of its citizens." —
(Same page.) Our Ministers, in their answer, objected to
the claims which either nation might make for itself,
(page 5S2,) because they understood the French Ministers
to refer to a restoration of the treaties. The French
Ministers reasserted their national claims (page 583);
and at page 591 it will be seen that they declared, that,
when they acknowledged " the principle of compensation,"
it was " as a consequence of ancient treaties." The posi-
tion thus taken by the French Ministers at the very
threshold of the negotiation I have not found that they
abandoned, either during its progress or at its close.


Throughout the negotiation, then, it appears that the
French Ministers pertinaciously coupled the restoration of
the ancient treaties with the mutual payment of indemni-
ties, (page 6-il.) To use their own words: "Either the
ancient treaties, with the privileges resulting from priority
and the stipulation of reciprocal indemnities, or a new
treaty assuring equality without indemnity." (Page 618.)

Tliere is no douht that the position taken by the French
negotiators, and adhered to with obstinacy, as our Minis-
ters said in one of their communications, and the final
surrender of the treaties and of mutual claims to indem-
nity, give to the transaction on its face the appearance of
an agreement between the parties to set off the one
against the other. But I believe that a careful investiga-
tion of the matter will show that it was so in appear-
ance only, and not in fact. To place the matter in its
true light, we have only to separate the subjects of dis-
pute from each other : first, the treaties ; and, second, the
indemnities mutually claimed. I assume these to be the
onlv subjects of disagreement. I assume the position de-
liberately, and with full knowledge that a different classifi-
cation had been made, viz : first, the treaties ; second, our
claims for spoliations ; and third, the claims of France un-
der the treaties and otherwise. I reject this classification,
because the two last items were embraced in the general
designation of " indemnities mutually claimed," and be-
cause, if the third item was a proper one, then it would
have been proper for us to add a fourth by setting up our
claims under the treaties as an offset to hers, as the expense
of equipping fleets and arming to defend our commerce
against her aggressions. She did not claim, as I can find,
any indemnity on account of the non-execution of the
guaranty contained in the treaty of alliance. We always
insisted that the casus foederis had not occurred. We
insisted that the war between France and Great Britain
was an offensive war on the part of the former, and that


the execution of the guaranty could only be claimed in the
case of a defensive war. Indeed, I have not been able to
find that she called on us to execute it. Her real claim
was to a recognition of the treaties, and especially the
treaty of commerce. In respect to any claims to indem-
nity on her part under the latter, it is only necessary to
refer to Mr. Jefferson's expositions, to see how groundless
they would have been.

The Senator from Delaware stated that France had
claimed from us a compliance with the stipulation of the
treaty of alliance, by which we had guaranteed to her the
possession of her West India islands; and he referred to a
letter from Mr. Genet, at page 281, and to another letter
from Mr. Adet, Mr. Genet's successor, (page 354,) to prove
that she had called on us to execute the guaranty. I am
constrained to say that these references of the honorable
Senator do not appear to sustain the position, as, I think, the
Senator will himself admit on a more careful examination of
the subject. Mr. Genet's letter bears date the 14th of No-
vember, 1793, and the following is the paragraph alluded
to: —

" I beg you to lay before the President of the United States as soon
as possible the decree and the enclosed note, and to obtain from him the
earliest decision either as to the guaranty I have claimed the fulfilment
of for our colonies, or upon the mode of negotiation of the new treaty
I was charged to propose to the United States, and which would make
of the two nations but one family."

It will be perceived that this request is in the alternative,
and, by a reference to Mr. Genet's preceding letter, that he
is speaking of new commercial arrangements with the
French colonies under new regulations adopted by France.
Not one word will be found in reference to an armed de-
fence of those colonies. In no one of Mr. Genet's previous
letters will any claim by the government of France, as I
believe, to the execution of the guaranty in the treaty of
alliance be found. On the contrary, there is abundant


evidence to show that its execution was not designed to be
claimed. By referring to page 55, it will be seen by Mr.
Jefferson's statement that Mr. Genet, less than six months
before this letter was written, declared to Mr. Jefferson him-
self, to the President, General Washington, and at a public
meeting of the citizens of Philadelphia, that " France did
not expect that we should become a party to the war " be-
tween her and Great Britain. By referring to page 84,
it will be seen that Mr. Monroe, our Minister to France, in
a letter dated the 15th September, 1794', nearly a year after
the date of Mr. Genet's letter, said that the French Republic
" had declined calling on us to execute the guaranty " ; and
at page 78 it will be found, that Mr. Monroe, in June, 1794<,
was instructed, in case the execution of the guaranty was
demanded, to refer the French government to our own.

By reference to page 97? a letter from the Secretary of
State of the United States to Mr. Randolph will be found,
dated the 1 st of June, 1 795, stating that we had not, nor,
as he said, " have we yet been required to execute the guar-
anty " ; and this, it is to be remembered, was nearly two
years after Mr. Genet's letter was written.

The facts to which I have referred show, as I think, that
France did not design to call on us to execute the guaranty
of her West India possessions ; and we insisted that we
were not bound to execute it. She had clearly not called on
us previously to 1796, if the declarations of our own gov-
ernment are to be credited ; and her principal West India
islands were subdued in 1794* by Sir John Jervis, after-
wards Lord St. Vincent: a title conferred on him on account
of his masterly defeat of the Spanish fleet off" the cape of
that name. If we had been called on to execute the guar-
anty subsequently to 1794, it must have been to reconquer
these islands ; and it is well known that, by the treaty of
Amiens, all the West India possessions of France were
stipulated to be restored to her, with the exception of Trini-
dad. I will not speak of an execution of the guaranty


subsequently to 1796 ; for with what face could we be
called on for- the purpose by France, when she was engaged
in the most flagrant depredations on our commerce 1

I now refer to Mr. Adet's letter of the 15th of Novem-

Online LibraryJohn A. (John Adams) DixSpeeches and occasional addresses (Volume 1) → online text (page 8 of 40)