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Somewhat less than a century and a quarter ago the representatives of the United States of America, assembled in General Congress at the city of Philadelphia, declared that the thirteen United Colonies possessed, as free and independent States, “ full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which Independent States may of right do.” The period that has since elapsed, measured by the general duration of national life, is comparatively brief; büt-its importance is not to be estimated by length of years. The United States came into being, as an independent nation, on the eve of great mutations in the world's political and moral order. The principles on which the government was founded were indeed not new; they had been proclaimed by philosophers in other times and in other lands; but they found here a congenial and unpreoccupied soil and an opportunity to grow. The theories of philosophers became in America the practice of statesmen. The rights of man became the rights of men.
But the new nation, though conceived in liberty and dedicated to freedom, was practical in its aims and judicious in its methods. It also recognized the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as belonging to men not only as individuals, but also in their aggregate political capacity as independent nations. Adopting therefore as its rule non-intervention, it declined the proposal of the revolutionary government in France, in 1793, for “a national agreement, in which two great peoples shall suspend their commercial and political interests, and establish a mutual understanding to defend the empire of liberty,
wherever it can be embraced." Abstaining from active political propagandism, and acknowledging the right of other nations to work out their destiny in their own way, but confident of the beneficence and ultimate triumph of its own principles, it escaped the turmoils as well as the reactions that come of excessive and unregulated zeal, and, by the example of order and prosperity at home and the pursuit of an enlightened and consistent policy abroad, continued to uphold the cause of free government, free commerce and free seas. And it is in the maintenance of this great cause, in its various phases, that the United States has made its distinctive contribution to diplomacy.
Although we are particularly concerned on the present occasion with the achievements of the century now drawing to a close, it will be necessary, in order to avoid an abrupt and misleading breach in the actual continuity of events, to recur at times to the acts of the great men who endowed our government with its original form and purpose. At the very outset they looked abroad with a view to enter into relations with other governments. Four months before the Declaration of Independence, an agent was sent to France by the Continental Congress with suitable instructions, perhaps not the least onerous of which was the injunction to acquire “Parisian French."2 Six months later the Congress adopted a plan of a treaty. Comprehensive in scope and far-reaching in its aims, this remarkable state paper stands as a monument to the broad and sagacious views of the men who framed it and gave it their sanction. Many of its provisions have found their way, often in identical terms, into the subsequent treaties of the United States; while, in its proposals for the abolition of
1 Am. State Papers, For. Rel. I. 708.
2 The agent was Silas Deane. His instructions, bearing date March 3, 1776, were signed by B. Franklin, Benj. Harrison, John Dickinson, Robert Morris and John Jay, of the Committee of Secret Correspondence. The objects of his mission were to obtain military supplies and to prepare the way, in case independence should be declared, for the conclusion of a treaty. (Dip. Cor. Am. Rev., Wharton's edition, II. 78.)
8 Secret Journals of Congress, II. 6, 7-25.
discriminating duties that favored the native in matters of commerce and navigation, it levelled a blow at the exclusive system then prevailing, and anticipated by forty years the first successful effort to incorporate into a treaty the principle of equality and freedom, on which those proposals were based.
Prior to 1789, the United States entered into fourteen treaties. Six of the fourteen were with France, but a majority of all were negotiated and signed in that country, at Paris or at Versailles. Eight were subscribed, on the part of the United States, by two or more plenipotentiaries; and among their names we find, either alone or in association, that of Franklin, ten times; the name of Adams, seven times; the name of Jefferson, three times; and that of Jay, who shared with Adams and Franklin the burden of the peace negotiations with Great Britain, twice. These early treaties covered a wide range of subjects, embracing not only war and peace, but also political alliance, pecuniary loans, commercial intercourse, and the rights of consuls.? Among their various stipulations, we may find provisions for liberty of conscience, for the abolition of the droit d'aubaine and droit détraction, and for the removal, generally, of the disability of the alien to dispose of
1 See Notes upon the Foreign Treaties of the United States, by J. C. Bancroft Davis, Treaty Volume, 1776-1887, pp. 1219–1220; and the treaty of commerce and navigation with Great Britain, concluded Dec. 22, 1815.
2 The treaties and conventions prior to 1789, grouped under the countries with which they were concluded, were: France: Amity and Commerce, February 6, 1778; Alliance, February 6, 1778; Separate and Secret Act reserving to the King of Spain the right to accede to the Alliance, February 6, 1778; Contract for the Payment of Loans, July 16, 1782; Contract for a New Loan and the Payment of Old Ones, February 25, 1783; Consular Convention, November 14, 1788. Great Britain : Provisional Articles of Peace, November 30, 1782; Armistice, January 20, 1783; Definitive Treaty of Peace, September 3, 1783. Morocco, Peace and Friendship, January 1787. The Netherlands: Amity and Commerce, October 8, 1782; Convention Concerning Recaptures, October 8, 1782. Prussia, Amity and Commerce, September 10, 1785. Sweden, Amity and Commerce, April 3, 1783.
* Netherlands, 1782, Art. IV.; Prussia, 1785, Art. XI.; Sweden, 1783, Art. V.
his goods and effects, movable or even immovable, by testament, donation or otherwise. In one instance it is agreed that, if differences shall arise in consequence of an infraction of the treaty, no appeal shall be made to arms till a friendly arrangement shall have been proposed and rejected.? Stipulations for the mitigation of the evils of war are numerous. A fixed time is allowed, in the unfortunate event of hostilities, for the sale or withdrawal of goods ; : provision is made for the humane treatment of prisoners of war; 4 the exercise of visit and search at sea is regulated and restrained ; 5 the acceptance by a citizen of the one country of a privateering commission against the inhabitants of the other or their property, when the two contracting parties are at peace, is made piracy; 6 and not only is contraband carefully defined, sometimes both positively and negatively, so as to limit its scope, but in the treaty with Prussia it is declared that no articles, not even arms and munitions of war, shall“ be deemed contraband, so as to induce confiscation or condemnation and a loss of property to individuals,” but that, if captured and taken, they shall be paid for at their full value, "according to the current price at the place of destination,” while, if they are merely detained, compensation must be made for the loss thereby occasioned. In the same treaty there stood another clause, exempting all merchant and trading vessels from
1 France, Amity and Commerce, 1778, Art. XI.; Netherlands, 1782, Art. VI. ; Prussia, 1785, Art. X. ; Sweden, 1783, Art. VI.
2 Morocco, 1787, Art. XXIV.
3 France, Amity and Commerce, 1778, Art. XX.; Morocco, 1787, Art. XXIV.; Netherlands, 1782, Art. XVIII.; Prussia, 1785, Art. XXIII.; Sweden, 1783, Art. XXII.
4 Prussia, 1785, Art. XXIV.
5 France, Amity and Commerce, 1778, Arts. XIII., XXVII.; Morocco, 1787, Arts. V., XII.; Netherlands, 1782, Art. XI.; Prussia, 1785, Art. XV.; Sweden, 1783, Arts. XIII., XXV.
6 France, Amity and Commerce, 1778, Art. XXI.; Netherlands, 1782, Art. XIX. ; Prussia, 1785, Art. XX. ; Sweden, 1783, Art XXIII.
7 France, Amity and Commerce, 1778, Art. XXIV.; Netherlands, 1782, Art. XXIV.; Sweden, 1783, Arts. IX., X.
8 Art. XIII.
molestation in time of war. These clauses were far in advance of the international law of the time. They represented an aspiration; but, if intended also as a prophecy, they yet remain for the most part unverified and unfulfilled, though they are by no means discredited.
There is yet another thing for which we are indebted in no small measure to the men who laid the foundations of our system, and that is a certain simplicity and directness in the conduct of negotiations. Observant of the proprieties and courtesies of intercourse, but having, as John Adams once declared, “no notion of cheating anybody," they relied rather upon the strength of their cause, frankly and clearly argued, than upon a subtle diplomacy for the attainment of their ends. Nor did the framework of government subsequently adopted by them admit of the practice of secrecy and reserve, such as characterized the personal diplomacy of monarchs whose tenure was for life, and who were unvexed by popular electorates and representative assemblies. Hence, as it was in the beginning, so American diplomacy has in the main continued to be, a simple, direct and open diplomacy, the example of which has exercised a potent influence on the development of modern methods.
Soon after the organization of permanent government under the Constitution, it became necessary to act upon two questions of foreign policy of more than ordinary importance. The first was that of recognizing the republic proclaimed in France by the National Convention. The position of the United States on this question was defined by Mr. Jefferson, as Secretary of State, in an instruction which has often been cited.2
" When principles are well understood,” said Mr. Jefferson, “their application is less embarrassing. We surely cannot deny to any nation that right whereon our own government is founded, that every one may govern itself according to whatever form
1 Art. XXIII.
2 Mr. Jefferson, Sec. of State, to Gouverneur Morris, Minister to France, March 12, 1793, Ford's Writings of Thomas Jefferson, VI. 199.