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Averaging 4s. 7,3.9.d. the dollar, or about 2} per cent. above par, which added to the one per cent loss heretofore always sustained on the government bills (which allowed but 99 florins, instead of 100 do. for every $10) will render the fund somewhat larger this year than heretofore; that these bills being drawn on London, (for none could le got on Amsterdam but to considerable loss, added to the risk of the present possible situation of that place), he had them made payable to Mr. Pinckney, and enclosed them to him by Captain Cutting, in the letter of April 12th, now communicated to the President, and at the same time wrote the letters of the same date to our bankers at Amsterdam and to Col. Humphreys, now also communicated to the President, which will place under his view the footing on which this business is put, and which is still subject to any change he may think proper to direct, as neither the letters, nor bills are yet gone.
The Secretary of State proposes, hereafter, to remit in the course of each quarter $10,000 for the ensuing quarter, as that will enable him to take advantage of the times when exchange is low. He proposes to direct, at this time, a further purchase of $12,166 66, (which with the $500 formerly obtained and $17,333 33 now remitted, will make $30,000 of this year's fund,) at long sight, which circumstance with the present low rate of exchange, will enable him to remit it to advantage.
He has only further to add that he delivered to Mr. Vaughan orders on the bank of the United States in favor of the persons themselves from whom the bills were purchased, for their respective sums.
XXXV.–Opinion on the question whether the United States
have a right to renounce their treaties with France, or to hold them suspended till the government of that country shall be established.
April 28, 1793. I proceed in compliance with the requisition of the President to give an opinion in writing on the general question, whether the United States have a right to renounce their treaties with France, or to hold them suspended till the government of that country shall be established ?
In the consultation at the President's on the 19th inst., the Secretary of the Treasury took the following positions and consequences. France was a monarchy when we entered into treaties with it; but it has declared itself a republic, and is preparing a republican form of government. As it may issue in a republic or a military despotism, or something else which may possibly render our alliance with it dangerous to ourselves, we have a right of election to renounce the treaty altogether, or to declare it suspended till their government shall be settled in the form it is ultimately to take ; and then we may judge whether We will call the treaties into operation again, or declare them forever null. Having that right of election, now, if we receive their minister without any qualifications, it will amount to an act of election to continue the treaties; and if the change they are undergoing should issue in a form which should bring danger on us, we shall not be then free to renounce them. To elect to continue them is equivalent to the making a new treaty, at this time, in the same form, that is to say, with a clause of guarantee; but to make a treaty with a clause of guarantee, during a war, is a departure from neutrality, and would make us associates in the war. To renounce or suspend the treaties, therefore, is a necessary act of neutrality.
If I do not subscribe to the soundness of this reasoning, I do most fully to its ingenuity. I shall now lay down the princi ples which, according to my understanding, govern the case.
I consider the people who constitute a society or nation as the source of all authority in that nation ; as free to transact their common concerns by any agents they think proper ; to change these agents individually, or the organization of them in form or function whenever they please ; that all the acts done by these agents under the authority of the nation, are the acts of the nation, are obligatory to them and enure to their use, and can in no wise be annulled or affected by any change in the form of the government, or of the persons administering it, consequently the treaties between the United States and France, were not treaties between the United States and Louis Capet, but betreen the two nations of America and France; and the nations remaining in existence, though both of them have since changed their forms of government, the treaties are not annulled by these changes. The law of nations, by which this question is to be determined, is composed of three branches. 1. The moral law of our nature. 2. The usages of nations. 3. Their special conventions. The first of these only concerns this question, that is to say the moral law to which man has been subjected by his creator, and of which his feelings or conscience, as it is sometimes called, are the evidence with which his creator has furnished him. The moral duties which exist between individual and individual in a state of nature, accompany them into a state of society, and the aggregate of the duties of all the individuals composing the society constitutes the duties of that society towards any other; so that between society and society the same moral duties exist as did between the individuals composing them, while in an unassociated state, and their maker not having released them from those duties on their forming themselves into a nation. Compacts then, between nation and nation, are obligatory on them by the same moral law which obliges individuals to observe their compacts. There are circumstances, however, which sometimes excuse the non-performance of contracts between man and man; so are there also between nation and nation. When performance, for instance, becomes impossible, non-performance is not immoral ; so if performance becomes self-destructive to the party, the law of self-preservation overrules the laws of obligation in others. For the reality of these principles I appeal to the true fountains of evidence, the head and heart of every rational and honest man. It is there nature has written her moral laws, and where every man may read them for himself. He will never read there the permission to annul his obligations for a time, or forever, whenever they become. dangerous, useless, or disagreeable; certainly not when merely useless or disagreeable, as seems to be said in an authority which has been quoted, (Vattel, p. 2, 197) and though he may, under certain degrees of danger, yet the danger must be imminent, and the degree great. Of these, it is true, that nations are to be judges for themselves ;- since no one nation has a right to sit in judgment over another, but the tribunal of our consciences remains, and that also of the opinion of the world. These will revise the sentence we pass in our own case, and as we respect these, we must see that in judging ourselves we have honestly done the part of impartial and rigorous judges.
But reason which gives this right of self-liberation from a contract in certain cases, has subjected it to certain just limitations.
I. The danger which absolves us must be great, inevitable and imminent. Is such the character of that now apprehended from our treaties with France ? What is that danger ? 1st. Is it that if their government issues in a military despotism, an alliance with them may taint us with despotic principles ? But their government when we allied ourselves to it, was perfect despotism, civil, and military, yet the treaties were made in that very state of things, and, therefore, that danger can furnish no just cause.
2d. Is it that their government may issue in a republic, and too much strengthen our republican principles ? But this is the hope of the great mass of our constituents, and not their dread. They do not look with longing to the happy mean of a limited monarchy.
3d. But, says the doctrine I am combatting, the change the French are undergoing, may possibly end in something we know not what, and may bring on us danger we know not whence. In short, it may end in a Raw-head and bloody bones in the dark. Very well—let Raw-head and bloody bones come. We shall be justified in making our peace with him by renouncing our ancient friends and his enemies; for observe, it is not the possibility of danger which absolves a party from his contract, for that possibility always exists, and in every case. It existed in the present one, at the moment of making the contract. If possibilities would void contracts, there never could be a valid contract, for possibilities hang over everything. Obligation is
. not suspended till the danger is become real, and the moment of it so imminent, that we can no longer avoid decision without forever losing the opportunity to do it. But can a danger which has not yet taken its shape, which does not yet exist, and never may exist which cannot therefore be defined—can such a danger, I ask, be su imminent that if we fail to pronounce on it in this moment, we can never have another opportunity of doing it ?
4. As to the danger apprehended, Is it that the treaties remaining valid) the clause guaranteeing their West Indian lands will engage us in the war? But does the guarantee engage us to enter into the war on any event? Are we to enter into it before we are called on by our allies.
Have we been called on by them ? Shall we ever be called on?
Is it their interest to call on us ?
Can they call on us before their islands are invaded, or immediately threatened ?
If they can save them themselves, have they a right to call on
Are we obliged to go to war at once, without trying peaceable negotiations with their enemy?
If all these questions are against us, there are still others left behind.
Are we in a condition to go to war?
If we cannot save them, are we bound to go to war for a desperate object?
Many, if not most of these questions offer grounds of doubt whether the clause of guarantee will draw us into the war. Consequently, if this be danger apprehended, it is not yet certain enongh to authorize us in sound morality to declare, at this mome it, the treaties null.
5. Is danger apprehended from the 17th article of the treaty of