A common phenomenon in international diplomacy and politics is position of neutrality. This basically means that the nation making such a proclamation chooses to stay neutral, and in the process chooses not to participate in the war on a direct or an indirect basis, though several neutral nations do provide assistance to warring nations in order to make a war profit. The term, principally, refers to this practice, however it also refers to an important issuance of declaration to the world and also the citizens of the States. The proclamation states that the United States shall remain neutral in the ongoing war between Great Britain and French Republic. The timeline of the decision is short and extended for just a few days, but the declaration is often wrongfully said to be Washington's proclamation, but was in fact reached upon by the entire cabinet and was very well thought out.
Background to the Proclamation of Neutrality in 1793
The French Republic was established in 1792, after the French Revolution. This very revolution severely shook the remaining European monarchies. There were several members of the nobility who also had interests in the French Monarchy and in a bid to preserve them, intervention by force and military was prompted. The denouncement of the Revolutionary leaders and unnecessary political interference of the foreign nobility, led to France declaring war on Austrian Netherlands. As soon as the invasion began, one by one the remaining powers (monarchies) in Europe started to jump into the conflict, the first one being Prussia. Several monarchies including Spain and Portugal formed what is known as a First Coalition to intervene. The French in the mean time also declared war on Great Britain and Dutch Republic in the February of 1793. The French were thus fighting almost the entire Europe at that time.
The news of this war, reached the United States in early April 1793. President Washington hurriedly summoned the cabinet in Philadelphia and held an emergency meeting, the nature of which, depicts the behavior of a true leader of the Republic and Democracy. The deliberation in Philadelphia resulted in the neutrality proclamation. Significance of this meeting is that Washington, considered the opinion of every leader. He made a set of 13 significant questions which included questions such as 'Should the United States receive an ambassador from France?' or 'Should earlier treaties still apply?'.
Thomas Jefferson, staunchly argued that there was no need to make a formal proclamation. He argued that why not stall and make countries bid for neutrality of United States? This statement is often interpreted to be an implication that the American neutrality was to be bought off for a price. Though no deal was proposed or made, the facts remain quite unclear. Alexander Hamilton rightfully suggested that neutrality was not a negotiable issue. On April 22, 1793 the actual proclamation was made. The extraordinary part of the story is that the proclamation did not contain the word 'neutral' or 'neutrality', instead, upon the instance of Jefferson, the word impartial was used. The immediate implication was that no United States citizen would engage in the war in any way direct or indirect (support) and engagement would mean severe legal proceedings. The proclamation was followed by Neutrality Act of 1794, which prevented any United States citizen from waging war against any country which was at peace with United States.
The proclamation was a very good move by the Congress as the war turned some surprising tides and the French single-handedly won the combat. Some of the greatest campaigns were of course by Napoleon Bonaparte and the French Republic successfully used the mass conscription method to raise an enormous manpower. From the cabinets point of view, entering the Coalitions was not exactly what the newly formed Free World would accept (United States and French Republic). Entering the French side would mean welcoming the British, Spanish, Prussian and Portuguese enmity. Not exactly advisable, as all the monarchies had quite powerful armies on the American continent, and at the same time United States, though powerful, was quite young.
A similar declaration known as the proclamation of neutrality 1914, was issued by Woodrow Wilson for the second time in American history, during the World War I, before the United States actually declared war.