Neutrality Abroad

    march–may 1794

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    To John Hobby

    Philadelphia        11-12 March 1794

    My dear Sir—

    Since my last, for some days, the causes of war have seemed to multiply, but for a day or two past they seem to be again on the decline—And last evening I fell in company with Mr. Elsworth of the Senate,1 who with unusual marks of joy in his countenance, declared his fears of a war were nearly dispeled—

    The certainty of the recapture of Toulon, the return of Lord Maria from his intended Invasion of St. Maloes in France,2 & the Releasment of our Vessells in some of the English W. India Islands are the Grounds on which our fresh hopes of being able to avoid a war are founded. And I am still of the opinion, that which I have before mentioned to you, that all the evils and spoliations that have befallen our trade & commerce in the European & West Indias Seas are only collateral circumstances of the dreadfull war against France—The parties in this conflict will hesitate at no means which they think will facilitate their respective success—And tho they may not declare war against America they will, under some pretence or other, endeavour to render our commerce as little profitable as possible to the enemies of each other—And I continue of the opinion that we had better suffer all those incidental evils because, tho they are great in themselves, they are small when compared to what all classes in the community must suffer if we should get into an open, declared war—

    About the time this reaches you, you will see in the papers a number of Letters from Spain, Portugal and Algiers, among which is one from Captain Obrian3—from these you must form an opinion for yourself respecting the danger of navigating those Seas this Spring—Obrian thinks it uncertain whether the peace between Holland & the Dey of Algiers would be renewed—& it was, when he wrote, but within but twelve days of expiring—He thought too the Danes were in danger of loosing their peace—And if they should he supposed it might facilitate a Treaty with America; but upon much higher terms than the United States might have had three years ago—He recommends it to the United States, with all possible expedition, to fit out as many as a dozen swift sailing vessells to repress the Algeriene Corsairs—which he sais may be done4

    A Bill has passed our House for equiping four Ships of forty four Guns each—and two of thirty six Guns each5—This is thought by pretty good Judges to be a force adequate to keeping the Algerienes within the Streights [of Gibraltar]—And I am of opinion it will always be in the power of America to join their maritime force with some European power who will cooperate against Algiers—But this force will not be able to protect our trade before next fall or Spring—And were I interested in Navigation I should by no means trust my vessells on the coasts of Spain or Portugal this Spring before I heard further accounts from thence—

    A Bill for fortifying the principle, & some other harbors in the U. States, has had two readings; & will, probably pass the House tomorrow6—Portland is to be provided with 12 pieces of Heavy Cannon—Kennebeck, 4—Penobscot & Machias four each—This degree of warlike preparation is thought to be absolutely necessary in the present state of things—That small privateers or armed boats may not enter our Harbors & cut out the Vessells—And, perhaps, we have been too remiss, in this particular, even for a state of peace—Wherever there is a Custom House it seems proper there should be a force sufficient to stop the sailing of a Vessell in case she refused to obey the Laws of the United States—

    I will just observe to you that I am not without some hopes, the Invalids examined under the late Law, tho the Court has decreed against them, will be ordered on the pension List, by Act of Congress7—But of this more hereafter—

    Wednesday morning

    12 March—

    Many of the pleasing hopes of yesterday that we should keep out of the war, drawn from the Account of our vessells in the English Islands, being released, & permitted to pursue their voyages are destroyed by the Informations in Captain Art—from Jamaica as late as the 5th. & 12th. February, Also from St. Croix up to the 20th. These all agree, that orders are recieved in all the British ports to capture and condemn all American Vessells going to or from any French port—In consequence of which orders more than two hundred American Vessells are already captured, & many condemned, the others are waiting for trial with no expectation of any better fate—

    Among the Vessells captured I see the names of the Friendship, Cap. Codman—The Brig Swan Captain Milliken—Brig Nancy Cap. Ilsington, from Wilmington N. Carolina owned in Portland—bound to St. Bartholomews, with Lumber & provisions—These three Vessells are from Portland—The Snow Hammond Cap. Stowe, from Kennebeck—These are all the Vessells I find any account of that are captured belonging to Maine—

    The certain accounts are that Admiral Jervis had arrived in the west Indias with his fleet, & twelve thousand Troops8—with which tis thought he will sweep all the French Islands—This being the great object it needs no comment on their conduct with regard to American Vessells—These are taken both to facilitate the reduction of the Islands, & to disenable us from any acts of retaliation, as it puts into their possession our shiping & seamen—

    People of all classes are highly exasperated against the English—And the question in every mouth is, what shall be don? Some clamour for war—many go no farther at present than a general Embargo to prevent any more of our Vessells being captured—others are for making preparation for war—

    I should suppose the eminent danger attending our navigation would operate as an Embargo & render a proclamation for that purpose unnecessary—But I am of opinion that the President will be authorised to issue one, unless something very favorable turns up immediately—

    The Bill I mentioned yesterday for puting the Harbors & ports into a state of defence has passed this morning—

    The Resolutions of [James] Madison which seems to have turned the heads of some of the Boston politicians are rapidly expiring a natural death—hardly an advocate pretends to mention them—It is hardly worth while to regulate Trade by mere Laws at this time—Something more substantial is called for—

    I continue of the opinion I long ago adopted & have often mentioned to you, that all our evils spring from the dredfull contest between Kings & the rights of man—

    The post calls & I bid you adieu for the present—

    Yours &c

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    ALS, TFP. Addressed to Portland; franked; postmarked.