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[Detail] George Washington. Portrait by Gilbert Stuart c1929.

Historical Issue Analysis

Issue analysis challenges students to grapple with issues that confronted individuals at critical periods in history and analyze the factors that determined the choices they made to resolve these problems.

Students can use the collection to explore issues relating to foreign policy concerns, especially over decisions regarding relations with France, our former ally during the Revolution, and the activities of Citizen Edmond Genet, the French ambassador.

Search on neutrality for references to the decision to remain neutral in the war between England and France during the era of the French Revolution.

On April 12, 1793, Washington wrote to Alexander Hamilton that he was embarking from Mount Vernon for Philadelphia and intended, once in the capitol, to take steps to insure that the United States maintained neutrality in the war that had just broken out between England and France.

Hostilities having commenced between France and England, it is incumbent on the Government of the United States to prevent, as far as in it lies, all interferences of our Citizens in them; and immediate precautionary measures ought, I conceive, to be taken for that purpose. . .

Letter from George Washington to Alexander Hamilton, April 12, 1793 [Transcription]

On April 22, Washington issued a formal proclamation of neutrality. Search on Genet for correspondence specifically relating to the activities of the French ambassador, Citizen Edmond Genet and his flagrant disregard of American neutrality. Correspondence on the activities of the French ambassador can serve as a means to analyze historical issues. Some questions to consider might be:

  • What were the reasons for Washington's decision to proclaim neutrality?
  • Was the neutrality proclamation a violation of the French alliance?
  • Was it in the best interests of the country to remain neutral?