AuthorCraig Forcese
Chapter 9
An extraordinary outrage committed from Her Britannic Majey’s
Province of Upper Canada on the persons and property of the
citizens of the UnitedStates.
— seCretary of state john forsyth (5 january 1838)1
I   over this question of whether the Caroline or
the place it had berthed could be considered “neutral” that US
and British diplomats were soon sparring in a battle of letters
between 1838 and 1842. This was not an idiosyncratic issue. The
rights and duties of neutrals was a chief foreign policy preoccu-
pation of the period. As the term suggests and is discussed later,
neutrality required non-belligerent states to support neither side
in a conf‌lict. The young American republic enforced this princi-
ple through federal Neutrality Acts, initially designed to keep the
United States remote from European conf‌licts by barring Amer-
icans from participating in hostilities against belligerents in a for-
eign war, including (by 1818) civil wars.2 Enforcement of these rules
was, however, often beyond the means of the federal government in
the decentralized early republic. And now, with events in New York
in 1837, foreign rebels supported by American citizens operating
from American soil and using American weapons were engaged in
hostile activities against a neighbouring power. The obvious ques-
tion was whether the US government could plausibly overlook its
own failure to repress this insurgency, and invoke neutrality to

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