Plan of 1776

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The Plan of 1776, also known as the Model Treaty or Plan of Treaties, was the model set up by the Continental Congress in 1776 for treaties between the new nation, the United States of America, and foreign powers. It defined "neutral rights" especially the freedom of the seas for a country such as the U.S. that sought to trade with both sides during a war. One principal was "free chips make free goods," preventing a belligerent from seizing goods that might wind up in enemy hands. Another was the freedom of a neutral to trade in non-contraband goods in a belligerent port. Contraband goods were carefully defined to exclude food and naval stores (such as tar and turpentine).

The policy remained in operation into the 20th century and was a foundation of the neutral rights the U.S. claimed Germany violated in 1915–17 that led to American entry into World War I, such as the Arabic attack.


The Plan was drawn up by a committee comprising Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Harrison, John Dickinson, Robert Morris, and John Adams who was its main author. The Plan was adopted Sept. 17, 1776.

The committee selected from 18th century European treaties such definitions of neutral rights as appealed to small-navied powers: the doctrine of free ships, free goods; freedom of neutrals to trade in non-contraband between port and port of a belligerent (this a repudiation of the British Rule of the War of 1756); and restricted the category of contraband to a carefully defined list of arms, munitions, and implements of war, not including foodstuffs or naval stores. Blockade was not defined. These principles were written into the Franco-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce of 1778; into all other such treaties negotiated with European powers in the 18th century, excepting Britain; and into most of the first treaties of amity and commerce negotiated with Latin-American republics. They also appeared in the Armed Neutrality of 1780 and of 1800; and the Declaration of Paris of 1856 confirmed as international law the principle of free ships, free goods, and also a definition of blockade.


  • Bemis, Samuel Flagg. Diplomatic History of the United States (1950)