To Richard Harison1
[Philadelphia, June 13–15, 1793]
You will receive a letter this Morning from the Secretary of State.2 The occasion requires vigour and a decisive resort to principles.
Tis clear that no foreign nation can without the consent of our government organize within our territory and jurisdiction the means of military expeditions by land or sea. To do it is an offence against the law of Nations—the law of Nations is a part of the law of the land. Hence such an act must on principle be punishable. Vatel Book III Chapt II Section 15th is strong as to the point of inlisting men3—this is a part of the present case. The other circumstances aggravate the offence.
Our own citizens are guilty of a breach of the peace stipulated by our Treaties with England Holland & Prussia.4 The Citizens of France are guilty of a violation of our Sovereignty and Jurisdiction, tending to endanger and disturb our Peace.
An intention to commit Piracy may be charged. It will serve to bring out the Commissions, under which the vessel is armed. This is very desireable for many reasons.
With regard to the vessel I am puzzled to see how you will get her into the custody of the law. Can it be done as an Instrument of this Offence? You will perceive that if she cannot be put into civil she is to remain in Military custody.
Yr. friend & ser
R Harrison Esq
ALS, New-York Historical Society, New York City.
1. For background to this letter, see “Cabinet Meeting. Opinion Respecting the Measures to Be Taken Relative to a Sloop Fitted Out as a Privateer,” June 12, 1793.
2. In his letter to Harison, dated June 12, 1793, concerning the Polly, Jefferson asked him “to take up the business on the part of the U.S.; instituting such proceedings at law against the vessel & her appurtences as may place her in the custody of the law, and may prevent her being used for purposes of hostility against any of the belligerent powers.” Harison was directed to have the governor seize and turn over to the civil authority the brig Catharine, which had been captured by the French frigate L’Embuscade and carried into New York Harbor. Jefferson also asked Harison to institute proceedings to determine whether the Catharine had been taken in American territorial waters (ALS, letterpress copy, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress).
3. This section reads as follows: “As the right of levying soldiers belongs solely to the nation (sec. 7) so no person is to enlist soldiers in a foreign country, without the permission of the sovereign, and even with this permission none but volunteers are to be enlisted; for the service of their country is out of the question here, and no sovereign has a right to give or sell his subjects to another. They who undertake to enlist soldiers in a foreign country, without the sovereign’s permission; and in general, whoever alienates the subjects of another, violates one of the most sacred rights both of the prince and the state. It is the crime distinguished by the name of Plagiat or man-stealing, and accordingly is punished with the utmost severity in every policied state. Foreign recruiters are hanged immediately, and very justly, as it is not to be presumed that their sovereign ordered them to commit the crime; and if they did receive such an order, they ought not to obey it; their sovereign having no right to command what is contrary to the law of nature. It is not, I say, apprehended that these recruiters act by order of their sovereign, and usually they who have practised seduction only, are, if taken, severely punished. If they have used violence, and made their escape, they are claimed, and the men they carried off demanded. But if it appears that they acted by order, such a proceeding in a foreign sovereign is justly considered as an injury, and as a sufficient cause for declaring war against him, unless he condescends to make suitable reparation” (Vattel, Law of Nations description begins Emeric de Vattel, Law of Nations; or Principles of the Law of Nature: Applied to the Conduct and Affairs of Nations and Sovereigns (London, 1759–1760). description ends , II, 7–8).
4. Both the Treaty of Amity and Commerce of October, 1782, with the Netherlands and the treaty with Prussia of September, 1785, contained specific prohibitions against the nationals of either signatory power accepting commissions or letters of marque from any power hostile to the other contracting party on pain of being “punished as a Pirate.” See Article 19 of the treaty with the Netherlands (Miller, Treaties, II description begins Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America (Washington, 1931), II. description ends , 76–77) and Article 20 of the treaty with Prussia (Miller, Treaties, II description begins Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America (Washington, 1931), II. description ends , 175–76). Article 20 of the treaty with Prussia also stipulated that neither party should “hire, lend, or give Any part of their naval or military force to the enemy of the other to aid them offensively or defensively against that other.”