Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Levi Lincoln, 17 November 1806

Washington Novr. 17 1806


I have in vain searched, and untill wearied with the pursuit, for some authority from the acknowledged law of nations, which would justify or condemn belligerents impressing or taking from a neutral vessel, at sea, its own subjects whether passengers or a part of the crew—It is clear, having on board such subjects, can by law, be no cause for the bringing too, & boarding. But the question is, being lawfully on board for other purposes, can the belligerent seeing the subjects, seamen or even deserters from the navy of its sovereign retake, or impress them, in the same manner as an individual may take his goods, wife, child or servant wherever he may happen to find them? The principles of the cases are different. The goods, wife, child and servant, are supposed to have been wrongfully seperated from the owner; the subjects & seamen of a belligerant to have been rightfully engaged with the neutral, except in the case of desertion. The goods, wife &c of the individual being concealed, or carried away, he may be without a remedy, the subjects or the seamen of a belligerent continuing with a neutral, they may be claimed of the Govt of the neutral. The individual takes his property &c without doing an injury to another, the belligerant reclaims or impresses, with an injury to the innocent neutral vessel, and a damage to the impressed—The inference from the silence of the books on this subject is I think against the regularity of the justice.

A Mr Russel, a merchant of respectability from Boston, and a member of the legislature of Mass, of federal politics, but moderate, is in the city, & desirous of paying his respects to you, as soon as I get a little more relieved from a fever cold with which I have been exercised for more than a week, I will take the liberty of introducing him—

I have Sir the honor to be with the highest esteem most respectfully Your Hum Sevt

Levi Lincoln

DLC: Papers of Thomas Jefferson.

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