From William Bradford
[Philadelphia] 1st May 1794
From your Letter of the 25th ultimo1 which I had the honor of receiving yesterday, I learn that “among the French Officers who served in the United States and who obtained Certificates for the sums due to them2 there are several who are in the condition of Emigrants and whose whole property has been confiscated by the actual gov: of that Country”3 upon which a question is made, whether this confiscation affects the claim of the persons to whom such a certificate issued.
I take it sir to be fully settled by the uniform opinion of foreign Jurists and by the descisions which have obtained in Westminster Hall and our own Courts, That the penal laws of a State cannot operate extra territorium nor affect real or personal property in another Country.4 Being strictly local & affecting nothing but what can be reached or seized by virtue of their authority, foreign Courts take no notice of them, and (in the case of individuals) a plea of such a confiscation would be held to be a mere nullity, where the subject matter was not within the jurisdiction of the State that passed the Act of confiscation. I am therefore of opinion that the Emigrant brings with him all his transitory rights and the proceedings of the Country which he has left, do not affect his claim to the debt in question. Nor is it material whether that Government has possessed itself of the certificate of the register or not for the debt is not payable to the bearer of the certificate and can be transferred only at the Treasury by the person to whom it issued or his legal Attorney.
It is true, that bankrupt Laws (which are sometimes considered as penal laws tho’ improperly) have been in some late instances recognized and enforced in foreign countries. But these decisions proceed upon principles which do not reach this case: and those in England were decided solely on the ground of the Assignt of the Bankrupts Effects in Holland being an assignt for a valuable consideration.
I have the honor to be with great Esteem Sir, your most obedient Servant
Secretary of the Treasury
Copy, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.
1. Letter not found.
2. For a description of this debt, see William Short to H, August 3, 1790, note 5; JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (Washington, 1904–1937). description ends , XXVI, 42–44. For the negotiations on the payment of these officers, see H to Short, August 16, September 13, 1792; H to George Washington, August 27, 1792; Washington to H, August 31, 1792; H to Gouverneur Morris, September 13, 1792.
3. On February 9, 1792, the French National Assembly passed a decree announcing the sequestration of the goods of émigrés (Duvergier, Lois description begins J. B. Duvergier, Collection Complete des Lois, Décrets, Ordonnances, Réglemens, et Avis du Conseil-d’Etat, Publiée sur les Editions Officielles du Louvre; de L’lmprimerie Nationale, Par Baudouin; et Du Bulletin des Lois (Paris, 1824). description ends , IV, 78). This temporary measure was followed by a definitive law of March 28, 1793, which stated that “Les émigrés sont bannis à perpétuité du territoire français; ils sont morts civilement; leurs biens sont acquis à la République” (Duvergier, Lois description begins J. B. Duvergier, Collection Complete des Lois, Décrets, Ordonnances, Réglemens, et Avis du Conseil-d’Etat, Publiée sur les Editions Officielles du Louvre; de L’lmprimerie Nationale, Par Baudouin; et Du Bulletin des Lois (Paris, 1824). description ends , V, 272). The second part of this law, which concerned the regulations for the administration and sale of the goods of émigrés, was passed on July 25, 1793 (Duvergier, Lois description begins J. B. Duvergier, Collection Complete des Lois, Décrets, Ordonnances, Réglemens, et Avis du Conseil-d’Etat, Publiée sur les Editions Officielles du Louvre; de L’lmprimerie Nationale, Par Baudouin; et Du Bulletin des Lois (Paris, 1824). description ends , VI, 50–64).
4. Martens, for example, wrote: “… a sentence which attacks the honour, rights, or property of a criminal, cannot extend beyond the limits of the territory of the sovereign who has pronounced it. So that, he who has been declared infamous is infamous in a foreign country in fact, but not in law; and the confiscation of his property cannot affect his property situated in a foreign country: to deprive him of his honour and property there also, would be to punish him a second time for the same offence” (G. F. Von Martens, A Compendium of the Law of Nations, Founded on the Treaties and Customs of the Modern Nations of Europe: To Which Is Added, a Complete List of All the Treaties, Conventions, Compacts, Declarations, &c. From The Year 1731 to 1788, Inclusive, Indicating the Several Works in Which They Are to Be Found. Translated, and the List of Treaties, &c. brought down to June, 1802, by William Cobbett [London, 1802], Book III, Ch. III, Sec. 25). For the opinions of some English judges on this question, see Sir William Holdsworth, A History of English Law (London, 1938), XI, 270–72.