Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Lucas Gibbes and Alexander S. Glass, 8 July 1793

From Lucas Gibbes and Alexander S. Glass

Philadelphia 8th: July 1793.

Lucas Gibbs and A: S: Glass In part Owners of the Cargo of the Sloop Betsy lately Captured by a French Privatier called Citizen Genet, Captn. Johannes and brought into Baltimore; as well for themselves as on behalf of the owners of the Said Sloop and of the Residue of the Cargo beg to declare and Show that Houseman & Mashiler & Mason & Hordman of the Island St: Bartholomew Subjects to the King of Sweden are the true and real Owners of the Said Sloop. That the said Sloop has been duly registerd agreeable to the Laws of Sweden, and furnished with all such papers and Documents from the Governor and other officers of St: Bartholomew as are usual and proper. They therefor conceive that the said Sloop and Cargo ought not to have been captured by the Said French Privatier and humbly pray that you will cause them to be delivered to Mr: John Hollins of Baltimore to whom they are consigned.

Lucas Gibbes

Alexander S. Glass

RC (DNA: RG 59, NFC); in Richard Söderström’s hand, signed by Gibbes and Glass; at head of text: “To the Honble. Thos: Jefferson Secretary of State for the United States of America.”

The capture by the French privateer Citoyen Genet of the Betsey, a Swedish merchant ship owned by Swedish subjects on St. Barthélemy carrying a cargo belonging in part to them, in part to Lucas Gibbes and other Swedish subjects on that island, and in part to Alexander S. Glass of New York, led to a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court respecting the enforcement of American neutrality. Eight days after signing this letter Glass brought suit before the United States District Court of Maryland for the restitution of the ship and cargo, which had in the meantime been condemned as lawful prize by the French vice-consul in Baltimore, on the ground that both were neutral property. After the District Court decided in August 1793 that it had no jurisdiction in the case, Glass sought to obtain redress from the executive branch of government, only to be advised that the executive could not intervene until after all legal appeals had been exhausted. Glass thereupon appealed to the United States Circuit Court of Maryland, which in November 1793 sustained the District Court’s denial of jurisdiction. Upon further appeal, however, the Supreme Court in February 1794 ruled that the case was within the District Court’s plenary admiralty jurisdiction and therefore remanded it to the lower court for a final decision. At the same time the Supreme Court also ruled that French consuls had no right to exercise admiralty jurisdiction in the United States. Thus in this decision the Supreme Court eliminated the doubts that many district courts had entertained about their jurisdiction over cases involving French captures of merchant ships belonging to citizens of foreign nations at peace with the United States, while rejecting the claim to admiralty authority that French consuls in the United States had routinely invoked in support of their pretensions to exclusive jurisdiction over such cases (Richard Söderström to TJ, [3 July 1793], and note, and 16 Nov. 1793; TJ to Söderström, 10 Sep., 20 Nov. 1793; TJ to Glass, 10 Sep. 1793; TJ to Henry Knox, 10 Sep. 1793; Knox to TJ, 11 Sep. 1793; Memorial from Alexander S. Glass and Others, 12 Nov. 1793, and enclosure; Glass to Edmund Randolph, 23 May 1794, DNA: RG 76, France, Unbound Records; James Brown Scott, ed., Prize Cases Decided in the United States Supreme Court, 1789–1918, 3 vols. [Oxford, 1923], i, 9–19; Goebel, Supreme Court description begins Julius Goebel, Jr., The Oliver Wendell Holmes Devise History of the Supreme Court of the United States, Volume 1: Antecedents and Beginnings to 1801, New York and London, 1971 description ends , 760–5).

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