Thomas Jefferson Papers

Notes on Sir William Scott, 1 November 1799

Notes on Sir William Scott

1799. Nov. 1. see Aurora of this date. Sir Wm. Scott judge of the British high court of Admiralty in the case of the Swedish captures. his philippic against Philosophy & Philanthropy, the love of science & the love of man; for attempts to diminish the miseries of war at sea, as is already done by civilized nations at land, by permitting unarmed persons to pursue their ordinary occupations, and confining acts of war to those in arms only.

MS (DLC: TJ Papers, 233:41672); entirely in TJ’s hand; on verso of one of four sheets with list of documents, events, and articles on various subjects found in newspapers and journals dating primarily from 1785 to 1788, described first as “Index to periodical literature. c 1786–1790” (same, TJ Papers, 233:41672–5) and later as “Notes on Affairs of State.”

In the decision in the case of the Maria—a Swedish merchant vessel sailing under convoy and carrying naval stores when captured by the British—Sir William Scott defended the right of a nation at war to stop and search merchant ships of neutral nations to determine their status, cargo, and destination. He rejected the “loose doctrines” upheld by “various denominations” of philosophy & philanthropy that found searching unnecessary because formal agreements could assure that nothing would be carried inconsistent with amity or neutrality. Scott asserted that the real goal of the new philosophy was to introduce a “state of things not yet seen in the world, that of a military war and a commercial peace” (Philadelphia Aurora, 1 Nov. 1799).

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