Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Albert Gallatin, 7 December 1802

To Albert Gallatin

Dec. 7. 1802.

Th:J. to mr Gallatin

The short answer to the Collectors is that Sea letters are never given out but in time of war. then they are given in consequence of the stipulations in treaties to ascertain our flag to the other party when belligerent. no Sea letter was ever issued by this government till the commencement of the war between France & Great Britain.—I should except from these observations the case of vessels going on voiages beyond the Cape of good hope; all nations furnish such with sealetters and so did we from the beginning of this government.

I inclose you other papers from Majr. Jackson. I know not why they are sent to me, unless to give him an opportunity of assuring me that I have a very good opinion of him: an assurance which needs some modification. his evidence is a little commonplace compliment in an answer to a letter in which he laid himself out for it. health & friendly salutations.

RC (NHi: Gallatin Papers); endorsed. PrC (DLC). Recorded in SJL as a letter to the Treasury Department of 6 Dec. with notation “Sea letters. Jackson.” Enclosures: see below.

answer to the collectors: on 9 Dec., the Treasury secretary issued a circular letter, stating: “It having never been the usage of this government to grant Sea-Letters but in time of war, and then only in consequence of the stipulations in treaties to ascertain our flag to the belligerent parties; the President of the United States is of opinion that the issuing of Sea-Letters is no longer necessary, except in cases where vessels are bound on voyages beyond the Cape of Good Hope.” The collectors were to communicate the executive decision to those who applied for sea letters and submit requests to the Treasury Department only for vessels making long voyages. When Philadelphia merchants wanted more information, Gallatin responded to Peter Muhlenberg on 27 Dec., “that the granting of Sea-Letters is not only very troublesome but wholly destitute of utility as well as contrary to usage.” Gallatin continued: “It is understood that the English government give no Sea-Letters now that they, like us, are at peace with all the world; and there is no reason for departing from universal practice.” The same day, Gallatin applied to the State Department for a supply of sea letters for those vessels sailing beyond the Cape of Good Hope, and on 10 Jan. 1803, he sent ten of them to the Philadelphia collector (Gallatin, Papers description begins Carl E. Prince and Helene E. Fineman, eds., The Papers of Albert Gallatin, microfilm edition in 46 reels, Philadelphia, 1969, and Supplement, Barbara B. Oberg, ed., reels 47-51, Wilmington, Del., 1985 description ends , 7:796, 854–5, 914).

inclose you other papers: according to SJL, TJ had recently received two letters from William Jackson, the Federalist customs surveyor and inspector at Philadelphia. The first was recorded in SJL as a letter of 24 Nov., received from Philadelphia on the 27th, with the notation “T.”; the second was of 3 Dec., received by TJ on the 6th. Neither letter has been found. Jackson had previously corresponded with TJ in early 1801 (Vol. 32:541–4; Vol. 33:58–9; Vol. 35:100, 102n, 118n). For TJ’s commonplace compliment of 18 Feb. 1801, in response to Jackson’s letter of 3 Feb., see Vol. 33:14.

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