Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Albert Gallatin, 12 July 1803

From Albert Gallatin

Treasury Department
July 12th. 1803.


I have the honor to enclose the copy of a letter from the Collector of Philadelphia, covering one from the British Consul in that City, and of the answer which I have prepared.

The orders issued from this Department on the 8th. of April 1797 and 21st. of March 1798 are also enclosed. Subsequent to these last, the law of the 25th. of June 1798 regulated the same subject, but expired in 1802. Whether it may be necessary to add any further instructions is respectfully submitted to the President.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, Sir, Your most obed. Ser.

Albert Gallatin

RC (DLC); in a clerk’s hand, signed by Gallatin; at foot of text: “The President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received from the Treasury Department on 14 July and “Bond’s complt.” and so recorded in SJL. Enclosures: (1) Peter Muhlenberg to Gallatin, Philadelphia Custom House, 8 July 1803 (see Enclosure No. 1 described at Gallatin to TJ, 11 July, first letter). (2) Phineas Bond to Muhlenberg, Philadelphia, 7 July, questioning the neutrality of two vessels, the schooners Nancy and Adventure, by charging that they are “owned by French men, who upon the first Report of a Rupture between England & France armed their vessels” in violation of “that Neutrality, which I earnestly hope may subsist between Great Britain & the United States”; the character of one of the masters and “the Number of Guns, on board, and the quantity of Amunition they have provided, shew they have in View Purposes beyond the mere Defence of their Vessels, against the Barges of the Brigands, as was at first insinuated”; Bond wants the vessels detained “until You can obtain the Sense of Your Government” (RC in DNA: RG 59, NL). (3) Circular to the Collectors of Customs, Treasury Department, 8 Apr. 1797, responding to the question of whether it is lawful to arm merchant vessels of the United States for protection while engaged in regular commerce; Treasury secretary Oliver Wolcott, Jr., advises that it is lawful for vessels engaged in the East Indies trade to be armed, but if vessels “destined for European West-India commerce” are armed, they are to be “restrained” until Congress ordains otherwise (Tr in same). (4) Circular to the Collectors of Customs, Treasury Department, 21 Mch. 1798, modifying the circular of 8 Apr. 1797, under the direction of the president of the United States, so as to no longer “restrain Vessels of the United States from sailing in an armed condition, when destined to be employed in a regular and lawful commerce”; collectors are to continue to seize and detain all vessels suspected of being employed “contrary to law” and to uphold the Act of 14 June 1797, “prohibiting for a limited time the exportation of arms and ammunition, and for encouraging the importation thereof” (same). For other enclosure, see below.

answer which i have prepared: probably TJ made no changes to Gallatin’s answer to the Philadelphia collector dated 12 July. The Treasury secretary assured Muhlenberg that the information provided in his letter of the 8th (see Enclosure No. 1, above) left “no doubt” that the vessels “had a right to proceed on their voyage.” The expiration of the law of 25 June 1798 left it to the discretion of the collector to investigate and detain vessels suspected of disobeying neutrality laws. Gallatin also responded to Muhlenberg’s remark that he had refused “to enter into further discussion” with Phineas Bond, the British consul, and had “referr’d him to the Secretary of the Treasury.” Gallatin advised Muhlenberg that as a collector he should not “enter into discussions with the consuls of either of the Belligerent Powers.” It was sufficient that he investigate the facts when a complaint was made and then decide in conformity with instructions from the Treasury Department and his own view of the subject. Gallatin encouraged Muhlenberg to communicate doubtful cases to his office, but warned that he should never refer a consul of a foreign nation to the Treasury Department. If the consul did not agree with the collector’s decision, “let him apply” to his “Minister who may communicate with the Secretary of State, this being the only proper channel for every discussion of that Nature” (Tr in DNA: RG 59, NL; 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 , 8:531). Bond did inform Edward Thornton, the British chargé, of the case (see note to TJ to Madison, 16 Aug.).

law of the 25th. of june 1798: Section 3 of the “Act to authorize the defence of the Merchant Vessels of the United States against French depredations” demanded that before the collector issued a clearance, the owner or master of an armed U.S. merchant vessel had to give a bond equal to twice the value of the vessel. The bond guaranteed that the ship would not “commit any depredation, outrage, unlawful assault, or unprovoked violence upon the high seas, against the vessel of any nation in amity with the United States.” The ship was to return to the U.S. with the same guns, arms, and ammunition, or give an accounting of them. The guns were not to be “sold or disposed of in any foreign port” (U.S. Statutes at Large description begins Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States … 1789 to March 3, 1845, Boston, 1855-56, 8 vols. description ends , 1:572-3).

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