James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Asher Robbins, 10 June 1803

To Asher Robbins

Department of State 10 June 1803.


In answer to your letter of the 27th. ult. I enclose copies of two letters written to Captain Eldred from this department in the year 1798,1 whence you will collect the Suggestions on which the doubt respecting his case rests. As long as the facts to which they refer remain unshaken, it is not perceived how he can justify his claim to the rights of an American citizen on general principles.

For it is stated that during the revolutionary war he commanded an English vessel, which circumstance is conceived to affect his allegiance in a two fold manner.

1st. It is understood that by the British navigation-laws none but a British subject can command a british vessel whence it follows that he considered himself and was admitted to be a British subject: and

2nd. His voluntarily remaining with the enemy of the United States, accompanied by the above and doubtless other acts of the same tendency, denoted his adherence to Great Britain and a renunciation of the American confederacy, at a time when, if no positive regulation of his native State intervened, it was free for him to take his election, between the contending parties.

But as the laws of Rhode Island may have made special provisions respecting the effects of the Revolution upon the right of citizenship, and as those made before the exclusive assumption of the power of naturalization by Congress are operative now, it is open for you to show any such provision in his favor, as well as to disprove the facts on which the above conclusions are founded. I have the honor to be &ca.

James Madison.

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