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The Jeffersonian cyclopedia;

a comprehensive collection of the views of Thomas Jefferson classified and arranged in alphabetical order under nine thousand titles relating to government, politics, law, education, political economy, finance, science, art, literature, religious freedom, morals, etc.;

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3245. FREE SHIPS, Free goods, International Law and.—
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3245. FREE SHIPS, Free goods, International Law and.—

On the question whether
the principle of “free bottoms making free
goods, and enemy bottoms enemy goods”, is
now to be considered as established in the law
of nations, I will state to you a fact within my
own knowledge, which may lessen the weight
of our authority as having acted in the war of
France and England on the ancient principle
“that the goods of an enemy in the bottom of
a friend are lawful prize; while those of a
friend in an enemy bottom are not so”. Eng
land became a party in the general war against
France on the 1st of February, 1793. We took
immediately the stand of neutrality. We were
aware that our great intercourse with these two
maritime nations would subject us to harassment
by multiplied questions on the duties of
neutrality, and that an important and early one
would be which of the two principles above
stated should be the law of action with us?
We wished to act on the new one of “free bottoms,
free goods”; and we had established it
in our treaties with other nations, but not with
England. We determined, therefore, to avoid,
if possible, committing ourselves on this question
until we could negotiate with England her
acquiescence in the new principle. Although
the cases occurring were numerous, and the
ministers. Genet and Hammond, eagerly on the
watch, we were able to avoid any declaration
until the massacre of St. Domingo. The
whites, on that occasion, took refuge on board
our ships, then in their harbor, with all the
property they could find room for; and on their
passage to the United States, many of them
were taken by British cruisers, and their cargoes
seized as lawful prize. The inflammable
temper of Genet kindled at once, and he wrote,
with his usual passion, a letter reclaiming an
observance of the principle of “free bottoms,
free goods”, as if already an acknowledged law
of neutrality. I pressed him in conversation
not to urge this point; that although it had
been acted on by convention, by the armed
neutrality, it was not yet become a principle of
universal admission; that we wished indeed to
strengthen it by our adoption, and were negotiating
an acquiescence on the part of Great
Britain: but if forced to decide prematurely,
we must justify ourselves by a declaration of
the ancient principle, and that no general consent
of nations had as yet changed it. He was
immovable, and on the 25th of July wrote a
letter, so insulting, that nothing but a determined
system of justice and moderation would
have prevented his being shipped home in the
first vessel. I had the day before answered his
of the 9th, in which I had been obliged in our
own justification, to declare that the ancient
was the established principle, still existing and
authoritative. Our denial, therefore, of the
new principle, and action on the old one, were
forced upon us by the precipitation and intemperance
of Genet, against our wishes, and
against our aim; and our involuntary practice,
therefore, is of less authority against the new
To Edward Everett. Washington ed. vii, 271.
(M. Feb. 1823)