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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.;
3 occurrences of jefferson cyclopedia
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5885. NEUTRALITY, Treasury Department and.—[continued].
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3 occurrences of jefferson cyclopedia
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5885. NEUTRALITY, Treasury Department and.—[continued].

I have been still reflecting
on the draft of the letter from the Secretary
of the Treasury to the custom house officers,
instructing them to be on the watch as
to all infractions or tendencies to infraction
of the laws of neutrality by our citizens, and to
communicate the same to him. When this
paper was first communicated to me, though the
whole of it struck me disagreeably, I did not in
the first moment see clearly the improprieties
but of the last clause. The more I have reflected,
the more objectionable the whole appears.
By this proposal the collectors of the
customs are to be made an established corps
of spies or informers against their fellow
citizens, whose actions they are to watch in
secret, inform against in secret to the Secretary
of the Treasury, who is to communicate it


Page 631
to the President. If the action and evidence appear
to justify a prosecution, a prosecution is
to be set on foot on the secret information of
a collector. If it will not justify it, then the
only consequence is that the mind of government
has been poisoned against a citizen,
neither known nor suspecting it, and perhaps
too distant to bring forward his justification.
This will at least furnish the collector with a
convenient weapon to keep down a rival, draw
a cloud over an inconvenient censor, or satisfy
mere malice and private enmity. The object
of this new institution is to be to prevent infractions
of the laws of neutrality, and preserve
our peace with foreign nations; but I cannot
possibly conceive how the superintendence
of the laws of neutrality, or the preservation
of our peace with foreign nations can be
ascribed to the department of the Treasury,
which I suppose to comprehend merely matters
of revenue. It would be to add a new and a
large field to a department already amply provided
with business, patronage, and influence.
It was urged as a reason that the collectors of
the customs are in convenient positions for
this espionage. They are in convenient positions,
too, for building ships of war; but will
that business be transplanted from its department,
merely because it can be conveniently
done in another? It seemed the desire that if
this means was disapproved, some other equivalent
might be adopted. Though we consider
the acts of a foreigner making a captive within
our limits, as an act of public hostility, and
therefore to be turned over to the military
rather than the civil power; yet the acts of
our citizens infringing the laws of neutrality, or
contemplating that, are offences against the
ordinary laws and cognizable by them. Grand
juries are the constitutional inquisitors and informers
of the country; they are scattered
everywhere, see everything, see it while they
suppose themselves mere private persons, and
not with the prejudiced eye of a permanent and
systematic spy. Their information is on oath, is public, it is in the vicinage of the party
charged, and can be at once refuted. These officers
taken only occasionally from among the
people, are familiar to them, the office respected,
and the experience of centuries has shown
that it is safely entrusted with our character,
property and liberty. A grand juror cannot
carry on systematic persecution against a
neighbor whom he hates, because he is not
permanent in the office. The judges generally,
by a charge, instruct the grand jurors in the
infractions of law which are to be noticed by
them; and our judges are in the habit of
printing their charges in the newspapers. The
judges, having notice of the proclamation, will
perceive that the occurrence of a foreign war
has brought into activity the laws of neutrality,
as a part of the law of the land. This new
branch of the law they will know needs explanation
to the grand juries more than any
other. They will study and define the subjects
to them and to the public. The public mind
will by this be warned against the acts which
may endanger our peace, foreign nations will
see a much more respectable evidence of our
bonâ fide intentions to preserve neutrality, and
society will be relieved from the inquietude
which must forever be excited by the knowledge
of the existence of such a poison in it as
secret accusation. It will be easy to suggest
this matter to the attention of the judges, and
that alone puts the whole machine into motion.
The one is a familiar, impartial and precious
instrument; the other, not popular in its present
functions, will be odious in the new ones, and
the odium will reach the Executive, who will
be considered as having planted a germ of private
inquisition absolutely unknown to our
To Edmund Randolph. Washington ed. iii, 553. Ford ed., vi, 245.
(May. 1793)