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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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7870. SHIPS, Passports.—
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7870. SHIPS, Passports.—

It has been
stated in our treaties with the French, Dutch
and Prussians, that when it happens that either
party is at war, and the other neutral, the
neutral shall give passports of a certain tenor
to the vessels belonging to their subjects, in
order to avoid dissension; and it has been
thought that passports of such high import to
the persons and property of our citizens should
have the highest sanction; that of the signature
of the President, and seal of the United States.
The authority of Congress also, in the case
of sea letters to East India vessels, was in favor
of this sanction. It is now become a question
whether these passports shall be given only to
ships owned and built in the United States, or
may be given also to those owned in the United
States, though built in foreign countries. The
persons and property of our citizens are entitled
to the protection of our government in
all places where they may lawfully go. No
laws forbid a merchant to buy, own, and use
a foreign-built vessel. She is, then, his lawful
property, and entitled to the protection of his
nation wherever he is lawfully using her. The
laws, indeed, for the encouragement of ship-building,
have given to home-built vessels the
exclusive privilege of being registered and paying
lighter duties. To this privilege, therefore,
the foreign-built vessel, though owned at
home, does not pretend. But the laws have not
said that they withdraw their protection from
the foreign-built vessel. To this protection,
then, she retains her title, notwithstanding the
preference given to the home-built vessel as to
duties. It would be hard, indeed, because the
law has given one valuable right to home-built
vessels, to infer that it had taken away all
rights from those foreign-built. In conformity
with the idea that all the vessels of a State are
entitled to its protection, the treaties before
menioned have settled that passports shall be
given, not merely to vessels built in the United
States, but to the vessels belonging to them;
and when one of these nations shall take a
vessel, if she has not such a passport, they
are to conclude she does not belong to the
United States, and is, therefore, lawful prize;
so that to refuse these passports to foreign-built
vessels belonging to our merchants, is to
give them up to capture with their cargoes.
* * * France and Holland permit our vessels
to be neutralized with them; not even to
suffer theirs to be purchased here might give
them just cause to revoke the privilege of
naturalization given to ours, and would inflict
on the ship-building States and artizans a severe
injury. Objection. To protect foreign-built
vessels will lessen the demand for ship-building
here. Answer. Not all; because as
long as we can build cheaper than other nations,
we shall be employed in preference to
others; besides, shall we permit the greatest
part of the produce of our fields to rot on our
hands, or lose half its value by subjecting it to
high insurance, merely that our ship-builders
may have brisker employ? Shall the whole
mass of our farmers be sacrificed to the class
of ship wrights? Objection. There will be collusive
transfers of foreign ships to our merchants,
merely to obtain for them the cover of
our passports. Answer. The same objection
lies to giving passports to home-built vessels.
They may be owned, and are owned by foreigners,
and may be collusively re-transferred
to our merchants to obtain our passports. To
lessen the danger of collusion, however, I
should be for delivering passports in our own
ports only. If they were to be sent blank to
foreign ports, to be delivered there the power
of checking collusion would be small, and they
might be employed to cover purposes of no
benefit to us (which we ought not to countenance ),
and to throw our vessels out of business;
but if issued only to vessels in our own
ports, we can generally be certain that the
vessel is our property; and always that the
cargo is of our produce. State the case that
it shall be found that all our shipping, home-built
and foreign-built, is inadequate to the
transportation of our produce to market; so
that after all these are loaded, there shall yet
remain produce on hand. This must be put
into vessels owned by foreigners. Should these
obtain collusively the protection of our passport,
it will cover their vessel, indeed, but it
will cover also our cargo. I repeat it, then, that
if the issuing passports be continued to our ports,
it will be our own vessels for the most part,
and always our cargoes which will be covered
by them. I am, therefore, of opinion, that passports
ought to be issued to all vessels belonging


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to citizens of the United States, but only on
their clearing out from our own ports, and for
that voyage only.—
Opinion on Ship Passports. Washington ed. vii, 624.
(May. 1793)