Letter 7

The malignant mind; like the jaundiced eye, sees everything through a false medium of its own creating.  The light of heaven appears stained with yellow to the distempered sight of the one, and the fairest actions have the form of crimes in the venomed imagination of the other:

For seven months, both before and after my return to America in October last, the apostate papers stying themselves “Federal” were filled with paragraphs and essays respecting a letter from Mr. Jefferson to me at Paris; and though none of them knew the contents of the letter, nor the occasion of writing it, malignity taught them to suppose it, and the lying tongue of injustice lent them its aid.

That the public may no longer be imposed upon by Federal apostasy, I will now publish the letter, and the occasion of its being written.

The treaty negotiated in England by John Jay, and ratified by the Washington Administration, had so disgracefully surrendered the right and freedom of the American flag, that all the commerce of the United States on the ocean became exposed to capture, and suffered in consequence of it.  The duration of the treaty was limited to two years after the war; and consequently America could not, during that period, relieve herself of the chains which the treaty had fixed upon her.  This being the case, the only relief that could come must arise out of something originating in Europe that would, in its consequences, extend to America.  It had long been my opinion that commerce contained within itself the means of its own protection; but as the time for bringing forward any new system is not always happening, it is necessary to watch its approach and lay hold of it before it passes away.

As soon as the late Emperor Paul of Russia abandoned his coalition with England and became a neutral power, this crisis of time, and also of circumstances, was then arriving; and I employed it in arranging a plan for the protection of the commerce of neutral nations during war that might, in its operation and consequences, relieve the commerce of America.  The plan, with the pieces accompanying it, consisted of about forty pages.  The Citizen Bonneville, with whom I lived in Paris, translated it into French; Mr. Skipwith, the American Consul, Joel Barlow and myself had the translation printed and distributed as a present to the foreign ministers of all the neutral nations then resident in Paris.  This was in the summer of 1800.

It was entitled “Maritime Compact” (in French Pacte Maritime).  The plan, exclusive of the pieces that accompanied it, consisted of the  following preamble and articles.

Maritime Compact

Being an Unarmed Association of Nations for the protection

 of the Rights and Commerce of Nations that

 shall be neutral in time of war

Whereas the inconvenience and injuries to which the commerce of neutral nations is exposed in time of maritime war, render it absolutely necessary that measures be taken to prevent a continuance of the same, and to secure to them during the time of such war the exercise of their just rights.

We, therefore, the undersigned, Powers, form ourselves into an association, and establish the following as a law of nations on the seas. 

Article the First.

Definition of the Rights of Neutral Nations.

The rights of nations, such as are exercised by them in their intercourse with each other in time of peace, are, and of right ought to be, the rights of neutral nations at all times; because,

First, those rights not having been abandoned by them, remain with them.

Secondly, because those rights cannot become forfeited or void, in consequence of war breaking out between two or more other nations.

A war of nation against nation being exclusively the act of the nations that make the war, and not the act of neutral nations, cannot whether considered in itself or in its consequences, destroy or diminish the rights of the nations remaining in peace.

Article the Second.

The ships and vessels of nations that rest neuter and at peace with the world during a war with other nations, have a right to navigate freely on the seas as they navigated before that war broke out, and to proceed to and enter the port or ports of any of the belligerent powers with the consent of that Power, without being seized, searched, visited, or any ways interrupted by the nation or nations with which that nation is at war.

Article the Third.

For the conservation of the aforesaid rights we the undersigned powers engaging to each other our sacred faith and honor, DECLARE

That if any belligerent Power shall seize, search, visit, or any ways interrupt any ship or vessel belonging to the citizens or subjects of any of the Powers composing this Association, then each and all of the said undersigned Powers will cease to import, and will not permit to be imported into the ports or dominions of any of the said undersigned Powers, in any ship or vessel whatever, any goods, wares, or merchandise, produced or manufactured in, or exported from, the dominions of the Power so offending against the Association hereby, established and proclaimed.

Article the Fourth.

That all the ports appertaining to any and all of the Powers composing this Association shall be shut against the flag of the offending nation.

Article the Fifth.

That no remittance or payment in money, merchandise, or bills of exchange, shall be made by any of the citizens, or subjects, of any of the Powers composing this Association, to the citizens or subjects of the offending nation, for the term of one year, or until reparation be made.  The reparation to be —- -times the amount of the damages sustained.

Article The Sixth.

If any ship or vessel appertaining to any of the citizens or subjects of any of the Powers composing this Association shall be seized, searched, visited or interrupted by any belligerent nation, or be forcibly prevented entering the port of her destination, or be seized, searched, visited, or interrupted in coming out of such port, or be forcibly prevented from proceeding to any new destination, or be insulted or visited by any agent from on board any vessel of any belligerent power, the government or executive power of the nation to which the ship or vessel so seized, searched, visited or interrupted belongs, shall, on evidence of the fact, make public proclamation of the same, and send a copy thereof to the government, or executive, of each of the Powers composing this Association, who spall publish the same in all the extent of his dominions, together with a declaration, that at the expiration of —- days after publication, the penal articles of this Association shall be put in execution against the offending nation.

Article the Seventh.

If reparation be not made within the space of one year, the said proclamation shall be renewed for one year more, and so on.

Article the Eighth.

the Association chooses for itself a flag to be carried at the mast-head conjointly with the national flag of each nation composing this association.

The flag of the Association shall be composed of the same colors as compose the rainbow, and arranged in the same order as they appear in that phenomenon.

Article the Ninth.

And whereas it may happen that one or more of the nations composing this Association may be, at the time of forming it, engaged in war or become so in future, in that case, the ships and vessels of such nation shall carry the flag of the Association bound round the mast to denote that the nation to which she belongs is a member of the Association and a respecter of its laws.

N.B.  This distinction in the manner of carrying the flag is merely for the purpose that neutral vessels having the flag at the mast-head may be known at first sight.

Article the Tenth.

And whereas it is contrary to the moral principles of neutrality and peace that any neutral nation should furnish to the belligerent Powers, or any of them, the means of carrying on war against each other, We, therefore, the Powers composing this Association, declare that we will each one for itself prohibit in our dominions the exportation or transportation of military stores, comprehending gun-powder, cannon and cannon-balls, firearms of all kinds, and all kinds of iron and steel weapons used in war.  Excluding therefrom all kinds of utensils and instruments used in civil or domestic life, and every other article that cannot, in its immediate state, be employed in war.

Having thus declared the moral motives of the foregoing article, we declare also the civil and political intention thereof, to wit,

That as belligerent nations have no right to visit or search any ship or vessel belonging to a nation at peace and under the protection of the laws and government thereof, and as all such visit or search is an insult to the nation to which such ship or vessel belongs and to the government of the same, We, therefore, the Powers composing this Association, will take the right of prohibition on ourselves to whom it properly belongs, and by whom only it can be legally exercised, and not permit foreign nations, in a state of war, to usurp the right of legislating by proclamation for any of the citizens or subjects of the Powers composing this Association.

It is, therefore, in order to take away all pretense of search or visit, which by being offensive might become a new cause of war, that we will provide laws and publish them by proclamation, each in his own dominion, to prohibit the supplying or carrying to the belligerent Powers, or either of them, the military stores or articles before mentioned, annexing thereto a penalty to be levied or inflicted upon any persons within our several dominions transgressing the same.

And we invite all persons, as well of the belligerent nations as of our own, or of any other, to give information of any knowledge they may have of any transgressions against the said law, that the offenders may be prosecuted.

By this conduct we restore the word contraband (contra and ban) to its true and original signification, which means against law, edict or proclamation; and none but the government of a nation can have, or can exercise, the right of making laws, edicts or proclamations, for the conduct of its citizens or subjects;

Now We, the undersigned Powers, declare the aforesaid articles to be a law of nations at all times, or until a congress of nations shall meet to form some law more effectual.

And we do recommend that, immediately on the breaking out of war between any two or more nations, deputies be appointed by all neutral nations, whether members of this Association or not, to meet in congress in some central place to take cognizance of any violations of the rights of neutral nations. 

Signed, etc.

For the purpose of giving operation to the aforesaid plan of an unarmed association, the following paragraph was subjoined:

It may be judged proper for the order of business, that the Association of Nations have a president for a term of years, and the presidency to pass by rotation to each of the parties composing the Association.

In that case, and for the sake of regularity, the first president to be the executive power of the most northerly nation composing the Association, and his deputy or minister at the congress to be president of the congress – and the next most northerly to be vice-president, who shall succeed to the presidency; and so on.  The line determining the geographical situation of such to be the latitude of the capital of each nation.

If this method be adopted it will be proper that the first president be nominally constituted in order to give rotation to the rest.  In that case the following article might be added to the foregoing, viz.  The constitution of the Association nominates the EMPEROR PAUL to be first President of the Association of Nations for the protection of neutral commerce and securing the freedom of the seas.

The foregoing plan, as I have before mentioned, was presented to the Ministers of all the neutral nations then in Paris, in the summer of 1800.  Six copies were given to the Russian General Springporten; and a Russian gentleman who was going to Petersburg took two expressly for the purpose of putting them into the hands of Paul.  I sent the original manuscript, in my own handwriting, to Mr. Jefferson, and also wrote him four letters, dated the first, fourth, sixth, sixteenth of October, 1800, giving him an account of what was then going on in Europe respecting neutral commerce.

The case was that in order to compel the English Government to acknowledge the rights of neutral commerce, and that free ships make free goods, the Emperor Paul, in the month of September following the publication of the plan, shut all the ports of Russia against England.  Sweden and Denmark did the same by their ports, and Denmark shut up Hamburg.  Prussia shut up the Elbe and the Weser.

The ports of Spain, Portugal and Naples were shut up and, in general, all the ports of Italy except Venice, which the Emperor of Germany held; and had it not been for the untimely death of Paul, a Law of Nations, founded on the authority of nations, for establishing the rights of neutral commerce and the freedom of the seas, would have been proclaimed and the Government of England must have consented to that law, or the nation must have lost its commerce; and the consequence to America would have been that such a law would, in a great measure if not entirely, have released her from the injuries of Jay’s Treaty.

Of all these matters I informed Mr. Jefferson.  This was before he was President, and the letter he wrote me after he was President was in answer to those I had written to him and the manuscript copy of the plan I had sent here.  Here follows the letter.

Washington, March 18, 1801.

Dear Sir:

Your letters of October first, fourth, sixth, sixteenth, came duly to hand, and the papers which they covered were, according to your permission, published in the newspapers, and in a pamphlet, and under your own name.  These papers contain precisely our principles, and I hope they will be generally recognized here.  Determined as we are to avoid, it possible, wasting the energies of our people in war and destruction, we shall avoid implicating ourselves with the Powers of Europe, even in support of principles which we mean to pursue.  They have so many other interests different from ours that we must avoid being entangled in them.  We believe we can enforce those principles as to ourselves by peaceable means, now that we are likely to have our public councils detached from foreign views.  The return of our citizens from the frenzy into which they had been wrought, partly by ill conduct in France, partly by artifices practised upon them, is almost extinct, and will, I believe, become quite so.  But these details, too minute and long for a letter, will be better developed by Mr. [John] Dawson, the bearer of this, a member of the late Congress, to whom I refer you for them.  He goes in the Maryland, sloop of war, which will wait a few days at Havre to receive his letters to be written on his arrival at Paris.  You expressed a wish to get a passage to this country in a public vessel.  Mr. Dawson is charged with orders to the captain of the Maryland to receive and accommodate you back if you can be ready to depart at such a short warning.  Rob’t R. Livingston is appointed Minister Plenipotentiary to the Republic of France, but will not leave this, till we receive the ratification of the Convention by Mr. Dawson.  I am in hopes you will find us returned generally to sentiments worthy of former times: In these it will be your glory to have steadily labored and with as much effect as any man living.  That you may long live to continue your useful labors and to reap the reward in the thankfulness of nations is my sincere prayer.  Accept assurances of my high esteem and affectionate attachment.

Thomas Jefferson.

This, citizens of the United States, is the letter about which the leaders and tools of the Federal faction, without knowing its contents or the occasion of writing it, have wasted so many malignant falsehoods.

It is a letter which on account of its wise economy and peaceable principles, and its forbearance to reproach, will be read by every good man and every good citizen with pleasure; and the faction mortified at its appearance will have to regret they forced it into publication. The least atonement they can now offer is to make the letter as public as they have made their own infamy, and learn to lie no more.

The same injustice they showed to Mr. Jefferson they showed to me.  I had employed myself in Europe, and at my own expense, in forming and promoting a plan that would, in its operation, have benefited the commerce of America; and the faction here invented and circulated an account in the papers they employ that I had given a plan to the French for burning all the towns on the coast from Savannah to Baltimore.

Were I to prosecute them for this (and I do not promise that I will I not, for the liberty of the press is not the liberty of lying) there is not a Federal judge, not even one of midnight appointment, but must, from the nature of the case, be obliged to condemn them.  The faction, however, cannot complain they have been restrained in anything.  They have had their full swing of lying uncontradicted; they have availed themselves, unopposed, of all the arts hypocrisy could devise; and the event has been, what in all such cases it ever will and ought to be, the ruin of themselves.

The characters of the late and of the present Administrations are now sufficiently marked, and the adherents of each keep up the distinction. The former Administration rendered itself notorious by outrage, coxcombical parade, false alarms, a continual increase of taxes and an unceasing clamor for war; and as every vice has a virtue opposed to it the present Administration moves on the direct contrary line.

The question, therefore, at elections is not properly a question upon persons, but upon principles.  Those who are for peace, moderate taxes and mild government will vote for the Administration that conducts itself by those principles, in whatever hands that Administration may be.

There are in the United States, and particularly in the Middle States, several religious sects, whose leading moral principle is PEACE.  It is, therefore, impossible that such persons, consistently with the dictates of that principle, can vote for an Administration that is clamorous for war.  When moral principles, rather than persons, are candidates for power, to vote is to perform a moral duty, and not to vote is to neglect a duty.

That persons who are hunting after places, offices and contract, should be advocates for war, taxes and extravagance; is not to be wondered at; but that so large a portion of the people who had nothing to depend upon but their industry, and no other public prospect but that of paying taxes, and bearing the burden, should be advocates for the same measures, is a thoughtlessness not easily accounted for.  But reason is recovering her empire, and the fog of delusion is clearing away.

Thomas Paine.

Bordentown, On The Delaware,

New Jersey, April 21, 1803.