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is not contruled by some particular treaty, the Britith cruilers have a right to seize French property on board neutral vessels, and likewise to seize goods that are neutral property on board neutral vessels, if the said goods are contraband of war, that is, military stores, such as implements of war, salt-petre, fulphur, and other such materials, immediately applicable to warlike purposes, and perhaps, naval flores, fit for the equipment of ships of war; though, as to this las article, there seems to be some room for doubt. And, as a necessary consequence of this right of seizure, without which the said right would be nugatory and useless, our cruisers must have a right to visit, and, in some cafes, to search, the neutral vessels they fall-in-with on the high seas, in order to discover whether they have, or have not, any property liable to seizure. But, as to the manner of exercising this right, a doubt has occurred to me, which I wish your coirespondent Sulpicius would clear-up. For, from some weighty arguments alleged in Profeffor Schlegel's tract on this subject, and from two of the treaties alleged in the Ap'pendix to Sulpicius's own Letters in support of his doctrines, it appears to me that this right of visiting and searching is appointed by the general law and practice of maritime nations on this fubje&, to be performed in the following manner. The British armed vessel has a right to stop the neutral merchant- ship, and to send a boat with the Captain of the armed Veffel, or bis Lieutenant, and a Secretary, or Clerk, to write-down what shall be necessary to record the tranfa&ion, and at most, one person more, that is, three persons in all, besides the sailors necessary to the rowing of the boat, to visit the neutral vefsel; the British cruiser being all the while at such a distance from the neutral ship that its cannon-shot could not reach her, to the end that no undue terror may influence the crew of the neutral fhip. These two, or three, persons; must be admitted on board the merchant-vefsel, and must require the Captain of it to produce a passport from the King of the Country to which the neutral veffel belongs, (as, forexample, the King of Denmark), testifying, “ That the owners of the neutral vessel have declared upon oath, before his custom-house officers at the port from which the ship failed, that they and other subjects of the said king are the fole owners of all the property put on board the said ship, and that the ship is bound to such a particular port, to which she has a right to trade,” and he must likewise produce a certificate from the chief magistrates of the port from which the ship sailed, declaring, “ That the owners of the ship had made oath, that the ship, and all the merchandize on board it, belonged to them and other persons, subjects of the same king, and not to either of the powers now at war, or lo any of the subjects of either of the said powers, and that none of the goods on board it were prohibited goods;" and when this passport and certificate have been produced to the three persons appointed to visit the ship, they are bound to reft satisfied of the ship's having no seizable property on board, and they have no right to break-open any chests, or open any bales of goods, or further inquire into the lading of the ship, in order to discover whether the declarations of the passport and certificate are true or not; and the merchant-fhip must be permitted to pursue its voyage unmolefted. But, if no such passport and certificate are produced, I presume the cruisers may exercise their right of searching for contraband goods, according to their own discretion; and, likewise, if they suspect some of the goods to be enemies'
property, they may detain the ship and carry her into a British port upon suspicion, in order to have that matter deliberately inquired into and ascertained. This seems 10 be the regular manner of proceeding, authorized by the general law and practice of civilized maritime nations, with respect to neutral merchant-Ships not escorted by ships of war.
But, when the merchant-ships are elcorted by a ship of war, the mode of proceeding seems to be lefs certainly determined, either by practice or written documents recogniz. ing it, such as Treaties of Commerce, Marine Ordinances, or Instructions of Governments to the Captains of their ships of war; yel, upon the whole, we may collect it to be as follows. The British ships of war that meet with a fleet of neutral merchant-fhips, escorted by a fhip of war, ought to apply to the Commander of the ship of war to know their destination, and the nature of the goods that are on board them, instead of sending a boat with two or three perfons to visit each of the merchant-ships, and inspect their passports and certificates, or other public papers : and, if the said Commander declares, “ That the ships and their cargoes are entirely the property of the subjects of his lovereign, and that none of the goods are contraband, and that the proper declarations upon oath upon this subject have been made by the shippers of the goods before the magiftrates, or custom-house officers, of the port in which the vessels were laden;" this Declaration of the Commander of the ship of war that escorts them ought to be received as sufficient testimony of the ships and their cargoes being neutral, and not liable to seizure, and the said merchant-fhips ought to be permitted to pursue their voyage without further molestation. This, at least, is the method of proceeding prescribed for this case by the only treaty, if I recolle&t right, that makes mention of this case amongst all the treaties relating to this question that have been produced, either by Professor Schlegel, or Sulpicius. And it seems to be confirmed in practice by the refistance made by Captain Dedel, a Dutch captain of a man of war, in the year 1762, to an attempt made by an English Thip, or ships of war, to visit fome Dutch merchant-ships, which he was directed by the Dutch Admiralty to escort ; and by the approbation bestowed on him by the Dutch Admiralty for having made such resistance : and likewife by
the conduct of the brave Earl of St. Vincent, in the present war (as stated by Professor Schlegel,) in releasing a neutral merchant-vefsel, (that had been taken by one of his cruisers, as suspected of having'enemy's goods, or contraband goods, on board, when the Commander of a Mip of war' of the fame nation came-up a little while after, accompanied by a large fleet of merchant-fhips of the same nation, that he was appointed to escort, and testified to the Earl of St. Vincent, that the fhip which his cruisers had taken had made a part of this fleet, and had ftrayed from it by some accident, that had made her be considered by their captors as a single vessel and not intitled to his protection. The instant release of this veffel by Lord St. Vincent, with an apology for the capture, as having been owing to a mistake, is surely a pretty good proof, that such is the privilege of merchantships, escorted by ships of war, according to the opinions of sea-officers of the greatest Reputation and Experience. This privilege may certainly be abused, and may occasion fome inconveniences to the belligerent nations: and so may every regulation made for the conduct of human affairs. But it must be remembered that we are not now inquiring 66 what the law of nations ought to be in such a case,” (which would, indeed, be a most arduous and difficult question,) but " what it is.” And, as Great Britain has, throughout this war of necessity and self-defence, (which she did not seek, or make, but suffered, or received, from the insolence of the French National Convention, in Fe bruary, 1793, when governed by the mischievous counsels of Monsieur Briffot,) conducted herself with great moderation and regard to justice, notwithstanding the numerous charges of a contrary spirit brought against her by the dej claimers of France, I should be glad to see her perseved in the same temperate and honourable conduct to the the of the contest, and, for that purpose, avoid any attempt to make a new Law of Nations on this subject, and content herself with an adherence to that Law, (such as it now is, by the confeffion of Mr. Jefferson himself, and other persons by no means partial to Great-Britain,) with vigour and spirit, in opposition to the wild and capricious resolutions of the variable Emperour of Ruffia. And that our Goverment and the nation may be truly informed “ what is the prefent Law of Nations in this case, of neutral merchant-fhips escorted by a ship of war,” I hope Sulpicius will fift the matter to the bottom, and give us another Letter that will clear it up to general fatisfaction.