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just value. If we could free ourselves from a compact because we find ourselves injured by it, there would be nothing firm in the contracts of nations. Civil laws may set limits to lesion, and determine the degree capable of producing a nullity of the contract ; but sovereigns acknowledge no judge. How establish lesion among them ? Who will determine the degree sufficient to invalidate a treaty? The happiness and peace of nations require manifestly that their treaties should not depend on a means of nullity so vague and so dangerous."
Let us hear him again on the general subject of the observation of treaties, Section 163 : “ It is demonstrated in natural law that he who promises another, confers on him a perfect right to require the thing promised, and that consequently, not to observe a perfect promise is to violate the right of another; it is as manifest injustice as to plunder any one of their right. All the tranquillity, the happiness and security of mankind, rest on justice or the obligation to respect the rights of others. The respect of others for our right of domain and property is the security of our actual possessions. The faith of promises is the security for the things which cannot be delivered or executed on the spot. No more security, no more commerce among men, if they think themselves not bound to preserve faith, to keep their word. This obligation, then, is as necessary as it is natural and indubitable among nations who live together in a state of nature, and who acknowledge no superior on earth. To maintain order and peace in their society, nations and their governors then ought to observe inviolably their promises and their treaties. This is a great truth, althongh too often neglected in practice, is generally acknowledged by all nations, the reproach of perfidy is a bitter affront among sovereigns. Now he who does not observe a treaty is assuredly perfidious, since he violates his faith. On the contrary, nothing is so glorious to a prince and his nation as the reputation of inviolable fidelity to his word.”. Again, Section 219, “ Who will doubt that treaties are of the things sacred among nations? They decide matters the most important; they impose rules on the pretensions of sovereigns; they cause the rights
of nations to be acknowledged; they assume their most precious interests. Among political bodies, sovereigns, who acknowledge
. no superior on earth, treaties are the only means of adjusting their different pretensions; of establishing a rule, to know on what to count, on what to depend. But treaties are but vain words, if nations do not consider them as respectable engagements, as rules inviolable for sovereigns, and sacred through the whole earth." Section 220: “ The faith of treaties, that firm and sincere will, that invincible constancy in fulfilling engagements, of which a declaration is made in a treaty, is then holy and sacred among nations, whose safety and repose it ensures; and if nations will not be wanting to themselves, they will load with infamy whoever violates his faith."
After evidence so copious and explicit of the respect of this author for the sanctity of treaties, we should hardly have expected that his authority would have been resorted to for a wanton invalidation of them whenever they should become merely useless or disagreeable. We should hardly have expected that, rejecting all the rest of his book, this scrap would have been culled and made the hook whereon to hang such a chain of immoral consequences. Had the passage accidentally met our eye, we should have imagined it had fallen from the author's pen under some momentary view, not sufficiently developed to found a conjecture what he meant, and we may certainly affirm that a fragment like this cannot weigh against the authority of all other writers; against the uniform and systematic doctrine of the very work from which it is torn ; against the moral feelings and the reason of all honest men. If the terms of the fragment are not misunderstood, they are in full contradiction to all the written and unwritten evidences of morality. If they are misunderstood, they are no longer a foundation for the doctrines which have been built on them.
But even had this doctrine been as true as it is manifestly false, it would have been asked, to whom is it that the treaties with France have become disagreeable ? How will it be proved that they are useless ?
The conclusion of the sentence suggests a reflection too strong to be suppressed, “ for the party may say with truth that it would not have allied itself with this nation if it had been under the present form of its government.” The republic of the United States allied itself with France when under a despotic government. She changes her government, and declares it shall be a republic; prepares a form of republic extremely free, and in the meantime is governing herself as such. And it is proposed that America shall declare the treaties void, because it may say with truth that it would not have allied itself with that nation if it had been under the present form of its government. Who is the American who can say with truth that he would not have allied himself to France if she had been a republic? Or that a republic of any form would be as disagreeable as her ancient despotism?
Upon the whole I conclude, that the treaties are still binding, notwithstanding the change of government in France ; that no part of them but the clause of guarantee holds up danger, even at a distance, and consequently that a liberation from no other part would be prepared in any case; that if that clause may ever bring dan ger, it is neither extreme nor imminent, nor even probable that the anthority for renouncing a treaty, when useless or disagreeable, is either misunderstood or in opposition to itself, to all other writers, and to every moral feeling ; that were it not so, these treaties are in fact neither useless or disagreeable; that the receiving a minister from France at this time is an act of no significance with respect to the treaties, amounting neither to an admission nor denial of them, forasmuch as he comes not under any stipulation in them; that were it an explicit admission, or were it an express declaration of their obligation now to be made, it would not take from us that right which exists at all times, of liberating ourselves when an adherence to the treaties would be ruinous or destructive to the society; and that the not renouncing the treaties now is so far from being a breach of neutrality, that the doing it would be the breach, by giving just cause of war to France.
XXXVI.—Opinion relative to granting of passports to American vessels.
May 3, 1793. 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 whenever 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 mentioned have settled that passports shall be given, not merely to the 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. The most important interests of the United States hang upon this question. The produce of the earth is their principle source of wealth. Our home-built vessels would suffice for the transportation of a very small part of this produce to market, and even a part of these vessels will be withdrawn by high premiums to other lines of business. All the rest of our produce, then, must remain on our hands, or have its price reduced by a war insurance. Many descriptions of our produce will not bear this reduction, and would, therefore, remain on hand.
We shall lose also a great proportion of the profits of navigatio:i.
The great harvest for these is when other nations are at war, and our flag neutral. But if we can augment our stock of shipping only by the slow process of building, the harvest will be over while we are only preparing instruments to reap it. The moment of breeding seamen will be lost for want of bottoms to embark them in.
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 at 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?