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TO THE DUKE OF LEEDS.
An application which has been made to me by a Mr Samuel Makins, master of an American ship, and which I have formerly transmitted to Mr Burgess, brings forward some points on which I find myself, most reluctantly, obliged to trouble your Grace.
It appears, first, that the American ship was stopped on the high seas, and detained by a British vessel of war, which took away several of the crew, and kept one, who was a British subject. Secondly, it appears that seamen taken in this port from an American ship, who have sworn before a magistrate in America that they are American citizens, are nevertheless detained, unless the master of the ship will swear that they were born in America. And thirdly, it appears that American seamen, who have entered on board of a British ship of war, are detained, notwithstanding the claims made by the master to whom they are bound by the usual articles.
On the first point, I am obliged to mention, my Lord, that interrupting vessels in their voyages, and taking away those who navigate them, may have disagreeable consequences ; and by reminding your Grace of that sentiment, which was excited by the conduct of a Spanish frigate in Nootka Sound, I render, I am sure, all comments unnecessary.
On the second point, I must take the liberty to observe, that the very circumstance of being on board an American ship ought to raise a presumption of citizenship ; but when that is Strengthened by the oaths of the men taken in America, proof should be required to overturn, not to corroborate it. But, my Lord, it must be impossible to obtain the evidence required, in many cases, unless the master will hazard a deposition to facts not in his knowledge. Another circumstance of a most delicate nature is, the insisting that none but persons born in America shall be privileged from the impress. I humbly conceive, my Lord, that previous to the year 1775, those born in America were equally subjects of his Majesty, with those born in England, and many of them, I believe, still continue so. By the treaty of peace, the sovereign of this country relinquished all rights over those then in America, who chose to take the benefit of it ; and if the compact can be set aside in the case of a mariner, I fear that many others will no longer rely upon it. This idea, my Lord, presses much upon my mind.
On the third point, I pray leave to submit to your Grace, whether it is consistent to claim British seamen, who have contracted to serve in American vessels, and yet withhold Ameri can seamen, who have contracted to serve in British vessels. Pardon me for adding, that this would justify a practice, which I hope may never take place, of manning the privateers of your enemies with the seamen of America.
In my regard for the peace and happiness of the two countries, your Grace will find, I trust, the proper apology for bringing these things before you. I the less regret having been detained in town for that purpose, as it gives me an occasion to reiterate the assurances of that respect, with which I have the honor to be, &tc.
- The Life of Gouverneur Morris With Selections from His Correspondence and Miscellaneous Papers Vol. II., Jared Sparks, 1832