[dateline] Versailles. 21st. Septr. 1778
I have received the letter which you did me the honor of writing to me the 17th. instant.
I made no doubt but that the reflexions which I made on the necessity of Establishing
a perfect reciprocity between the two Nations with respect to reprisals at sea, would
appear just to you. I am sorry that you have not at hand a copy of the Laws of the
U States on this Subject which might have prevented some difficulties that the distance
of time and place may render frequent. The Regulations of Massachusets Bay which Capt.
McNeill has informed you of is different from the English Laws and more like the French.
The Regulation of England by leaving at any rate one half of the vessel to the first
owner, appears most conformable to the Interests of Commerce, which ought never to
be forgotten even in the midst of War. But it would be more especially essential that
the different provinces of the U States should adopt on this head uniform and invariable
laws, so that there should not exist in any of the provinces particular laws, which
the ignorance of Owners of vessels will not permit them to apply to the different
States, and which would necessarily bring on difficulties that might be avoided by
a common Legislation.
With respect to the question of Fact concerning the recapture of the ship Isabella
by Capt. McNeill, I have only pointed out the motives which the proprietors of this
vessel conceive they have for reclaiming it, and on which they ground their pretensions
in the letter which they have addressed to me; it belongs not to the administration
to investigate them, the cognizance thereof being reserved to the Tribunals, But if
the decision of the Tribunals is adverse to the first proprietor, you will surely
conceive it proper, that the Third, or even one half of this vessel should be deposited
in the hands of such public Officers as shall be appointed for that purpose untill
the two nations have agreed on Laws which shall be respectively followed with respect
to Vessels recaptured from the Common Enemy.
I have the honor &c.