CIVIL

Napoleon’s letter to the American Minister, Armstrong-1809

Letter to the American Minister, Armstrong, 1809.

“The seas belong to all nations. Any vessel, sailing under whatsoever flag, recognized and avowed by her, should be as much at home in the midst of the seas as if she were in her own ports. The flag floating from the mast of a merchant vessel should be respected as much as if it floated from the top of a village spire.

“In case of war between two maritime powers, neutrals should follow the legislation of neither one. Every vessel should be protected by its flag. Every power which violates a flag declares war against the power to which it belongs. To insult a merchant vessel which carries the flag of a power, is the same thing as invading a town or colony belonging to that power. His Majesty declares that he considers the fleets of nations as floating colonies belonging to those nations. In consequence of this principle, the sovereignty and independence of a nation is a property of its neighbors. If a French citizen was insulted in an American port or colony, the Government of the United States would not deny that it was responsible for it. In the same way the Government of the United States must be responsible for the violation of French property on board of a ship or floating American colony; otherwise, this Government, not being able to guarantee the integrity of its rights and the independence of its flag, his Majesty considers the American vessels which have been violated by visits, by taxes, and other arbitrary acts, as no longer belonging to the United States, and as denationalized.

“But whenever the Government of the United States shall order its vessels armed to repulse the unjust aggressions of England, to sustain its rights, against the refusal of this power to recognize the great principle that the flag covers the ship, and against its unjust pretension of searching neutral vessels, his Majesty is willing to recognize them and treat them as neutrals.”

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