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The Napoleon Series > Government > Governments and Politics





France: Decrees on Trade 1793-1810

Decree of the Executive Directory concerning the navigation of neutral vessels, loaded with merchandise belonging to the enemies of the republic, and the judgments on the trials relative to the validity of maritime prizes.12th Ventose, 5th year, (2nd March, 1797.)

The Executive Directory, having examined the law of the 9th May 1793, which, forasmuch as the flag of neutral Powers not being respected by the enemies of the French republic, and all the laws of nations being violated to her prejudice, it is no longer permitted to the French people to fulfil towards these Powers, in general, the wish which it has so often manifested, and which it will constantly form, for the full and entire liberty of commerce and of navigation, orders, among other things:

1. That the French vessels of war and privateers may stop and carry into the ports of the republic neutral vessels which may be founded, loaded entirely or in part with merchandise belonging to the enemy.

2. That the merchandise belonging to the enemy shall be declared good prize, and confiscated for the benefit of the captors.

3. That, in all cases, the neutral vessels shall be released the moment the unloading of the merchandise seized shall have been effected; that the freight shall be paid at the rates which shall have been stipulated by the freighters, and a just indemnity shall be allowed for their detention by the tribunals whose duty it may be to take cognizance of the validity of the prizes.

4. That those tribunals shall moreover be bound to transmit, three days after their judgment, a copy of the inventory of the merchandise to the Minister of the Marine, and another copy to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

5.That the present law, applicable to all prizes which have been made since the declaration of war, shall cease to have its effect when the enemy Powers shall have declared free and not seizable, though destined for the ports of the republic, the merchandise loaded on board neutral vessels, which shall belong to the French government or its citizens.

Having likewise examined the law of the 27th July, 1793, which, in maintaining that of the 9th May preceding, her above recited, orders that it should have its full and entire execution, and that, in consequence, all other regulations which may be contrary to it are and remain repealed; a repeal which evidently comprehends the law of the 1st of the same month of July, by which the vessels of the United States of America had been excepted from the law of the 9th May, in conformity to the fifteenth article of the treaty of the 6th February, 1778.

Having also examined the law of the 13th Nivose, 3rd year, (3rd January, 1795,) which enjoins on all the agents of the republic, on all the commandants of the armed force, on the officers, civil and military, to cause to be respected and observed, in all their arrangements, the treaties which unite France to the neutral Powers of the ancient continent and to the United States of America; and adds that no blow shall be aimed at those treaties, and that all regulations which may be contrary to them are annulled; considering that this last law does not derogate from that of the 9th May, 1793, save only in favor of those neutral Powers whose treaties actually subsisting with the French republic are contrary its regulations; that, consequently, it is important for the information, as well of the commandants of the armed force of the republic, and of the vessels commissioned by it, as of the tribunals charged with deciding on the validity of the prizes, to take measures for preventing either that it should be supposed that treaties existed which never were made, or that treaties concluded for a limited time which is expired, should be considered as yet requiring a literal execution; that to this last description belongs particularly the treaty of amity and commerce concluded the 6th February, 1778, between France and the United States of America; that, in effect, by the second article of this treaty, France and the United States of America mutually engage not to grant any particular favor to other nations, in relation to commerce and navigation, which does not become forthwith common to the other party; and that it is added by the same article, that this other party shall enjoy the favor gratuitously, if the grant is gratuitous, or on making the same compensation if the grant is conditional; that thus the provisions stipulated in favor of England by the treaty of amity, commerce and navigation , concluded at London, the 19th November, 1794, between that Power and the United States of America, are considered to have been in behalf of the French republic itself, and, in consequence, modifying, in the points where they differed, the treaty concluded 6th February, 1778; that it is agreeably to these provisions that the French Government has declared, by its decrees of the 14th and 28th Messidor, 4th year, (2nd and 16th July, 1796,) as it is likewise forced to do at present, that it will use the just measures of reciprocation which it had a right to exercise in that respect, in every thing which has a relation to the circumstances of the war, as also to the political, commercial, and maritime interests of the French republic; that, consequently, it is necessary to settle, by reconciling the treaties of the 6th February, 1778, and 19th November, 1794, every doubt as to the case where this right of reciprocation ought to be exercised:

Considering that there have been quite lately raised, as to the manner of stating the proofs of property in the ships and merchandise pretended to belong to neutrals, doubts and controversies which never would have taken place if the provisions of the ancient regulations relative to this business had been better known; that it consequently is of importance to recite these provisions, and to cause to be executed the fifth article of the law of the 14th February, 1793, which has maintained them:

After having heard the Ministers of Justice, of the Marine, and of the Colonies, decrees what follows:

Art. 1.� The Commissioners of the Executive Directory, near the civil tribunals of the Departments, shall take care that, on the trials as to the validity of maritime prizes, no judgment shall be founded on the seventh article of the law of the 13th Nivose, 3rd year, (2nd January, 1795,) unless the Minister of Justice be previously consulted, in conformity to the third article of the law of the 8th Flor�al, 4th year, (27th April, 1796,) relative to the treaties in virtue of which some neutrals might pretend to withdraw themselves, by means of the first of these laws, from the execution of that of the 9th May, 1793.

Art. 2. The Minister of Justice will consequently examine if the treaties appealed to still remain in force, or whether they have been modified since their adoption.� He shall be furnished, for this purpose, by the Minister of Exterior Relations, with all the information (renseignements) of which he shall be in want, and he shall refer the same to the Executive Directory, as is prescribed by the law of the 8th Floreal, 4th year, (27th April, 1796.)

Art. 3.� The Executive Directory reminds all French citizens that the treaty entered into on the 6th February, 1778, between France and the United States of America, has been, from the terms of its second article, in strict right (de plein droit) modified by that which was entered into in London, on the 19th November, 1794, between the United States of America and England.� In consequence, agreeably to the seventeenth article of the treaty of London of the 19th November, 1794, all merchandise belonging to an enemy, or not sufficiently proven to be neutral, loaded under the American flag, shall be confiscated; but the vessel on board of which it shall have been found to cause to be accelerated, by all the means in their power, the judgment on the trials which shall take place, either in relation to the validity of the capture of the cargo, or in relation to freights and demurrage, (surestaries).

Art. 2. [sic]� Agreeably to the eighteenth article of the treaty of London of the 19th November, 1794, there shall be added the following articles to those declared contraband by the twenty-fourth article of the treaty of the 6th February, 1778, viz: wood for ship building, pitch, tar, and rosin, copper in sheets, canvass, hemp, and cordage, and every thing that serves, directly or indirectly, for the armament and equipment of vessels, except unwrought iron and fir-plank.� These several articles shall be confiscated whenever they shall be destined, or when it is attempted to carry them, to the enemy.

Art. 3. [sic] Agreeably to the twenty-first article of the treaty of London of the 19th November, 1794, every individual known to be American, who holds a commission given by the enemies of France, as also every mariner of that nation making a part of the crew of private or public ships (navires ou vaisseaux) of the enemy, shall be, from that act alone, declared a pirate, and treated as such, without allowing him, in any case, to show that he had been forced by violence, menaces, or otherwise.

Art. 4.� In conformity to the law of the 14th� February, 1793, the regulations of the 21st October, 1744, and of the 26th July, 1778, as to the manner of proving the right of property in neutral ships and merchandise, shall be executed, according to their form and tenor.

In consequence, every American vessel shall be a good prize which has not on board a list of the crew, (r�le d'�quipage,) in proper form, such as is prescribed by the model annexed to the treaty of the 6th February, 1778; a compliance with which is ordered by the twenty-fifth and twenty-seventh articles of the same treaty.

Art. 5. It is enjoined n the Commissioners of the Executive Directory to call the severity of the tribunals to the fraudulent manoeuvres of every ship-owner calling himself a neutral American, or other, on board a vessel in which shall be found, as has frequently been done during the present war, either maritime papers (papiers de mer) in blank, though signed and sealed, or paper, in form of letters, containing the signatures of individuals, in blank; or of double passports or sea-letters, which indicate different destinations to the vessel; or double invoices, bills of lading, or any other ship papers, which assign to the whole or to a part of the same merchandise different proprietors or different destinations.

Art. 6.� From the regulations of the present decree, that of the 9th Frimaire last, (29th November, 1795,) concerning the freights and demurrage, is referred to what� relates to demurrage only.

The present decree shall be inserted in the bulletin of the laws.� The Ministers of the Marine and of the Colonies, of Justice, and of Foreign Relations, are charged with its execution, each one in what concerns him.



Placed on the Napoleon Series March 2003


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