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France (for I was in England when I received the invitation) not to enjoy ease, emoluments, and foppish honours, as the article supposes; but to encounter difficulties and dangers in defence of liberty; and I much question whether those who now malignantly seek (for some I believe do) to turn this to my injury, would have had courage to have done the same. I am sure Governor Morris would not. He told me the second day after my arrival (in Paris,) that the Austrians and Prussians, who were then at Verdun, would be in Paris in a fortnight. I have no idea, said he, that seventy thousand disciplined troops can be stopped in their march by any power in France.
Besides the reasons I have already given for accepting the invitation to the Convention, I had another that has reference particularly to America, which I mentioned to Mr. Pinckney the night before I left London to come to Paris: "That it was to the interest of America that the system of European Governments should be changed, and placed "on the same principle with her own."
It is certain that Governments upon similar systems agree better together, than those that are founded on principles discordant with each other; and the same rule holds good with respect to the people living under them. In the latter case they offend each other by pity, or by reproach; and the discordancy carries itself to matters of commerce. I am not an ambitious man, but perhaps I have been an ambitious American. I have wished to see America the Mother
Church of Government.
I have now stated sufficient matter, to shew that the article in question is not applicable to me; and that any such application to my injury, as well in circumstances as in rights, is contrary both to the letter and intention of that article, and is illegal and unconstitutional. Neither do I believe that any jury in America, when they are informed of the whole of the case, would give a verdict to deprive me of my rights upon that article. The citizens of America, I believe, are not very fond of permitting forced and indirect explanations to be put upon matters of this kind. I know not what were the merits of the case with respect to the person who was prosecuted for acting as prize-master to a French privateer, but I know that the jury gave a verdict against the prosecution. The rights I have acquired are dear to me. They have been acquired by honourable means, and by dangerous service in the worst of times, and I cannot passively permit them to be wrested from me. I
conceive it my duty to defend them, as the case involves a constitutional and public question, which is, how far the power of the federal Government extends, in depriving any citizen of his rights of citizenship, or of suspending them.
That the explanation of national treaties belongs to Congress, is strictly constitutional; but not the explanation of the constitution itself, any more than the explanation of law in the case of individual citizens. These are altogether judiciary questions. It is, however, worth observing, that Congress, in explaining the article of the treaty with respect to French prizes and French privateers, confined itself strictly to the letter of the article. Let them explain the article of the constitution with respect to me in the same manner, and the decision, did it appertain to them, could not deprive me of my rights of citizenship, or suspend them, for I have accepted nothing from any King, Prince, State, or Government.
You will please to observe, that I speak as if the federal Government had made some declaration upon the subject of my citizenship; whereas the fact is otherwise; and your saying that you have no orders respecting me, is a proof of it. They, therefore, who propagate the report of my not being considered as a citizen of America by Government, do it to the prolongation of my imprisonment, and without authority; for Congress, as a Government, has neither decided upon it, nor yet taken the matter into consideration; and I request you to caution such persons against spreading such reports. But be these matters as they may, I cannot have a doubt that you find and feel the case very different, since you have heard what I have to say, and known what my situation is, than you did before your arrival.
Painful as the want of liberty may be, it is a consolation to me to believe, that my imprisonment proves to the world, that I had no share in the murderous system that then reigned. That I was an enemy to it, both morally and politically, is known to all who had any knowledge of me; and could I have written French as well as I can English, I would publicly have exposed its wickedness, and shewn the ruin with which it was pregnant.-'hey who have esteemed me on former occasions, whether in America, or in Europe, will, I know, feel no cause to abate that esteem, when they reflect, that imprisonment with preservation of character, is preferable to liberty with disgrace.
The letter before quoted in the first page of this memorial, says," it would be out of character for an American "Minister to interfere in the internal affairs of France."This goes on the idea that I am a citizen of France, and a member of the Convention; which is not the fact. The Convention have declared me to be a foreigner; and consequently the citizenship and the election are null and void. It also has the appearance of a decision, that the article of the constitution respecting grants made to American citizens by foreign Kings, Princes, or States, is applicable to me; which is the very point in question, and against the application of which I contend. I state evidence to the Minister, to shew that I am not within the letter or meaning of that article, that it cannot operate against me; and I apply to him for the protection that, I conceive, I have a right to ask, and to receive. The internal affairs of France are out of the question with respect to my application, or his interference. I ask it not as a citizen of France, for I am not one; I ask it not as a member of the Convention, for I am not one; both these, as before said, have been rendered null and void; I ask it not as a man against whom there is any accusation, for there is none; I ask it not as an exile from America, whose liberties I have honourably and generously contributed to establish; I ask it as a citizen of America, deprived of his liberty in France, under the plea of being a foreigner; and I ask it because I conceive I am entitled to it, upon every principle of constitutional justice and national honour.