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to oliver wolcott - Alexander Hamilton, The Works of Alexander Hamilton, (Federal Edition), vol. 10 
The Works of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Henry Cabot Lodge (Federal Edition) (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). In 12 vols. Vol. 10.
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to oliver wolcott
March 13, 1799.
It is natural for people, where their interest is concerned, to die hard. Mr. Juhel, the bearer of this, goes to Philadelphia to lay before you some supplementary evidence with regard to the ship Germania, which he hopes may very your determination. At his request I give him this line to you, merely to say that he is a merchant of this city, of reputation, and, so far as his conduct has fallen under my observation, of candor and probity. I wish him success as far as personal considerations alone are concerned and no general rule of policy is contravened.
But having occasion to write you on a subject connected with the law prohibiting intercourse with the French territories, I ought not to withhold from you an opinion which I deliberately entertain. It is that whatever may have been the intention of the Legislature in framing this law, it is in fact so worded that it will be a very violent thing in a court of justice of pronounce that the prohibition of the third section extends to any but a French bottom.
The leading and prominent feature of the prohibition, as to the subject, is a “French ship or vessel.” There are subsequent words which, by implication, look to vessels of other descriptions, but they may be understood consistently with the main and preliminary feature.
Thus the proviso excepts ships or vessels “bona fide the property of, or hired or employed by, the citizens of the United States.” A French bottom, by her build and registry, may be the property of citizens of the United States. Again, these words will be satisfied by supposing that they intend ships and vessels which were French immediately before the voyage in question, but were purchased for the voyage by citizens of the United States.
And this construction will better consist with the principles which govern the interpretation of penal laws, than to extend the prohibition which is to constitute the penalty beyond the letter by implication and force of proviso which is introduced to make an exception to the general terms.
I am well aware of the course which in such a case policy will dictate to the Executive, but if this view of the law be correct, it may afford an argument for a mitigated course where no actual intention to evade appears.1
Now first printed from the Wolcott papers in the possession of the Connecticut Historical Society.