Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHARGE TO GRAND JURY, RICHMOND, VIRGINIA. 1 - The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, vol. 3 (1782-1793)
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CHARGE TO GRAND JURY, RICHMOND, VIRGINIA. 1 - John Jay, The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, vol. 3 (1782-1793) 
The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, ed. Henry P. Johnston, A.M. (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890-93). Vol. 3 (1782-1793).
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CHARGE TO GRAND JURY, RICHMOND, VIRGINIA.1
It is an observation no less useful than true, that nations and individuals injure their essential interests in proportion as they deviate from order. By order I mean that national regularity which results from attention and obedience to those rules and principles of conduct which reason indicates and which morality and wisdom prescribe. Those rules and principles reach every station and condition in which individuals can be placed, and extend to every possible situation in which nations can find themselves.
Among these rules are comprehended the laws of the land, and that they may be so observed as to produce the regularity and order intended by them, courts of justice were instituted whose business it is to punish offences and to render right to those who suffer wrong.
To inquire into and present those offences is the duty which the law generally imposes upon you, and, as there is a national tribunal having cognizance only of offences against the laws of the United States, your inquiries and presentments are to be confined to offences of that description.
The Constitution, the statutes of Congress, the laws of nations, and treaties constitutionally made compose the laws of the United States.
You will perceive that the object is twofold: To regulate the conduct of the citizens relative to our own nation and people, and relative to foreign nations and their subjects.
To the first class belong those statutes which respect trades, navigation, and finance, and those against forgery and counterfeiting and the other offences enumerated in what is generally called the penal statute; to particularize and explain each of those would require details which on this occasion would be unnecessary. Among the most important are those which respect the revenue. Their object is to provide for the payment of debts already accrued, and to provide for the current and for the contingent expenses of the government and nation.
Justice and policy unite in declaring that debts fairly contracted should be honestly paid. On this basis only can public credit be erected and supported; and they either want wisdom or virtue, or both, who regard fraud and chicane as a justifiable or useful instrument of policy. The man or the nation who eludes the payment of debts ceases to be worthy of further credit, and generally meets with deserts in the entire loss of it, and in the evils resulting from that loss. The current or ordinary expenses of our government are less than those of any other nation. What our extraordinary expenses may be cannot be foreseen and consequently cannot be calculated. They will depend on events. A war would demand supplies which taxes alone cannot produce and for which recourse must be had to loans. The success of loans will always depend on our credit; and our credit will always be in proportion to our resources, to our integrity, and to our punctuality. All our citizens, therefore, are deeply interested in public credit. It is their duty to unite in preserving and supporting it; and it is your duty, gentlemen, to inquire into and present such violations of the revenue laws as you may find to have been committed within this district. It gives me pleasure to observe that the respect hitherto paid to those laws by our fellow-citizens in general has been exemplary and honourable to their virtue and patriotism. I hope the result of your inquiries will give additional force to this remark.
The present state of affairs requires that the second object of the laws should be attentively regarded. I mean those which regulate our conduct relative to foreign nations.
This head comprises the laws of nations and treaties.
By the laws of nations our conduct relative to other nations is to be regulated both in peace and in war. It is a subject that merits attention and inquiry, and it is much to be wished that it may be more generally studied and understood.
It may be asked who made the laws of nations? The answer is he from whose will proceed all moral obligations, and which will is made known to us by reason or by revelation.
Nations are, in respect to each other, in the same situation as independent individuals in a state of nature.
Suppose twenty families should be cast on an island and after dividing it between them conclude to remain unconnected with each other by any kind of government, would it thence follow that there are no laws to direct their conduct towards one another? Certainly not. Would not the laws of reason and morality direct them to behave to each other with respect, with justice, with benevolence, with good faith—would not those laws direct them to abstain from violence, to abstain from interfering in their respective domestic government and arrangements, to abstain from causing quarrels and dissensions in each other’s families? If they made treaties, would they not be bound to observe them? Or if by consent expressed or implied they gave occasion to usages mutually convenient, would not those usages grow into conventional laws? The answer is obvious.
In like manner the nations throughout the world are like so many great families placed by Providence on the earth, who having divided it between them, remain perfectly distinct from and independent of each other. Between them there is no judge but the great Judge of all. They have a perfect right to establish such governments and build such houses as they prefer, and their neighbors have no right to pull down either because not fashioned according to their ideas of perfection; in a word, one has no right to interfere in the affairs of another, but all are bound to behave to each other with respect, with justice, with benevolence, and with good faith.
When two or more of them are at war about objects in which other nations are not interested, the latter are not to interfere except as mediators and friends to peace; but, on the contrary, ought to observe a strict impartiality towards both, abstaining from affording military aid of any kind or giving just cause of offence to either.
The United States are now in this situation relative to the belligerent powers. Strict impartiality is our duty in all cases where prior treaties do not stipulate for favours, and it is no less our interest than our duty to act accordingly. A just war is an evil, but it is not the greatest; oppression and disgrace are greater. War is not to be sought, but it is not to be fled from. Let us do exactly what is just and right, and then remain without fear, but not without care about the consequences. An unjust war is among the greatest of evils; and for this and numerous other reasons—because the blood and misery caused by it must rest on the heads of those who wage it.
I have mentioned respect among the duties which nations owe to each other. This merits attention. Every man owes it to himself to behave to others with civility and good manners; and every nation in like manner is obliged by a due regard to its own dignity and character to behave towards other nations with decorum. Insolence and rudeness will not only degrade and disgrace nations and individuals but also expose them to hostility and insult. It is the duty of both to cultivate peace and good-will and to this nothing is more conducive than justice, benevolence, and good manners. Indiscretions of this kind have given occasion to many wars.
If in this district you should find any persons engaged in fitting out privateers or enlisting men to serve against either of the belligerent powers, and in other respects violating the laws of neutrality, you will present them. Doubtful cases may arise; on such occasions the attorney-general or the court will afford you the necessary assurance.
But the belligerent powers owe duties to us as well as we to them. They may violate our neutrality and commit offences. If you find any foreigners in this district committing seditious practices, endeavouring to seduce our citizens into acts of hostility, or attempting to withdraw them from the allegiance of the United States, present them. Such men are guilty of high misdemeanour.
A novel doctrine has been propagated and found some advocates even in this enlightened country—viz., that as citizens have a right to expatriate, so they have a right to engage and enlist in the military service of one of the powers at war, provided they at the same time declare that they expatriate. I make no remarks on this ridiculous doctrine—its absurdity is obvious.
Of national violations of our neutrality our government only can take cognizance. Questions of peace and war and reprisals and the like do not belong to courts of justice, nor to individual citizens, nor to associations of any kind, and for this plain reason: because the people of the United States have been pleased to commit them to Congress.
Are we then to punish our citizens for hostile conduct towards such of the belligerent powers as violate our neutrality and do us injustice? This is a natural question.
There must be order in society or the bonds of it will soon be dissolved. This order consists in every man moving in his own sphere, doing the duties incumbent upon him, and not going out of the circle of his own rights and powers to meddle with or officiously supervise those of others.
The great question before mentioned being committed exclusively to Congress, they must be left to deliberate, and their decisions must be conclusive.
We have peace with France, Holland, Great Britain, and others, and in case of certain infractions and aggressions on their part the United States, or the department of the government to which they have delegated that authority, have a right to demand satisfaction, and in case of refusal, to declare war or to direct reprisals, or such other measures as circumstances may dictate. But it does not follow from the existence of such infractions that any other body or person in the United States have authority to do the like.
Such measures involve a variety of political considerations, such, for instance, as these: Is it advisable immediately to declare war? Would it be more prudent first to remonstrate, or demand reparation, or direct reprisals? Are we ready for war? Would it be wise to risk it at this juncture, or postpone running that risk until we can be better prepared for it? These and a variety of similar considerations ought to precede and govern the decision of those who annul violated treaties, order reprisals, or declare war.
The nation must either move together or lose its force. Until war is constitutionally declared, the nation and all its members must observe and preserve peace, and do the duties incident to a state of peace. Such at present is our situation, and in that light, gentlemen, you will regard it. As free citizens we have a right to think and speak our sentiments on this subject, in terms becoming freemen—that is, in terms explicit, plain, and decorous. As judges and grand jurors, the merits of those political questions are without our province. Let us faithfully do the duties assigned to our stations. It is yours to inquire into and present all offences against the laws of the United States committed in the district or on the high seas by persons in it. We have the fullest confidence that you will discharge those duties with diligence and impartiality, and without fear, favour, affection, or respect to persons.
[1 ]Delivered by the Chief Justice at the opening of the Circuit Court at Richmond, May 22, 1793.