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Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Letter from Joseph Reed to Thomas Burke
Reed, Joseph, 1741-1785
January 28, 1779
Volume 14, Pages 256-257

[From MS. Records in Office of Secretary of State.]

In Council, Philadelphia, January 28th, 1779.

To the Honorable Thomas Burke, Esqr., Chairman of the Committee of Congress for enquiring into the case of the Sloop Active.


I was favoured yesterday with yours of the twenty-sixth instant, respecting the sloop Active, which, from having been a subject of much litigation in the courts of Justice, now comprehends questions of high import to the interest and police of this and the United States, and we feel great anxiety that the discussion may be had upon the principles of law, justice and reason only, and conducted with that harmony and temper which will be most likely to lead to truth and future tranquillity.

The general power and jurisdiction of Congress in maritime cases between the captors and captured, we apprehend, is not affected by the opposition made to the decree of the Commissioners in the case of the Active.

We therefore fear some inconveniences will ensue if the committee should make their report without giving the parties interested

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an opportunity to state the grounds and principles upon which the difficulty of complying with this decree is made. Because, if it should appear to have originated from the special circumstances of the case, and founded on the municipal law of the State, we apprehend it will be clearly distinguished from the case of a general denial of the authority of Congress in all maritime causes whatsoever.

I would wish that this may not be considered as an interference of the State, but information to the Honourable Committee, suggested by our regard to the real interest of the whole community, and a desire that their report may be framed upon a full and perfect knowledge of all the circumstances of the case.

In this view, I submit to your consideration whether an opportunity given to the parties to lay before you the principles and grounds upon which, pursuing the advice of Gentlemen of real ability and knowledge, the Jurisdiction of Congress has been questioned, will not tend to a just, honorable and peaceable conclusion of this business.

I am, Sir, with the greatest respect,
Your very humble Servant,