The arms may be carried, and may be used properly. . . .
Substance of Mr. Harper’s Speech on the question of permitting Merchants Ships to arm for defence in the West-India trade. . . .
. . . He said the right of arming for defence; for he took this to be a right inherent by the law of nations, in every neutral State. He had not, he confessed, made researches into the law of nations on this point, but the general course of his reading had led to this conclusion. It was also confirmed by history and the practice of neutral States, whose merchant ships did very frequently sail armed in time of war. It was a natural right to carry arms for defence, as much on water as on the land. The offence, lay in either case, not in the arming, but in the improper use of arms. If a man on a journey should carry arms for his defence against robbers, this would be proper; but should he use them to rob himself, he becomes punishable as a felon–So it is at sea.
The arms may be carried, and may be used properly. If used improperly, punishment ensues. This he had moreover understood to be the result of the best legal opinions in this country; and indeed it had not been denied. . . .
–Robert Goodloe Harper, U.S. Rep. from So. Carolina (1795-1801), and U.S. Senator from Maryland, Maj. Gen. in War of 1812.
[Gazette of the United States, And Philadelphia Daily Advertiser. [Number 1484 Volume XI.], Saturday Evening, June 10, 1797, Pg. 2]