The Republican Letter to Iran and the Logan Act

On March 9, 2015, Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas wrote a letter without President Barack Obama’s knowledge addressed to the nation of Iran.

Signed by 47 of the Senate’s 54 Republicans, a large outcry came by way of the American public and news-anchors for their actions.

The letter was in relation to the Obama administration’s ongoing nuclear-proliferation negotiations with Iran. These negotiations between the president and the Iranian government concern Iran’s growing nuclear program.

The letter said, in effect, that any deal struck by the president with Iran can easily be overturned by a potential future Republican administration.

Many believe the Republican senators were overstepping their boundaries by interfering with foreign policy, while others have praised Cotton and his compatriots for their bold actions.

Within hours of the letter’s release, news-media outlets were claiming that it violated a little known part of the Constitution called “the Logan Act.”

What is the Logan Act?

As explained by Chris Lombardi in an article for, “The law, passed by Congress and signed by President John Adams in 1799, prohibits unauthorized people from negotiating with foreign governments. Violating the act is a felony, and anyone convicted under the statute faces a three-year prison sentence.”

Legal experts are quick to mention that since the passing of the act over two centuries ago, nobody has been prosecuted under it. What isn’t often mentioned is how this act came into place.

When Philadelphian George Logan went overseas to France to discuss diplomatic relations in 1798, it caused a good amount of criticism. This was during a conflict known as the Quasi-War by historians. Fought predominantly between France and the United States, it started because of French privateers seizing American shipping vessels.

John Adams, who was president at the time, attempted to negotiate with France but was met with no response. So it was, John Adams rescinded all treaties in place with France. Numerous naval battles followed.

George Logan, though not in violation of any laws, was not in any position of power to negotiate with a foreign entity.

An amendment was passed shortly after to prohibit any private citizen from ever doing anything of that nature again.

Though eventually France and the United States came to a peaceful resolution and Logan did no lasting damage, the law is still in power today.

As for the 47 GOP senators, it’s doubtful any will be prosecuted.