The Schooner Exchange v. Faddon Others

Decision Date24 February 1812
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Present. All the judges.

THIS being a cause in which the sovereign right claimed by NAPOLEON, the reigning emperor of the French, and the political relations between the United States and France, were involved, it was, upon the suggestion of the Attorney General, ordered to a hearing in preference to other causes which stood before it on the docket.

It was an appeal from the sentence of the Circuit Court of the United States, for the district of Pennsylvania, which reversed the sentence of the District Court, and ordered the vessel to be restored to the libellants.

The case was this—on the 24th of August, 1811, John McFaddon & William Greetham, of the State of Maryland, filed their libel in the District Court of the United States, for the District of Pennsylvania, against the Schooner Exchange, setting forth that they were her sole owners, on the 27th of October, 1809, when she sailed from Baltimore, bound to St. Sebastians, in Spain. That while lawfully and peaceably pursuing her voyage, she was on the 30th of December, 1810, violently and foreibly taken by certain persons, acting under the decrees and orders of NAPOLEON, Emperor of the French, out of the custody of the libellants, and of their captain and agent, and was disposed of by those persons, or some of them, in violation of the rights of the libellants, and of the law of nations in that behalf. That she had been brought into the port of Philadelphia, and was then in the jurisdiction of that court, in possession of a certain Dennis M. Begon, her reputed captain or master. That no sentence or decree of condemnation had been pronounced against her, by any court of competent jurisdiction; but that the property of the libellants in her, remained unchanged and in fult force. They therefore prayed the usual process of the court, to attach the vessel, and that she might be restored to them.

Upon this libel the usual process was issued, returnable on the 30th of August, 1811, which was executed and returned accordingly, but no person appeared to claim the vessel in opposition to the libellants. On the 6th of September, the usual proclamation was made for all persons to appear and show cause why the vessel should not be restored to her former owners, but no person appeared.

On the 13th of September, a like proclamation was made, but no appearnace was entered.

On the 20th of September, Mr. Dallas, the Attorney

of the United States, for the District of Pennsylvania, appeared, and (at the instance of the executive department of the government of the United States, as it is understood,) filed a suggestion, to the following effect:

Protecting that he does not know, and does not admit the truth of the allegations contained in the libel, he suggests and gives the court to understand and be informed,

That in as much as there exists between the United States of America and Napoleon, emperor of France and king of Italy, &c. &c. a state of peace and amity; the public vessels of his said Imperial and Royal Majesty, conforming to the law of nations, and laws of the said United States, may freely enter the ports and harbors of the said United States, and at pleasure depart therefrom without seizure, arrest, detention or molestation. That a certain public vessel described, and known as the Balaou, or vessel, No. 5, belonging to his said Imperial and Royal Majesty, and actually employed in his service, under the command of the Sieur Begon, upon a voyage from Europe to the Indies, having encountered great stress of weather upon the high seas, was compelled to enter the port of Philadelphia, for refreshment and repairs, about the 22d of July, 1811. That having entered the said port from necessity, and not voluntarily; having procured the requisite refreshments and repairs, and having conformed in all things to the law of nations and the laws of the United States, was about to depart from the said port of Philadelphia, and to resume her voyage in the service of his said Imperial and Royal Majesty, when on the 24th of August, 1811, she was seized, arrested, and detained in pursuant of the process of attachment issued upon the prayer of the libellants. That the said public vessel had not, at any time, been violently and forcibly taken or captured from the libellants, their captain and agent on the high seas, as prize of war, or otherwise; but that if the said public vessel, belonging to his said Imperial and Royal Majesty as aforesaid, ever was a vessel navigating under the flag of the United States, and possessed by the libellants, citizens thereof, as in their libel is alleged, (which nevertheless the said Attorney does not admit) the property of the libellants, in the said vessel was seized and divested, and the same became vested in his Imperial and Royal Majesty, within a port of his empire, or of a country occupied by his arms, out of the jurisdiction of the United States, and of any particular state of the United States, according to the decrees and laws of France, in such case provided. And the said Attorney submitting, whether, in consideration of the premises, the court will take cognizance of the cause, respectfully prays that the court will be pleased to order and decree, that the process of attachment, heretofore issued, be quashed; that the libel be dismissed with costs; and that the said public vessel, her tackle, &c. belonging to his said Imperial and Royal Majesty, be released, &c. And the said Attorney brings here into court, the original commission of the said Sieur Begon, &c.

On the 27th of September, 1811, the libellants filed their answer to the suggestion of the District Attorney, to which they except, because it does not appear to be made for, or on behalf, or at the instance of the United States, or any other body politic or person.

They aver, that the schooner is not a public vessel, belonging to his Imperial and Royal Majesty, but is the private property of the libellants. They deny that she was compelled by stress of weather, to enter the port of Philadelphia, or that she came otherwise than voluntarily; and that the property of the libellants in the vessel never was divested, or vested in his Imperial and Royal Majesty, within a port of his empire, or of a country occupied by his arms.

The District Attorney, produced the affidavits of the Sieur Begon, and the French coasul, verifying the commission of the captain, and stating the fact, that the public vessels of the Emperor of France never carry with them any other document or evidence that they belong to him, than his flag, the commission, and the possession of his officers.

In the commission it was stated, that the vessel was armed at Bayonne.

On the 4th of October, 1811, the District Judge dismissed the libel with costs, upon the ground, that a public armed vessel of a foreign sovereign, in amity with our government, is not subject to the ordinary judicial tribunals of the country, so far as regards the question of title, by which such sovereign claims to hold the vessel.

From this sentence, the libellants appealed to the Circuit Court, where it was reversed, on the 28th of October, 1811.

From this sentence of reversal, the District Attorney, appealed to this Court.

DALLAS, Attorney of the United States, for the district of Pennsylvania, contended,

1. That this is not a case of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction.

2. That the public character of the vessel is sufficiently proved; and

3. That being a public national vessel of France, she is not liable to the ordinary judicial process of this country.

1. It ought to appear upon the proceedings themselves that this is a case of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction.

In England the jurisdiction of the Court of admiralty comprehends three branches. 1. The criminal jurisdiction, for the punishment of offences committed upon the high seas, or submitted to its cognizance by the statute law.

2. The prize jurisdiction, as to captures as prize of war, on the high seas. 3. The Instance Court, which has jurisdiction of torts committed at sea, in which case locality is essential; and of maritime contracts, which are also perhaps local.

The district Courts of the United States, have the same three branches of jurisdiction, but the jurisdiction must be shewn in the proceedings, together with the authority to seize within our waters. Laws United States, Vol. 1. p. 53, sect. 9. 11. Vol. 3. p. 91. sect. 6. 3. Dall. 6.

But the libel does not bring the case within either of those branches of jurisdiction. The libel simply states that while she was lawfully and peaceably pursuing her voyage, she was forcibly seized under the decrees of Napoleon, emperor of the French. It does not allege any crime upon the high seas. It does not state the seizure to be as prize of war. It does not allege a tort committed upon the high seas, nor any maritime contract. The admiralty has no jurisdiction upon the mere possession of the vessel in our harbors, unconnected with a tort on the high seas. Nor upon a tort committed here, or in a foreign country—nor upon a mere question of title. 2. Browne, civ. and ad. law 110, 111, 113, 114, 115, 116, 117.

There is not a single instance of admiralty jurisdiction exercised in this country without possession, coupled with a maritime tort.

2. As to the proof of the public character of the vessel. The flag, the public commission, and the possession of the officer, have always been sufficient evidence, at sea or in port—and for fiscal or executive purposes. Why should it not be sufficient evidence in a judicial proceeding? No public vessel ever carries any other documents. No other proof of property in the sovereign is ever required. It is acknowledged in all our treaties. Even the common law requires only the best evidence which the nature of the case admits.

In the case of Mr. Pichon, 4. Dall. 321. no other evidence of...

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