The Thomas Gibbons, Rockwell Master

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtSTORY
Citation8 Cranch 421,3 L.Ed. 610,12 U.S. 421
Decision Date16 March 1814
PartiesTHE THOMAS GIBBONS, ROCKWELL, MASTER

12 U.S. 421
8 Cranch 421
3 L.Ed. 610
THE THOMAS GIBBONS, ROCKWELL, MASTER.
March 16, 1814

THIS was an appeal from the decree of the Circuit Court for the district of Georgia.

The ship Thomas Gibbons sailed from Liverpool for Savannah, on the 16th of August, 1812, was captured on the 12th of October following, on the high seas, off Tybee light house, and, the same day, brought into the port of Savannah as prize to the privateer Atas.

The ship and cargo were under the protection of a special license, dated 21st July, 1812, and conceived in the usual terms of the document usually denominated the Sidmouth license, except that, in this instance, the protection was extended to the return voyage back to Liverpool, there to discharge the cargo, and receive freight, if it should be found not to be allowable for the vessel and cargo to enter the ports of the United States.

The clearance from Liverpool, 13th August, 1812, mentioned the ship as being released, in consequence of her license, from an embargo laid on American vessels.

The cargo, shipped at Liverpool by sundry British merchants, was consigned to sundry commercial houses at Savannah, and was claimed by the respective consignees; by some, in their own behalf, and by others, in behalf of their correspondents in the interior.

From the evidence introduced into the cause, it appeared that part of the goods, although expressed to be on account and risk of the consignees, was shipped without previous orders or authority: that some of them were shipped under general orders (transmitted in time of peace) to ship goods: others, under particular orders given during the operation of the orders in council and the non-intercourse act; such as, to ship 'when the trade opened,' 'at a proper season,' 'as soon as it was legal to ship to the United States,' &c. and lastly, that some of them were shipped with an understanding that they were to become the property of the citizen consignee upon arriving at the port of destination.

Page 422

The commission of the Atas was granted on the 24th of September, 1812, and was accompanied by a copy of the president's instruction to privateers, of the 28th of August, 1812, by which the public and private armed vessels of the United States are directed not to interrupt 'any vessels belonging to citizens of the United States coming from British ports to the United States laden with British merehandize, in consequence of the alleged repeal of the British orders in council.'

JONES, for the captors,

Contended that the ship and cargo were enemy property.

I. Constructively so, by the maritime law of nations, according to which law the hostile character is impressed.

1. By being placed, by the enemy's pass or license, infra proesidium hostis; and by the employment and course of traffic. 1 Rob. 10, 11, The Vigilantia.

2. By direct trading with the enemy, flagrante bello.

II. Actually so, with regard to a great proportion of the cargo, according to the principles of municipal law, as recognized and acted upon by prize Courts, in administering the maritime law of nations; according to which,

1. Goods shipped without previous orders or authority, although expressed to be on account and risk of the consignee, continue the property and at the risk of the enemy shipper, until accepted by the citizen consignee.

2. General orders (transmitted in time of peace) to ship goods, are, ipso facto, superseded, if war intervene and render the act unlawful as well as dangerous.

3. Particular orders (given during the operation of the orders in council and the non-intercourse act) to ship 'when the trade opened,' or 'at proper seasons,' or 'as soon as it was legal to ship to the United

Page 423

States,' could not authorize a shipment, merely upon the conditional revocation of the orders in council, whilst the American non-intercourse act continued in force: a fortiori if war should supervene.

4. The proprietary interest in goods shipped with an understanding that they are to become the property of the citizen consignee, upon arriving at the port of destination, continues in the enemy shipper until arrival and delivery, without regard to the terms in which the consignment is ostensibly made. 2 Rob. 111, The Packet de Bilboa.

That, therefore, goods captured in itinere, under either of the foregoing predicaments, were to be treated as the property and at the risk of the shipper, and as partaking of his national character.

The principal question, he said, which would now be agitated was, whether the instruction of the president of the United States to American privateers, of 28th August, 1812, extended to the case now under consideration. He contended that it did not: or if it did, that it could not legally avoid the capture, nor in any manner affect the rights of the captors, quoad the prize in question, but could only be enforced (as originally intended) by the exercise of executive discretion and authority over the commission of the privateer. That, according to the decision in the case of the Sally, that the prize act operates as a grant from the United States to the captors, the president could not deprive them of their rights under that act. That the power of the president to instruct must be limited by the rights so granted to the captors. That the authority with which he was invested by congress, was only given him to regulate the conduct of our privateersmen, and to prevent abuses—not to limit their rights already vested. That he had no general authority to limit the rights of war, as was clear from the passage of particular acts of congress investing him with the respective powers of removing British subjects, of giving licenses to depart, &c. which would have been wholly unnecessary had he possessed a general power over these matters. That the position contended for, was further supported by the terms employed in the third section of the prize act, in which the owners, &c. of privateers are required to give bond

Page 424

to the United States that they will observe 'the instructions which shall be given them according to law, for the regulation of their conduct:' also by the letter of the secretary of state (Mr. Monroe) to Mr. Russell, of August 31st, 1812, written under the eye of the president, in which the secretary says, that it was not in the power of the president to control the privateers, except by an indiscriminate revocation of their commissions. But,

2. That, admitting the power of the president to issue the instruction under consideration, the present case was not embraced thereby. That the property in question, having been shipped after a full knowledge of the war, could not be considered as shipped in consequence of the alleged repeal of the orders in council. That the only time in which the shipments contemplated by the instruction, could be made, was that which intervened between the repeal of the orders in council and the knowledge of the declaration of war; after which it was unreasonable to calculate on the safety of property shipped for the United States. That the ship, also, was not within the description of vessels intended by the instruction to be exempted from capture, because she was engaged in an illicit intercouse with the enemy, under an...

To continue reading

Request your trial
1 practice notes
  • Caledonian Dickey
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • February 16, 1819
    ...to consider the last two articles, (a) He cited The Nelly, note to The Hoop, 1 Rob. 219; The Two Friends, Id. 283; The Thomas Gibbons, 8 Cranch 421, to show, that the vessel could not be seized as prize, after her arrival in port, nor by a non-commissioned seizer. (b) Citing The Ariadne, 2 ......
1 cases
  • Caledonian Dickey
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • February 16, 1819
    ...to consider the last two articles, (a) He cited The Nelly, note to The Hoop, 1 Rob. 219; The Two Friends, Id. 283; The Thomas Gibbons, 8 Cranch 421, to show, that the vessel could not be seized as prize, after her arrival in port, nor by a non-commissioned seizer. (b) Citing The Ariadne, 2 ......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT