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power, or of its subject or citizen, with the intent on the part of those concerned in putting the vessel under such control that she shall be employed in the service of the belligerent power, to cruise or commit hostilities against the subjects, citizens or property of a power at war with such belligerent and at peace with the United States, the neutrality of the United States is compromised, and the neutrality law of the United States is violated. To say that, with such an intent proved in the sale of the vessel, nothing has been done in violation of the third section of the act of 1818, is to make such section virtually a dead letter. The doctrine contended for would result in this, – that the building and arming of the vessel would be perfectly lawful, because, in building and arming her, there was no intent to have her unlawfully employed; and the sale would be perfectly lawful, although such intent existed at the time of the sale, because no such intent existed when she was built or armed ; and no interference could be had with her after the sale, because, as she was fully armed and equipped at the time of the sale, it would be unnecessary to do anything to her after the sale to enable her to cruise or commit hostilities. This consequence would follow, not only in respect to a vessel fully armed, but in respect to one which had been merely attempted to be fitted out and armed, and in respect to one which had been only partially fitted out and armed. The intent is, under the third section, the thing which marks the offence. If the prohibited intent does not exist, a citizen of the United States may not only sell a fully armed vessel in a port of the United States to a belligerent power, or to a subject or citizen of such power, but may also send a fully armed vessel to a foreign port for sale as a purely commercial adventure. To say that the neutrality laws of the United States have never prohibited the sale of a vessel of war as an article of commerce is merely to say that they have not prohibited the fitting out and arming, or the attempting to fit out and arm, or the furnishing or fitting out or arming, of a vessel within the limits of the United States, provided the unlawful and prohibited intent did not exist.
The language of the act of 1848 is not ambiguous, and does not admit of any latitude of construction, nor is there any provision in any
section of it conflicting with any provision in any other section of it. It is, therefore, unnecessary to look outside of the statute for any aid in arriving at the intention of the legislature in its enactment. While it is the duty of the Court, in interpreting a statute, to effect the intention of the legislature, that intention must be searched for in the words which the legislature has employed to convey it. Where the language of an act is explicit, there is great danger in departing from the words used, to give to the law an effect which may be supposed to have been designed by the legislature. (The Schooner Paulina's Cargo v. The United States, 7 Cranch, 52; Denn v. Reid, 10 Peters, 524.) When, as in the present case, such intention is, on the face of the statute, not at all ambiguous, the Court cannot look elsewhere than into the statute itself for any aid in interpreting it. These considerations dispose of any argument in favor of the interpretation urged by the counsel for the claimant, drawn from a history of the Neutrality Acts of the United States, and the condition of the foreign relations of the United States, at the time of the enactment of the statute, and the political correspondence of the public authorities of the United States, and the discussions in Congress preliminary to the passage of the act.
The importance of this case, not merely in view of the pecuniary value of the vessel proceeded against, but also in respect to the principles of public law involved in it, have led the Court to a more extended discussion of those principles than would otherwise have been necessary. The Court, however, entertains no doubt as to the correctness of the doctrines of public law which it has applied to the present case. Those doctrines are the result of the legislative, executive, and judicial action of the public authorities and Courts of the United States in a great variety of cases, and the Court has nowhere found a more excellent summary of them than in Wheaton's International Law (8th Edition, with notes by Dana, pages 562, 563, note 215): “As to the preparing of vessels within our jurisdiction for subsequent hostile operations, the test we have applied has not been the extent and character of the preparations, but the intent with which the particular acts are done. If any person does any act, or attempts to do any act, towards such preparation, with the intent that the vessel shall be employed in hostile operations, he is guilty, without reference to the completion of the preparations or the extent to which they may have gone, and although his attempt may have resulted in no definite progress towards the completion of the preparations. The procuring of
materials to be used, knowingly and with the intent, &c. is an offence. Accordingly, it is not necessary to show that the vessel was armed, or was in any way, or at any time, before or after the act charged, in a condition to commit acts of hostility.” “ Our rules do not interfere with bona fide commercial dealings in contraband of war. An American merchant may build and fully arm a vessel, and provide her with stores, and offer her for sale in our own market. If he does any acts, as an agent or servant of a belligerent, or in pursuance of an arrangement or understanding with a belligerent, that she shall be employed in hostilities when sold, he is guilty. He may, without violating our law, send out such a vessel, so equipped, under the flag and papers of his own country, with no more force of crew than is suitable for navigation, with no right to resist search or seizure, and to take the chances of capture as contraband merchandise, of blockade, and of a market in a belligerent port. In such case, the extent and character of the equipments is as immaterial as in the other class of cases. The intent is all. The act is open to great suspicions and abuse, and the line may often be scarcely traceable ; yet the principle is clear enough. Is the 'intent one to prepare an article of contraband merchandise, to be sent to the market of a belligerent, subject to the chances of capture and of the market? Or, on the other hand, is it to fit out a vessel which shall leave our port to cruise, immediately or ultimately, against the commerce of a friendly nation? The latter we are bound to prevent. The former the belligerent must prevent.” The evidence in the present case leaves no rational doubt that what was done here in respect to the Meteor, was done with the intent that she should be employed in hostile operations in favor of Chile against Spain, and that what was done by her owners towards despatching her from the United States was done in pursuance of an arrangement with the authorized agents of Chile for her sale to that government and for her employment in hostilities against Spain, and that the case is not one of a bona fide commercial dealing in contraband of war.
With these views, there must be a decree condemning and forfeiting the property under seizure, in accordance with the prayer of the libel.