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tion. He gave that branch of the subject a very wide berth. He, to be sure, expounded, with great unction, certain theories of law, but failed utterly to put his case in a condition to get the benefit of his theories, except in the last day of his argument, when he spent considerable time in insisting that the Messrs. Forbes had a right to sell the Meteor to Chile. It is not readily to be perceived what necessity there was for any such line of argument, if the fact be that the Meteor was on a commercial voyage to China, or elsewhere, and had no possible relation to the Chilian government or to the Chilian service. The Messrs. Forbes, he claimed, in all their arrangements with Chile, in respect to the Meteor, had done nothing but what they had a perfect right to do. Here again, I respectfully submit, we have, in the confession of the learned counsel, a very important piece of evidence, which does not come from an intermeddler." ”
My friend endeavored to create much smoke and confusion out of the fact that Conkling, Wright, and Rogers, had conversation about funds with which to pay for the Meteor. The explanation of this is very simple. Rogers told Wright that the confidential agent had not arrived, but that he was expected soon, and would have, or would be able to make, arrangements for funds. In the mean time, says Rogers, Chile needs armed vessels, and if some one can be found who will advance money upon Chilian drafts on the government at Santiago, the exit of vessels will be very much facilitated. That was what these conspirators in behalf of Chile were doing when they applied to Messrs. Sackett, Belcher, & Co., to advance the money. This is a very common transaction, and such an one as our own Minister, for example, may very likely have had occasion, at some time, to make in London, or elsewhere; and it is clear, upon the evidence, that the Chilian agents were willing to pay a very large bonus to any one who thought enough of Chilian securities, drawn by the Minister in this country, to advance money upon them.
The excellent deportment and bearing of the government witnesses upon the stand cannot have escaped the attention of the Court. They were careful and cautious in all their statements, and evidently had an honest purpose to keep within the bounds of strict truth. In fact, Wright was so reserved, and so apparently careful not to say any more than was necessary against the Meteor, that he might well enough have created the impression in the court-room that he was more favorable to the Messrs. Forbes, and more in their interest than in the interest of the United States.
The last point made by the counsel on the other side, in his very able and instructive argument, — instructive, I am free to say, both to us who are opposed, as it doubtless was to those who sympathized with the views he elaborated, — and one which he urged upon your Honor quite at length, and with much fervor, was that his clients represented in this case the freedom of commerce. We do not take that view. It occurred to me, while the counsel was addressing your Honor so eloquently on this point, that somewhat such a claim and such an argument was without doubt used by the claimants in the trial of the Alexandra, and in Parliament by the friends of Messrs. Laird, to vindicate their action. Upon our theory of the case, if Messrs. Forbes are vindicators in this matter of the freedom of commerce, then the Messrs. Laird of Liverpool occupied that position. The latter undertook to sell to Confederate agents unarmed vessels. That fact, and the failure of the English government to stop the business, roused for two years in the United States an amount of denunciation, of criticism of the Queen, her government, her law-officers, and the jurisprudence of England, such as, I venture to say, has never, in the history of nations, been meted out by one nation to another, with whom it professed relations of amity. Did any one suggest, during those two years, in the United States, that the Messrs. Laird represented the freedom of commerce? We thought the only freedom they represented, when they fitted out these cruisers, was the freedom to sink unarmed merchantmen and whalers to the bottomless depths, and to indulge the pitiable, contemptible purpose, for brave men, of destroying the results of the hard-earned industry of the toiling fishermen of New Bedford. That is the “ freedom of commerce,” which the Messrs. Laird represented in selling the Alabama, and others represented in affording the Tallahassee to Confederate agents in Liverpool. If our theory of the case be correct, the Messrs. Forbes occupy to the Chilian government the same attitude in the sale of the Meteor, that the Messrs. Laird occupied to the Confederates in the sale of the armed rovers of the sea. No, if your Honor please, there is no freedom of commerce about it! There is not an honest ship-owner, or an honest mercantile firm in this city, or in Boston, engaged in legitimate business, who has any desire that Messrs. Forbes should furnish to or fit out this ship for Chile, to be used as a privateer against Spain. On the contrary, they wish the government to repress, if need be, with a strong hand, every effort, no matter from whence it comes, of persons in the United States, who, having a ship which cannot be used in lawful commerce, seek to use it against the interest of neutrality.
This case, with all its far-reaching, relations, international and municipal, is now committed to the determination of the Court. If I had failed to remember that I was addressing a magistrate who, by long years of judicial labor, had become practised in the examination of oral or written testimony, and whose instinctive perception of what is admissible or inadmissible, pertinent or impertinent, material or immaterial, made the exposition of counsel thereon quite unnecessary, I might have dwelt upon the evidence more at length. But what would be proper under other circumstances, or before a jury, would be improper here. I therefore now withdraw myself from the cause, on submitting but this final thought.
The highest and holiest duties which can be imposed upon a government are the preservation of its own existence,and thereby, the protection of the life, liberty, property and happiness of its people. The discharge of these high functions belongs, primarily, in the United States, to the legislative and executive departments of the government, and if it be neglected or omitted, the fearful responsibility rests with those departments. But, on the other hand, it would be in vain - worse than in vain, it would be delusive
- to enact wise and wholesome laws, designed to supplement the recognized jurisprudence of nations, and thus avert those acts of war which threaten national life, unless those laws are enforced by the judicial tribunals of the land, in the spirit which inspired their enactment.
DECISION OF THE CIRCUIT COURT.
Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of
THE UNITED STATES vs. THE STEAMSHIP “ METEOR," HER
Nelson, C. J. This is an appeal in admiralty from a decree of condemnation in a libel of information for the violation of the neutrality laws of the United States. We have examined the pleadings and proofs in the case, and have been unable to concur in the judgment of the Court below, but from the pressure of other business have not found time to write out at large the grounds and reasons for the opinion arrived at. We must, therefore, for the present, be content in the statement of our conclusions in the matter:
1. Although negotiations were commenced and carried on between the owners of the Meteor and agents of the government of Chile for the sale of her to the latter, with the knowledge that she would be employed against the government of Spain, with which Chile was at war, yet these negotiations failed, and came to an end, from the inability of the agents to raise the amount of the purchase money demanded; and if the sale of the vessel, in its then condition and equipment, to the Chilian government would have been a violation of our neutrality laws, of which it is unnecessary to express any opinion, the termination of the negotiation put an end to this ground of complaint.
2. The furnishing of the vessel with coal and provisions for a voyage to Panama, or some other port of South America, and the purpose of the owners to send her thither, in our judgment, was not in pursuance of an agreement or understanding with the agents of the Chilian government, but for the purpose and design of finding a market for her; and that the owners were free to sell her on
her arrival there to the government of Chile, or of Spain, or of any other
government or person with whom they might be able to negotiate a sale.
3. The witnesses chiefly relied on to implicate the owners in the negotiations with the agents of the Chilian government, with a view and intent of fitting out and equipping the vessel to be employed in the war with Spain, are persons who had volunteered to negotiate on behalf of the agents with the owners in expectation of large commissions in the event of a sale, or persons in the expectation of employment in some situation in the command of the vessel, and very clearly manifest their disappointment and chagrin at the failure of the negotiations; and whose testimony is to be examined with considerable distrust and suspicion. We are not satisfied that a case is made out, upon the proofs, of a violation of the neutrality laws of the United States, and must, therefore, reverse the decree below, and enter a decree dismissing the libel.
An Appeal was taken by the Government from the decision of the Circuit Court to the Supreme Court of the United States, but was not prosecuted to a hearing, being dismissed by consent, November 9, 1868.