United States v. Peters
3 U.S. 121 (1795)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Peters, 3 U.S. 3 Dall. 121 121 (1795)

United States v. Peters

3 U.S. (3 Dall.) 121

MOTION FOR PROHIBITION TO THE

DISTRICT COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA

Syllabus

Proceedings by libel and process of arrest against the commander and attachment were instituted in the District Court of the United States for the District of Pennsylvania against the commander and an armed vessel of the French republic for an alleged illegal capture on the high seas of a neutral merchant vessel, the property of a citizen of the State of Pennsylvania, the commander and the armed vessel being in the port of Philadelphia. The Court granted a prohibition to the district judge, by which further proceedings on the libel were prevented, the district court having no jurisdiction.

This was a motion for a Prohibition to the District Court of Pennsylvania, where a Libel had been filed by James Yard and process of attachment thereupon issued against the Cassius, an armed Corvette belonging to the French Republic, and Samuel Davis, her Commander. The Libel was in these words:

"To the Honorable Richard Peters, Esquire, judge of the District Court of Pennsylvania. The Libel and Complaint of James Yard, of the State of Pennsylvania, in the United States of America,"

"Humbly showeth that the said James Yard is the owner of the schooner William Lindsey and her cargo; that on or about the day of last, the said schooner sailed from the Island of St. Thomas, to the City of St. Domingo, in the Island of Hispaniola, commanded by a certain Walter Burke, and laden with about one hundred and forty-two barrels of flour, six puncheons of rum, and other merchandize, of the value of $2,000, the said vessel and cargo amounting in all to $10,000 lawful money of the United States of America, all regularly cleared out from the said Island of St. Thomas, and furnished with all documents,

Page 3 U. S. 122

usual, necessary, and proper, and being on a voyage to the said port of St. Domingo, on 20 May, 1795, the said schooner William Lindsey was forcibly, violently, tortiously, and contrary to the laws and usages of nations, attacked and taken by a certain armed vessel called the Cassius, commanded by a certain Samuel Davis, pretending an authority from the French Republic, but then and now a citizen of the United States of America, and being so taken, was by the said Samuel Davis forcibly, violently, tortiously, and contrary to the laws of nations carried into Port de Paix, where the said schooner William Lindsey, with her cargo, tackle, apparel and furniture, still are forcibly, tortiously, and illegally detained."

"And your libellant does not admit that the vessel, called the Cassius, was authorized by the French Republic to capture vessels belonging to the United States, who were at that time, and still are, at peace with the said French Republic. That the vessel called the Cassius was originally equipped and fitted for war in the port of Philadelphia, in Pennsylvania, one of the United States of America, contrary to the laws of the said United States and the laws and usages of nations. That your libellant has never received compensation for the damages he has suffered, and has not been able to retrieve the said vessel, with her tackle, apparel, and furniture. That the said vessel called the Cassius, and the said Samuel Davis are now in the port of Philadelphia and within the jurisdiction of this court. In order, therefore, that your libellant may be compensated for the damages he has incurred by the aforesaid illegal and tortious taking and detention of the said schooner William Lindsey, with her cargo, tackle, apparel, and furniture, and that all may be done touching the premises which to your Honor may seem just and right, may it please your Honor to cause to be issued process for seizing the said vessel, called the Cassius, with her tackle, apparel, and furniture, and for arresting the body of the said Samuel Davis so that he be, and appear,"

etc.

The suggestion, on which the motion for a prohibition was founded, set forth

"That on 21 August, 1795, Before the Honorable John Rutledge, Esquire, Chief Justice, and his associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, at Philadelphia, comes Samuel B. Davis, by Benjamin R. Morgan, his attorney, and gives this Honorable Court, now here, to understand, and be informed that whereas by the laws of nations and the treaties subsisting between the United States and the Republic of France, the trial of prizes taken

Page 3 U. S. 123

on the high seas without the territorial limits and jurisdiction of the United States and brought within the dominions and jurisdiction of the said republic for legal adjudication by vessels of war belonging to the sovereignty of the said republic, acting under the authority of the same, and of all questions incidental thereto, does of right and exclusively belong to the tribunals and judiciary establishments of the said republic and to no other tribunal or tribunals, court, or courts whatsoever."

"And whereas by the said laws of nations and treaties aforesaid, the vessels of war belonging to the said French Republic and the officers commanding the same cannot and ought not to be arrested, seized, attached, or detained in the ports of the United States by process of law at the suit or instance of individuals to answer for any capture or captures, seizure, or seizures made on the high seas and brought for legal adjudication into the ports of the French Republic by the said vessels of war while belonging to and acting under the authority and in the immediate service of the said Republic;"

"And whereas, by the laws and treaties aforesaid, the district courts of the United States have not and ought not to entertain jurisdiction or hold plea of such captures made as aforesaid under the above circumstances;"

"And whereas, by the laws of nations, the vessels of war of belligerent powers, duly by them authorized to cruise against their enemies and to make prize of their ships and goods may in time of war arrest and seize the vessels belonging to the subjects or citizens of neutral nations and bring them into the ports of the sovereign under whose commission and authority they act, there to answer for any breaches of the laws of nations, concerning the navigation of neutral vessels in time of war, and the said vessels of war, their commanders, officers, and crews, are not amenable before the tribunals of neutral powers, for their conduct therein, but are only answerable to the sovereign in whose immediate service they were and from whom they derived their authority;"

"And whereas, on and before 20 May now last past, the said Samuel B. Davis, was and now is a lieutenant of ships in the navy of the said French Republic and commander of a certain corvette or vessel of war called the Cassius, then and now the property of the said republic and in her immediate service, and on the said 20 May, was duly commissioned by and under the authority of the said republic, to cruise against her enemies and make prize of their ships and goods (as by his commission, and the certificate of the Minister Plenipotentiary of the said republic to the United States to the court now here shown fully appears);"

"Nevertheless a certain James Yard, of the City of Philadelphia, merchant, not ignorant of the premises but contriving

Page 3 U. S. 124

and intending to disturb the peace and harmony subsisting between the United States and the French Republic, and him the said Samuel B. Davis, wrongfully to aggrieve and oppress and draw to another proof, him the said Samuel B. Davis, and the said corvette or vessel of war of the French Republic, the Cassius, in the port of Philadelphia, under the protection of the laws of nations and of the faith of treaties, has, by process out of the District Court of the United States in and for the District of Pennsylvania, attached and arrested him, the said Samuel B. Davis, and the said corvette or vessel of war, the Cassius, and before the judge of the said district court, contrary to the said law of nations and treaties, and against the form of the laws of the United States, hath unjustly drawn in plea, to answer to a certain libel, by him, the said James Yard, against him the said Samuel B. Davis, and the said corvette or vessel of war, the Cassius, her tackle, apparel and furniture, exhibited and promoted, craftily and subtly there alleging, articulating, and objecting that on the said 20 May now last past, the said Samuel B. Davis, then commanding the said corvette or vessel the Cassius, did forcibly, violently and tortiously take on the high seas a certain schooner or vessel belonging to the said James Yard called the William Lindsey, and brought her into Port de Paix (in the dominions of the French Republic), where she still remains, and also alleging and articulating that the said corvette or vessel called the Cassius was originally equipped and fitted for war in the port of Philadelphia in the United States, and that the said Samuel B. Davis was at the time of the said capture and now is a citizen of the United States, without this, however, and the said James Yard, not in any manner alleging or articulating, that the said capture was made within the territory, rivers, or bays of the United States or within a marine league of the coast thereof, or that the said corvette or vessel, the Cassius, was so fitted or equipped for war in the United States by the said French Republic, her agent or agents with their knowledge or by their means or procurement, or by the said Samuel B. Davis, or that at the time of her being so equipped or fitted for war in the United States (if ever there, she was so, in any manner fitted or equipped), she was the property of the said French Republic, or that the said Samuel B. Davis was in any manner in the said equipment or fitting for war concerned, and without this also, and the said James Yard, not in any manner alleging that the said Samuel B. Davis was retained or engaged in the service of the French Republic within the territory or jurisdiction of the United States."

"And the said James Yard, him, the said Samuel B. Davis, and the said corvette or vessel of war called the Cassius, by force of the process aforesaid, out

Page 3 U. S. 125

of the said district court, had and obtained, as aforesaid, still wrongfully detains, and the said Samuel B. Davis, and the French Republic, owner of the said corvette or vessel of war, thereupon, in the said district court to answer, and in the premises cause to be condemned, with all his power endeavors, and daily contrives, in contempt of the government of the United States, against the laws of nations, the treaties subsisting between the United States and the French Republic, and against the laws and customs of the United States, to the manifest violation of the said laws of nations, and treaties and to the manifest disturbance of the peace and harmony happily subsisting between the United States and the said French Republic, and this he is ready to verify."

"Wherefore the said Samuel B. Davis, the aid of this Honorable Court most respectfully requesting, prays remedy by a writ of prohibition to be issued out of this Honorable Court to the said judge of the District Court of the United States in and for the District of Pennsylvania, to be directed to prohibit him from holding the plea aforesaid, the premises aforesaid any wise concerning, further before him."

"Morgan"

"Samuel B. Davis, being duly sworn, on his oath doth say that all and singular the facts, by him in this suggestion stated are true."

"S. B. Davis"

"Sworn in open court"

"August 22, 1795"

"I. Wagner. D.C. Sup. Ct. U.S."

The motion for the prohibition was supported by Ingersoll Du Ponceau and Dallas and opposed by Tilghman and Lewis. And the controversy turned principally upon this point: whether the district court could sustain a libel for damages in the case of a capture as prize made by a belligerent power on the high seas, when the vessel captured was not brought within the jurisdiction of the United States, but carried, for adjudication infra praesidia of the captors?

Page 3 U. S. 129

The judges intimated that they would again adjourn in order to give a further opportunity to consider the expediency of withdrawing the libel, but no compromise having taken place, on 24 August, THE CHIEF JUSTICE delivered their opinion:

By the court:

We have consulted together on this motion, and though a difference of sentiment exists, a majority of the Court is clearly of opinion that the motion ought to be granted. Therefore

Let a Prohibition issue.

The Prohibition issued, accordingly, in the following form:

"United States, ss."

"The President of the United States to the honorable Richard Peters Esquire, Judge of the District Court of the United States in and for the Pennsylvania District:"

"It is shown to the judges of the Supreme Court of the United States, by Samuel B. Davis that whereas by the laws of nations, and the treaties subsisting between the United States and the Republic of France, the trial of prizes taken on the high seas without the territorial limits and jurisdiction of the United States and brought within the dominions and jurisdiction of the said republic for legal adjudication, by vessels of war belonging to the sovereignty of the said republic, acting under the same, and of all questions incidental thereto, does of right and exclusively belong to the tribunals and judiciary establishments of the said republic and to no other tribunal or tribunals, court, or courts, whatsoever. And whereas by the said law of nations, and treaties aforesaid, the vessels of war belonging to the said French Republic, and the officers commanding the same, cannot and ought not to be arrested,

Page 3 U. S. 130

seized, attached, or detained in the ports of the United States by process of law at the suit or instance of individuals to answer for any capture or captures, seizure or seizures, made on the high seas and brought for legal adjudication into the ports of the French Republic by the said vessels of war while belonging to and acting under the authority and in the immediate service of the said republic."

"And whereas by the laws and treaties aforesaid, the district courts of the United States have not and ought not to entertain jurisdiction or hold plea of such captures, made as aforesaid, under the above circumstances."

"And whereas by the laws of nations, the vessels of war of belligerent powers, duly by them authorized to cruise against their enemies and to make prize of their ships and goods may, in time of war, arrest and seize the vessels belonging to the subjects or citizens of neutral nations and bring them into the ports of the sovereign under whose commission and authority they act, there to answer for any breaches of the laws of nations concerning the navigation of neutral ships in time of war, and the said vessels of war, their commanders, officers and crews, are not amenable before the tribunals of neutral powers for their conduct therein, but are only answerable to the sovereign in whose immediate service they were and from whom they derived their authority."

"And whereas, on or before 20 May now last past, the said Samuel B. Davis, was and now is a lieutenant of ships in the navy of the said French Republic, and commander of a corvette or vessel of war called the Cassius, then and now the property of the said republic and in her immediate service, and on the said 20 May was duly commissioned by and under the authority of the said republic to cruise against her enemies and make prize of their ships (as by his commission and the certificate of the minister plenipotentiary of the said republic to the United States, to the court shown, more fully appears), nevertheless a certain James Yard, of the City of Philadelphia, merchant, not ignorant of the premises but contriving and intending to disturb the peace and harmony subsisting between the United States and the French Republic, and him, the said Samuel B. Davis, wrongfully to aggrieve and oppress and draw to another proof him, the said Samuel B. Davis, and the said corvette or vessel of war of the French Republic, the Cassius, in the port of Philadelphia, under the protection of the laws of nations and of the faith of treaties has, by process out of the District Court of the United States in and for the District of Pennsylvania attached and arrested him, the said Samuel B. Davis, and the said corvette or vessel of war the Cassius before the judge of the said district court contrary to the said law of nations and treaties and

Page 3 U. S. 131

against the due form of the laws of the United States, hath unjustly drawn in plea, to answer to a certain libel, by him the said James Yard, against him the said Samuel B. Davis and against the said corvette or vessel of war, the Cassius, her tackle, apparel, and furniture, exhibited and promoted, craftily and subtly therein alleging, articulating, and objecting that on the said 20 May, now last past, the said Samuel B. Davis, then commander of the said corvette or vessel the Cassius, did forcibly violently and tortiously take on the high seas a certain schooner, or vessel belonging to the said James Yard called the William Lindsey, and brought her into Port de Paix (in the dominion of the French Republic), where she still remains, and also alleging and articulating, that the said corvette or vessel called the Cassius was originally equipped and fitted for war in the port of Philadelphia in the United States, and that the said Samuel B. Davis was at the time of the said capture and now is a citizen of the United States;"

"Without this, however, and the said James Yard, not in any manner alleging, or articulating, that the said capture was made, within the territory, rivers, or bays, of the United States or within a marine league of the coast thereof, or that the said corvette or vessel, the Cassius, was so fitted or equipped for war in the United States by the said French Republic, her agent or agents with their knowledge or by the means or procurement or by the said Samuel B. Davis, or that at the time of her being so equipped or fitted for war in the United States (if ever there she was so in any manner fitted or equipped), she was the property of the said French Republic or that the said Samuel B. Davis was in any manner in the said equipment or fitting for war concerned, and without this also, and the said James Yard, not in any manner alleging, that the said Samuel B. Davis was retained, or engaged in the service of the French Republic, within the territory or jurisdiction of the United States;"

"And that the said James Yard, him, the said Samuel B. Davis, and the said corvette or vessel of war called the Cassius, by force of the process aforesaid, out of the said district court, had and obtained as aforesaid still wrongfully detains, and the said Samuel B. Davis and the French Republic, owner of the said corvette or vessel of war, thereupon in the said district court to answer, and in the premises cause to be condemned with all his power, endeavors, and daily contrives, in contempt of the government of the United States, against the laws of nations and the treaties subsisting between the United States and the French Republic and against the laws and customs of the United States, to the manifest violation of the law of nations and treaties and to the manifest disturbance of the peace and harmony happily subsisting between the

Page 3 U. S. 132

United States and the French Republic."

"Wherefore the said Samuel B. Davis, the aid of the said Supreme Court most respectfully requesting, hath prayed remedy by a writ of prohibition, to be issued out of the said Supreme Court, to you to be directed, do prohibit you from holding the plea aforesaid, the premises aforesaid any wise concerning, further before you."

"You therefore are hereby prohibited that you no further hold the plea aforesaid the premises aforesaid in any wise touching before you, nor anything in the said district court attempt, nor procure to be done which may be in any wise to the prejudice of the said Samuel B. Davis or the said corvette or vessel of war called the Cassius or in contempt of the laws of the United States, and also that from all proceedings thereon you do without delay release the said Samuel B. Davis and the said corvette or vessel of war called the Cassius at your peril."

"Witness the honorable John Rutledge, Esquire, Chief Justice of the said Supreme Court, at Philadelphia this 24 August, 1795, and of the independence of the United States the twentieth."

"I. Wagner, D.C. Sup. Ct. U.S. *"

* The proceedings on the libel for damages in the district court, were accordingly superseded, but an information, Ketland, qui tam &c., was immediately afterwards filed in the circuit court against the corvette for the illegal outfit in violation of the act of Congress, and the vessel being thereupon attached, an application was made to judge Peters to discharge her on giving security, but the judge was of opinion that he had no power as district judge to make such an order in a cause depending in the circuit court. The French minister, then deeming (as I have been informed) this prosecution to be a violation of the rights and property of the republic, delivered a remonstrance to our government, and, converting the judicial inquiry into a matter of state, abandoned the corvette and discharged the officers and crew. See Ketland v. The Cassius,2 U. S. 365.

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