United States v. Morris - 39 U.S. 464 (1840)


U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Morris, 39 U.S. 14 Pet. 464 464 (1840)

United States v. Morris

39 U.S. (14 Pet.) 464

Syllabus

Indictment under the second and third sections of the Act of Congress entitled "An act to prohibit the carrying on the Slave Trade from the United States to any foreign Place or Country," passed 10 May, 1800.

The schooner Butterfly, carrying the flag of the United States and documented as a vessel of the United States and having the usual equipments of vessels engaged in the slave trade, sailed from Havana towards the coast of Africa on 27 July, 1839. She was captured by a British brig of war and sent into Sierra Leone on suspicion of being Spanish property. At the time of the capture, Isaac Morris was in command of the vessel, and was described in the ship's papers, and described himself, as a citizen of the United States. The vessel was sent by the British authorities at Sierra Leone to be dealt with by the authorities of the United States. Held that to constitute the offense denounced, in the second section of the Act of 10 May, 1800, it was not necessary that there should have been an actual transportation or carrying of slaves in the vessel of the United States in which the party indicted served. 2. The voluntary service of an American citizen on board a vessel of the United States in a voyage commenced with intent that the vessel should be employed in the slave trade from one foreign place to another is an offense against the second section of the law, although no slaves had been transported in such vessel or received on board of her. 3. To constitute the offense under the third section of the act, it was not necessary that there should be an actual transportation of slaves in a foreign vessel on board of which the party indicted served. 4. The voluntary service of an American citizen on board a foreign vessel in a voyage commenced with intent that the vessel should be employed and made use of in the transportation of slaves from one foreign country to another is in itself, and where no slaves have been transported in such vessel or received on board of her, an offense under the third section of the act.

In expounding a penal statute, the Court certainly will not extend it beyond the plain meaning of its words, for it has been long and well settled that such statutes must be construed strictly. Yet the evident intention of the legislature ought not to be defeated by a forced and overstrict construction.

The defendant, Isaac Morris, was indicted under the second and third sections of the act entitled "An act in addition to an act entitled An act to prohibit the carrying on the Slave Trade from the United States to any foreign Place or Country,'" approved on 10 May, 1800.

The first count of the indictment charges that the defendant did, on the high seas, from 15 June until 26 August in the year 1839, voluntarily serve on board of the schooner Butterfly, a vessel of the United States employed and made use of in the transportation of slaves from some foreign country or place to some other foreign country or place, the said defendant being a citizen of the United States.

The second count charges that the defendant did, on the high seas, from 15 June to 26 August, voluntarily serve on board of the schooner Butterfly, being a foreign vessel employed in the slave trade, the defendant being a citizen of the United States.

Page 39 U. S. 465

It was proved, on the trial on the part of the prosecution that the schooner Butterfly, carrying the flag of the United States and documented as a vessel of the United States, her register being dated 24 May, 1839, and issued by the collector of New Orleans to Nathan Farnsworth, a citizen of the United States, as owner, was boarded and examined, on 26 August, 1839, on the high seas, in latitude 525' north, longitude 30 east, near Cape St. Paul's on the coast of Africa, by the British brig of war Dolphin on suspicion of being a Spanish vessel engaged in the slave trade in contravention of the treaty between Great Britain and Spain for the suppression of the slave trade. That on such examination, the vessel was found to be on her voyage from Havana, in the Island of Cuba, which port she had left on 27 July, 1839, bound to St. Thomas, in the Island of Principe, near the coast of Africa; that the vessel had on board twenty-four large leagers capable of containing each from two hundred and fifty to three hundred gallons of water; eighteen of these were in shocks -- that is, the staves were in bundle not fitted; four of them contained water, and two contained bread; there was a quantity of plank stowed away in the hold, similar to the planks used in framing slave decks, but this plank could not have been fitted as a slave deck until the vessel had discharged her cargo; and that such leagers and slave decks were commonly found to be a part of the equipments and fittings of vessels engaged in the slave trade on the coast of Africa; that she had on board a full cargo consisting of various commodities adapted either to the traffic in negroes or to any lawful trade carried on by trading vessels upon the coast of Africa; that the prisoner was in command of the vessel; that he was described in the ship's papers and represented himself as a citizen of the United States; that the rest of the ship's company were represented in the crew list as Spaniards or Portuguese who had been shipped at Havana; that there were also on board fourteen Spaniards who had been received at Havana as passengers; that the cargo had been shipped at the same place, and according to the invoice and bill of lading was to have been delivered at St. Thomas, in the Island of Principe, aforesaid, and appeared by the documents to be owned by persons residing at Havana; that two log books, one in English and the other in Spanish, were found on board; that various documents in the Spanish language were also found on board; that under these circumstances, the vessel was captured by the Dolphin, suspecting the same to be Spanish property, and sent for adjudication to Sierra Leone to be proceeded against in the Mixed Commission court at that place, which court declined taking cognizance of the case on account of the vessel's being documented as an American vessel; that she was then sent to the port of New York to be dealt with by the authorities of the United States as they might think proper.

No slaves were found on board the vessel at the time of her capture, and it was testified by the witnesses for the prosecution that from the cargo and situation in which the vessel was found, no

Page 39 U. S. 466

slaves could have been carried or transported in her at any time during the voyage on which she was then engaged; that it would have been necessary to have discharged the cargo before slaves could have been taken on board; that the vessel was short of water, having only about eleven gallons on board when she was captured, and that Cape St. Paul's is a common watering place on that coast, being about five hundred miles distant from the Island of Principe.

Upon the foregoing state of facts, the judges were divided in opinion upon the four following questions, which were presented on the facts aforesaid for their decision:

1st. Whether it is necessary, in order to constitute the offense denounced in the second section of the Act of 10 May, 1800, above referred to, that there should be an actual transportation or carrying of slaves in the vessel of the United States on board of which the party indicted is alleged to have served.

2d. Whether it is necessary, in order to constitute the offense denounced in the third section of the Act of 10 May, 1800, above referred to, that there should be an actual transportation or carrying of slaves in a foreign vessel on board of which the party indicted is alleged to have served.

3d. Whether the voluntary service of an American citizen on board a vessel of the United States on a voyage commenced with the intent that the vessel should be employed and made use of in the transporting or carrying of slaves from one foreign country or place to another is in itself, and where no slaves had been transported in such vessel or received on board her, an offense under the said second section.

4th. Whether the voluntary service of an American citizen on board a foreign vessel on a voyage commenced with the intent that the vessel should be employed and made use of in the transportation and carrying of slaves from one foreign country or place to another is in itself, and where no slaves had been transported in such vessel or received on board her, an offense under the said third section.

Which points were stated under the direction of the court, at the request of the counsel for the parties in the cause, and ordered to be certified into the Supreme Court of the United States pursuant to the act in such cases made and provided.

Page 39 U. S. 473



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