United States v. Morris
39 U.S. 464

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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 5

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