Section 11 of the Seaman's Act of 1915, c. 153, 38 Stat. 1164,
construed as not prohibiting advance payment of wages when made by
an American vessel to secure seamen in a foreign port. P.
248 U. S. 212
Sandlerg v. McDonald, ante, 248 U. S. 185
250 F. 180 affirmed.
Page 248 U. S. 206
The case is stated in the opinion.
Page 248 U. S. 207
MR. JUSTICE DAY delivered the opinion of the court.
These cases were considered together in the courts below, and
may be disposed of in like manner here.
The facts are:
In the first case, Paul Neilson and nine other seamen sue for
the recovery of wages claimed to be due them from the bark
It appears that they shipped on the American bark
at Buenos Ayres, October 7, 1916, for a voyage to
New York at the rate of $25 per month. It is stipulated that the
shipping of seamen on sailing vessels at Buenos Ayres is controlled
by certain shipping masters, to one of whom the libelants, in
Page 248 U. S. 212
with the usual custom and as a means of securing employment,
signed a receipt or advance note for one month's wages. These
advance notes were presented to the American Vice-Consul at Buenos
Ayres before the libelants signed the articles, were by him noted
on the articles, and, in the presence of the libelants, directed to
be paid on account of the wages of the respective libelants. It was
further stipulated that, in directing the master of the
to honor such advance notes, the Consul was acting
in accordance with § 237 of the Consular Regulations of the United
States. When the bark arrived at New York, the libelants were paid
the wages earned, less the $25 advanced. They now seek to recover
the sum thus deducted by virtue of the terms of § 10(a), c. 121,
Act June 26, 1884, 23 Stat. 55, as amended by Act March 4, 1915, c.
153, § 11, 38 Stat. 1168, entitled an "Act to promote the welfare
of American seamen in the merchant marine of the United States"
upon the theory that such advances are unlawful and of no
The facts in relation to the case of the barkentine
differ from the above only in respect of the fact
that the advance notes are not in evidence, but are noted on the
The district court decided in favor of the libelants. 244 F.
833. The circuit court of appeals reversed the decrees. 250 F. 180.
The cases are here on writs of certiorari.
The section of the statute is the same as that involved in the
case of The Talus (Sandberg v. McDonald), ante,
248 U. S. 185
difference is that the advances were made by the master of an
American vessel in a South American port, whereas in The
the advancements were made to foreign seamen in a
British port. The same general consideration as to the
interpretation of the statute which controlled in the decision of
the case of The Talus
are applicable here, and need not be
That American vessels might be controlled by congressional
Page 248 U. S. 213
legislation as to contracts made in foreign ports may, for
present purposes, at least, be conceded. It appears that only by
compliance with the local custom of obtaining seamen through agents
can American vessels obtain seamen in South American ports . This
is greatly to be deplored, and the custom is one which works much
hardship to a worthy class. But we are unable to discover that, in
passing this statute, Congress intended to place American shipping
at the great disadvantage of this inability to obtain seamen when
compared with the vessels of other nations which are manned by
complying with local usage.
The statute itself denies clearance papers to vessels violating
its terms. This provision could only apply to domestic ports, and
is another evidence of the intent of Congress to legislate as to
advances made in our own ports.
MR. JUSTICE McKENNA, with whom concur MR. JUSTICE HOLMES, MR.
JUSTICE BRANDEIS, and MR. JUSTICE CLARKE, dissenting.
These cases were submitted with Nos. 361 [Dillon v.
Strathern S.S. Co., ante, 248 U. S. 182
392 [Sandberg v. McDonald, ante, 248 U. S. 185
and, like them, are proceedings in admiralty under the Seamen's Act
of 1915, 38 Stat. 1165-1168.
The facts are set out in the opinion of the Court. In these
cases, as in others, we are constrained to dissent. The principle
of decision should be, we think, that declared in our dissent in
The Talus, ante, 248 U. S. 185
facts of these cases put more tension upon it -- that is, an
adhesion to the words of the statute as determinative of its
purpose, rather than some of its consequences. We have here the
somewhat appealing force of a picture
Page 248 U. S. 214
of an American ship only able to escape practical internment in
a foreign port by a violation of the law, if it be as we have
declared it. And this under the sanction of the United States
Consul acting under the following regulation of the Department of
"237. Advances to Seamen Shipped in Foreign Ports. -- The
shipment of seamen in foreign ports cannot be considered as within
the intention, and hence not within the proper construction of the
act referred to in the next preceding paragraph [inserted in the
The final clause of the act,
which declares that this section shall apply as well to foreign
vessels as to those of the United States, and that, in case of
violation, a clearance shall be refused them, is a clear indication
that Congress did not in this section refer to the shipment of
seamen in foreign ports, but had in view acts done in the United
States alone. The provision of the statute as to payment of advance
wages is not intended to apply to seamen shipped in foreign ports.
In the settlement of wages due seamen in such cases, therefore,
consular officers will take into account what has been paid in
advance. 22 F. 734. "
Page 248 U. S. 215
We are unable to assent. We regard the act of Congress as clear,
and that the theater of its injunction is the harbors of the United
States. It is misleading to dwell upon the jurisdiction of other
places, which is but another name for control. The jurisdiction,
control, is in and by the United States, and the command is that
advances shall not be deducted from wages of seamen on vessels,
American or foreign, while in the waters of the United States.
Where they were made or under what circumstances made are not
factors in judgment. They are the mere accidents of the situation,
and if they reach the importance and have the embarrassment
depicted by counsel, the appeal must be to Congress, which no doubt
will promptly correct the improvidence, if it be such, of its
legislation. We have already expressed our view of the control of
the language of the law, and that it is a barrier against alarms
It hence follows that we are of opinion the judgment of the
circuit court of appeals in each case should be reversed, and that
of the district court affirmed.
"236. No Advance Wages. -- Except in case of whaling vessels, it
is not lawful to pay any seaman wages before leaving the port at
which such seaman may be engaged in advance of the time when he has
actually earned the same, or to pay such advance wages to any other
person, or to pay to anyone except an officer authorized by Act of
Congress to collect fees for such service any remuneration for the
shipment of a seaman. If any such advance wages or remuneration
shall have been paid or contracted for the Consul, in making up the
account of wages due the seaman upon his discharge, will disregard
such advance payment or agreement and award to the seaman the
amount to which he would be entitled if no such payment or
agreement had been made. Nor should Consuls permit the statute to
be evaded indirectly, as by part payment in advance and then
stating rate of wages too small. Rev.Stats. §§ 4532, 4533; 23
Stat.L. 55, § 10; 24 id.
80, § 3; 27 F. 764."