United States v. Guillem,
52 U.S. 47 (1850)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Guillem, 52 U.S. 11 How. 47 47 (1850)

United States v. Guillem

52 U.S. (11 How.) 47




A neutral leaving a belligerent country, in which he was domiciled at the commencement of the war, is entitled to the rights of a neutral in his person and property as soon as he sails from the hostile port.

The property he takes with him is not liable to condemnation for a breach of blockade by the vessel in which he embarks, when entering or departing from the port, unless he knew of the intention of the vessel to break it in going out.

Baptiste Guillem, a French citizen, was domiciled in Mexico and had resided there about three years before the war with the United States was declared. His occupation was that of cook in a hotel, and he was engaged in it in Vera Cruz when hostilities with this country commenced. He was not naturalized, and had taken no steps to become a citizen of Mexico. He continued in Vera Cruz, pursuing his ordinary business, until he learned that an attack was about to be made on the city, by sea and land, by the forces of the United States. He immediately prepared to leave the country and return to France with his family, carrying with him all the money he had saved. He intended to embark in the British steamer, which was expected to arrive at Vera Cruz early in March, 1847, and obtained a passport from the French consul for that purpose. But the steamship was wrecked on the Island of Cuba, and did not reach Vera Cruz, and Guillem was still in that city when General Scott landed and closely besieged it.

The port of Vera Cruz had been blockaded by the naval

Page 52 U. S. 48

forces of the United States from the commencement of the war. When the land forces arrived, and the siege was about to commence, General Scott and Commodore Perry who commanded the blockading squadron agreed to leave the blockade open to the consuls and other neutrals, to pass out to their respective ships of war, until 22 March, after which all communication with the besieged city was interdicted.

On 13 March, a French vessel called La Jeune Nelly came into the port, having run the blockade. She came in in the daytime, with her colors flying, nor is there any evidence in the record to show that it was known in Vera Cruz that she had come into port without permission from the blockading ships. She sailed again on 19 March, bound for Havre in open day and without manifesting any desire for concealment, but yet in breach of the blockade. But there was no evidence that Guillem knew she came in or was sailing out in breach of the blockade. Guillem took passage on board of this vessel with his family, and took with him in gold and silver two thousand eight hundred and sixty dollars -- the whole amount of his three years' earnings in Mexico. The Jeune Nelly had no cargo, and sailed in ballast. The money of Guillem was not shipped as cargo, nor invoiced, but was taken with him as a part of his personal effects. The money was chiefly in two bags, which were kept in his stateroom, but a part of it was in a belt about his person.

The Jeune Nelly was captured by the blockading squadron a few hours after she sailed, and on the night following was wrecked and totally lost on one of the islands near the port, but the passengers, crew, and all the money and property on board, were saved. The passengers and crew were immediately released, and the money of Guillem and other property on board were taken possession of by the orders of Commodore Perry, and sent to New Orleans for adjudication. It was libeled in the district court, and condemned as lawfully seized. Guillem appealed from this decree to the circuit court, where it was reversed, and the money in question directed to be restored and refunded to him. The captors appealed from this last-mentioned decree to the supreme court.

Page 52 U. S. 60

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE TANEY delivered the opinion of the Court.

There is no dispute about the material facts in this case. The claimant was a citizen of France who had been domiciled in Mexico about three years, following the occupation of a cook in a hotel, and was returning with his family to reside in his own country when the capture was made. They sailed from Vera Cruz in a French vessel bound to Havre. The money he had with him, and which is now in question, was not shipped as cargo, or for the purposes of trade. It amounted to only two thousand eight hundred and sixty dollars, and was the earnings of his industry in Mexico, and taken with him for the support of himself and his family upon their return to France. The hostile character which his domicile in Mexico had impressed upon him and his property had therefore been thrown off, and as soon as he sailed from Vera Cruz, he resumed the character of a French citizen, and as such was entitled to the rights and privileges of a neutral, in regard to his property, as well as in his person. The rights of the neutral in this respect have always been recognized in the prize courts of England, and were sanctioned by this Court in the case of The Venus, 8 Cranch 280, 12 U. S. 281. Indeed, we do not understand that the appellants claim to have this money condemned upon the ground that it was liable to be treated as the property of an enemy, on account of the previous domicile of Guillem. But it is insisted that if it is regarded as the property of a neutral, it was shipped in violation of the blockade, and that the character of the vessel in which it was found also subjects it to condemnation.

So far as concerns the breach of blockade, the attempt to pass out of the port with this money was not of itself an offense, apart from the vessel in which he sailed. The blockade had been opened for the purpose of enabling consuls and other neutrals to pass out to their respective ships of war, soon after General Scott landed and invested the town. And it continued open for that purpose until 22 March. It is

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true that the permission was confined to ships of war. But the reason is obvious. They were the only vessels that could be safely allowed to communicate with the town then closely besieged. And the permission was restricted to them, because it was believed that commanders of national vessels would not suffer a privilege granted to neutrals from motives of humanity to be used for improper purposes.

But the object and intention of this order were evidently, not merely to enable the neutral to avoid the hazards of the approaching bombardment, but to afford him an opportunity to leave the enemy's country, and return to his own, if he desired to do so. The neutral was not required or expected to remain on board the ship of war. The permission opened to him a path by which he might escape altogether from a country about to be visited with the calamities of war. It therefore necessarily carried with it the permission to take with him the means of supporting himself and his family, on their voyage home and after their return. The order contains no restriction upon this subject, and to imply any would be inconsistent with the motive by which it was evidently dictated. The Jeune Nelly, in which the claimant embarked, sailed on 19 March, while the blockade was still open for the purposes above mentioned. It was no breach of the blockade, therefore, for the claimant to pass out of the town at that time on his voyage home, and to take with him the sum of money his industry had accumulated, and which was necessary for the support of himself and his family on their arrival in their own country. The port was not then closed against the egress of neutrals from the hostile country, nor were they forbidden to take with them the money necessary for their support. And if Guillem had gone on board a French ship of war for the purpose of returning home, and taken with him this small sum of money, his right to do so could not be questioned.

But it is supposed that the character of the vessel in which he embarked subjects his property to forfeiture. La Jeune Nelly had entered the port in violation of the blockade, and endeavored to break it a second time by leaving the port without permission. She was undoubtedly liable to capture and condemnation. But it does not by any means follow that the property of the claimant is implicated in the guilt of the vessel, or must share in the punishment. There is no evidence to show that he had knowledge of the previous breach of blockade, or of the intention to break it again in going out. She was a neutral vessel belonging to his own country, and had come into the port in open day under the French flag, and she sailed again in a manner equally open, and without any

Page 52 U. S. 62

apparent design of concealing her movements from the blockading squadron. The permission granted by the American commanders had as a matter of course been made public in Vera Cruz, and Guillem must without doubt have seen citizens of neutral nations daily leaving the city for the ships of war, and taking with them the necessary means of support for themselves and their families. He appears to have done nothing more than avail himself of the most convenient opportunity that offered in order to accomplish the same object; and if he did not participate in the design of breaking the blockade, his property is not affected by the misconduct of the vessel in which it was shipped. Even in the case of cargo shipped as a mercantile adventure, and found on board of a vessel liable to condemnation for a breach of blockade, although it is prima facie involved in the offense of the vessel, yet, if the owner can show that he did not participate in the offense, his property is not liable to forfeiture. This is the rule as stated by Sir William Scott in the case of The Alexander, 4 Rob. 93, and in the case of The Exchange, 1 Edwards 39, and recognized in 1 Kent's Com. 151. And yet, in the case of a cargo shipped for the purposes of commerce, the breach of blockade is almost always committed by the vessel for the benefit of the cargo, and to carry out some mercantile speculation injurious to the rights of the belligerent nation whose ships are blockading the port. The case before us is a stronger one in favor of the claimant than that of the innocent owner of a cargo. The money in question was not shipped as cargo or as a mercantile adventure. Guillem was a passenger on board, with his whole family, and the money was a part of his personal effects necessary for their support and comfort. The shipment of the money could give no aid or comfort to the enemy. And in taking his passage in the Jeune Nelly, his intention, as far as it can be ascertained from the testimony, was merely to return to his own country, in a mode better suited to his humble circumstances and more convenient to his family, than by passing through the ships of war. In the opinion of the court, the money he took with him was not liable to condemnation on account of the guilt of the vessel, and the decree of the circuit court is therefore



This cause came on to be heard on the transcript of the record from the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Louisiana and was argued by counsel. On consideration whereof it is now here ordered, adjudged, and decreed by this Court that the decree of the said circuit court in this cause be and the same is hereby affirmed.

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