The Merritt, 84 U.S. 582 (1873)
U.S. Supreme CourtThe Merritt, 84 U.S. 17 Wall. 582 582 (1873)
84 U.S. (17 Wall.) 582
1. A vessel built in the British Province of Canada, but owned wholly by citizens of the United States, cannot under the Registry Act of 1793, 1 Stat. at Large 287, be a vessel of the United States, nor can she be a foreign vessel truly and wholly belonging to citizens of Canada or of Great Britain. If, therefore, such a vessel be engaged in transporting the products of Canada into ports of the United States, she may be forfeited under the Act of March 1, 1817 13 Stat. at Large 351, which enacts, under penalty of forfeiture, that
"No goods, wares, or merchandise shall be imported into the United States from any foreign port or place except in vessels of the United States, or in such foreign vessels as truly and wholly belong to the citizens or subjects of that country of which the goods are the growth, production, or manufacture."
2. Nor, assuming that neither Great Britain nor the Dominion of Canada have adopted "a similar regulation," could the vessel, in the absence of all documents such as establish nationality, be taken to be a British or Canadian vessel, and so held to fall within the proviso to the above quoted enactment, which provides "that this regulation shall not extend to the vessels of any foreign nation which has not adopted, and which shall not adopt, a similar regulation."
By a statute of 1792 [Footnote 1] it is enacted that no ships but those which have been registered in the manner therein prescribed shall be denominated or deemed vessels of the United States entitled to the benefits or privileges appertaining to such ships. Great Britain has a similar regulation fixing what are to be regarded as British vessels.
By an Act of March 1, 1817, [Footnote 2] it is enacted,
"SECTION 1. That after the 30th day of September next, no goods, wares, or merchandise shall be imported into the United States from any foreign port or place except in vessels of the United States or in such foreign vessels as truly and wholly belong to the citizens or subjects of that country of which the goods are the growth, production, or manufacture or from which such goods, wares, or merchandise can only be, or most usually are, first shipped for transportation. "
"Provided, nevertheless, that this regulation shall not extend to the vessels of any foreign nation which has not adopted, and which shall not adopt, a similar regulation."
A subsequent section of the latter act enacts that the vessel and cargo coming into the United States in violation of those provisions shall be forfeited.
In this condition of things -- as appeared by the libel, information, and answer hereafter mentioned -- the bark Merritt, built in the province of Canada and within the dominion of Great Britain but wholly owned by citizens of the United States, was employed in transporting coal and iron, products of the said province of Canada, from the port of Kingston, in the province named, into the port of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the United States.
Hereupon, a libel and information was filed in behalf of the United States alleging the facts above stated. One Murray, owner of the vessel, interposed as claimant, and not denying the allegations, answered that at the time of the importations on account of which the proceedings were taken, neither the imperial government of Great Britain nor the Dominion of Canada [Footnote 3] had adopted any "similar regulation" to that contained in the above-quoted act of 1817, and that therefore the case was taken out of the statute by the proviso to it. This answer was excepted to as irrelevant -- that is to say was, in effect, demurred to, and the exception or demurrer being sustained by the court below, on an appeal from the district court, the case was now brought here by Murray for review. The vessel had exhibited no papers.