The act of Congress Approved June 7, 1872, 17 Stat. 262, does
not apply to the shipping of seamen upon vessels engaged only in
and for voyages coastwise Between Atlantic ports of the United
This is an information under the Act of June 7, 1872, 17 Stat.
262, against the defendant Smith, for that he, not being a shipping
commissioner, did ship and engage one John Riley as a seaman, to go
on board a certain American vessel called the Proteus,
make a voyage from Boston, in Massachusetts, to Philadelphia, in
Pennsylvania, said Smith not then and there being the owner,
consignee, or master of said vessel.
The defendant demurred, and the judges were opposed in opinion
on the following question: whether said act applies to the shipping
of seamen upon vessels engaged only in and for voyages coastwise
between Atlantic ports of the United States, as was the vessel
described in the information.
MR. JUSTICE CLIFFORD delivered the opinion of the Court.
Shipping commissioners are vested with certain powers and are
charged with the performance of certain duties in engaging seamen
for the merchant service, and the act of Congress providing for
their appointment forbids other persons, in certain cases, from
performing the duties with which such commissioners are charged by
the provisions of that act.
Page 95 U. S. 537
Penalties are enacted for the violation of such prohibitions,
and the information in this case charges that the defendant, on the
5th of September, 1872, not being a shipping commissioner, at
Boston, in the District of Massachusetts, did then and there ship
and engage one John Riley as a seaman to go on board a certain
vessel and make a voyage from Boston to Philadelphia, the defendant
not being then and there the owner, consignee, or master of the
vessel, contrary to the statute in such case made and provided.
Service was made, and the defendant appeared and demurred to the
information and assigned for cause that the libel does not set
forth any acts to impeach him touching or concerning the matters
whereof he is accused. Joinder in due form was filed by the
district attorney, and the parties were duly heard.
By the record it appears that the question whether the act
providing for the appointment of shipping commissioners applies to
the shipping of seamen upon vessels engaged only in and for voyages
coastwise between the Atlantic ports was raised and argued by
counsel, and that the judges being opposed in opinion, the question
in difference, together with the pleadings in the case, was
certified to this Court pursuant to the act of Congress.
Discussion of the question whether a vessel engaged in a
coastwise voyage from one Atlantic port to another on our coast
falls within the operation of the body of sect. 12 of the act
providing for the appointment of shipping commissioners is wholly
unnecessary, as the Court has just affirmed the negative of that
proposition, and now refers to the reasons given in the prior case
in support of the decree in that case. Such voyages are not
mentioned in the body of the twelfth section, and they are
expressly excluded from the operation of that part of the section
by the second proviso annexed to the same, which provides in effect
that the same shall not apply to coastwise voyages not to voyages
of lake-going vessels that touch at foreign ports. 17 Stat.
Seamen, however, for such a voyage must be regularly shipped,
and the master, before he proceeds on the voyage, must make with
each seaman whom he carries to sea as one of the crew
Page 95 U. S. 538
an agreement in writing or in print in the manner and form
required by that act. Voyages of the kind not being within the
operation of the body of sec. 12, the agreement is not required to
be signed in the presence of such a commissioner. Instead of that,
the owner or consignee or the master of the ship, so far as the
ship is concerned, may himself in such a case perform the duties of
such a commissioner, but third persons possess no such authority in
Suppose that is so, still it is not charged in the information,
nor does it appear in any other way, that the defendant attempted
to perform any such duty. It is said that he engaged the seamen,
but it is not alleged that he attempted to perform any act which a
commissioner is required to perform in cases falling within the
operation of the body of sec. 12 of the act prescribing the duties
of such a commissioner, nor that he attempted to perform any duty
which the proviso to the eighth section allows to be performed in
such a case by the owner or consignee or by the master of the ship
where the voyage is one excepted out of the operation of the body
of sec. 12 in the same act. All that is charged against the
defendant is that he engaged the seamen, which is an act that any
one may lawfully perform, provided the seaman is subsequently
lawfully shipped in the manner and form required in the act
providing for the appointment of shipping commissioners. Nothing
being alleged to the contrary, it must be presumed that the
required agreement was duly executed if the seamen went to sea at
all, which is not alleged in the libel of information.
Tested by these considerations, it is clear that no legal
offense is properly charged against the defendant, from which it
follows that it must be certified to the court below that the act
in question does not apply to coastwise voyages from one port to
another on our Atlantic coast.