Page images

HEIRs of John PAUL joNES.

‘On the Bill for the relief of the Heirs of John Paul - - Jones. Mr. STARK WEATHER said: Mr. CHAIRMAN : The importance of the bill now under consideration, in regard to the amount which it proposes to appropriate, as well as in reference to the precedent it will establish, if it becomes a law, is my only apology for asking the attention of the committee, while I shall offer a few considerations in vindication of the vote which I intend to give in opposition to its passage. The chairman of the Committee of Claims (the Hon. Mr. Rockwell, of Connecticut) seems to place great stress upon the fact, that a bill similar to this, after it had been fully considered, was passed by the last Congress, and would have become a law, had it not unfortunately been lost in the Senate Chamber, and was thus defeated in consequence of not being presented to the President for his signature. However much confidence I may see fit to repose in the last Congress—and 1 have no doubt it is entitled to as much as the present, and I do not mean to say any more—I cannot consent that the circumstances connected with the passage and loss of the bill, furnish any good reason why I should vote for the passage of the present bill, or why any other member of this committee, who has not fully examined it, should vote for it. What weight and consideration are to be given to the passage of a bill on the last day of the session, when confusion reigns triumphant, I leave for those who have passed through such scenes to say. Such was the disorder, that the bill newer found its way out of this House. It was a dead bill—stillborn. Sir, this bill is now before this Congress as any other bill, and must stand or fall upon its own merits. What, then, Mr. Chairman, are the facts? Commodore John Paul Jones had the command of a squadron formed by France and America to annoy their common enemy. This squadron, while under the command of Commodore Jones, captured fifteen vessels off the coast of France, among which were the Betsey, the Union, and the Charming Polly. These three vessels were sent to Bergen, a port within the dominions of the King of Denmark, and while there, surrendered by the Danish Government, on the requisition of the British authority, to Great Britain, upon the ground that she had not recognized the independence of the United States, and also upon the allegation, that in pursuance of a treaty with Great Britain, there was no alternative left without involving herself in a war with that Government. It will be seen that, in

making the above statement, I admit three of the

propositions which the honorable chairman of the committee considered were involved in the passage of the bill now under consideration, viz: first, that Commodore Jones had command of the squadron; second, that he captured the three vessels in question; and third, that they were surrendered by the Danish Government to Great Britain. These propositions, then, so far as I shall have anything to say, are not to be questioned. This bill proposes to give to the legal representatives of Paul Jones, and those of the officers, seamen, and marines connected with the squadron, being citizens of the United States, their proportionate share of the above three prizes, said to have been estimated by Benjamin Franklin at £50,000, or $242,000, to be apportioned on the basis of a settlement made with France for prizes captured by said squadron, deducting, however, $4,000 heretofore granted to Captain Landais from his proportion. Now, sir, the first great and important question to be settled is, in whom did the title to these vessels vest—in the captors, or in the Government? The general rule is, that the title to property taken from an enemy in war by public force vests in the Government, and not in the captors; the latter being entitled to no part of the property, unless it be by grant or prior stipulation. What was the stipulation in this case? It is contained in the following resolution: “Resolved, That the commanders, officers, seamen, and marines in the Continental navy, be entitled to one-half of merchantmen, transports, and store-ships, by them taken, from and after the 1st day of November, 1776, to be divided amongst them in the shares and proportions fixed by former resolutions of Congress. “That the commanders, officers, seamen, and marines in the Continental navy, be entitled to the whole value of all ships and vessels of war belonging to the Crown of Great Britaim by them made prize of, and all privateers, authorized by his Britannic Majesty to war against these States, to be divided as aforesaid.” The reasoning resorted to by the former committee in their report, which has been adopted by this committee, is somewhat peculiar in its character. The committee say, in substance, that inasmuch as the United States stood in need of this class of vessels, and inasmuch as they could not build them, and that the better way was to procure them by capture from the enemy, and as every vessel captured weakened the enemy one, while at the same time it strengthened the United States one, and especially as the captors, by the terms of the resolution just referred to, were entitled to the whole value of this class of vessels, that therefore it is evident the United States did not intend to part with them; and also, as a necessary and irresistible consequence, the title to them vested in the United States when the capture was complete, and that this took place the moment the captors had subjected the vessels to their will, and taken them to a place where they were, or, which is the same thing, ought to have been, in safety. To me, sir, I must confess, this is entirely new logic. What is the resolution upon which this claim rests, and from which the above deduction, is drawn “Thal the captors shall be entitled to the whole value of ships and vessels of war taken from the enemy.” From whom were the captors to receive the whole value of such vessels From the United States ? No, sir, that cannot be. Why? Because it was a joint expedition, matured by France as well as the United States, and France had as much interest in these prizes as the United States; nay, more—she had furnished the means to purchase the armament for the squadron; and because, more especially, by the very terms of the agreement entered into by the officers of the squadron, the prizes were to be remitted to Mr. Chaumont, and disposed of according to the terms of that agreement. France, therefore, had the better right to these vessels. But when, I ask, were the captors to be entitled to the whole value of these prizes The answer is, when they had sold them, and from those to whom they were sold. Was there anything contained in the resoIution by which the officers engaged in that expedition were compelled to dispose of the prizes they might capture to the United States ? If so, where is it to be found 2 I should like to have it ointed out. The resolution of Congress of 30th 8. 1776, was merely permissive in its character, and gave to the officers and crew one-half of the merchantmen and transports taken after the 1st of November, 1776, to be divided among them, according to the former resolutions of Congress. But what direction, I ask, did the resolution give to the other half? None at all. Where would the other half go? To the United States ? No; but to the persons who by the terms of the aforesaid agreement were entitled to it. Suppose, Mr. Chairman, Great Britain had recaptured these vessels before they reached the port of Bergen, would any member of this committee contend for a moment that in that event the captors would have any claim upon this Government for any portion of the value of the prizes? Certainly not. Or suppose Commodore Jones had wantonly, and without any justifiable cause, sunk them, would any man hazard the opinion that he could have called upon the Government for the value of them? I think not. What, I ask, is the difference between the supposed cases and the one under consideration ? Commodore Jones, with the full knowledge (for he was bound to know) that Denmark had not acknowledged the independence of the United States, and bound to know of the existence of the treaty above alluded to, sent these vessels to Bergen, or, what is tantamount to it, he permitted them to be ordered there by Captain Landais, who, by the terms of the agreement, was bound to obey the orders of Commodore Jones. Here, sir, is the proof of the fact contained in Commodore Jones’s letter of 27th of July, 1787:

“It was not my intention to order the prizes in question to a port of Denmark, but the captain of the Alliance took upon himself to give his particular orders to the prize-masters to that effect; and, as this was done in my presence, though without my knowledge or permission, they separated from the squadron in the night.”

The orders were given in his presence to send the

prizes to Bergen, though they separated in the night without his knowledge or permission. Separated without his permission Had he not the command of the squadron 2 Did he remonstrate against the act? Did he make any attempt to prevent it? . Not the least, sir. He therefore permitted it to be done, The act was his own in a legal and moral point of view. And now, sir, having permitted these vessels to be sent to Bergen, within the dominions of the King of Denmark, who had not recognized the independence of the United States, and who for that reason, and because also, by a treaty, as Was alleged, with Great Britain, Denmark being required to surrender them, on the requisition of the British authority, did surrender them—can Commodore Jones turn round and say to the Government of the United States, You must pay for them; when that Government, and without its fault, has not received one single dollar's benefit? But the committee (I now speak of the committee raised by the Senate at the last Congress) ask, with an air of triumph, “What court has ever ex‘onerated the vendee of goods from payment of ‘their price, because they had been lost or destroyed ‘in five minutes after their sale and delivery 2 or has * ever relieved the receiver of a bank note from its ‘loss, because the bank had failed an hour after its ‘receipt? or has ever deprived the builder of his ‘stipulated compensation for building the house, ‘ because it had been destroyed by the incendiary ‘the night after its completion ?” Why, I trust no court of ordinary common sense ever granted relief in such cases. But suppose we put a case corresponding with the facts: What court ever did or ever will compel the vendee to pay the purchase price of property to the vendor, when, by the terms of the contract, the vendor was to deliver that property into the possession of the vendee, the same being lost or destroyed in transitw? I deny, sir, that the property was delivered to this Government, as I think I shall fully demonstrate in the course of my argument. Then, Mr. Chairman, if the whole matter rested here, I might assert, without fear of contradiction, that the title to these vessels, at the time they were surrendered by Denmark, was not in the Government, but in the captors, and therefore the claim was an individual claim. Mr. Jefferson so treated it in all his negotiations with Denmark. The committee who reported the bill to the last Congress felt this embarrassment, and hence it attempted to escape from the dilemma by relying upon the letter written by Benjamin Franklin, then minister plenipotentiary at Paris, to show that these prizes were delivered by the directions of the minister of this Government to an American prize agent at Bergen, therefore virtually in the possession of this Government. I will read an extract from that letter. It is as follows: “ The prizes you may send to * Dunkirk, Ostend, or Bergen, in Norway, accord‘ing to your proximity to either of those ports— ‘ address them to the persons M. de Chaumont ‘shall indicate to you.” The honorable chairman of the committee relies upon this same letter. He says in his report, at page 7–" and after being cap‘tured, they (the vessels) were, in pursuance of the ‘orders of the American minister, delivered to an awthorized Government agent at Bergen, and after ‘being so delivered, and in the custody of the Government of the United States, were, contrary to the law8. * of nations, delivered to the British Government.”

By what authority, I ask, did Benjamin Franklin direct these prizes to be taken to Bergen P Did he act in the capacity of minister of the United States, and as their agent? Certainly not; but he acted in virtue of the authority conferred upon him by the agreement entered into between the officers of the squadron. I will read a portion of this contract: “The division of the prizes to the superior * officers and crews of the said squadron shall be ‘made agreeable to the American laws; but it is ‘agreed, that the proportion of the whole coming “to each vessel in the squadron shall be regulated ‘by the Minister of the Marine Department of * France and the JMinister Plenipotentiary of the United States.” A copy of the American laws was to be annexed to the agreement, and “it is ‘ expressly agreed, that whatever may be contra‘ry to them (the American laws) should be regu“lated by the Minister of the French Marine and ‘the JMinister Plenipotentiary of the United States of * America.” “It is likewise agreed that the orders ‘given by the French JMarine and the JMinister Plen‘ipotentiary of the United States shall be eacecuted.” “Considering the necessity there is of preserving ‘the interests of each individual, the prizes that shall ‘ be taken shall be REMITTED to the orders of Mon‘sieur Le Roy de Chaumont, honorary intendant “of the Royal Hotel of Invalids, who has furnished * the ea penses of the armament of the said squadron.” “It has been agreed, that M. Le Roy de Chaumont ‘ be requested not to give up the part of the prizes ‘coming to all the crews, and to each individual of ‘the same squadron, but to their order, and to be * responsible for the same in his own and proper * name.”

This agreement was duly signed by all the officers of the squadron. This Government was not a party to it. Here, then, sir, is the authority under which Benjamin Franklin acted. He acted as the agent of the officers of the squadron in virtue of the authority contained in the agreement, and not in the capacity of minister plenipotentiary of the United States. How, then, I demand, is the title to these vessels transferred to this Government, or the character of the transaction in the least changed by the directions of Benjamin Franklin, who acted as the agent of the officers of the squadron, and not as the agent of the Government? In no respect, whatever, sir. The title was still in the captors, and not in the Government. But it is urged by the friends of this bill, that inasmuch as Congress, in 1806, passed an act by which Captain Landais received the sum of $4,000 towards his proportion of these prizes, that that furnishes evidence of the justness of this claim, and establishes the principle to which we have a right to look to sustain us in the passage of the present bill. Does such a conclusion legitimately follow from the premises Suppose Congress did wrong in passing that act, would that form any basis for the action of Congress upon the present occasion ? So far from the passage of that act forming any argument in favor of the passage of the present bill, it proves, in my judgment, the very reverse of the proposition. Why, it might be asked, should Congress pass a bill granting to Captain Landais $4,000, when the whole subject was before it, and not make any provision for the heirs of the Chevalier Paul Jones, who had rendered such important service in the Continental navy in behalf of this country Sir, we were then fresh from the field of our revolution

ary struggle, when the hearts of a free people beat high with the warmest emotions of gratitude in behalf of those who had contributed their aid in the glorious achievement of our independence. Who more worthy of that gratitude than Commodore John Paul Jones, who commanded the ship which first bore the American flag proudly o'er the ocean's wave It would be a foul stain upon the country to suppose Congress would grant $4,000 to the infamous Landais, and pass over the claim of Paul Jones in silence. What was the character of that bill, and under what circumstances did it pass 2 I read in substance from the House Journals: On the 4th of December, 1804, the memorial of Peter Landais was presented and referred to the Committee of Claims; on the 28th of December, in the same year, it was resolved that the prayer of the said memorial and petition ought not to be granted. On the 16th of December, 1805, the memorial of Peter Landais appeared again, and the same was referred to the Secretary of State, with instructions to examine the subject and report his opinion thereupon to the House. On the 2d of January, 1806, the Secretary of State made his report, and it was ordered to be committed to a Committee of the Whole House. On the 15th of January, 1806, the Committee of the Whole House was discharged from the consideration thereof, and the whole subject again referred to the Committee of Claims. On the 11th of February, 1806, the committee made a report, which was referred to a Committee of the Whole House, and on the 27th of February, 1806, the bill passed granting four thousand dollars for the immediate relief of Peter Landais; which sum, by the bill, was ordered to be deducted from his proportion of the prize money which may be procured from the Danish Government in satisfaction of the claim aforesaid. This, then, was not an absolute grant; but a loan of four thousand dollars for the immediate relief of Peter Landais, to be charged over upon the fund which it was then supposed he might ultimately realize from the Danish Government. After pressing Congress from the 4th of December, 1804, to the 27th of February, 1806, Congress loaned Peter Landais four thousand dollars to get rid of him. And now, that is to be made the principle upon which the present bill is to be passed, granting absolutely the sum of $242,000. Again, it was urged by the committee who reported the bill to the last Congress, that, admitting the title to these vessels to have been in the captors at the time they were surrendered by the Danish Government, the events which have subsequently transpired, have changed the character of the claim, and that the same has become “debitum justicia.” The chairman who reported the present bill assumes the same position. This is his language: “The reasonable and just ground of the complaint on the part of the captors of these ves‘sels, of the Government of the United States, is, ‘ that they have not only complained “faintly,” but ‘that they have scarcely complained at all; and at ‘ last in 1830, by a convention with Denmark, have, ‘as claimed by that Government, impliedly aban‘doned the claim for indemnity for these prizes.” Sir, the convention to which the chairman refers was specific in its character, and had nothing to do directly or indirectly with this claim, The fourth article of that convention says: “In * consideration of the remuneration and payments


‘mentioned in articles one and two, on the part of “his Majesty the King of Denmark, the Govern‘ment of the United States declares itself entirely ‘satisfied, not only in what concerns the said Gov‘ernment, but also in what concerns the citizens of ‘the United States, on account of the claims hitherto “preferred, or which may hereafter be preferred, “relating to the seizure, detention, condemnation, or ‘confiscation of their vessels, cargoes, or property ‘whatsoever, which, in the late maritime war of Den‘mark, have taken place under the flag, or in the ‘States subject to the Danish sceptre, and the said * claims shall consequently be regarded as definite‘ly and irrevocably terminated.” This treaty, or convention, settled nothing except the matters specified therein. There is no general clause in this arrangement, by which this claim is cut off, or the least impaired. Our Government has so treated it from the fact, that since 1830, we have continued to negotiate with Denmark for indemnity. There is no pretence, therefore, that our Government has done any act to prejudice this claim, as intimated in the report. What is the Government bound to do, to vindicate the rights of individuals, and redress the wrongs inflicted upon those rights by foreign governments? The rule is well defined by Secretary Forsyth, in his answer to Aaron Leggett, of New York, in relation to his claim for vessels employed in his lawful business, and which had been seized by Mexico, and armed and equipped by her for the public service. The letter bears date the 8th of June, 1838, and is as follows: “SIR: Your letter of the 26th [16th) ultimo was duly received. When a citizen asks and obtains the official interposition of the Government in redressing injuries from a foreign Power, it is proper, and has been usual, for the Government to take such measures as it might deem best adapted to compass that end. There is no obligation to abide by, or to regard, the advice or suggestions of individual claimants, This Government has been well aware of this principle, during the advocacy of the claims of citizens of the United States on the Government of the Mexican Republic, and will always respect it. Your suggestions, therefore, cannot be allowed to control the action of the Government, even in relation to your own case, so long as you shall continue to rely upon its aid. If, however, in your judgment, the course pursued in regard to all the claims against México Will be injurious to you, you have an undoubted right to object to it, so far as it relates to yourself. It is expected, therefore, that you will explicitly inform this department if such is the fact. In that event, no impediment will be raised to your undertaking the sole management of your complaints against Mexico, and they will be carefully excluded from any arrangement that may be inade between the two Governments.” Now, sir, I ask, What has our Government done? Nay, rather, I might ask, What has she not done? Mr. Franklin immediately commenced a negotiation with Denmark for indemnity. He drew up a strong memorial, and continued the negotiation, and repeatedly urged Denmark to repair the wrong. The negotiation was continued by Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Monroe down to 1812—a period of more than thirty years. Commodore Jones was sent to Copenhagen by Mr. Jefferson, to adjust this claim; but it appears some objection was made to his powers, probably the same that were made to Mr. Slidell’s—that they were too ample; and therefore Denmark would not suffer him to exercise them. It does appear, however, that Commodore Jones accomplished one object while at Copenhagen, on that or some other occasion. He procured from Penmark an annuity of fifteen hundred crowns during his natural life. I am willing to admit that

it does not positively appear that this was for the express purpose of settling this claim; but if it was not for that, what was it for No one, it appears to me, who has been a close observer of the actions of men, or the motives by which they are governed, can hesitate for a moment in coming to the conclusion that this annuity was for the purpose of satisfying Commodore John Paul Jones for the interest which he was supposed to have in those three prizes. - But it is said by the honorable chairman, that there is no pretence that Commodore Jones ever received a single dollar of this annuity. [Mr. S. here read from the Life of Paul Jones, written by Mr. J. H. Sherburn, in 1825 and 1826, showing that the Danish Government had granted to Commodore Jones an annuity of fifteen hundred crowns during his natural life; also showing, that he had drawn for a portion of this annuity. Mr. Sherburn was the executor of Paul Jones, who died in 1792. He had all his papers, and was of course familiar with the facts. He professed to quote the language of Commodore Jones, in reference to drawing for this annuity.] This shows that he drew for the money. Nor is this all. I have Paul Jones’s own declarations as to the character of this claim. Just before his death, he made a statement, with his own lips, of items of his property and claims, to Gouverneur Morris, in which is the following: “ Upwards of four years of my pension due from Denmark, to be asked for from the Count de Bernstorf.” Due ! and to be asked for One would suppose this tolerably good proof that Commodore Jones, at all events, considered this claim a valid one. He had drawn for a part, and claimed the balance. And here let me add, in reference to another item of this account: it is this, “the balance due to me by the United States of America.” This, in my judgment, should dispose of this whole claim set up by the heirs of Paul Jones. The word “balance” is never employed to express damages, but applies to accounts. There was a balance due Commodore Jones; and this balance, as I am informed, has since been drawn for and received by the executor, Mr. Sherburn. Can any one believe, that if Commodore Jones had entertained the opinion that he had any claim upon this Government for his share of these three prizes, he would have failed to have put that down among the items to Gouverneur Morris—given, as those items were, in contemplation of the near approach of death? Such an opinion is not to be entertained for a moment. Again: The chairman of the committee says, in his report, “that there is no principle of the law of nations more firmly established than that which entitles the property of strangers, within the jurisdiction of a country in friendship with their own, to the protection of its sovereign, by all the efforts in his power.” This proposition is unquestionably true, to the extent meant by the writer. But what, I ask, was the situation of Denmark at this time? She had entered into treaties with Great Britain. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, in his correspondence with our minister of 4th June, 1847, says: “Mr. Irwin will, however, find in diplomatic collections, that the treaties concluded between Denmark and Great Britain, then in force, and especially that of 1660, article 5, imposed upon the former Power duties from which it could not swerve, notwithstanding its sincere desire to encourage

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »