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WILDENHUS'S CASE.

*fn1 decided: January 10, 1887.

WILDENHUS'S CASE.


APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY.

Author: Waite

[ 120 U.S. Page 11]

 MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WAITE, after stating the case as above reported, delivered the opinion of the court.

By §§ 751 and 753 of the Revised Statutes the courts of the United States have power to issue writs of habeas corpus which shall extend to prisoners in jail when they are in "custody in violation of the Constitution or a law or treaty of the United States," and the question we have to consider is, whether these prisoners are held in violation of the provisions of the existing treaty between the United States and Belgium.

It is part of the law of civilized nations that when a merchant vessel of one country enters the ports of another for the purposes of trade, it subjects itself to the law of the place to which it goes, unless by treaty or otherwise the two countries have come to some different understanding or agreement; for, as was said by Chief Justice Marshall in The Exchange, 7 Cranch, 116, 144, "it would be obviously inconvenient and dangerous to society, and would subject the laws to continual infraction, and the government to degradation, if such . . . merchants did not owe temporary and local allegiance, and were not amenable to the jurisdiction of the country." United States v. Diekelman, 92 U.S. 520; 1 Phillimore's Int. Law, 3d ed. 483, § 351; Twiss' Law of Nations

[ 120 U.S. Page 12]

     in Time of Peace, 229, § 159; Creasy's Int. Law, 167, § 176; Halleck's Int. Law, 1st ed. 171. And the English judges have uniformly recognized the rights of the courts of the country of which the port is part to punish crimes committed by one foreigner on another in a foreign merchant ship. Regina v. Cunningham, Bell C.C. 72; S.C. 8 Cox C.C. 104; Regina v. Anderson, 11 Cox C.C. 198, 204; S.C. L.R. 1 C.C. 161, 165; Regina v. Keyn, 13 Cox C.C. 403, 486, 525; S.C. 2 Ex. Div. 63, 161, 213. As the owner has voluntarily taken his vessel for his own private purposes to a place within the dominion of a government other than his own, and from which he seeks protection during his stay, he owes that government such allegiance for the time being as is due for the protection to which he becomes entitled.

From experience, however, it was found long ago that it would be beneficial to commerce if the local government would abstain from interfering with the internal discipline of the ship, and the general regulation of the rights and duties of the officers and crew towards the vessel or among themselves. And so by comity it came to be generally understood among civilized nations that all matters of discipline and all things done on board which affected only the vessel or those belonging to her, and did not involve the peace or dignity of the country, or the tranquillity of the port, should be left by the local government to be dealt with by the authorities of the nation to which the vessel belonged as the laws of that nation or the interests of its commerce should require. But if crimes are committed on board of a character to disturb the peace and tranquillity of the country to which the vessel has been brought, the offenders have never by comity or usage been entitled to any exemption from the operation of the local laws for their punishment, if the local tribunals see fit to assert their authority. Such being the general public law on this subject, treaties and conventions have been entered into by nations having commercial intercourse, the purpose of which was to settle and define the rights and duties of the contracting parties with respect to each other in these particulars, and thus prevent the inconvenience that might arise from attempts to exercise conflicting jurisdictions.

[ 120 U.S. Page 13]

     The first of these conventions entered into by the United States after the adoption of the Constitution was with France, on the 14th of November, 1788, 8 Stat. 106, "for the purpose of defining and establishing the functions and privileges of their respective consuls and vice-consuls," Art. VIII of which is as follows:

"The consuls or vice-consuls shall exercise police over-all the vessels of their respective nations, and shall have on board the said vessels all power and jurisdiction in civil matters, in all the disputes which may there arise; they shall have an entire inspection over the said vessels, their crew, and the changes and substitutions there to be made; for which purpose they may go on board the said vessels whenever they may judge it necessary. Well understood that the functions hereby allowed shall be confined to the interior of the vessels, and that they shall not take place in any case which shall have any interference with the police of the ports where the said vessels shall be."

It was when this convention was in force that the cases of The Sally and The Newton arose, an account of which is given in Wheaton's Elements of International Law (3d ed.) 153, and in 1 Phillimore's International Law (3d ed.) 484 and (2d ed.) 407. The Sally was an American merchant vessel in the port of Marseilles, and The Newton a vessel of a similar character in the port of Antwerp, then under the dominion of France. In the case of The Sally, the mate, in the alleged exercise of discipline over the crew, had inflicted a severe wound on one of the seamen, and in that of The Newton one seaman had made an assault on another seaman in the vessel's boat. In each case the proper consul of the United States claimed exclusive jurisdiction of the offence, and so did the local authorities of the port; but the Council of State, a branch of the political department of the government of France to which the matter was referred, pronounced against the local tribunals, "considering that one of these cases was that of an assault committed in the boat of the American ship Newton, by one of the crew upon another, and the other was that of a severe wound inflicted by the mate of the American ship Sally upon

[ 120 U.S. Page 14]

     one of the seamen for having made use of the boat without leave." This was clearly because the things done were not such as to disturb "the peace or tranquillity of the port." Wheaton's Elements Int. Law, 3d ed. 154. The case of The Sally was simply a quarrel between certain of the crew while constructively on board the vessel, and that of The Newton grew out of a punishment inflicted by an officer on one of the crew for disobedience of orders. Both were evidently of a ...


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