12th Congress.]

 No. 94. 

[2d Session.



To the honorable the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States in Congress assembled, the memorial of the undersigned, of the city of Baltimore, merchants and owners of private armed commissioned vessels of war, respectfully represents:

That your memorialists have, since the declaration of war, at a heavy charge and cost, purchased, equipped, and fitted for offensive operations, numerous strong and well appointed cruisers, which have done the public enemy immense injury, by the capture of many of her merchant vessels laden with valuable cargoes, and the destruction of at least ten thousand tons of her shipping; that the cruisers of your memorialists have captured and made prisoners of war seven hundred of the seamen of the enemy, who have been exchanged for an equal number of American prisoners, who have thus, through the instrumentality and at the charge of, your memorialists, been rescued from captivity; that, trusting to what they deemed the fair construction of the 14th section of the act "concerning letters of marque, prizes, and prize goods," and, supposing from the general and comprehensive expressions of the commissions which had been granted to them, by the President of the United States, that enemy's property, whether taken bound to the United States or elsewhere, on the high seas, or within our own waters, was lawful prize, your memorialists were greatly induced by this confidence, to make larger and more immediate outfits, calculating upon the known course of trade between this country and Great Britain, in which it has been so usual to cover British interests in American names, and knowing that it would be in their power, when armed with the authority of a national commission, to detect and bring to light the belligerent interest; that, in many instances, your memorialists have succeeded in capturing and bringing in for adjudication property so circumstanced, that they had proceeded against it as prize of war, and a general sentiment appeared to prevail among those experienced in the law that, under the fair construction of the prize act, and according to the manifest intention of the Legislature, the captors having incurred the expense of the outfit, having encountered the peril of capture, and having detected the enemy interest, which must otherwise have remained concealed, were entitled, in law, as well as in point of justice, to the benefit of the capture; that, after proceedings had been instituted at their instance, and at a heavy expense, agains


such property in different districts, your memorialists, who never anticipated any interference on the part of the Government of the United States with their just claims, on the ground of an act of Congress pre-existing the declaration of War, and whose operation they believed to be suspended, as related to prize goods, by the 14th section of the prize act above referred to, now find themselves called upon to defend their rights as well against the pretensions of the Treasury Department as against the shufflings, evasions, and legal subterfuges of fictitious claimants, anxious to screen, because having a common interest in the property of the belligerent. Your memorialists are persuaded that it could not have been the intention of the Legislature to appropriate the proceeds of individual enterprise, exertion, and hazard against the enemy to the exclusive, advantage of the public treasury; and that, if such can, by any possibility, be the legal exposition of their acts, it must have been a mere legislative omission, of which your memorialists confidently hope the injurious consequences will be prevented by an explanatory law.

Your memorialists would further beg leave to submit to the wisdom of Congress the propriety of diminishing, on behalf of the captors, the very heavy duties imposed upon prize goods. They do not require an indiscriminate abatement of duty upon all prize goods, but they would humbly represent that, on various articles, principally intended for exportation, and not consumed within the country, the impost equals, and, on some, exceeds their value in the market; so that it may happen that the captor, instead of being benefited, may have incurred his risk and expense in some instances, without any profit from, and in others at a positive loss by, his prize. Your memorialists would suggest that it is not in consonance to the just principles of revenue that the Government, under the pretence of duty, should take the whole proceeds of the exertions and hazards of the captor, but that there should, in all cases, be a just proportion between the value of the article captured and the claim of the Government thereon, by way of impost. In such cases, therefore, your memorialists would humbly pray a diminution of duty, or that, with respect to prize goods, a fair ratio be established, by law, between the value in market and the impost on the article.

Your memorialists would respectfully call the attention of the Legislature to the embarrassments, difficulties, and delays which they labor under in the determination of prize causes in the different courts of the United States, under the present very imperfect system, even in cases where the enemy interest is incontestably shown, where no claim is interposed, and where, therefore, the proceedings ought to be conducted with the expedition characteristic of courts of admiralty. In several of such instances a procrastination of many months has taken place, to the extreme injury of the captors, without any reasonable cause of delay, and the hardy seaman who had hazarded his life in the public cause, finds himself at last obliged, by necessity, to sacrifice for a trifle, his share in the just compensation of his perils, to which, as the right is certain, so the remedy ought to be immediate.

While there are numerous acts of Parliament in Great Britain, prescribing to the courts of admiralty the mode of proceeding, and ensuring to captors a safe and speedy ascertainment of their rights, whereby the private armed service is much encouraged, your memorialists, and others in the like circumstances in the United States, are exposed to the inconvenience of this matter being left entirely open to the discretion of the judges, with the exception of a few words in the prize act. In consequence of which omission, every court has, according, to the several impressions of its, judges, adopted a mode of proceeding peculiar to itself; and while in one district the remedy of the captor is speedy, in others the determination for a considerable time is suspended, to the great vexation and injury of the interested. That courts belonging to the same country, and exercising, in different districts, precisely the same jurisdiction and power, should be bound by some rules common to them all, in matters of prize, and that the rights of the citizen should not be different before tribunals similarly organized, according to the district in which such rights are to be exercised, would appear to be positions too-plain for argument; but that, from the want of the necessary provisions, the rights of war speedily administered in one district, should, in another, be subject to the most vexatious delays, appears to be an evil of such magnitude that your memorialists are persuaded that it is only necessary to show its existence to Congress to secure its prompt legislative redress.

Your memorialists would further submit to Congress some considerations which, although of minor importance, in a national point of view, are of serious moment to them, as owners of private armed vessels of war. Great inconveniences are experienced by them in consequence of that provision of the prize act which renders it incumbent on the captors to proceed against the prize in the first district to which such prize may be brought—a provision which appears to you memorialists to operate exclusively to the benefit of the officers of the customs and of the courts, who claim the possession and benefit of prizes taking refuge in port, as their rights—a provision which, in many instances, may expose the prize to re-capture by the enemy, which deprives the privateer owners of all control over that in which they are the most interested, subjects them to the loss of a bad market, and compels them to submit to a distant and expensive agency, and to frequent detriment from carelessness and mismanagement, which would not have been incurred, if the prize could have been lawfully taken from the district where she first casually arrived, to the district in which the captor resides, and to which the capturing vessel belongs. As to any substantial object of justice, they can discover none which is so gratified by the provision in question, as to render a compliance with the interests and wishes of the captor, in this particular, inexpedient; the question in controversy can be as justly decided in one district as another, in which respect no preference can be presumed in law, and none can be justly given; and the inconvenience from the present arrangement is so sensibly felt, that it will frequently happen that prizes will incur the risk of re-capture, from a longer voyage, rather than put into a near American port, at which the rights of the officers of the customs and of the court may compel her to remain, although it may be to the interest of all concerned that she should proceed to another port. Your memorialists therefore pray that captors be permitted, by law, to take their prizes from one port of the United States to another, under such precautions and limitations as to the wisdom of Congress may appear expedient.

Your memorialists would further submit to the consideration of Congress the propriety of a legal provision that the agents of the captors should, in cases where the prize is sold on a credit, be entitled to receive the notes or other securities which have been received upon such sales by the respective marshals, of districts, previously securing to the officers their fees and commissions; such a provision, enabling the person specially appointed by the captors to receive the proceeds, would put it in his power in most instances to pay off the officers and seamen before the terms of credit expired, and thus prevent the inconvenience and loss arising from the delay. And as the agents of the owners are in general the agents of the officers and crew, there can be no just exception to the law at once entrusting them with the possession of those funds which must finally come info their hands, through the medium of the clerks of the courts. Your memorialists would likewise suggest that the marshal's commission on the sale of prize goods, which is charged upon the gross amount of sales, is peculiarly burthensome to the captor, in all cases where the United States receive the greater part of the proceeds by way of duties, as such commissions come entirely out of the pocket of the captors, and not unfrequently amount to five or. six per centum on the sum which they are entitled to receive, after the deduction of duties. Your memorialists conceive that in justice they should only be chargeable with marshal's commission on the sum by them actually received.

Wherefore your memorialists pray that Congress, taking into consideration the various grievances of which they have herein complained, will pass a law or laws giving them such relief in the premises as to the justice and the fair demands of your memorialists may be due.

Robert Patterson,

Ch. Fred. Kalkman,

Wm. F. Graham,

Jere. Sullivan,

F. & A. Schwartz,

Charles Gwinn & Co.

C. Deshon,

John M'Kim, Jr.

Christian Keller,

Thomas Tenant,

Hollins & M'Blair,

Francis Forman,

Lemuel Taylor,

Archd. Kerr,

Briscoe & Partridge,

A. Clopper,

John Snyder,

Geo. Stiles,

Thorndick Chase,

P. A. Karthaus,

John Diffenderffer,

J. W. Patterson,

Thomas Sheppard,

John W. Glenn,

William Price,

James Ramsey,

Chas. Diffenderffer,

Wm. Hollins,

Thomas Hutchins, Jr.

Jacob Boyer.

Baltimore, November 10th, 1812.