CLAIMS FOR SLAVES AND OTHER PROPERTY CARRIED AWAY BY THE FORCES OF GREAT BRITAIN.
COMMUNICATED TO THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES JANUARY 11, 1828.
Mr. P. P. Barbour, from the Committee on the Judiciary, to whom had been referred the petition of H. P. Cathell, made the following report:
That the memorialist was employed to prosecute the claims of William Harris, Doughty Bounds, James Sampson, John H. Anderson, George Handy, and Henry Foxwell, for slaves and other property alleged to have been carried away or destroyed by the British, in violation of the first article of the treaty of Ghent. That, acting as the agent for these claimants, he wrote four letters, directed to John Hay, Esq., Washington, D. C, which were postmarked Princess Anne, Maryland, two of them dated the 6th May, 1823, the third dated on the 16th June, 1823, and the fourth on the 26th August, 1823, enclosing sundry depositions in support of the said claims, with a request that they might be examined by him, and filed in the office of the Secretary of State. In each of these letters he requested that the name of W. G. D. Worthington, Esq., might be marked with his own, upon the list of claims, as counsel for the claimants. The memorialist was mistaken in the christian name of George Hay, Esq., who had been appointed the agent, and, in consequence thereof, directed his letters to John, instead of George Hay. The difficulty in the present case, no doubt, originated in this mistake.
The memorialist represents that, about the time these letters were written, he removed from the State of Maryland, having left the claims referred to in the particular care of Mr. Worthington; but neither he nor the memorialist appears to have paid any attention to them, nor even to have inquired whether they had been placed on the definitive list from the time they were transmitted to John Hay, Esq., in 1823, until the month of November, 1827. The first intimation which the memorialist received that these claims were not upon this list was contained in a letter from Mr. Worthington to him, dated 20th November, 1827. Immediately upon the receipt of this letter the memorialist came to this city, and here found the four letters which he had directed to John Hay, Esq., in 1823, in the office of dead letters.
Under these circumstances, the memorialist asks Congress to pass a special act placing the said claims on the regular list before the board appointed to decide such claims.
By the third article of the convention concluded at St. Petersburg on the 12th July, 1822, under the mediation of the Emperor of Russia, and for the purpose of carrying into effect his decision upon the construction of the first article of the treaty of Ghent, it was stipulated that, "when the average value of slaves shall have been ascertained and fixed, the two Commissioners shall constitute a board for the examination of claims which are to be submitted to them, and they shall notify to the Secretary of State of the United States that they are ready to receive a definitive list of the slaves and other private property for which the citizens of the United States claim indemnification; it being understood, and hereby agreed, that the commission shall not take cognizance of, nor receive, and that his Britannic Majesty shall not be required to make compensation for, any claims for private property under the first article of the treaty of Ghent not contained in the said list."
Difficulties having arisen in the execution of this treaty, a convention was concluded at London on the 13th of November, 1826, by the first article of which "his Majesty the King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland agrees to pay, and the United States of America agree to receive, for the use of the persons entitled to indemnification and compensation by virtue of the said decision and convention, the sum of twelve hundred and four thousand nine hundred and sixty dollars, current money of the United States, in lieu of, and in full and complete satisfaction for, all sums claimed or claimable from Great Britain, by any person or persons whatsoever, under the said decision and convention." From this statement of facts, the committee are of opinion they have no right to create new claimants upon this fund who were not embraced in the definitive list furnished by the Department of State to the Commissioners under the treaty of St. Petersburg. This fund clearly belongs, in the language of the last treaty, to the persons entitled to indemnification and compensation, by virtue of the decision of the Emperor of Russia and the convention concluded for the purpose of carrying it into execution. Who are those persons? The treaty of St. Petersburg answers this question. It declares, "that the commission shall not take cognizance of, nor receive, and that his Britannic Majesty shall not be required to make compensation for, any claims for private property under the first article of the treaty of Ghent not contained in the definitive list." All other claims are excluded. If, therefore, Congress were to direct the payment of any claim not embraced in that list, its amount must be taken from claimants who have a vested right to the entire fund. Should this fund, contrary to expectation, prove to be more than sufficient to satisfy all the just claims contained in the definitive list, the surplus will then be subject to any disposition which Congress may think proper to make of it among other claimants.
It is true that Congress, at its last session, provided "that all claims which were deposited in the Department of State, and, by mistake, omitted to be placed on the definitive list," should be added thereto. Although this provision was only intended to cure a mere clerical mistake of the Department, and was in favor of claimants who, on their part, had complied with every requisition of the treaty; yet, in the opinion of the committee, it went quite as far as could be justified upon any correct principle of legislation. That case, however, can certainly not be drawn into a precedent for the purpose of sanctioning such claims as those which have been referred to the committeeŚclaims which never reached the Department of State until several years after the definitive list had been closed and transmitted to the Board of Commissioners.
The committee also deem it proper to state that, in this case, either the memorialist or the other agent of the claimants, or perhaps both of them, have been guilty of gross negligence, having never taken any means to ascertain whether the claims which they represented had been placed upon the definitive list from the time they were first transmitted to Washington, in 1823, until late in the month of November last. If such claims could, at this late period, be added to that list, the wise provision of the seventh section of the act of the 2d March last would be defeated, and the commission could not be closed with the present session of Congress. The committee, therefore, offer the following resolution;
Resolved, That it is inexpedient to grant the prayer of the petitioner.