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No. 7.

WILLIAM GRAY, administrator, with the will annexed, of the estate

not already administered of William Gray, deceased, testate, v. THE UNITED STATES.

DAVIS, J., delivered the opinion of the court :

This claim is one of the class popularly called “ French spoliations,” and springs from the policy of the French revolutionary government between the execution of King Louis XVI and the year 1801, a policy which led to the detention, seizure, condemnation, and confiscation of our merchant vessels peacefully pursuing legitimate voyages upon the high seas. Over ninety years have these claims been the subject of discussion and agitation, first between the two nations, and then between the individuals injured and the Government of the United States. Prolonged and heated negotiation resulted in the treaty of 1800, by which it is urged on behalt of the claimants, their rights were surrendered to France for a consideration valuable to this Government. Their claims being valid obligations admitted by the French Government, they contend that the United States through this agreement, in which demands of the one nation were set off against those of the other, assumed as against their citizens these obligations and should pay them. This position is denied by the Government, which in addition presents other defenses based upon subsequent transactions between the two countries, urging that thereby were destroyed any beneficial rights possibly vested in the claimants, if their contention as to the treaty of 1800 be correct.


The act sending the claims to this court, while the third that has passed both Houses of Congress, is the first that has received the approval of a President, as one was vetoed by President Polk, another by President Pierce, while this, the third, was signed by President Arthur.

Whatever the rights of the claimants they are without remedy other than that which Congress may have seen fit to give them ; and our power to grant redress, be our opinion as to the justice of their claims what it may, is limited by the terms of the remedial statute. The force and effect of the act, by virtue of which the claimants appear at this bar seeking relief, must then be examined at the threshold of the discussion. The act authorizes “ citizens of the United States or their legal representatives," having “valid claims to indemnity upon the French Government arising out of illegal captures, detentions, seizures, condemnations, and confiscations,” prior to the ratification of the convention of 1800' with France, to apply here within a time limited (sec. 1), that (sec. 3) this court may "examine and determine the validity and amount” of their claims, the present ownership, and, if owned by an assignee, certain details in regard thereto. The act excludes from its benefits claims embraced in certain conventions with France and Spain, concluded in 1803, 1819, and 1831, and with provisions as to rules of court, defense of the United States, evidence, and other matters not important for our immediate purpose, directs this court, as to the claims thus placed within our jurisdiction, to report to Congress the first Monday of each December the facts found by us and our conclusions, which are to be taken, both as to law and facts, as advisory and not conclusive upon either party, the claimants or the Government.

So peculiar a jurisdiction was probably never before conferred upon a strictly judicial tribunal. The rights of the claimants, if any exist, arise from the acts of the political branch of the Government done in the protection and aid of the nation. For such rights there can be no remedy other than that granted by the legislature; in this instance the legislature has elected to transmit to the judiciary, under certain restrictions the examination of the claimants' demands, with the proviso that the conclusion reached in this forum shall not be finally binding upon either party, but that the defendants, as well as the claimants, have reserved to them an appeal, not in the regular line of judicial procedure to the Supreme Court of the United States, but back again to that body from which alone any remedy can come to the citizen for wrongs done him by his Government.

The reason for this peculiar grant of remedy is found in the nature of the claims which spring from international controversies of the gravest character intimately entwined with the history of our struggle for independence; also in the age of the claims; and, lastly, in the absolutely indeterminate amount of financial responsibility which will be thrown upon the Government should the claims be found to exist as valid obligations due from the United States to their citizens. Good or bad, not one of these claims is enforceable but by the consent of Congress, and the Congress can affix to that consent such condition as in their wisdom seems just and for the best interests of the Republic. The remedy now granted is an examination and advisory report by the judiciary, to be followed by a decision by the legislative branch of the Government.

It has been said that the validity of the claims as a class is admitted by the act, and this court should confine the examination to each individual claim for the purpose only of determining whether it fails within the class. This is understood to be in effect the argument on behalf of some of the claimants. Our labor and responsibility would be greatly lightened could we agree with this proposition, but the act of Congress seems clearly to negative the contention, and to throw upon us the duty of investigating the validity of these claims against France and the assumption of them by the United States. It requires us to examine, not claims in a specified category or known by a generic name, not even “claims” simply, but “valid” claims against France, and valid claims arising not merely from captures, detentions, seizures, condemnations, and confiscations, but from acts of this nature which were “illegal.” The validity of the claims, as against France, is the very first condition imposed by the legislature upon the grant of remedy. The claims must have been “valid” obligations existing at the time, and which this Government had the right to enforce diplomatically before they come within the purport of the statute. To grant as correct the contention that we are to examine in each case whether, and only whether, the seized or detained vessel had violated the law of nations or the treaties—as, for illustration, drawn from the argument, whether she carried contraband of war, or attempted to break an actual blockade, or failed to carry proper papers—if we are to examine only into this, then effect is perhaps given to the word “illegal," found in the statute defining the nature of the acts from which the claims arise, but the word “valid,” of equal if not superior force, is entirely ignored.

Clearly Congress expects from us an opinion as to the validity of claims of this class as against France, and the third section of the act, which requires us to receive“ historic and documentary evidence,” “ to decide upon the validity of said claims according to the rules of law, municipal and international, and the treaties of the United States applicable to the same," and to report “all such conclusions of fact and law as in (our) judgment may affect the liability of the United States therefor,” is not only confirmatory of this conclusion, but obliges us to go further and to examine into the resultant liability claimed to exist in the Government of the United States to compensate the claimants for the injuries alleged to have been sustained at the hands of the French Republic. This involves an examination of the history of the relations between the two countries from 1777, when negotiations for the treaties of alliance and commerce began, as the whole contention starts with the treaties of 1778 with France, which came to us during the darkest hours of the struggle for independence, and when we were hoping against hope for the aid which there was no prospect of receiving


Burgoyne had capitulated, Howe had been dri'ien from New Jersey, and, after the drawn battle of Germantown, was shut up in Philadelphia, where the ease and luxury of a city camp were but occasionally interrupted by an excursion ayainst the enemy on land or an encounter upon the river. Curiously enough, at the end of a successful campaign, the American cause was, barring the indomitable spirit of the patriots, in the direst straits.

Gates, excited by his success at the north and become the president of the executive board of war, had broken with Washington and had used his influence successfully in securing the appointment as inspector-general, against Washington's earnest protest, of a man who had openly detied the commander-in-chief. Washington's army of less than nine thousand men, lying at Valley Forge, was violently assailed by the State of Pennsylvania for not prosecuting an active winter campaign, while even in Congress, to which the remonstrance of the State's council and assembly had been addressed, there was deep discontent as to the policy of the commanderin-chief and sharp criticism upon his conduct. In Philadelphia the British, lodged in comfortable houses, were surrounded by every luxury which a full purse and communication with the outer world could afford; while in the Continental camp, as Washington wrote to Congress, the army was so reduced by cold and starvation that unless some capital change took place it must "starve, dissolve, or disperse.” In Philadelphia there was every comfort and almost every means of dissipation ; at Valley Forge nearly three thousand men were unfit for duty because they were bare

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