APPEAL to the circuit court of the district of Maryand. The British ship Anne, with a cargo belonging to a British subject, was captured by the privateer Ultor, while lying at anchor near the Spanish part of the island of St. Domingo, on the 13th of March, 1815, and carried into New-York for adjudication. The master and supercargo were put on shore at St. Domingo, and all the rest of the crew, except the mate, carpenter, and cook, were put on board the capturing ship. After arrival at New-York, the deposition of the cook only was taken, before a commissioner of prize, and that, together with the ship's papers, was transmitted by the commissioner, under seal, to the district judge of Maryland district, to which district the Anne was removed, by virtue of the provisions of the act of congress of the 27th of January, 1813, ch. 478. Prize proceedings were duly instituted against the ship and cargo, and a claim was afterwards interposed in behalf of the Spanish consul, claiming restitution of the property, on account of an asserted violation of the neutral territory of Spain. The testimony of the carpenter was thereupon taken by the claimant, and the captors were also admitted to give testimony as to the circumstances of the capture; and, upon the whole evidence, the district court rejected the claim, and pronounced a sentence of condemnation to the captors. Upon appeal to the circuit court, peace having taken place, the British owner, Mr. Richard Scott, interposed a claim for the property, and the decree of the district court was affirmed, pro forma, to bring the cause for a final adjudication before this court.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mr. Justice Story delivered the opinion of the court.
Mr. Harper, for the appellant and claimant, argued, that the captors were incompetent witnesses, on the ground of interest, except when farther proof was imparted to them;*fn1
and that they were not entitled to the benefit of farther proof in this case, being in delicto. The irregularity of their proceedings, and the violation of the neutral territory, would not only exclude them from farther proof, but forfeit their rights of prize. The testimony being irregular, it must appear, affirmatively, that it was taken by consent, where the irregularity consists, not in a mere omission of form, but in the incompetency or irrelevancy of the evidence. The testimony of the captors being excluded from the case, the violation of the neutral territory would appear uncontradicted. The text writers affirm the immunity of the neutral territory from hostile operations in its ports, bays, and harbours, and within the range of cannon shot along its coasts.*fn2
Nor can it be used as a station from which to exercise hostilities.*fn3
As to the authority by which the claim was interposed, the Spanish consul's was sufficient for that purpose; especially under the peculiar circumstances of the times when, on account of the unsettled state of the government in Spain, no minister from that country was received by our government, but the former consuls were continued in the exercise of their functions by its permission. In one of the cases in the English books, the Portuguese consul was allowed to claim on account of violated territory, although it does not appear that he had any special instructions from his sovereign for that purpose.*fn4
But even supposing the powers of a consul not adequate to this function, whence arises the necessity that the neutral government should interfere in general? Because the enemy proprietor is absolutely incapable of interposing a claim on this, or any other ground. But here the incapacity of the claimant is removed, his pesona standi in judicio being restored by the intervention of peace. He may, consequently, assert his claim upon every ground which shows that the capture, though of enemy's property, was originally unlawful and void.
Mr. D. B. Ogden and Mr. Winder, contra, contended, that the captors were admissible witnesses in this case, as they are in all cases respecting the circumstances of the capture; such as collusive and joint captures, where the usual simplicity of the prize proceedings is necessarily departed from. So, also, their testimony is generally admitted on farther proof.*fn5
A claim founded merely upon the allegation of a violation of neutral territory, is a case peculiarly requiring the introduction of evidence from all quarters, the captors being as much necessary witnesses of the transaction as are the captured persons. Every capture of enemy's property, wheresoever made, is valid, prima facie; and it rests with the neutral government to interfere, where the capture is made within neutral jurisdiction. The enemy proprietor has no persona standi in judicio for this or any other purpose. But here the suggestion of a violation of the neutral territory is not made by proper authority. All the cases show that a claim for this purpose can only be interposed by authority of the government whose territorial rights have been violated.*fn6
The public ministers of that government may make the claim, because they are presumed to be fully empowered for that purpose: But a consul is a mere commercial agent, and has none of the diplomatic attributes, or privileges of an ambassador; he must, therefore, be specially empowered to interpose the claim, in order that the court may be satisfied that it comes from the offended government. A consul may, indeed, claim for the property of his fellow subjects, but not for the alleged violation of the rights of his sovereign; because it is for the sovereign alone to judge when those rights are violated, and how far policy may induce him silently to acquiesce in those acts of the belligerent by which they are supposed to be infringed. There is only one case in the English books, where a claim of this sort appears to have been made by a consul; and from the report of that case it may be fairly inferred that he was specially directed by his government to interpose the claim.*fn7
But even the Spanish government itself has not conducted with that impartiality between the belligerents, which entitles it to set up this exemption.*fn8
Its territory was, during the late war, permitted to be made the theatre of British hostility, and in various instances was violated with impunity. Spain was incapable, or unwilling, at that time, to maintain her neutrality in any part of her immense dominions. In this very case the captured vessel was not attacked; she was the aggressor: and, in self-defence; the privateer had not only a right to resist, but to capture. The local circumstances alone would have prevented the Spanish government from protecting the inviolability of its territory, on a desert coast, and out of the reach of the guns of any fortress. Bynker shoek*fn9
and Sir William Scott hold, that a flying enemy may lawfully be pursued and taken in such places, if the battle has been commenced on the high seas.*fn10
A fortiori, may an enemy, who commences the first attack within neutral jurisdiction, be resisted and captured. But should all these grounds fail, the captors may stand upon the effect of the treaty of peace in quieting all titles of possession arising out of the war.*fn11
As between the American captors and the British claimant, the proprietary interests of the latter was completely devested by the capture. The title of the captors acquired in war was confirmed by bringing the captured property infra proesidia. The neutral government has no right to interpose, in order to prevent the execution of the treaty of peace in this respect, by compelling restitution to British subjects contrary to the treaty to which they are parties. The neutral government may, perhaps, require some atonement for the violation of its territory, but it has no right to require that this atonement shall include any sacrifice to the British claimant.
Mr. Harper, in reply, insisted that the claim of neutral territory, as invalidating the capture, might be set up by a consul as well as any other public minister. He may be presumed to have been authorized to interpose it by his government; and in the case of the Vrow Anne Catharina,*fn12
it does not appear that any proof was given to the court, that the Portuguese consul was specially instructed to make the suggestion. However partial and unjustifiable may have been the conduct of Spain in the late war, it has not yet been considered by the executive government and the legislature, (who are exclusively charged with the care of our foreign relations,) as forfeiting her right still to be considered, in courts of justice, as a neutral state. In the case of Eliza Ann,*fn13
Sir. W. Scott went on the ground of the legal existence of a war between Great Britain and Sweden, although declared by Sweden only; and that the place where the capture was made was in the hostile possession of the British arms. The observations thrown out by him in delivering his judgment, as to the necessity of the neutral state maintaining a perfect impartiality between the belligerents, in order to support a claim of this sort in the prize court, were superfluous; because the facts showed that Sweden was in no respect to be considered as neutral, having openly declared war against Great Britain, and a counter declaration being unnecessary to constitute a state of hostilities. As to the alleged resistance of the captured vessel, it was a premature defence only, commenced in consequence of apprehensions from Carthagenian rovers, which frequented those seas, and being the result of misapprehension, could confer no right to capture where none previously existed. Being in a neutral place, the vessel was entitled to the privileges of a neutral. Resistance to search does not always forfeit the privileges of neutrality; it may be excused under circumstances ofsmisapprehension, accident, or mistake.*fn14
But resistance to search by a neutral on the high seas is generally unjustifiable. Here the right of search could not exist, and, consequently, an attempt to exercise it might lawfully be resisted. Finding the neutral territory no protection, the captured vessel resumed her rights as an enemy, and attempted to defend herself. The titles of possession, which are said to be confirmed by a treaty of peace, are those which arise from sentences of condemnation, valid or invalid; but the principle cannot be applied to a mere tortious possession, unconfirmed by any sentence of condemnation like the present. The capture being invalid ab initio, and the former proprietor being rehabilitated in his rights by the intervention of peace, may interpose his claim at any time before a final sentence of condemnation.
The first question which is presented to the court is, whether the capture was made within the territorial limits of Spanish St. Domingo. The testimony of the carpenter and cook of the captured vessel distinctly asserts that the ship, at the time of the capture, was laying at anchor about a mile from the shore of the island. The testimony of the captors as distinctly asserts, that the ship then lay at a distance of from four to five miles from the shore. It is contended, by the counsel for the claimants, that captors, are in no cases admissible witnesses in prize causes being rendered incompetent by reason of their interest. It is certainly true, that, upon the original hearing, no other evidence is admissible than that of the ship's papers, and the preparatory examinations of the captured crew. But, upon an order for farther proof, where the benefit of it is allowed to the captors, their attestations are clearly admissible evidence. This is the ordinary course of prize courts, especially where it becomes material to ascertain the circumstances of the capture; for in such cases the facts lie as much within the knowledge of the captors as the captured, and the objection of interest generally applies as strongly to the one party as to the other. It is a mistake, to suppose that the common law doctrine, as to competency, is applicable to prize proceedings. In courts of prize, no person is incompetent merely on the ground of interest. His testimony is admissible, subject to all exceptions as to its credibility. The cases cited at the argument distinctly support this position; and they are perfectly consistent with the principles by which courts of prize profess to regulate their proceedings. We are, therefore, of opinion, that the attestations of the captors are legal evidence. The case, and it remains to examine their credit. And without entering into a minute examination, in this conflict of testimony, we are of opinion, that the weight of evidence is, decidedly, that the capture was made within the territorial limits of Spanish St. Domingo.
And this brings us to the second question in the cause; and that is, whether it was competent for the Spanish consul, merely by virtue of his office and without the special authority of his government, to interpose a claim in this case for the assertion of the violated rights of his sovereign. We are of opinion, that his office confers on him no such legal competency. A consul, though a public agent, is supposed to be clothed with authority only for commercial purposes. He has an undoubted right to interpose claims for the restitution of property belonging to the subjects of his own country; but he is not considered as a minister, or diplomatic agent of his sovereign, intrusted, by virtue of his office, with authority to represent him in his negotiations with foreign states, or to vindicate his prerogatives. There is no doubt, that his sovereign may specially intrust him with such authority; but in such case his diplomatic character is superadded to his ordinary powers, and ought to be recognized by the government within whose dominions he assumes to exercise it. There is no suggestion, or proof, of any such delegation of special authority in this case; and therefore we consider this claim as asserted by an incompetent person and on that ground it ought to be dismissed. It is admitted, that a claim by a public minister, or in his absence, by a charge d'affairs in behalf of his sovereign would be good. But in making this admission, it is not to be understood that it can be made in a court of justice without the assent or sanction of the government in whose courts the cause is depending. That is a question of great importance, upon which this court expressly reserve their opinion, until the point shall come directly in judgment.*fn15
The claim of the Spanish government for the violation of its neutral territory being thus disposed of, it is next to be considered whether the British claimant can assert any title founded upon that circumstance. By the return of peace, the claimant became rehabilitated with the capacity to sustain a suit in the courts of this country; and the argument is that a capture made in a neutral territory is void and therefore, the title by capture being invalid, the British owner has a right to restitution. The difficulty of this argument rests in the incorrectness of the premises. A capture made within neutral waters is, as between enemies, deemed, to all intents and purposes, rightful; it is only by the neutral sovereign that its legal validity can be called in question; and as to him and him only, is it to be considered void. The enemy has no rights whatsoever; and if the neutral sovereign omits or declines to interpose a claim, the property is condemnable, jure belli, to the captors. This is the clear result of the authorities; and the doctrine rests on well established principles of public law.*fn16
There is one other point in the case which, if all other difficulties were removed, would be decisive against the claimant. It is a fact that the captured ship first commenced hostilities against the privateer. This is admitted on all sides; and it is no excuse to assert that it was done under a mistake of the national character of the privateer, even if this were entirely made out in the evidence. While the ship was lying in neutral waters, she was bound to abstain from all hostilities, except in self defence. The privateer had an equal title with herself to the neutral protection, and was in no default in approaching the coast without showing her national character. It was a violation of that neutrality which the captured ship was bound to observe, to commence hostilities for any purpose in these waters; for no vessel coming thither was bound to submit to search, or to account to her for her conduct or character. When, therefore, she commenced hostilities, she forfeited the neutral protection, and the capture was no injury for which any redress could be rightfully sought from the neutral sovereign.
The conclusion from all these views of the case is, that the ship and cargo ought to be condemned as good prize of war. And the only remaining inquiry is, whether the captors have so conducted themselves as to have forfeited the rights given by their commission, so that the condemnation ought to be to the United States. There can be no doubt, that if captors are guilty of gross misconduct, or laches, in violation of their duty, courts of prize will visit upon them the penalty of a forfeiture of the rights of prize, especially where the government chooses to interpose a claim to assert such forfeiture. Cases of gross irregularity, or fraud, may readily be imagined in which it would become the duty of this court to enforce this principle in its utmost rigour. But it has never been supposed that irregularities, which have arisen from mere mistake, or negligence, when they work no irreparable mischief, and are consistent with good faith, have ordinarily induced such penal consequences. There were some irregularities in this case; but there is no evidence upon the record from which we can infer that there was any fraudulent suppression, or any gross misconduct inconsistent with good faith; and, therefore, we are of opinion, that condemnation ought to be to the captors.
It is the unanimous opinion of the court, that the decree of the circuit court be affirmed, with costs.