THE WATCHFUL, 73 U. S. 91 (1867)

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U.S. Supreme Court

The Watchful, 73 U.S. 6 Wall. 91 91 (1867)

The Watchful

73 U.S. (6 Wall.) 91


1. A libel case charging the vessel and cargo to be prize of war dismissed because no case of prize was made out by the testimony.

2. But because the record disclosed strong prima facie evidence of a violation of the laws of navigation, and probably of our revenue laws also, the case was remanded with leave to file a new libel according to these facts.

In the above court, the schooner Watchful and cargo had been libeled as prize of war, and a decree rendered dismissing the libel and restoring the property to the claimant.

Page 73 U. S. 92

The claimant, one Wallis, to whom the property plainly belonged, was a citizen of Pennsylvania, residing at Philadelphia, and the evidence showed no reason to doubt his loyalty to the federal government during the recent war. Nor was there any proof of intention to break the blockade or to trade with the enemy. It appeared only that the claimant had sold, in the late civil war in Mexico, to that party which was led by President Juarez two hundred and fifty-two cases of firearms, which he had agreed to deliver on the Mexican coast near Matamoras, and when his vessel arrived near that place, it was found that the French army occupied the post, and no delivery could be made to the Juarez party. Under these circumstances, the officer in command started for New Orleans, not then blockaded, but in possession of the Union forces. On the way to that port, his vessel was captured and sent in as prize.

The record did, however, seem to disclose some facts, in other respects, of a sinister character. It seemed to show that the vessel had cleared for Hamburg when her real destination was Matamoras; that after she was out at sea, her clearance had been altered by erasing the word "Hamburg" and substituting in its place the word "Matamoras;" that a false manifest had been used, and that the fact of the main cargo of two hundred and fifty-two cases of arms being on board had been purposely concealed from the custom house officers at New York, whence the vessel sailed.

Upon these latter facts, the Attorney General now insisted that even admitting that there might be no sufficient proof of intent to break the blockade or to trade with the enemy, and so that the case was not one of prize, yet that the record before the court disclosed such a gross violation of our navigation laws, and possibly of our revenue and neutrality laws, that the case should be remanded to the district court with leave to file a new libel or for such other proceedings as the government may deem advisable in the matter.

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