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United States Supreme Court

70 U.S. 566

The Mohawk

AN act of Congress of 1792 [1] (section 27th), provides that 'if any certificate of registry or record shall be fraudulently or knowingly used for any ship or vessel not then actually entitled to the benefit thereof, according to the true intent of this act, such ship or vessel shall be forfeited to the United States.'

An act of 1793 [2] concerning the enrolment of vessels engaged in domestic commerce, enacts (section 2d) that 'in order for the enrolment of any vessel, she shall possess the same qualifications, and the same requisites, in all respects, shall be complied with, as are necessary for registering ships by the registry law; and the same duties are imposed on all officers with the same authority in relation to enrolments, and the same proceedings shall be had touching enrolments.'

An act of December 23, 1852 [3] authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury to issue a register or enrolment for any vessel built in a foreign country, whenever such vessel may have been, or shall hereafter be wrecked in the United States, and shall have been, or may hereafter be purchased and repaired by a citizen or citizens thereof; provided, that it shall be proved to the satisfaction of the Secretary of the Treasury, that the repairs put upon such vessel shall be equal to three-fourths of the cost of said vessel, when so repaired.

Intermediate in date between the act last mentioned and the one of 1793 just before it set forth, there is another act. This act, dated March 2, 1831, [4] provides by its third section that any vessel of the United States navigating the waters of our northern, northeastern, and northwestern frontiers, otherwise than by sea, shall be enrolled and licensed in such form as may be prescribed by the Secretary of the Treasury, 'which enrolment and license shall authorize any such vessel to be employed either in the coasting or foreign trade; and no certificate of registry shall be required for any vessel so employed on said frontiers; provided, that such vessel shall be in every other respect liable to the rules, regulations, and penalties now in force relating to registered vessels on our northern, northeastern, and northwestern frontiers.'

With these four different statutes in force, Sloan and others, wishing to give to a Canadian-built and owned vessel, the advantages of one with American papers, scuttled her and pretended that she had been accidentally made a wreck. They then raised her and put her in order; and falsely swearing, for the purpose of changing her to an American vessel, that the repairs were 'equal to three-fourths of her cost when so repaired,' procured American papers for her from the Secretary of the Treasury under the act of December 23, 1852.

The United States now libelled her in the District Court of Michigan, with the idea—

1. That under the three acts, first above mentioned, to wit, the acts of 1792, 1793, and 1852 alone, she was liable to forfeiture.

2. That if this was not so, she was certainly liable under these acts in connection with the act of March 2, 1831.

The District Court thought that the acts were not so essentially parts of one system as that the earlier ones could be imported into the latter, and dismissed the libel; and of this view was the Circuit Court. On appeal by the United States, the matter was now here for review.

Mr. W. A. Moore, in favor of the decrees below: The idea of the United States in libelling this vessel has been, that the act of 1852 is to be read as if it was a part of the original act of 1792; and that by this process the vessel will become subject to the 27th section of the latter act. The government assumes the acts to be acts in pari materia; and accordingly concludes that they are to be read as one act. But this is a misapplication of a sound maxim. The rule of pari materia is one of construction simply. Acts on the same subject are to be read together, that you may get such light as all the parts throw on each part, and thereby more accurately interpret any doubtful provisions. The language of Lord Mansfield is: 'They shall be taken and construed together as one system, and explanatory of each other.' [5] For no other purpose are different acts to be taken as one law. There is no case which authorizes a court to import independent and distinct provisions from one act into another; to tack the independent provisions of one act to another. There could not be; for, under the rule of pari materia, laws which have expired, or which have been repealed, may be considered. Now, it would be absurd to say that the repealed or expired acts were to be taken as a part of the law itself. Yet such would be the logical effect, if we accepted the meaning which government gives the rule.

An act may, indeed, be amended; and this by substitution, addition, diminution, or other qualification. The legal effect is, of course, to substitute the amended form for the original form, and to render it subject to the same relation to all other parts of the act. In this case, the amendments become a part of the amended law, in the most literal sense. It becomes such by incorporation. But this is not the sense which the rule pari materia contemplates, when it says that different acts are to be taken together as one law.

The government has probably proceeded, we suppose, on a misapplication of the rule which the cases lay down for construing revenue statutes. The court, under the rule referred to, reads the whole revenue code together, in order to interpret its different parts; to see how far a subsequent act has repealed or modified a former act; to see what provisions of the former acts, relating to the same particulars, are still in force, &c., &c. Thus, in Stuart v. Maxwell, [6] the question was, whether the Tariff Act of 1846 repealed certain provisions of the Tariff Act of 1842; and in order to reach a sound interpretation, the court read both acts together. So in Ring v. Maxwell, [7] the question was, whether a provision of the Tariff Act of 1842 had been repealed by a subsequent act. These were both correct applications of the rule. The critical observations of Curtis, J., in the last case, [8] confirms both of our positions

Applying this rule to the case, we are unable to see that the decree should be reversed. We think it plain that the penalty of forfeiture found in the 27th section of the act of 1792 is not imported into the act of 1793; and that it would be straining to hold even that the proviso to the 3d section of the act of March 2, 1831, applied the penalty contained in the section above named of the act of 1792, to any enrolment.

Mr. Speed, A. G., and Mr. Assistant Attorney-General Ashton, contra.

Mr. Justice MILLER delivered the opinion of the court.


^1  December 31, 1792; 1 Stat. at Large, 287.

^2  February 18, 1793; Id. 305.

^3  10 Id. 149.

^4  4 Id. 487.

^5  Rex v. Loxdale, 1 Burrow, 447.

^6  16 Howard, 158

^7  17 Id. 147.

^8  Pages 150-1.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).