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United States Supreme Court

15 U.S. 148

The William King

APPEAL from the circuit court for the district of New-York.

A libel was filed against this vessel in the district court of New-York, March, 1809, for a breach of the act of the 22d of December, 1807, laying an embargo, and the several acts supplementary thereto, alleging, that she proceeded from Baltimore, without any clearance or permit, bound on a voyage to Exuma, one of the Bahama islands, where she took in a cargo of six thousand bushels of salt, with which she returned to New-York. The claimants admitted the fact of going to Exuma, and bringing away the salt, but alleged that it was from necessity; that the brig was regularly bound to Boston, but, being captured soon after she left Hampton Roads, by a British privateer, was sent to Jamaica, where she sold the cargo of flour which she had on board, the government of that colony not allowing it to be brought off. That she then went to Exuma.

The testimony in the case exhibits the following summary: About the middle of October, 1808, the vessel arrived at Baltimore from Boston. At Baltimore she took on board a cargo of upwards of sixteen hundred barrels of flour, and sailed again, ostensibly for Boston, about the first of November. On reaching Hampton Roads, she stopped a few days, being, as was asserted, wind bound. While there, a British privateer, of ten guns and twelve men, called the Ino, arrived in the Roads. On the eighth of the month the brig put to sea, the Ino following her. On the afternoon of the same day the Ino captured her, within ten leagues of the shore, putting a prize master and one man on board. The vessels then proceeded for the West Indies. During the voyage no attempt was made by the crew either to retake the brig or to escape, though favourable opportunities were not wanting. Her crew consisted of nine persons. After a short separation from the privateer, the brig arrived off St. Nichola Mole. Here the privateer joined her, and thence the two went to Kingston. No prize proceedings were instituted against the brig; but, on the contrary, the supposed captors relinquished all claim to their prize, on reaching Kingston. From Kingston she went to Exuma, as above stated. The district court, on the hearing, pronounced a sentence of condemnation. A decree of affirmance, pro forma, was entered in the circuit court, from which the cause was brought, by appeal, Mr. Hoffman, for the appellants and claimants, stated, that this case was governed by the authority of the Short Staple;a the William King having sailed from Hampton roads in company with that vessel, and both were seized by the British privateer Ino, and compelled to go to the West Indies. The two cases are perfectly coincident in their circumstances, and restitution having been decreed in the case of the Short Staple, the same judgment must, consequently, be pronounced in the present case. He argued that the whole plan and system of the revenue laws indicated that it was not the legislative intention to cumulate a forfeiture of the ship (being a registered vessel) upon the penalty of the bond, which had been given for re-landing the cargo in the United States.

The Attorney-General and Mr. Hopkinson, contra. The court expressly overruled the point made as to

9 Cranch, 55. the construction of the embargo laws, in the case of the Short Staple,b although that case was determined, on its peculiar circumstances by a majority of the court, in favour of the claimants. But the restitution of the Short Staple, on the facts of her case, forms no ground for the acquittal of the William King, even should the facts be precisely similar. Principles of law form precedents. But an inference from evidence is not conclusive as to facts, in another cause, whether the testimony be the same, or different; certainly not if it be different.

In delivering the opinion of the court in that case, Mr. Chief Justice MARSHALL stated that this point had 'been pressed with great earnestness by the counsel for the claimants; but the court is not convinced that his exposition of the embargo acts is a sound one. On this point, however, it will be unnecessary to give an opinion; because we think the necessity under which the claimants justify their going into St. Nichola Mole, is sustained by the proofs in the cause.' 9 Cranch, 60.

Mr. Hoffman, in reply, argued, that the court could not, without judicial inconsistency, decide this case differently from that of the Short Staple, unless there was some substantial and important difference in the facts of the two cases; that the opinion of a majority of the court was the opinion of the court, and a rule of conduct, whether formed upon an abstract point of law, or upon a mixed question of fact and law; and that to maintain the contrary position would be to assent to an assertion, which had been hazarded in another place, that the decisions of this court are not binding as legal precedents on themselves and on others.

Mr. Justice JOHNSON delivered the opinion of the court.


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).