United States Statutes at Large/Volume 1/5th Congress/2nd Session/Chapter 60


June 25, 1798.
[Expired.]
Chap. ⅬⅩ.—An Act to authorize the defence of the Merchant Vessels of the United States against French depredations.


Section 1. Merchant vessels may oppose searches, &c. attempted by the French.
Ante, p. 561, 565.
Post, p. 578.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the commander and crew of any merchant vessel of the United States, owned wholly by a citizen or citizens thereof, may oppose and defend against any search, restraint or seizure, which shall be attempted upon such vessel, or upon any other vessel, owned, as aforesaid, by the commander or crew of any armed vessel sailing under French colours, or acting, or pretending to act, by, or under the authority of the French republic; and may repel by force any assault or hostility which shall be made or committed, on the part of such French, or pretended French vessel, pursuing such attempt, and may subdue and capture the same;repel assaults, capture the aggressors, and make recaptures. and may also retake any vessel owned, as aforesaid, which may have been captured by any vessel sailing under French colours, or acting, or pretending to act, by our under authority from the French republic.

Sec. 2. Captured vessels may be condemned, sold and distributed. And be it further enacted, That whenever the commander and crew of any merchant vessel of the United States shall subdue and capture any French, or pretended French armed vessel, from which an assault or other hostility shall first be made, as aforesaid, such armed vessel with her tackle, appurtenances, ammunition and lading, shall accrue, the one half to the owner or owners of such merchant vessel of the United States, and the other half to the captors: And being brought into any port of the United States, shall and may be adjudged and condemned to their use, after due process and trial, in any court of the United States, having admiralty jurisdiction, and which shall be holden for the district into which such captured vessel shall be brought; and the same court shall thereupon order a sale and distribution thereof, accordingly, and at their discretion; saving any agreement, which shall be between the owner or owners, and the commander and crew of such merchant vessel. Recaptured American vessels to be restored on paying salvage.In all cases of recapture of vessels belonging to citizens of the United States, by any armed merchant vessel, aforesaid, the said vessels, with their cargoes, shall be adjudged to be restored, and shall, by decree of such courts as have jurisdiction, in the premises, be restored to the former owner or owners, he or they paying for salvage, not less than one eighth, nor more than one half of the true value of the said vessels and cargoes, at the discretion of the court; which payments shall be made without any deduction whatsoever.

Sec. 3. And be it further enacted, Security to be given previous to the clearing of armed merchant vessels. That after notice of this act, at the several custom-houses, no armed merchant vessel of the United States shall receive a clearance or permit, or shall be suffered to depart therefrom, unless the owner or owners, and the master or commander of such vessel for the intended voyage, shall give bond, to the use of the United States, in a sum equal to double the value of such vessel, with condition, that such vessel shall not make or commit any depredation, outrage, unlawful assault, or unprovoked violence upon the high seas, against the vessel of any nation in amity with the United States; and that the guns, arms and ammunition of such vessel shall be returned within the United States, or otherwise accounted for, and shall not be sold or disposed of in any foreign port or place; and that such owner or owners, and the commander and crew of such merchant vessel, shall, in all things, observe and perform such further instructions in the premises, as the President of the United States shall establish and order, for the better government of the armed merchant vessels of the United States.

Sec. 4. And be it further enacted, The President shall establish instructions for the government of armed merchant vessels. That the President of the United States shall be, and he is hereby authorized to establish and order suitable instructions to, and for, the armed merchant vessels of the United States, for the better governing and restraining the commanders and crews who shall be employed therein, and to prevent any outrage, cruelty or injury which they may be disposed to commit; a copy of which instructions shall be delivered by the collector of the customs to the commander of such vessel, when he shall give bond, as aforesaid. And it shall be the duty of the owner or owners, and commander and crew, Report to be made to the collector on their return into the United States. for the time being, of such armed merchant vessel of the United States, at each return to any port of the United States, to make report to the collector thereof of any rencounter which shall have happened with any foreign vessel, and of the state of the company and crew of any vessel which they shall have subdued or captured; and the persons of such crew or company shall be delivered to the care of such collector, who, Disposal of prisoners. with the aid of the marshal of the same district, or the nearest military officer of the United States, or of the civil or military officers of any state, shall take suitable care for the restraint, preservation and comfort of such persons, at the expense of the United States, until the pleasure of the President of the United States shall be known concerning them.

Sec. 5. And be it further enacted, Limitation of the act. That this act shall continue and be in force for the term of one year, and until the end of the next session of Congress thereafter.

Sec. 6. Provided, and be it further enacted, The President may instruct the armed merchant vessels to submit to searches, &c. when French armed vessels shall observe the law of nations, &c. That whenever the government of France, and all persons acting by, or under their authority, shall disavow, and shall cause the commanders and crews of all armed French vessels to refrain from the lawless depredations and outrages hitherto encouraged and authorized by that government against the merchant vessel[s] of the United States, and shall cause the laws of nations to be observed by the said armed French vessels, the President of the United States shall be, and he is hereby authorized to instruct the commanders and crews of the merchant vessels of the United States to submit to any regular search by the commanders or crews of French vessels, and to refrain from any force or capture to be exercised by virtue hereof.

Approved, June 25, 1798.