The Mohawk/Opinion of the Court

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Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

70 U.S. 566

The Mohawk

The act of December 23, 1852, authorized 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.

In this act, under which the owners of the Mohawk procured the enrolment, and the whole of which we have just quoted, there is nothing which inflicts such forfeiture, or any other penalty for fraud or false swearing, in procuring the action of the secretary.

This act is, however, to be construed as a part of our system of registry and enrolment of vessels, and as merely adding another class which may be registered and enrolled to those enumerated in the previous statutes. Whatever, therefore, may be found in those statutes imposing a penalty for fraud in procuring the enrolment of a vessel, may well be held to apply to an enrolment under the act of 1852.

We emphasize the word enrolment, because the registry of a vessel and the enrolment of a vessel are essentially different things, are provided for by different statutes, and are applicable to vessels engaged in different and distinct pursuits. Hence the act of 1852 says that the secretary may issue to a vessel, such as it describes, 'a register or enrolment.'

The purpose of a register is to declare the nationality of a vessel engaged in trade with foreign nations, and to enable her to assert that nationality wherever found. The purpose of an enrolment is to evidence the national character of a vessel engaged in the coasting trade or home traffic, and to enable such vessel to procure a coasting license. [9]

The distinction between these two classes of vessels is kept up throughout the legislation on Congress on the subject, and the word register is invariably used in reference to the one class, and enrolment in reference to the other.

There are two statutes in force making general provisions for the subjects of registry and enrolment of vessels. One of them is the act of December 31, 1792, which applies exclusively to vessels engaged in foreign commerce and to their registry, and the other is the act of February 18, 1793, which relates to vessels engaged in the coasting trade and fisheries, and to their enrolment.

The act of 1792 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.' This section does not refer to an enrolment, because neither the word registry or record is usually applied to an enrolment, and because the true intent of the act can have reference to no other class of vessels than those engaged in foreign commerce, which are required to take out a register.

The act of 1793, concerning the enrolment of vessels engaged in domestic commerce, enacts, by the second section, that 'in order for the enrolment of any vessel, she shall possess the same qualifications, and the same requisities, 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.' From this it is argued, that forfeiture shall take place under like circumstances as is provided for in the registry law. But there is not only nothing in the terms used which refers to penalties, but there is nothing which can be held to have such reference by any fair implication. These provisions concern the class or qualifications of vessels which may be enrolled, the requisites to be complied with before enrolment, the duties and authority of officers connected with the enrolment, and the proceedings to be had in obtaining enrolment. In all these particulars the rules of the registry law are adopted. The act makes sufficient provision for false affidavits, and has its penalties for them, but forfeiture of the vessel is not one of them.

But the act of March 2, 1831, undertakes, as its title imports, to regulate both the foreign and coasting trade, on the northern, northeastern, and northwestern frontiers of the United States.

In these regions the domestic and the foreign trade are so blended that the same vessel is almost necessarily engaged in both at the same time, and often during the same voyage. To meet this kind of trade the third section of that act says, in reference to vessels engaged in navigating those waters, that 'they 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 boat, sloop, or other vessel, to be employed either in the coasting or foreign trade, and no certificate of registry shall be required for vessels employed on said frontiers; provided, that such boat, sloop or other 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.' It is the obvious policy of this act to enable a class of vessels which are engaged in both the foreign and the coasting trade at the same time, to do so without the necessity of taking out both a register and an enrolment. For this purpose the act makes the enrolment equivalent to both register and enrolment. In giving to the enrolment the effect of a register, it very properly subjects the vessel to all the rules, regulations, and penalties relating to registered vessels. One of these penalties, as we have already seen, is the forfeiture of the vessel, for the fraudulent use of a certificate of registry, when she is not actually entitled to the benefit thereof.

The statements of the libel and the evidence in the case which supports them bring the Mohawk within this penalty.

DECREE REVERSED, and the case remanded, with instructions to enter a decree of forfeiture and condemnation of the vessel.


^9  Gibbons v. Ogden, 9 Wheaton, 214.

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).