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In prosecuting them it will be necessary to ascertain whether,

1st. The George and her cargo were, previous to the sentence, in the custody of the law, or of the captors.

2d. Whether the court of admiralty, after an appeal from their sentence, possessed the power to sell the vessel and cargo, and to hold the proceeds for the benefit of those having the right.

It appears that the court of New-Jersey, which condemned the George and her cargo as prize, was established in pursuance of the recommendation of congress, and that no legislative act had prescribed its practice, or defined its powers. The act produced in court was passed at a subsequent period, and, consequently, cannot govern the case. But the court cannot admit the correctness of the argument drawn from this act by the counsel for the plaintiffs in error. It cannot be admitted that an act defining the powers and regulating the practice of a pre-existing court, contains provisions altogether new. The reverse of this proposition is generally true. Such an act may rather be expected to be confirmatory of the practice and of the powers really exercised.

Since we find a court instituted and proceeding to act as a court, without a law defining its practice or its powers, we must suppose it to have exercised its powers in such mode as is employed by other courts instituted for the object, and as is consonant to the general principles on which it must act.

That by the practice of courts of admiralty a vessel when libelled is placed under the absolute control of the *court, is not controverted; but the plaintiffs contend that this power over the subject is not inherent in a court of admiralty, but is given by statute, and in support of this opinion the prize acts of Great Britain have been referred to, which unquestionably contain regulations on this point. But the court is not of opinion that those acts confer entirely new powers on the courts whose practice they regulate. In Browne's Civil and Admiralty Law, in his chapter on the jurisdiction of the prize courts, it is expressly stated that those courts exercised their jurisdiction anterior to the prize acts, and the same opinion is expressed by Lord Mansfield, in the case of Lindo v. Rodney, which is cited by Browne. The prize acts, therefore, most probably regulated pre-existing powers in the

manner best adapted to the actual circumstances of the Jennings time.

It is conceived that the constitution and character of a court of admiralty, and the object it is to effect, will throw much light on this subject.

The proceedings of that court are in rem, and their sentences act on the thing itself. They decide who has the right, and they order its delivery to the party having the right. The libellant and the claimant are both actors. They both demand from the court the thing in contest. It would be repugnant to the principles of justice, and to the practice of courts, to leave the thing in possession of either of the parties, without security, while the contest is depending. If the practice of a court of admiralty should not place the thing in the custody of its officers, it would be essential to justice that security should be demanded of the libellant to have it forthcoming to answer the order of the court.

If the captor should fail to libel the captured vessel, it has been truly stated in argument that the owner may claim her in the court of admiralty. How excessively defective would be the practice of that court, if, on receiving such a claim, it neither took possession of the vessel, nor required security that its sentence should be performed. Between the rights of a claimant where a libel is filed and where it is not filed, no distinction is perceived, *and the court conceives the necessary result of proceedings in rem to be, that the thing in litigation must be placed in the custody of the law, and cannot be delivered to either party but on sufficient security.

In conformity with this opinion is the practice of the court of admiralty, not only when sitting for the trial of prizes, and acting in conformity with the directions of positive law, but when sitting as an instance court, and conforming to the original principles of a court of admiralty. In his chapter In his chapter" on the practice of the instance "under the title of "proceedings in rem," p. 397. Browne states explicitly, that when the proceeding is against a ship, the process commences with a warrant directing the arrest of the ship. In Browne, 405. the course of proceedings against a ship, not for a debt, but to obtain possession, is stated at length, and in that case, too, the court takes possession of the ship.


It must be supposed that a court of admiralty, having







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prize jurisdiction, and, consequently, proceeding in rem, and not having its practice precisely regulated by law, would conform to those principles which usually govern courts proceeding in rem, and which seem necessarily to belong to the proper exercise of their functions. If in proceeding against a ship to subject her to the payment of a debt, or to acquire the possession of her on account of title, the regular course is, that the court takes the vessel into custody and holds her for the party having right, the conclusion seems irresistible, that in proceeding against a ship to condemn her as prize to the captor, or to restore her to the owner who has been ousted of his possession, the court will also take the vessel into custo dy, and hold her for the party having the right.

This reasoning is illustrated, and its correctness in a great measure confirmed, by the legislation of the United States, and the judicial proceedings of our own country. By the judicial act the district courts are also courts of admiralty, and no law has regulated their practice. Yet they proceed according to the general rules of the admiralty, and a vessel libelled is always in possession of the law.

*An objection, however, to the application of this reasoning to the case before the court is drawn from the defectiveness of the record in the original cause, which does not exhibit a warrant to the officer to arrest the George. The first step which appears to have been taken by the court is an order to the marshal to summon a jury for the trial of the case.

The carelessness with which the papers of a court created for the purposes of the war, and which ceased to exist before the institution of this suit, have been kept, may perhaps account for this circumstance. At any rate, the court of admiralty must be presumed to have done its duty, and to have been in possession of the thing in contest, if its duty required that possession. The proceedings furnish reasons for considering this as the fact.

The libel does not state the George to have remained in possession of the captors, that the sale was made for them, or by their means, nor that the proceeds came to their hands. The answer of the defendants avers that on bringing the George into port, she was delivered up with all her papers to the court of admiralty, and, although the answer is not testimony in this respect, yet



the nature of the transaction furnishes ample reason to Jennings believe that this was the fact; and it is the duty of the plaintiff to show that the defendants are in a situation to be liable to his claim. If the process of the court of admiralty does not appear regular, this court, not sitting to reverse or affirm their judgment, but to carry a decree of reversal and restoration into effect, must suppose the property to be in the hands of those in whom the law places it, unless the contrary appears. The George and her cargo, therefore, must be considered as being in custody of the law, unless the contrary ap pears.

If this conclusion be right, it follows that the regularity of the sale is a question of no importance to the defendants, since that sale was the act of a court having legal possession of the thing, and acting on its own authority.

*If the reasoning be incorrect, it then becomes necessary to inquire,

2. Whether the court of New-Jersey, after an appeal from its sentence, possessed the power of selling the George and her cargo, and holding the proceeds for the party having the right.

That the British courts possess this power is admitted, but the plaintiffs contend that it is conferred by statute, and is not incident to a prize court.

That the power exists while the cause is depending in court seems not to be denied, and indeed may be proved by the same authority, and the same train of reasoning, which has already been used to show the right to take possession of the thing whenever proceedings are in rem. Browne, in his chapter on the practice of the instance court, shows its regular course to be to de. cree a sale where the goods are in a perishable condition.

The plaintiffs allege that this power to decree a sale is founded on the possession of the cause, but the court can perceive no ground for such an opinion. It is supported by no principle of analogy, and is repugnant to the reason and nature of the thing.

In cases only where the subject itself is in possession of the court, is the order of sale made. If it be delivered on security to either party, an order of sale pend

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Jennings ing the cause is unheard of in admiralty proceedings.



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The motive assigned for the order never is that the court is in possession of the cause, but that the property in possession of the court is in a perishable state. A right to order a sale is for the benefit of all parties, not because the case is depending in that particular court, but because the thing may perish while in its 'custody, and while neither party can enjoy its use.

If, then, the principle on which the power of the court to order a sale depends, is not that the cause is depending in court, but that perishable property is in its possession, this principle exists in as much force after as before an appeal. The property does not follow the appeal into the superior *court. It still remains in custody of the officer of that court in which it was libelled. The case of its preservation is not altered by the appeal. The duty to preserve it is still the same, and it would seem reasonable that the power consequent on that duty would be also retained.

On the principles of reason, therefore, the court is satisfied that the tribunal whose officer retains possession of the thing retains the power of selling it when in a perishing condition, although the cause may be carried by appeal to a superior court. This opinion is not unsupported by authority.

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In his chapter on the practice of the instance court, page 405. Browne says, "If the ship or goods are in a state of decay, or of a perishable nature, the court is used, during the pendency of a suit, or sometimes after sentence, notwithstanding an appeal, to issue a commission of appraisement and sale, the money to be lodged with the registrar of the court, in usum jus habentis."

This practice does not appear to be established by statute, but to be incident to the jurisdiction of the court, and to grow out of the principles which form its law. A prize court, not regulated by particular statute, would proceed on the same principles; at least there is the same reason for it.

But there is in this case no distinct order of sale. The order is a part of the sentence from which an appeal was prayed, and is, therefore, said to be suspended with the residue of that sentence.

The proceedings of the court of admiralty, if they are all before this court, were certainly very irregular, and

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