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STATEMENTS AND PAPERS BEFORE THE COMMITTEE ON
CLAIMS OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ON HOUSE BILL 22534
61st CONGRESS, 2D SESSION
MARCH 30, 1910
President of the Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania
COMMITTEE ON CLAIMS, HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, UNITED STATES
SIXTY-FIRST CONGRESS, SECOND SESSION
GEORGE W. PRINCE, CHAIRMAN
HENRY M. GOLDFOGLE
EZEKIEL S. CANDLER,JR.
DORSEY W. SHACKLEFORD
JAMES 0. PATTERSON
JOHN A. M. ADAIR
PATRICK F. GILL
M. BERT WOOLSEY, CLERK
GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE
FRENCH SPOLIATION CLAIMS.
COMMITTEE ON CLAIMS, Wednesday, March 30, 1910.
STATEMENT OF MR. J. HENRY SCATTERGOOD, PRESIDENT OF
THE INSURANCE COMPANY OF THE STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA, 300 WALNUT STREET, PHILADELPHIA, PA.
thathsicIn view of hich statement ti of the French,
Mr. SCATTERGOOD. Mr. Chairman and gentlemen, I have prepared a statement upon the whole subject of the French spoliation claims, and have it here, which statement includes the early history of the claims. In view of the fact that you are probably all familiar with that history, to a large extent, I hardly believe it would be wise to · take up the time of the committee in going over it all at this time, unless you wish I should do so. I, however, would be glad to answer any questions in connection with it.
I may say, first, by way of introduction, that these French spoliation claims have engaged the attention of both the Senate and House ever since 1902, and I will file as an appendix to my statement the report of Charles Sumner on the subject made in 1864; that of Mr. Mansur, from his committee of the House of Representatives, made in 1890; the report of Mr. Bunn, from this committee, made in 1894, etc., the opinions of the Court of Claims on the subject, together with the 306 cases before the Court of Claims. Those cover the ground fully.
Now I will make only a brief mention of the history. The United States made certain treaties in 1778 with France, under the terms of which France agreed to help us in the war of the Revolution provided we would make an offensive and defensive alliance with her. France kept her part of the treaty by spending $280,000,000 in our behalf, and furnishing 20,000 troops and 36 war vessels to help us in our war of independence. The United States secured this independence probably a good deal through the help of France; at least that help was of material aid in bringing about the freedom which we secured. Shortly after that, in 1792, a great European war began, and neutral ships, of which ours were the largest number, were seized, and France, England, Holland, Denmark, Naples, and Spain all preyed upon our neutral commerce, so that the merchants of the United States were greatly disturbed and were unable to conduct their ordinary commerce.
Sumner says (p. 7): . As the intelligence of these spoliations reached the United States our whole commerce was fluttered. Merchants hesitated to expose ships and cargoes to such cruel hazards. It was necessary that something should be done to enlist
again their activity. At this stage the National Government came forward voluntarily with assurance of protection and redress. This was in a circular letter dated 27th of August, 1793, when Jefferson, the Secretary of State, in the name of the President used the following language:
“I have it in charge from the President to assure the merchants of the United States concerned in foreign commerce or navigation that due attention will be paid to any injuries they may suffer on the high seas or in foreign countries contrary to the law of nations and existing treaties, and that on their forwarding hither well authenticated evidence of the same proper proceedings will be adopted for their relief." (Fr. Spol. Ex. Doc. 102, p. 217.)
Also in the message of President Washington, following that in 1793, reference is made to some seizures and the promise of protection on the part of the Government for the merchants who continued navigation. Shortly after that it became, as we all know, necessary for the United States to declare itself neutral, and there followed the proclamation of Washington of 1794. That was followed by the Jay treaty with England, under the terms of which we practically gave to England the same power previously held. The result was that France felt tremendously aggrieved and said that we had broken the treaties; and of course, at that time anyhow, we should have lived up to the guarantee of the old 1778 treaty that we would help her to preserve her West Indian colonies, which we never did. And the result was that strained relations took place with France, and it is not necessary for me to enlarge upon that. The result was, after prior attempts at reconciliation, the famous Ellsworth Commission, which brought out the treaty or convention of 1800, under the terms of which both sides agreed to call quits; on the one hand the United States agreed to release France under the claims of citizens for the illegal spoliation, and on the other hand France agreed to release us from all binding obligations under the old treaty of 1778. The result of it was the famous offset of the private claims of our citizens against the national claims of France.
Now, I want to make a hasty reference to the history of those matters immediately after 1800 :
As the spoliations which occurred after 1801 have sometimes been confused with those which we have already considered, it may be well to recount briefly what took place after 1801, and thus make complete the history of all the spoliations of this period.
Reference has already been made to the early spoliations of Great Britain upon our neutral commerce and that settlement for same took place under the provisions of the Jay treaty, by which the citizens of the United States recovered the sum of $11,650,000.
The European war was resumed after a short interval, following the peace of Amiens in 1802, and in the bitter struggle, that lasted until the fall of the French Empire, the belligerent powers (in spite of their treaties) renewed their aggressions on neutral commerce.
The illegal seizures of Great Britain at this period and the impressment of American seamen finally led to the war of 1812.
France, under the conquering Napoleon, issued the famous decrees of Berlin November 21, 1806, and Milan, December 17, 1807, under which, together with other less important decrees, many neutral vessels were seized and condemned. The United States, as in the spoliations prior to 1801, was the great sufferer, and the losses to merchants again ran into the millions. After long years of strenuous negotiations these spoliations of the French after 1801 were finally acknowledged, and under the treaty with France of July 4, 1831, France agreed to pay 25,000,000 francs in full settlement of the claims of American citizens for indemnity, while the United States agreed to pay to France 1,500,000 francs to satisfy certain claims of the French. This sum of 25,000,000 francs, or $5,000,000, was distributed pro rata among the claimants, citizens of the United States, who proved their losses before the commission—the total recovery being only 59 per cent of the amounts proved. (See S. Ex. Doc. 74, 49th Cong., 1st sess., pp. 41 and 153.)
In addition to that there were spoliations that had been committed by Naples, Holland, Denmark, and by Spain, all of which were settled for at various times through the energetic action of our State Department; recoveries were secured and the money was distributed among our citizens. The total amount set forth here is $28,225,000 recovered from all of these other countries for this general period under consideration.
Now, in regard to the actual conclusion of this treaty of 1800, under the terms of which, as I said before, the private claims of citizens were used as a quid pro quo for the national claims of France, the Court of Claims has this final opinion:
It seems to us that this “ bargain” (again using Madison's word), by which the present peace and quiet of the United States as well as their future prosperity and greatness were largely secured, and which was brought about by the sacrifice of the interest of individual citizens, falls within the intent and meaning of the Constitution, which prohibits use without just compensation.
The following is the form in which the court renders judgment in cases established according to the rules of evidence, as will appear by reference to the reports made by it to Congress:
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW.
The court decided as conclusions of law that said seizure and condemnation were illegal and the owners and insurers had valid claims of indemnity therefor upon the French Government prior to the ratification of the convention between the United States and the French Republic concluded September 30, 1800; that said claim was relinquished to France by the Government of the United States by said treaty in part consideration of the relinquishment of certain national claims of France against the United States; and that the claimant is entitled to the following sum from the United States.
Now, the opinions of contemporaries are very largely quoted, both French and American, in the report which I have submitted, so it is unnecessary to perhaps more than mention the names. Madison, Pickering, John Marshall, Henry Clay, Napoleon Bonaparte, Edward Everett, Daniel Webster, Charles Sumner, Rufus Choate, and Presidents Harrison, McKinley, Roosevelt, and Senators Hoar, Hale, Lodge, Higgins, Teller, Warren, and many others of the most distinguished statesmen known to American history. They all held the same view about these claims, that they were valid obligations upon the Government.
I wish now to proceed to mention simply one of the objections. I have all of the objections that have ever been brought up here, but unless some member of the committee wants them I shall not take the time to read them now.