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Special Message

March 01, 1880

To the Senate and House of Representatives:

I deem it proper to invite the attention of Congress to the subject of the unsettled claims of Spanish inhabitants of East Florida during the years of 1812 and 1813, generally known as the "East Florida claims," the settlement of which is provided for by a stipulation found in Article IX of the treaty of February, 1819, between the United States and Spain. The provision of the treaty in question which relates to the subject is the following:

The United States will cause satisfaction to be made for the injuries, if any, which by process of law shall be established to have been suffered by the Spanish officers and individual Spanish inhabitants by the late operations of the American army in Florida.

The act of Congress of the 3d of March, 1823 (3 U. S. Statutes at Large, p. 768), to carry into effect the ninth article of the treaty in question, provided for the examination and judicial ascertainment of the claims by the judges of the superior courts established at St. Augustine and Pensacola, and also made provision for the payment by the Secretary of the Treasury of such claims as might be reported to him by the said judges, upon his being satisfied that such claims were just and equitable; and a subsequent act, approved the 26th of June, 1834 (6 U. S. Statutes at Large, p. 569), gave further directions for the payment, and also provided for the hearing and determination by the judge of the superior court of St. Augustine of such claims as had not then been already heard and determined. Under these acts of Congress I understand that all claims presented to the judges in Florida were passed upon and the result of the proceedings thus had reported to the Secretary of the Treasury. It also appears that in the computation of damages the judges adopted a rule of 5 per cent per annum on the ascertained actual loss from the date of that loss to the time of the rendition of their finding, and that the Secretary of the Treasury in 1836, when the first reports were presented to him, not deeming this portion of the claims covered by the 5 per cent rule just and equitable within the meaning of the treaty and the acts of Congress, refused to pay it, but did continue to pay the ascertained amounts of actual loss. The demand for payment of this rejected item has been pressed at various times and in various ways up to the present time, but Mr. Woodbury's successors in the Treasury Department have not felt at liberty to review that ruling.

Under these circumstances I have thought it proper to lay the subject before Congress for its consideration and such action as may be deemed necessary. The history of the proceedings already had in regard to the matter is of record in the Treasury Department, and will be furnished by the Secretary of the Treasury should Congress desire it.


Rutherford B. Hayes, Special Message Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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