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Special Message

February 27, 1843

To the House of Representatives:

I transmit to Congress sundry letters which have passed between the Department of State and the Chevalier d'Argaiz, envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary of Spain near the Government of the United States, on the subject of the schooner Amistad since the last communication of papers connected with that case. This correspondence will show the general grounds on which the Spanish minister expresses dissatisfaction with the decision of the Supreme Court in that case and the answers which have been made to his complaints by the Department of State.

In laying these papers before Congress I think it proper to observe that the allowance of salvage on the cargo does not appear to have been a subject of discussion in the Supreme Court. Salvage had been denied in the court below and from that part of the decree no appeal had been claimed.

The ninth article of the treaty between the United States and Spain provides that "all ships and merchandise of what nature soever which shall be rescued out of the hands of any pirates or robbers on the high seas shall be brought into some port of either State and shall be delivered to the custody of the officers of that port in order to be taken care of and restored entire to the true proprietor as soon as due and sufficient proof shall be made concerning the property thereof." The case of the Amistad , as was decided by the court, was not a case of piracy, and therefore not within the terms of the treaty; yet it was a case in which the authority of the master, officers, and crew of the vessel had been divested by force, and in that condition the vessel, having been found on the coast, was brought into a port of the United States; and it may deserve consideration that the salvors in this case were the officers and seamen of a public ship.

It is left to Congress to consider, under these circumstances, whether, although in strictness salvage may have been lawfully due, it might not yet be wise to make provision to refund it, as a proof of the entire good faith of the Government and of its disposition to fulfill all its treaty stipulations to their full extent under a fair and liberal construction.


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

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