Register of Debates in Congress, Comprising the Leading Debates and Incidents of the Second Session of the Eighteenth Congress Page: 137
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OF DEBATES IN CONGRESS.
Jan. 5, 1825.3
[Sen. & H. of R.
that, for the present, the subject be laid on the table,
that it might be further considered.
This motion was agreed to, and the subject was order-
ed to lie on the table.
HQUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES.—same day.
Mr. MERCER laid on the table the following'resolves:
Resolved, That the Secretary of War be directed to
lay before this House any information in his Depart-
ment, which may serve to shew the actual value of such
property as was occupied or supposed to have been oc-
cupied by the government of the United States and de-
stroyed by the enemy during the late war.
llesolved, That the Secretary of the Treasury be di-
rected to lay before this House the amount paid as in-
demnity to the claimants for property destroyed during
the late war in virtue of the act of April 9, 1816, and the
subsequent acts amendatory of the same; also, the
amount claimed in virtue of the same, and yet unsatisfied.
Resolved, That the Secretary of the Treasury be di-
rected to lay before this House so much of the returns of
the assessor under the late law imposing a direct tax, as
shall embrace the assessment of the value of the lands
and buildings situated on the Niagara frontier in the
state of New York.
These resolutions gave rise to a conversation, in which
Messrs. MERCKR, LITTLE, DWIGHT, STORKS,
TRACY, WILLIAMS, of North Carolina, FOO T, and
INGHAM, took part; during which the first resolve un-
derwent some modification to make it read as it now
stands. There was no objection made to calling for the
Information; but it was doubted by the gentleman from
New York, whether any valuable information on the
subject was in the possession of the War Department;
whether it could have any bearing on the bill; and,
whether all the information, bearing on this subject, was
not now to be found on the records of the War Depart-
ment. In reply to which, Mr. MEIlCEll said, that he
had himself seen testimony in the War Department,
which lie considered to have an important bearing, 'to
show which, he stated that he expected the testimony
asked for by the first of these resolutions, would esta-
blish the fact, that the officer who commanded the
troops at Buffalo, and signed the capitulation on that oc-
casion, had received, as an indemnity for his loss of pro-
perty oil that occasion, six times the actual value of the
property. No further objection was made to the re-
solves, though Mr. TRACY took occasion to remark,
that he had no idea that the papers called for would dis-
close any facts which could, in ai'y manner, affect the
general principles of the bill now pending in the House.
In the end, the resolutions were severally agreed to,
NIAGARA CLAIMS, &c.
The House then proceeded to the orders of the day,
and again went into committee of the whole on the bill
for the relief of the Niagara Sufferers, Mr. CAMPBELL,
of Ohio, in the chair.
Mr. WRIGHT moved to strike out the whole bill, and
substitute therefor the following:
" That any person, having a claim for a building de-
stroyed by the enemy during the late war, under the
ninth section of the act to which this is an amendment,
and of the act to amend the same, passed the third of
March, 18 7, which shall have been presented to the
Commissioner of Claims, appointed under the act first
aforesaid, at any time before the 10th of April, 1818, and
which was not paid under said acts, nor finally rejected
by said Commissioner, may, within nine months here-
after, present the same, with the evidence to support it,
to the Third Auditor of the Treasury, for examination
and adjustment; and, if he shall be satisfied the building
or buildings for which damages are claimed, was, at the
time of its destruction, occupied by order of any agent or
officer of the United States, as a place ofdeposite for mi-
litary or naval stores, or as barracks for the military
forces of the United States, and that such destruction
was the consequence of such occupation, he shall pro-
ceed to assess the damages, and certify the amount for
payment, in the way pointed out in the act first above
referred to, which shall be immediately paid out of any
money in the Treasury, not otherwise appropriated:
Provided, That, if the Auditor shall be satisfied the evi-
dence before him is insufficient to enable him correctly
to decide between the United States and the claimant,,
he may, on giving notice to the claimant, cause othee
evidence to be taken."
In support of the amendment, Mr. WRIGHT observed,
that the question involved in the present bill presented
itself to his mind in a point of view different from any
which he had heard it stated during the present debate.
A reference to the law of nations, as laid down by wri-
ters on that subject, would result only in this, that, oil
the question of a liability of a sovereign to make good,
the losses of his subjects during a state of warfare, those
writers were undetermined—no rule was definitively
settled, and the matter was left, in a great measure, dis-
cretionary with the sovereign to act as he felt himself
able in the case. Hut the view entertained by Mr. W.
avoided, he said, this whole inquiry. There was no
need of settling the line of difference between a perfect
and an imperfect obligation. He thought that the
claims which were now the subject of consideration,
might all be adjusted on principles and rules, settled,
not by the writers on national law, but by the. course of
our own legislation, and he held that, when once our own
acts had settled a rule, it was as binding on Congress as
any decisions of civilians could be. If he understood
the report of the committee who were appointed to in-
vestigate this subject in 1817, there was a great differ-
ence between it and the ground taken by some of the
friends of the present bill; nay, there was an equally
great difference between the ground they took and the
bill itself. The gentlemen tell us the present bill is
meant to carry into effect the act of 1816. So far, said
Mr. W. lam willing to go. I believe, that at least some
of these claimants have a right of indemnification; but
when gentlemen depart both from the report and from
the bill, and argue for principles foreign to both, I ask
the committee to pause before it adopts them. The re-
port rests the claim of these sufferers on two grounds :
1st, the testimony taken by the Commissioner under the
act of 1816; and, 2d, the neglect orinability of this House
to carry that law into effect. My proposition is, to send
the claims to an accounting officer of the Treasury. To
this it is objected, that there are upwards of two hun-
dred distinct claims, and that, after all the delay which
has already happened, any further postponement amounts
to a denial of justice. I admit that, were my proposal
productive of delay, it would be liable to this objection,
for a delay of justice may be carried so far as to amount
to a denial of it. Hut the objection goes on an hypo-
thesis far beyond this—it goes on a presumption that the
accounting officer of the Treasury will decide against
these claims under the law of 1816. Now, this, sir, in
my apprehension, is a mere begging of the question. It
is said, indeed, that the Third Auditor has already decid-
ed in accordance with the views of the Committee of
Claims, against the suftera-s. Sir, I deny the position.
The Third Auditor never lias decided, he never had
power to decide, on any of these claims. It is true, in-
deed, that, by the act of 1817, certain duties of the Com-
missioner of Claims were transferred to him, but no au-
thority was given him to decide on any of these claims;
and Mr. W. was not prepared to say, beforehand, that a
department of this Government would in all cases violate
I am far, said Mr. W. from objecting to pay what I be-
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Gales, Joseph, 1761-1841. Register of Debates in Congress, Comprising the Leading Debates and Incidents of the Second Session of the Eighteenth Congress, book, 1825; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc30752/m1/73/: accessed August 18, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.