Register of Debates in Congress, Comprising the Leading Debates and Incidents of the Second Session of the Eighteenth Congress Page: 155
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GALES & BEATON'S REGISTER
H. of R.]
Crimes against the United States.
[Jan. 7, 1825.
vide that, if the state did not try the offender, the Unit-
ed States should. As the interest and property more
immediately concerned were those of the United States,
it was not proper to leave it at the option of any state,
whether offences against them should be punished.
Mr. WICKL1FFE replied. He had stated not his
opinion, or his apprehensions, but a fact which actually
existed. Admiralty jurisdiction had been claimed, and
lmd been exercised within his native state. The juris-
diction had been exercised in Kentucky by a tribunal
composed oPJudges, who were not in the habit of dream-
ing ort le^al subjects, and the question was now pend-
ing before the Supreme Court of the United States.
The section provides to punish what the states are them-
selves competent to punish, and in a manner different
from that in whicli some of the states provide to punish
it. Admiralty jurisdiction had also been claimed and
exercised, Mr. W said, in the state of Louisiana, and it
would be the effect of the section to take the punish-
ment of every boat-man who got into a fray, on board
one of the fiat-bottomed boats on the Mississippi, into
the hands of the United States' Courts, and punish him
in a way at variance with the laws of Louisiana. I (said
Mr. W.) would give to the states exclusive jurisdiction
within their own territories. Or, if the gentleman in-
tends to punish only crimes committed on board vessels
of the United States, and would so modify his amend-
ment as to accomplish that object alone, he would agree
to it. Hut the section, as it stands, said Mr. W. is gen-
eral and indiscriminate. Mr. W. further objected to it
as being without warrant from the Constitution. That
instrument gives to the General Government no power
to prescribe the punishment of crimes, under an admi-
ralty jurisdiction, except such as are committed on the
.high seas, or are offences against the laws of nations.
The crimes here referred to, are not committed on the
high seas, nor are they offences against the law of nations.
„ Mr. WliljSTER inquired, whether ho was to under-
stand the gentleman from Kentucky as affirming that the
Constitution gave to the General Government no other
power to punish crimes, except that contained in the
clause he had just quoted >
In answer to Mr. WEHSTUIt's question—
Mr. Wit Kl.1 Fl'E said, he did not see, in the Consti-
tution, any delogatad power to define and punish the
offences designated in the section under consideration,
when committed within the territorial limits of a state,
nor did he think it resulted as necessary to carry into ef-
fect the powers delegated to the General Government.
After some further consideration, the question was put
on Mr. WICKLIFFE'S amendment, and it was nega-
tived, ayes 46, noes 108.
Mr. ELLIS then moved to amend the section by
striking out the words ["or rape."] This crime, he
said, as, by the penal codcs of most of the states of
the Union, punished in a manner different from murder;
and, however infamous the former crime might be, lie
thought there ought to be a gradation in its punishment
below that of the latter. There had been in many states
of the Union an endeavor at the reformation of the
criminal code—in several states this had been effected
to a considerable extent, and he believed without the
least detriment to public morals or to public security,
lie regretted to perceive that th* legislation of the
states was crossed in so many inst.mccs'by the proposed
bill, ami that the old exploded system of punishments
was so far adopted and revived by it. The bill, he had
understood, professed to be an amelioration of the ex-
isting laws—but, if it created, as has been said by the
getleman trom Kentucky, (Mr. \Vivki.isixteen new
capital offences, it was, instead of an amelioration,
rather an aggravation of their severity It was easy for
a legislator to say, that those who broke through the
salutary restraints which tend to preserve society, are
worthy of death—but, where it was found, on experi-
ment, that penalties of a milder form were equally effec-
tual in the prevention or diminution of crimes, it would
not do to insist on such doctrine. A milder system had
been tried, and no increase of crimes had occurred be-
yond the proportion in which population had multiplied
—and, while that was the case, he should feel bound in
duty to oppose the bill in its present form, at least by
his vote, and to protest against all needless multiplica-
tion of capital punishments.
Mr GAZLAY supported the amendment of the gen-
tleman from Pennsyivana, chi fly on this ground, that, if
" rape" were placed on an equal footing with murder,
where the one was committed the other would generally
be committed also, to prevent prosecution.
Mr. WEBSTER replied, that the Committee on the
Judiciary did not consider themselves as instructed to
re-modify the penal policy of the United States. They
had no authority to do so. Should the time come when
the Government should see fit to abolish capital punish-
ments entirely, it was competent to do so—but the
present bill would be found, upon the whole, to be a
mitigation of the laws as they previously stood. He
did not know that he should object to the present
amendment, inasmuch as it was not probable that the
crime referred to would often occur in the circumstances
provided for; but, as to the crime itself, he never would
consent, that it should be punished with any thing-less
The amendment was lost.
Mr. WEHSTEli then moved to insert a section in the
bill, which provides, that, if any offence shall be commit-
ted on board of any ship or vessel belonging to any citizen
of the United States, while lying in a port or place with-
in the jurisdiction of any foreign state or sovereign, it
shall be cognizable by the United States' Court, is the
same manner as if committed on the high seas ; with a
proviso that, if tried abroad, the offender shall not again
be tried at home.
To this, Mr FOUSYTfl objected, as unnecessary and
somewhat dangerous; unnecessary, because the crimes
were punishable by foreign Governments; dangerous,
because it contained no safeguard against a citizen who
had been tried and acquitted by our own courts being
afterwards tried and condemned by aforeign jurisdiction.
Mr. A. STEVENSON, of'Ya. objected to the amend-
ment on constitutional grounds. He denied the power
of this Government to carry its territorial jurisdiction
within the jurisdiction of another sovereign. The re-
ceived doctrine of the law of nations was, that the juris-
diction of any sovereignty was commensurate with the
boundaries of the country in which it existed, except
when, by a fiction, it was supposed to accompany its
ambassadors when abroad, its armies when on a march,
and its ships of war; but this section applied to private as
well as public ships, and he denied that a private vessel
could carry the United States' jurisdiction with her
wherever she went.
Mr. WEBSTER explained, and again referred to cases
where crimes had been committed on board our own
vessels, but had gone without punishment, because the
vessel was within a foreign jurisdiction, tc was a case
that might happen ev> ry day. Our commerce had
spread over all seas; it extended into all the bays and
ascended all the rivers of the world. But, as the la\V
now stood, the moment a vessel left the high seas and
entered into any creek, haven, or bay, the'persons on
board were left without law ; the crew might rise and
murder the master, or commit any other outrage, and
there was no law whetever to punish them. As much
as two hundred years ago, the necessity of some
such provision as that now proposed, had been seen by
the Government of England, and, in the reign of Henry
8tb, a statute was enacted to punish at home crimes
committed on board English ships in foreign harbors.
Numerous convictions had taken place under that
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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/m1/82/: accessed July 21, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.