Register of Debates in Congress, Comprising the Leading Debates and Incidents of the Second Session of the Eighteenth Congress Page: 157
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OF DEBATES IN CONGRESS.
JAN. 7, 10, 1825.]
Crimes against the. United Stales.
[H. of R. & Sen.
statute, one af the most celebrated of which was the case j
of Governor Wall, who was tried and hanged in England |
for a murder he committed at Goree.
It is ob ected, said he, that we shall usurp jurisdic-
tion where it does not belong to us—but the object of
this section is to protect our own property, and punis
offences committed against this Government by its own
citizens. Suppose an act of treason against the United
States were planned or committed without the limits
of our own territory, would the United States have no
power to punish it ? The power to enact the provisions
oi this section rests on the power granted by the Con-
stitution to protect commerce—it rests on the same
ground as the laws punishing certain crimes against
the Post Office ; many of which are punished by death.
Either the entire class of crimes he had mentioned are
absolutely dispunishable, or they must be punished by
the laws of the United States. As to the danger of a
second trial abroad, after the accused has once been
tried at home, he thought it to be very small—it was
possible—the man might go back to the place where he
had committed the offence, and he might be apprehend-
ed and tried by a foreign tribunal—but there is generally
little inclination to meddle in such matters, the foreign
Government usually considering it as being not their
affair. But, if the House saw any danger in the provi-
sion, the would, of course, refuse to adopt it.
Mr. FORSYTH insisted on his objections to this provi-
sion, and suggested that a provision might be made to
try the offender if the foreign Government shall refuse
to do it—and to prescribe a course of proceeding where
no Government existed, as on the coast of Africa, the
Mr. WEBSTER suggested much inconvenience in
applying to know whether the foreign Government did
refuse. The seat of Government might be 500 or 5,000
miles from where the ship lay—and before application
could be made, and an answer obtained, she might be
detained there for years, &c.
Mr. LIVINGS TON had no doubt of the power of the
Government over its own citizens, in all parts of the
world, but he objected to the section, because it made
no distinction respecting by whom or upon whom the
crimes enumerated, were committed. A theft might,
for example, be committed in the midst of the harbor of
Liverpool, by some one of the inhabitants, on board an
American ship, and, according to the section, the thief
must be brought off to the United States to be tried and
punished. Its provisions, too, embraced every offence,
without distinction—crimes against the local police, &c.
which the United States might find great difficulty in
deciding upon. He feared some difficulty might arise
with foreign Governments, under the operation of such
a provision. For, if the United States' Courts have
power to punish, they have also power to bring the of-
fender before them, and a man who stole a trifling arti-
cle, must be brought off from London or Pans to be
tried in this country.
Mr WEBSTER then proposed to restrict the section
to murder and manslaughter, and to confine it to offen-
ces committed " by or upon any person belonging to the
ship's crew, or any passenger on board the vessel."
After considerable discussion, the latter alteration was
agreed to, but the words " murder and manslaughter"
were stricken out, and the words " anv offence' were
I he 6th section provides to punish running away
with the ship or her cargo, by death.
Mr. WLHSIEH expressed a willingness to change
this punishment, (hitherto always assigned by law to this
offence,) for fine and imprisonment, if the committee
should judge the latter penalty sufficient.
Mr. BUCHANAN, of Pennsvivania said he highly
approved of the general features of this bill. It was a
disgrace to our system of laws, that no provision had
ever been made for the punishment of the crimes which
it embraced, when committed in places within the ex-
clusive jurisdiction of the United States. He thought,
however, that the penalty of death was too severe to be
annexed to the description of crimes contained in the
scction under consideration.
The power of punishment vested in Government, said
Mr. B. results from the right of self-defence. Ven-
geance belongs not to man. We should, therefore, be
careful not to inflict punishments of a nature more se-
vere than the safety of society requires. In all cases
where the character of the crime does not involve such
a degree of moral depravity in the criminal as to pre-
clude a reasonable hope of his reformation, it would be
both unjust and cruel, in the extreme, to deprive him of
life. These principles need not be either illustrated Ql'
enforced before this committee.
What, then, said Mr. B. is the nature of the crimes
embraced by this section ? One clause of it declares,
that the passenger on board of any vessel who steals
and carries away from it goods of the value of 10QC/
dollars, shall suffer death. Is not this punishment out
of all proportion with the crime ? Is it necessary for
the safety of society that death should be the penalty in
such a case ! Is it possible that a provision of this nature
can, in the present improved state of society, be incor-
porated in our penal code ? He believed not. The
other crimes enumerated in the section, although more
aggravated than the one just mentioned, are chiefly
offences against the right of property; and a distinction
has generally been made between such crimes and
those which are malum in se, or highly criminal by the:
laws of nature.
What, said Mr. B. is the consequence of annexing1
cruel punishment to crimes? The people of the Unit-
ed States are humane and compassionate, and when the
feelings of society are in oposition to the laws, you can-
not carry them into execution. The humanity of juries
is interposed between the criminal and punishment.
The highest crimes thus often pass unpunished; and
the chance of escape is in proportion to the enormity of
the offence. Even after conviction and judgment, we
know by experience how difficult it is to get the sen-
tence of the law executed. It is the interest of society,
therefore, that, in the degree of punishment, justice
should be tempered with mercy.
Mr. B. observed, he had been a member of the com-
mittee whioh reported the bill. He might have moved
this amendment in the committee, but had neglected to
do so. He trusted that the honorable Chairman, (Mr,
Websteh,) to whom we were so much indebted for the
bill, would not object to it.
Mr. B. then moved to strike out, at the end of the
section now under consideration, the words—"be deem-
ed guilty of piracy and felony, and shall, on conviction
thereof, suffer deathand insert, in lieu thereof, the
words, "be punishable by fine, not exceeding $5,000,
and by imprisonment not exceeding ten years."
The question on this motion being taken, without de-
bate, was decided in the affirmative.
Before the committee proceeded to the next section
of the bill, Mr. P. P. BAHUOUIt expressed a desire for
further time to reflect upon its various and important
provisions, and, with the view to obtain it, moved that
the committee rise, which motion prevailed. The
committee rose accordingly, and obtained leave to sit
IN SENATE.—Monday, Jan. 10, 1325.
Mr. BARBOUR, from the Committee on Foreign Re-
lations, to whom the several petitions oil the subject of
Piracies were referred, made the following Report;
which was ordered to be printed :
" 'That our commerce, for years, has been harassed,
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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/m1/83/: accessed October 22, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.