« PreviousContinue »
But what prevented the Tribunal from adopting another method of arriving at their actual result is not stated.
The report proceeds with complacency: “ This conclusion [that the above sum could not have been given as the amount of indemnity to individual claimants], if it needed fortification, is strengthened by the fact that the arbitration chose to make an award of a gross sum as such indemnity, instead of sending the individual claimants to the Board of Assessors."
It mentions that the treaty provides in express terms that all claims on the part of the United States known as the Alabama claims should be referred to the Tribunal ; and from these premises reaches the conclusion that it was claims of the United States that were submitted and passed upon, and not claims of individuals.
The Committee consider that this view is strengthened by the fact that in the Johnson-Clarendon treaty the claims “generally known as the Alabama claims ” were described as “ claims on the part of the citizens of the United States.”
“But [this is a quotation from the report] the treaty of Washington assumes that no individual could have any claim because of the destruction of his property by a hostile power in war or its ally.” So that they are described “as the claims of the United States.” Indeed, in the first protocol the claim made by our commissioners was “ that the United States had sustained a great wrong."
Now, one who remembers the message of President Grant, and the facts that our only claim on Great Britain was made on the ground of her failure in diligence as a neutral, and that every claim except those of individuals and private corporations, and of the United States as the owner of two or three vessels destroyed by particular cruisers, was specifically disallowed, one who remembers these things is rather surprised when he finds the Committee adding, after the last cited paragraph, —
From these and other considerations which might be presented, your Committee have come to the conclusion that the amount awarded at Geneva is the money of the United States, to be disposed of at its pleasure, subject to no trust, and especially to no legal rights, in any individual or corporation by whom a legal or equitable claim can be set up or maintained to any part of the sum awarded, as against the United States.
Committee, he United Stare general
And the reader we have imagined will regret that those “other considerations” have not been presented which go to show how the United States have gained and some of her citizens have lost so large a sum of money.
But the Committee, having satisfied itself that the money is simply the property of the United States, of course provides for its payment into the treasury for the general use. Hardly. It proceeds “ to present such legislation as will equitably and fully do all that can be justly claimed of the government in this behalf.” But if no one has any legal or equitable claim to any part of the sum awarded, surely Congress will not give it away to any one. Gifts of public money in charity have always been regarded as dangerous, and have therefore been refused in many hard cases.
But the Committee, without adverting in the least to such considerations, or to the meritorious character of the claims that might be made upon the United States, thus suddenly enriched, on behalf of the disabled soldiers and sailors who gave their health, and the widows and orphans of those who gave their lives for their country, proceed : “Your Committee can have no doubt that the persons who ought first to be considered in this distribution were those who had suffered losses while carrying on the commerce of the country in the usual and ordinary mode, and have received no indemnity whatever therefor."
The Committee consider the underwriters to have been fully paid by their premiums, and explain why they pay only such as have lost on the whole; and adverting to the argument of the underwriters that their claims have been respected by the Tribunal and included in the award, and that moreover they have the legal right to be subrogated to the claims of the owners whose losses they have paid, they say: “Upon the best consideration which we can bring to the first ground of special claims by the insurers, your Committee believe it to be untenable in this, that while it is true that the claims of the insurance companies for losses paid were presented by this government to the Tribunal at Geneva as a part of our claims against Great Britain, and, as we are ready to admit, rightly enough presented; yet, as the case before the arbitration shows that the claims of the assured were also presented at the same time for the same property destroyed, the allowance of both claims would have been, in the language of the award of the arbitrators, an allowance of .double claims. Both were therefore rejected.”
This looks somewhat strange, in the face of the fact that only a few cases were presented of double claims, and of the fact that nothing more than a bare reference is made in the whole case to this matter of double claims. There was no question made or thought of as to the rejection of a claim where another and better one to the same subject-matter was presented. Will any one seriously contend that this great and wise tribunal have held that a person having a valid claim to property is to lose it because, and solely because, another person makes an invalid claim to it ?
If so, we should expect soon to discover that the famous “judgment of Solomon ” had been misreported, and that instead of being restored to the rightful claimant, the disputed baby was, in the slang of our day, “ covered into the treasury" of the kingdom of Israel. .
The Committee advert to the hardship of the cases of “brave mariners," as if the claims of the insurers were in some way prejudicial to them ; but they do not intimate, and it is difficult to imagine, how the claims of the respective classes are in any way hostile to, or likely to prejudice each other.
It is remarked by the Committee that certain persons, either insurers or insured, — and it is not clear which, - did not, during the war, voluntarily place themselves within reach of the enemy. This uncertainty of classification becomes, however, less dis.. tressing when it is found that the Committee do not designate any way in which such sin of omission bears upon any question at issue. And the Committee gravely cite the fact that some of the sufferers by the Shenandoah, in making their claims for losses, “ distinctly protest against any diminution of the indemnity for their losses because of any money received as insurance," although they urge only that this shows that the assured, in these instances, must proceed upon the ground that they think the underwriters have been more than indemnified by their war premiums.
The Committee then reiterate, in another form, their untenable statement that these claims are not maintainable, because Great Britain was an “ally” of the rebels, and then add: “ And it is safe to say that there cannot be found in the Washington treaty, or in the award under it, any warrant for the idea that it gives any rights to any individual for any claim whatever as against the United States or as against Great Britain,” – to which it is confidently answered, that however bold and strenuous this assertion may be, the arguments which are adduced in its support are quite as remarkably futile and feeble.
It will be remembered that during the discussion in the Senate it was expressly admitted by Mr. Edmunds that the underwriter who had paid a total loss was subrogated in all respects to the rights of the assured, including his claims upon the justice of foreign states.
Upon this question the Committee of the House say (1) that, admitting it to be as above stated, the insurer has no claim, because Great Britain was an ally of the rebels, and ask (2), “What, then, is the deduction, if we admit that the underwriters are subrogated to the fullest extent to the rights of the assured ? What rights has the assured ? None whatever. He has lost his vessel ; he has therefore nothing to lay claim to. There is not a splinter of it above water.” It is presumed that the Committee understood the question, but it must be admitted that they have been singularly unfortunate in indicating to the House the manner in which they would answer it, and indeed whether their answer would be affirmative or negative.
It is then argued, in the report, that the underwriter did not diminish his war premiums on account of any expectation on his part that he would be indemnified by his government, — because he made money by his business.
The Committee object to the appointment of commissioners to adjudicate upon these claims, because, of course (it assumes), they would have to sit at Washington, which would be inconvenient to claimants; and, secondly, because “ the fact, then, of a hearing before a commission at Washington would be to place a corruption fund of a number of millions with which to tempt both commissioners and counsel.”
Upon this last point there is nothing to be suggested beyond what will naturally occur to the hastiest reader.
The Committee conclude, in presenting the bill, with the remark that their single purpose has been to do justice to the various classes of claimants, “ so that the losses by the unfriendly acts of Great Britain, as the ally of the enemies of our country
during the war, may, as soon as possible, receive that just indemnity for wrongs suffered which has already been too long delayed.”
One is willing, of course, to make every allowance for the haste with which reports of committees are sometimes made, but it is frequently obvious that such haste conduces to any thing but speed in the progress of public business. The difficulty in paraphrasing the argument of the report is in great part due to the confused manner in which it is stated by the Committee. But the reader may be assured that the most earnest effort has been made to give the argument against the underwriters its full force. If, after all, it is feeble, it must be said, with due respect to the sources from which it emanates, that it is because of its intrinsic futility. If there is a reason for denying their claims which a respectable court would consider for a moment, or which ought to have influence over any person of cultivated common sense, it is not too much to say that it has not been stated in either branch of Congress.
The result of the efforts of the two branches does not encourage one to hope much from Congress as a judicial tribunal, at least in a case like the present.
Mr. Edmunds's bill passed the Senate by 30 votes to 18, with 25 absentees. Mr. Butler's bill passed the House by 93 to 53 (Feb. 15th); Mr. Poland's bill, which had been moved as an amendment, having previously been rejected by 81 to 57. Conferees were subsequently appointed on the disagreeing votes of the two houses, and the result was that a bill was agreed on, which was finally passed and approved March 3d, in terms as follows, viz. :
Immediately upon the payment of the sum of money awarded to the United States by the Tribunal of Arbitration at Geneva, to be paid by the government of Great Britain, the same shall be paid into the treasury, and used to redeem, so far as it may, the public debt of the United States. And the amount, equal to the debt so redeemed, shall be invested in the five per cent registered bonds of the United States, to be held subject to the future disposition of Congress.?
On the side of the underwriters the argument, as presented by Mr. Thurman in the Senate and Mr. Potter in the House, and
1 Approved March 3, 1873. U. S. Stat. 1873, c. 261; U. S. Stat. at Large, p. 601.