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As to the application to raise the wreck of the Alphonso XII, it appears to me that under section 3755 the applicants may properly be remitted to the Secretary of the Treasury, and of course their application to Congress would be in order. Section 3755 undoubtedly includes wrecks which are, unless they have been definitely abandoned or allowed to become derelict, the property of the United States, even if it does not exclusively refer to such wrecks, but extends also to the property of private owners which has been wrecked, abandoned, or become derelict; and I do not suppose it would be denied on any ground that the wrecks on the coast of Cuba are the property of the United States as victors in the war with Spain and in the various engagements in which these vessels were sunk, Very respectfully,
JOHN W. GRIGGS. The SECRETARY OF THE NAVY.
MEDALS OF HONOR-PERILS OF THE SEA-SHIPWRECK.
The act of January 21, 1897 (29 Stat., 494), which was passed for the
purpose of giving a more liberal construction to the acts of June 20, 1874 (18 Stat., 127), and of June 18, 1878 (20 Stat., 165), provides that the several acts heretofore passed “shall be construed so as to empower the Secretary of the Treasury to bestow such medals upon persons making signal exertion in rescuing and succoring the shipwrecked, and saving persons from drowning in the waters over which the United States has jurisdiction, whether the said persons making such exertion were, or were not, members of a life-saving crew, or whether or not such exertions were made in the vicinity of a lifesaving station.” These acts are in pari materia, and may be read as
one act. The act of 1897 empowers the Secretary of the Treasury to bestow medals
of honor upon all persons who, in his opinion, have endangered their lives in saving or attempting to save human life, whenever, wherever,
and in whatever way it may be imperiled by the sea. The term “perils of the sea," as used in the act of 1874, includes all
perils on water caused by the sea, or which are such by reason of the
The word “shipwreck," as used in the act of 1878, includes not only
those in danger from "perils of the sea" by reason of the threatened destruction of their ship, but also those who, having parted from their vessel, are in a situation where, without rescue or succor, they would die of starvation, thirst, or exposure.
DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE,
April 2, 1900. SIR: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your note of March 22, 1900, with its inclosures, in which you request my official opinion as to the proper construction of various portions of the acts of Congress authorizing the Secretary of the Treasury to bestow medals of honor of the first class and of the second class upon persons who make signal exertions in endeavoring to save life from the perils of the sea, etc., in the waters of the United States.
The first act of Congress, approved June 20, 1874, section 7, made provision for these medals of honor only in cases of persons who “endanger their own lives in saving or endeavoring to save lives from perils of the sea within the United States, or upon any American vessel.”
By section 12 of the act of June 18, 1878, the Secretary of the Treasury is authorized to bestow these medals of the second class upon persons making such signal exertions in rescuing and succoring the shipwrecked and saving persons from drowning as, in his opinion, shall merit such recognition.”
Under these sections my predecessor in office rendered an opinion on January 30, 1895 (21 Opin., 124), holding, in substance, that they “apply to the rescue of those persons only who, in the vicinity of a life-saving station, life-boat station, or house of refuge, are in danger of drowning,
and that the purpose of such statutes is to cause such medals to be bestowed upon the members, whether regular or volunteer, and whether permanent or temporary, of the life-saving crews; and that the terms “succoring the shipwrecked" and "saving persons from drowning,” employed in section 12, act approved June 18, 1878, authorizing the bestowal of life-saving medals of the second class, were intended to embrace only those persons who were suffering from the perils of the sea, either by actual shipwreck or from being upon or connected with any vessel in distress.” (I quote from the statement of the opinion in the preamble of the construing act of January 21, 1897.)
The question of the correctness of the construction thus given to these sections by my predecessor is not involved here. But it is apparent that, when the construing act of January 21, 1897 was passed, the Congress then intended a much broader and more liberal construction. That act, after reciting, as above, the opinion of the Attorney-General, provides that the sections above partially quoted, and the act of May 4, 1882, authorizing additional honors for repeated acts of such heroism, “shall be construed so as to empower the Secretary of the Treasury to bestow such medals upon persons making signal exertions in rescuing and succoring the shipwrecked and saving persons from drowning in the waters over which the United States has jurisdiction, whether the said persons making such exertions were or were not members of a life-saving crew, or whether or not such exer: tions were made in the vicinity of a life-saving station."
It will be noted that the object and purpose of all this legislation is the saving of life endangered by shipwreck and other perils of the sea within the jurisdiction of the United States; and, to this end, to encourage, by suitable distinction of honor, heroic exertions and self-sacrifice in behalf of those whose lives are thus in peril. This object, with the reason for it, is as broad as the peril, and exists wherever the peril is; and this would, if necessary, aid the construction of language which, however, in my opinion, needs no aid from construction.
It will be noted, also, that the act of January 21, 1897, was passed to correct a construction by one department of the Government which Congress, then at least, deemed too narrow, and to give to this legislation a broader scope. In doing this, Congress has plainly made the territorial extent of this legislation as broad as the waters over which the United States has jurisdiction. For, in correction of a previous construction, fixing much narrower limits, Congress has extended the legislation to all the waters over which the United States has jurisdiction,
or whether or not such exertions were made in the vicinity of a life-saving station.” And all places which either are or are not “in the vicinity of a life-saving station" clearly embrace all places
in the waters over which the United States has jurisdiction.” And it extends, by express terms, on board any American vessel. And, as already said, the purpose and
object of the legislation emphasize this construction, and require it wherever, in the waters of the United States, human life is in peril of the sea and equally require recognition of heroic efforts in its bebalf, without reference to locality.
The same generality of application and liberality of construction are, both from the language used and the reason for it, required in respect of the persons whose signal exertions for the rescue of others from the specified perils may claim the honorable distinction intended therefor by Congress. This is not limited to any particular persons, class or classes, but is general and without distinction, and just as the expression “whether or not such exertions were made in the vicinity of a life-saving station" embraced all places within the waters of the United States, so the expression in the same sentence, "whether the said persons making such exertions were or were not members of a life-saving crew," embraces all persons within the same jurisdiction.
The next question has relation to the kind and nature of the perils, the rescue or attempted rescue from which may win the honorable recognition and distinction intended by Congress.
Here, too, the language of the statutes and their obvious reason, purpose, and object agree in the same construction and conclusion. By the act of June 20, 1874, these were defined simply as “perils of the sea," and, although this expression would probably be broad enough to embrace all perils of the sea--all perils caused by the sea, or which were such because of the sea-yet the perils have been, in the later acts, particularized somewhat, while retaining in the first act the original expression, and the medals of honor may now be bestowed for saving or endeavoring to save lives from the perils of the sea" and for "signal exertions in rescuing and succoring the shipwrecked and saving persons from drowning.” As will be seen further on, this provision as to the shipwrecked was necessary in order to the full measure of relief intended by Congress.
But, you ask the meaning of the terms “perils of the sea" and "the shipwrecked.”
As has been already stated, the purpose and objects of these acts are the saving of human life menaced by sea peril and by shipwreck in any waters of the United States. These provisions must be interpreted with reference to this purpose and object and such meaning be given to the language used, if possible, as will promote the end and aim of the statutes. Such statutes as these receive a liberal and not a strict or technical construction; and when the obvious reason or object of the law requires a more extended or less technical meaning of a word or words, in order to effect the object of the law, such meaning may be given. And when the same reason applies equally to words in a more extended sense, such meaning may be given them, if not inconsistent with the language used.
There are three classes of persons whose rescue from danger is contemplated by these acts, although some of one class may be embraced in another, viz: Those in danger from perils of the sea, the shipwrecked, and those in danger of drowning. Perils of the sea may, in certain cases, include the shipwrecked; the shipwrecked may be in danger of drowning, and persons may be in danger of drowning from perils of the sea other than shipwreck. Thus, one class may, but not always, necessarily, embrace persons in another class.
As applied to this subject, it would be difficult to choose another expression at once so conclusive and so little in need of detinition as is that of "perils of the sea," and yet, here, as in most cases, definition is necessary. The term, in its comprehensiveness, includes all perils of the sea, and not some of them merely. It includes all perils on water caused by the sea or which are such by reason of the sea. Of course, it does not embrace all perils to which one may be exposed on the sea, but only such as are caused by it. A man on shipboard in mid-ocean may be in imminent danger of his life from a personal assault or in various other ways, and, though the sea might prevent his escape, yet the danger which menaced him would not be a peril of the sea, one caused by the sea, or one which is such by reason of the
Nor, on the other hand, do I think the term is here used in the limited sense of its ordinary application to nav