John A. (John Adams) Dix.

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ed to force. Fleets were equipped, blood was shed, and the
physical power of the country was vigorously put forth, to
compel redress. For all practical purposes, it was war.
The two countries, for interested objects on both sides, chose
to commence negotiations on the basis of peace, though,


before they closed, they had approached nearly to a war-
basis. But the facts remained unaltered. The American
Ministers pronounced it to be " war, or that peculiar state
of hostility in which they are at present involved." (Page
684^.^ On another occasion they said, " Doubtless the con-
gressional Act authorizing the reduction of French cruisers
by force was an authorization of war, limited indeed in its
extent, but not in its nature." (Page 642.) Nay, sir, the
president of the French commission, when treating with our
Ministers, said, " that, if the question could be determined by
an indifferent nation, he was satisfied such a tribunal would
say that the present state of things was zvar on the side of
America, and that no indemnities could be claimed." The
other two commissioners made similar declarations. (Page
638.^ And in like manner Mr. Jefferson, in a letter to
Samuel Smith, of the 22d August, 179-3, (page 398, third
volume of his works,) says, " It is true, then, that, as with
England we might of right have chosen either war or
peace, and have chosen peace, and prudently, in my opinion,
so with France w'e might also of right have chosen either
peace or w^ar, and we have chosen war." But call it what
you will, it was a resort to force — the last resort of repub-
lics as well as kings — to procure a redress of wrongs ; and
it vindicates our government from all imputation of neglect
or want of zeal in the performance of its duty.

In the negotiations which succeeded this state of hostility,
all the energies and all the appliances of diplomacy consist-
ent with honor were employed to procure a recognition of
the claims of our citizens on France. To a certain extent
these efforts were successful. A portion of the claims was
recognized, and subsequently paid, under the convention of
1803. A portion remains unsatisfied ; but I have endeav-
ored to show that the United States — first, by negotiation,
second, by a resort to force, and, third, by another recourse
to negotiation — has acquitted herself of all obligation to
respond to those, the satisfaction of whose claims she unsuc-


cessfully labored to effect. I will not detain the Senate by
entering into an analysis of the different classes of these
claims, separating those which are alleged to be unsatisfied
from those for which indemnity has been paid. I will not
stop to inquire how far these claims may have been well- or
ill-founded ; to speculate on the chances there may have
been, when the testimony was fresh, of reducing them
within reasonable limits ; or to consider the danger now,
after the lapse of more than forty years, of showing injuries
which might never have been clearly proved before the power
of sifting evidence was seriously weakened, if not utterly
lost. These are considerations of so serious a nature as to
call on us to pause and ponder well the consequences of
throwing these demands on the public treasury. But I rest
my opposition to the application for legislative relief on the
broader grounds I have stated.

The Senator from Delaware accounted for the neglect of
our government to recognize these claims when first pre-
sented to Congress by the peculiar state of the public finances
in 1801, and for thirty years afterwards. But I apprehend
that the state of our finances at a period subsequent to 1801
will be found, in connection with other circumstances, one
of the strongest arguments against this application. Mr.
Madison was Secretary of State from 1801 to 1809. Mr.
Jefferson, who was familiar with the origin and progress of
our difficulties with France, and conducted the diplomatic
correspondence of our government in respect to them for
some time after they broke out, was President of the United
States during the same period, — from 1801 to 1809. In
I8O7, the first report was made in Congress in favor of
these claims, — for I cannot agree w^ith the Senator from
Delaware that Mr. Giles's report in 1802 was a favorable
one. In his Annual Message of I8O7, Mr. Jefferson reports
a surplus in the treasury of eight millions and a half of
dollars. In his Annual Message of 1808, he reports the
enormous balance of nearly fourteen millions, of which only
about five were required to meet public engagements, leaving


again a disposable surplus of about eight millions and a
half; and, in connection with this balance, he refers to prob-
able future surpluses, when the freedom of commerce should
be restored, and asks whether they shall be permitted to " lie
unproductive in the public vaults "? " Such was our financial
condition in 1807 and 1808. Sif, is it credible, if Mr. Jef-
ferson and Mr. Madison had believed this claim a valid de-
mand on the government, that it would not, through these
distino;-uished individuals, who exercised a controllins" influ-
ence in Congress, have been recognized and paid 1 If, with
these men at the head of the government, — men familiar
with the history of the times, — w'hen the transactions them-
selves were recent and well known, — with an overflowing
treasury, — with millions, in fact, remaining without any
specific object, — if, under all these circumstances, the claims
were not acknowledged, with what propriety can we be asked
to acknowledge them now, after the lapse of more than forty
years, when the memory of much that is necessary to give
to remote transactions their true coloring, and to correct erro-
neous conclusions in respect to them, may be irretrievably
lost 1 Sir, there is no safety in such cases but to rest on the
contemporaneous judgment of those who had every motive
to consider and judge them fairly, and who possessed all the
information necessary to make their decision just.

And finally, sir, I am compelled to differ with my hon-
orable friend from Delaware (if he will permit me so to
designate him) in the opinion that the government of the
United States is in honor responsible for these claims. A
government is undoubtedly bound to protect its citizens in
their persons and in their property, to the extent of its
ability, both from internal and external injuries. It is
bound to seek, by all just and feasible methods, a redress
of such injuries : if domestic, by a proper application of
its authority ; if foreign, by negotiation in the first instance,
and by force in the second, if the magnitude and enor-
mity of the aggression justify a resort to arms. When it
has done all this, it will have performed its duty. If it


cannot succeed in obtaining- redress, it must be deemed
fairly exonerated from all liability to its own citizens
when it has made all the efforts it is capable of puttino^
forth for the purpose. Sir, I know of no principle by
which a government, after extraordinary efforts to procure
a redress of injuries, or an acknowledgment of the claims
of its citizens on a foreign State, is bound to assume the
satisfaction of those claims because its efforts have proved
unsuccessful. If this principle is to be adopted and acted
on, we should go back to the ten years which preceded
the War of 181J^, and satisfy our citizens for spoliations
committed on them during peace by Great Britain. We
demanded indemnity for these spoliations in negotiating the
treaty of Ghent. Our Ministers were repeatedly instructed
on the subject. We presented our claims to the British
commissioners, and we abandoned them when we found
them hopeless. Or, to use the language by which the
claim before us is sought to be enforced, these indemnities
were " released " to Great Britain " for the valuable con-
sideration " of peace. We should, according to every prin-
ciple of equity, satisfy these last claims first. Under the
convention of 1803 with France, our citizens were paid
nearly four millions of dollars on account of claims on
France prior to 1800. Under the convention of 1831,
they received over four millions and a half more for spo-
liations subsequently to 1800. In all, we have obtained
from France by negotiation, and paid to our citizens, about
eight millions and a half of dollars. From Great Britain
I am not aware that we have obtained anything, since the
treaty of 1794', on account of claims for spoliations, not-
withstanding the aggravated injuries she has committed on
our citizens, excepting for abducted slaves under the treaty
of Ghent. But I hold that the government of the United
States is exonerated, in both instances, by a faithful and
zealous discharge of its duty, — first, by negotiation, and,
second, by a resort to force.


Propositions to establish a warehouse system, under which goods
imported into the United States from foreign countries might be stored
without payment of duty until withdrawn for consumption, had been
for several years before Congress. The bills making provision for the
purpose were long and complicated, embarrassing the discussion and
endangering the success of the measure by complexity of detail. To
avoid these difficulties, Mr. Dix introduced a bill securing all the
objects in view by a simple amendment of a single section of an Act
then in force, and it passed through both Houses and became a law at
the same session. The speech which follows was intended to explain
the bill, and was delivered on the 19th of June, 1846.

Mr. President : The bill under consideration was re-
ported to the Senate from the Committee on Commerce,
under a resolution instructing them to inquire into the
expediency of establishing- a warehouse system, and giving
them authority to report by bill. The committee having
charged me with the introduction of the bill, it devolves
on me to explain its provisions, to point out its objects,
and to show in what respects it modifies existing laws.

The bill is designed by the committee to respond af-
firmatively to the inquiry they were instructed to make.
It is true, it does not provide specifically for the estab-
lishment of a warehouse system ; but it aims to accom-
plish all the objects of such a system, by extending the
provisions of existing laws in relation to the storage and
final disposal of imported merchandise. They have given
it the greatest possible simplicity in form. They have not
deemed it expedient to recommend a complex system.
They have aimed to introduce no principles wholly new or
untried. They have made the system they propose con-


form as nearly as practicable to the provisions of existing
laws. They have founded it on enactments now in force
and in daily and familiar operation, — enactments of which
the meaning and application have been settled by construc-
tion and practice. The bill consists of an amendment of
a sinole section — the ISth section — of the act of the
SOth of August, 184<2, commonly called the tariff act.
It is almost a transcript of that section and the thirteenth.
The amendments, though important, are all comprised within
the compass of a few lines. Thus, Senators will perceive
that the proposed measure will be presented for their con-
sideration in the most simple shape, and that the exami-
nation which the importance of the subject demands may
be carried on, without embarrassing their attention by com-
plexity of details.

The first observation which I deem it proper to make
in connection with the general policy of the measure is,
that the warehouse system is actually in existence, though
on a very narrow basis, and in a very imperfect form.
Indeed, I believe there has been no period from the foun-
dation of our revenue system when it was not in opera-
tion in some shape or other, and under certain limitations.

It will, in fact, be necessary, in order to show to what
extent it is in force, to go back to the general revenue
act of the 2d March, 1799, "to regulate the collection
of duties on imports and tonnage."

The 56th section of that act, which is still in force
with some modifications, provides, that, after the expiration
of fifteen working-days from the time prescribed for re-
porting a vessel, if any goods shall be found on board,
other than such as were reported for entry in another col-
lection district, or some foreign port, they shall be taken
possession of, and stored under the order of the collector.
The same section also provides, that, after five days' notice
to the collector, any goods may be so taken and stored,
with the consent of the owner or consignee, or the master


of the vessel. By the act of 3d March, 1821, the time
allowed for unlading vessels exceeding three hundred tons
burden is extended from fifteen to twenty working-days ;
and by a proviso in the 56th section of the act of 1799,
which I am now examining, the fifteen working-days origi-
nally allowed may be extended by the collector fifteen days
more for vessels laden with salt or coal.

The act of 1799, like all the early acts regulating the
collection of duties, gave a credit to the importer where
the duties chargeable on imported merchandise exceeded a
certain amount. If the duties did not exceed fifty dollars,
they were required by that act to be paid in cash ; and
by the act of the l+th July, 1832, cash payments were
exacted for duties not exceeding two hundred dollars. On
all sums exceeding these amounts, the importer took the
goods and gave his bond, payable at periods varying from
three to twelve months, according to the nature of the
merchandise and the countries from which it was im-
ported. This was the general system. There was an
exception in the case of teas, which were allowed to be
deposited in stores agreed on by the importer and in-
spector of the revenue, — bonds without sureties being
taken, in double the amount of the duties, payable in two
years. And there was also a general provision authoriz-
ing collectors to receive goods in deposit, by way of se-
curing the payment of duties, as a substitute for sureties
on bonds. For instance, if the importer preferred not to
give sureties, he was allowed to give his own bond and
take his merchandise, depositing with the collector a sufficient
quantity to insure the payment of the duties on the whole.

Under the system of credits thus established, there was
no strong inducement to place goods in store pursuant to
the provisions of the 56th section of the act of 1799-
Such as were found on board vessels after the time speci-
fied for unlading, were usually small in quantity and not
of great value. Under the proviso of the 56th section,



which I have referred to, authorizing goods to be received
in store after five days' notice, with the consent of the
owner, I believe it was, and still is, the practice for ves-
sels in haste to enter on the return voyage, and especially
packets, to be put on what is called the five days' order,
for the purpose of unlading and sending their cargoes to
the public stores without waiting for them to be appraised,
weighed, measured, and gauged.

Goods thus deposited were, by the provisions of the
56th section, permitted to remain in store for the term of
nine months, unless the duties chargeable on them became
payable in a shorter period ; and in this case a sufficient
quantity was allowed to be sold to realize the duties when
they were due. The residue was to be sold at the end
of the nine months, with the addition of one month pre-
scribed for advertising them. So that, with the nine
months allowed for retaining goods in store, one month
for advertising, twenty days for unlading, and unavoidable
delays, it rarely happened that goods charged with duties
payable in nine months were sold in less than a year.
Before goods were sold, they were required to be appraised
by two or more reputable merchants, and the proceeds of
the sale, after deducting the duties and charges, were paid
into tlie treasury of the United States for the use of the
owner, upon proof of his right to receive them.

Such was the warehouse system as it existed under the
earliest revenue laws. The system of credits established
by the same laws, and the limited time for the deposit
of merchandise, rendered it of no great practical impor-
tance as an instrument of commerce. I call it a ware-
house system, though it may be deemed unworthy of the
name, as its object was, chiefly, the convenience of the
commercial community.

The 12th section of the act of the 30th August,
1842, requires the duties on all imported merchandise to
be paid in cash. The act of 1799 required duties to be


paid, or secured to be paid, before a permit for landing
them was granted. But, in order to ascertain what the
duties were, it was necessary, as a general rule, to cause
the goods to be weighed, gauged, measured, and some-
times sent to the public stores to be appraised. The ne-
cessity of the case, therefore, established this construction
of the law, which has existed from the earliest period, —
that its requirements are sufficiently complied with if the
importer pays the duties regularly ascertained, or secures
them when estimated, before he obtains possession of the
goods on which they are charged. This practice exists,
and must always exist, under any system of cash duties. It
existed when the cash system was partial, when it was made
universal, and it exists still. Under the cash system, then,
the duties must be paid or deposited before the goods go
into the possession of the owner. Under the'credit system,
the owner obtained possession of his goods on giving his
bond for the payment of the duties at a future day.

The 12th section of the act of 18*i2, after exacting the
payment of duties in cash, ])rovides, that " in all cases of
failure or neglect to pay the duties, on completion of the
entry," the goods " shall be taken possession of by the
collector, and deposited in the public stores." When so
deposited, they are to be kept at the charge and risk of
the owner ; and if the duties are not paid in sixty days,
(or ninety days if imported from beyond the Cape of
Good Hope,) the goods, or a sufficient amount to pay the
duties, are required to be sold at auction, after an ap})raise-
ment by the general appraisers. If the owner does not
claim the residue, they are to be redeposited, and disposed
of under the ISth section of the same act, the provisions
of which I shall explain. The time of advertising before
a sale is prescribed by the Treasury Department, and has
been fixed at thirty days, as under the act of 1799-

Such is the warehouse system, if it can be so called,
existing under the 12th section of the act of the 30th of



August, 184S; and it will be perceived that it differs from
that established by the act of 1799 in many essential

1. By the act of 1842, the maximum time during which
goods are allowed to remain in store before a sale to realize
the duties is reduced from nine months to sixty or ninety

2. Under the act of 1799, the appraisement was required
to be made by two or more reputable merchants. Under
the 12th section of the act of 1842, no special apprais-
ers are named, and it is, therefore, construed to intend
the general appraisers, — the official persons appointed un-
der the general law. The appraisement is accordingly
made by them.

3. Under the act of 1799, all the goods were to be
sold at the end of nine months. Under the 12th section
of the act of 1842, only a sufficient quantity is to be
sold, at the end of sixty or ninety days, to pay the duties,
charges, and interest.

4. Under the 56th section of the act of 1799, the
overplus of the proceeds of the sale, after paying the
duties and charges, was to be paid into the treasury of
the United States, for the use of the owner. Under the
12th section of the act of 1842, the residue of the goods,
after selling a sufficient quantity to pay duties, interest, and
charges, is to be delivered to the owner, if claimed by him ;
or if not claimed, to be redeposited in store.

5. The act of 1799 required an inventory and appraise-
ment of the goods before a sale. The act of 1842 requires,
in addition, that distinct and printed catalogues descriptive
of the goods, with the appraised value annexed, shall be
distributed among the persons present at the sale, and a
reasonable opportunity given to purchasers to inspect the
quality of the goods. These additional requirements are
of great importance. Under the old system, these sales
were ordinarily mere package sales. The officers of the


customs and persons in their confidence might know all
about the goods to be sold, while the purchasers could know
very little about them, thus opening a wide door to collusion
and fraud.

There are other differences of minor importance not
necessary to be specified.

The 13th section of the act of 30th August, 1842,
differs materially from the 12th, and is, in its general
provisions, more analogous to the o6th section of the act
of 1799. The appraisement is required to be made by
two or more respectable merchants, and all the goods are
required to be sold. This section, at first glance, appears
to have been specially framed for the purpose of finally
disposing of all unclaimed goods, in whatever manner
they may have found their way into the public stores ;
but, by a construction of the Treasury Departijient of
the 11 til July, 1845, it is decided to embrace only such
goods as are redeposited in store under the preceding
section, after a partial sale to realize the duties, or such
as are liable for charges of storage, &c. The time during
which goods may remain in store under this section is
fixed by the 56th section of the act of 1799, which is
in this respect unrepealed, and the sales accordingly take
place once in nine months.

In all cases, both under the acts of 1799 and 1842,
there is a provision for the speedy sale of perishable goods :
a provision equally important to the government, in order
that the duties ma)'^ be realized before the goods become
worthless, and to the owner, who may not always know
that his goods are in store, and who might, without such
a provision, lose their entire value.

I have thus stated the provisions of existing laws in
relation to the storage and final disposal of imported goods
in all cases of a failure or neglect to pay the duties charge-
able on them, and of goods unclaimed by the owners
within the time limited for retaining them in store. A


comparison of the act of 1799, in respect to the storage
of goods, with the act of 1842, will show the latter to
be much more stringent in its provisions. It diminishes
the time during which the goods are allowed to remain
in store from nine months to sixty and ninety days, and
it exacts interest on the duties from the date of the entry
of the goods on which they are chargeable.

The tariff' act of 1842 introduced the most thorough
revolution in this department of the revenue system of
the United States which has been known since the foun-
dation of the government, by abandoning the old plan of
giving credit for duties, and requiring them to be paid in
cash for the largest as well as the smallest sums. The
old system gave a credit for duties, without exacting interest
during the period for which the credit was granted. Under
the act of IS^.^, if there is a failure or an omission to
pay the duties on imported merchandise on the completion
of the entry, interest is charged from the day the duties
accrue, and the importer pays it with the duties when he
claims the goods ; or if, in default of voluntary payment
by the importer, a sale takes place, the interest is added
to the duties, and the amount, together with the charges
for storage, &c., is realized from the proceeds of the sale.

I desire to say here, Mr. President, to avoid misappre-
hension, that I am aware of the provision in the tariff act
of 1833, or the Compromise act, as it is called, requiring
duties to be paid in ready money; but this provision did
not go into effect until the 1st of July, 1842; and by
the same act all duties were reduced to twenty per cent,
on the same day, while the more liberal provisions of the

Online LibraryJohn A. (John Adams) DixSpeeches and occasional addresses (Volume 1) → online text (page 10 of 40)