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GLASS V. THE BETSEY, 3 U. S. 6 (1794)

U.S. Supreme Court

Glass v. The Betsey, 3 U.S. 3 Dall. 6 6 (1794)

Glass v. The Betsey

3 U.S. (3 Dall.) 6


Every district court of the United States possesses all the powers of a court of admiralty, whether considered as an instance or a prize court.

Where a vessel had been captured on the high seas as prize by a French privateer and brought by the captors into Baltimore, and there restoration claimed by the Swedish and American owners in the district court of the United States; the District Court of Maryland has jurisdiction competent to inquire and decide whether restoration ought to be made to the claimants or either of them, in whole or in part, consistently with the laws of nations and the treaties and laws of the United States.

No foreign power can of right institute or grant any courts of judicature of any kind within the jurisdiction of the United States, but such only as are warranted by and be in pursuance of treaties.

Page 3 U. S. 7

Captain Pierre Arcade Johannene, the commander of a French privateer, called the Citizen Genet, having captured as prize, on the high seas, the sloop Betsey, sent the vessel into Baltimore; but upon her arrival there, the owners of the sloop and her cargo filed a libel in the District Court of Maryland claiming restitution, because the vessel belonged to subjects of the King of Sweden, a neutral power, and the cargo was owned jointly by Swedes and Americans. The captor filed a plea to the jurisdiction of the court, which, after argument, was allowed; the circuit court affirmed the decree, and thereupon the present appeal was instituted.

The general question was whether under the circumstances of this case, an American court of admiralty has jurisdiction to entertain the complaint or libel of the owners and to decree restitution of the property.

Page 3 U. S. 15

The Court, having kept the cause under advisement for several days, informed the counsel that besides the question of jurisdiction as to the district court, another question fairly arose upon the record, whether any foreign nation had a right, without the positive stipulations of a treaty, to establish in this country an admiralty jurisdiction for taking cognizance of prizes captured on the high seas by its subjects or citizens from its enemies. Though this question had not been agitated, the Court deemed it of great public importance to be decided, and, meaning to decide it, they declared a desire to hear it discussed. Du Ponceau, however, observed that the parties to the appeal did not conceive themselves interested in

Page 3 U. S. 16

the point, and that the French minister had given no instructions for arguing it.

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