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which the coasting trade might be carried on, unless it had been previously made so by act of Congress.”
We submit that the principle upon which Fleming v. Page was based is still a proper principle for judicial application. Does it not make government provident, not haphazard, ignoring circumstances and producing good or ill accidentally? Does it not leave to the executive and the legislative departments that which pertains to them? Did it not stand as a guide to the executive—a warrant of action, so far as action might affect private rights? Indeed, what is of greater concern-so far as action might affect great public interests? It should, we submit, be accepted as a precedent. It is wise in practice; considerate of what government must regard, and of the different : functions of whe executive, legislative and judicial departments and of their independence. Why should it then be discarded as dictum? If constancy of judicial decision is necessary to regulate the relations and property rights of individuals, is not constancy of decision the more necessary when it may influence or has influenced the action of a nation? If the other departments of the government must look to the judicial for light, that light should burn steadily. It should not, like the exhalations of a marsh, shine to mislead.
The case of Cross v. Harrison, (16 How. 164,) is relied on especially, The curiosity of that case is that all parties cite it, and this court even finds it as convenient and as variously adaptive. It therefore challenges the application of the wise maxim expressed by Chief Justice Marshall, “that general expressions in every opinion are to be taken in connection with the case in which those expressions are used.” And certainly to ascertain the meaning of the court we must see what was before the court, and interpret its opinion by that, and, if there is confusion in its language, it may resolve itself into satisfactory meaning.
It is cited to sustain the proposition that immediately upon the cession of territory it becomes a part of the United States, “instantly bound and privileged by the laws which Congress has passed to raise a revenue from duties on imports and tonnage.” This is the strongest expression of the case. It is attempted to be made its controlling one—the point decided. It was neither the point decided nor was it the controlling expression. It was immediately accompanied by the qualification “as there is nothing differently stipulated in the treaty in respect to commerce.” The effect of the qualification the opinion in the present case does not explicitly notice, and we shall attempt to show with what meaning the expression was used, and what was decided.
The case involved the legality of duties on imports into California between the 3d of February, 1848, and the 13th of November, 1849. The time was divided by the plaintiffs in the case “into two portions,” the court said, “to each of which they supposed that different
rules of law attached;” and further, that “the claim covered various amounts of money which were paid at intervals between the 3d of February, 1848, and the 13th of November, 1849.” The first of those dates was that of the treaty of peace between the United States and Mexico, and the latter when Mr. Collier, a person who had been regularly appointed collector at that port, entered upon the performance of the duties of his office. “During the whole of this period it was alleged by the plaintiffs that there existed no legal authority to receive or collect any duty whatever accruing upon goods imported from foreign countries.”
Meeting the contention and replying to it fully, the court held that the duties were legally levied and collected during the whole of the period—from the 3d of February, 1848, until some time in the following fall under the war tariff instituted by Governor Mason; after that under the Walker tariff. In other words, before and after cession, under the war tariff. Speaking of that tariff, the court said: “They (duties) were paid until some time in the fall of 1848, at the rate of the war tariff, which had been established early in the year before, by the direction of the President of the United States.” And speaking of the action of Governor Mason, and the law which sanctioned it, it was further said:
“He may not have comprehended fully the principle applicable to what he might rightly do in such a case, but he felt rightly, and acted accordingly. He determined, in the absence of all instruction, to maintain the existing government. The territory had been ceded as a conquest, and was to be preserved and governed as such until the sovereignty to which it had passed had legislated for it. That sovereignty was the United States, under the Constitution, by which power had been given to Congress to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States, with the power also to admit new States into this Union, with only such limitations as are expressed in the section in which this power is given. The government, of which Colonel Mason was the executive, had its origin in the lawful exercise of a belligerent right over a conquered territory. It had been instituted during the war by the command of the President of the United States. It was the government when the territory was ceded as a conquest, and it did not cease, as a matter of course, or as a necessary consequence of the restoration of peace. The President might have dissolved it by withdrawing the army and navy officers who administered it, but he did not do so. Congress could have put an end to it, but that was not done. The right inference from the inaction of both is that it was meant to be continued until it had been legislatively changed. No presumption of a contrary intention can be made. Whatever may have been the causes of delay, it must be presumed that the delay was consistent with the true policy of the government. And the more so, as it was continued until the people of the territory met in convention to form a State government, which was subsequently recognized by Congress under its power to admit new States into the Union.”
And further replying to the contention that there was neither treaty nor law permitting the collection of duties, “it having been shown
that the ratification of the treaty made California a part of the United States, and that as soon as it became so the territory became subject to the acts which were in force to regulate foreign commerce with the United States, after those had ceased which had been instituted for its regulation as a belligerent right.”
An important inquiry is, when did the laws cease "which had been instituted for the regulation of the territory as a belligerent right,” and how did they cease? The answer is instant—they ceased when the President withdrew them and because he withdrew them. The laws of Congress did not instantly apply upon the cession. There was an interval of time, during which they did not apply, and if there can be such interval, who is to judge of what duration it shall be? Who can but the political department of the government, and how impracticable any other ruling would be. It is not for the judiciary to question it. It involves circumstances which the judiciary can take no account of or estimate. It is essentially a political function.
We have quoted largely from Cross v. Harrison because it is made the pivot of the opinion of the court in the present case, and we will recur to it again. But it should be said now that some of the expressions may be accounted for and understood by the state of precedent opinion.
It is a matter of some surprise that the only explicit provision of the Constitution of the United States in regard to the territory not embraced within the jurisdiction of a State is expressed in the following provision: “The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property of the United States.” What was meant by it, what its relation was to other provisions of the Constitution, was the subject of discussion. Gouveneur Morris, who wrote the provision, subsequently declared that it was intended to confer power to govern acquisitions of territory as “provinces and allow them no voice in our councils.” He admitted, however, that it was not expressed more pointedly in order to avert opposition. In his mind it certainly contemplated the government of after-acquired territory. In Scott v. Sanford, (19 How. 393,) however, the provision was declared to be confined, and was intended to be confined, to the territory which at that time belonged to the United States. “It was a special provision for a known and particular territory, and to meet a present emergency, and nothing more.” This conclusion was claimed to be established by the history of the times, “as well as the careful terms in which the article is framed.” We will not stop to reconcile this conflict between him who wrote the provision and the court who interpreted it. The conflict was but an incident in the evolution of opinion. And there were other conflicts, or rather diversities of view, caused or encouraged by the silences of the Constitution. That instrument contained no provision for acquiring new territory. The power was derived from the powers of making war and of making peace, and might be accomplished by conquest or by treaty. There was a question, however, of the effect of an acquisition. It is certain that Mr. Jefferson doubted the power of incorporating new territory into the Union without an amendment to the Constitution, and the debates in Congress exhibit the diverse views held by public men on the relation which such territory would bear to the United States, the application of the laws to and the power of Congress over the acquired territory under the Constitution. We shall not stop to quote the debates. That will be done in a subsequent case, and the conclusion which they demonstrate expressed. It is only necessary for us to observe that distinctions always existed between territory which might be acquired (whether by purchase or by conquest) and that which was within the acknowledged limits of the United States, and also that which might be acquired by the establishment of a disputed line. These distinctions were conspicuous in the opinion of Mr. Justice Johnson, at circuit, in the case of American Insurance Campany v. Canter, (1 Pet. 511.) In that case the relation of Florida to the United States was necessary to be considered, and of that relation the learned Justice said:
“It is obvious that there is a material distinction between the territory now under consideration and that which is acquired from the aborigines, (whether by purchase or conquest,) within the acknowledged limits of the United States, as also that which is acquired by the establishment of a disputed line. As to both these, there can be no question that the sovereignty of the state or territory within which it lies, and of the United States, immediately attach, producing a complete subjection to all the laws and institutions of the two governments, local and general, unless modified by treaty. The question now to be considered relates to territories previously subject to the acknowledged jurisdiction of another sovereign; such as was Florida to the crown of Spain. And on this subject ive hare the most explicit proof that the understanding of our public functionaries is, that the government and laws of the United States do not extend to such territory by the mere act of cession.” The italics are ours.
All the history and utterances of the past declare the same way.
And how important those utterances and decisive of the present controversy! They were not the utterances of inattention and ignorance, and therefore to be discarded. They were the utterances of men whose actions illustrated them. They were the utterances of men (to borrow the thought of Benton) whose sacrifices made the Constitution possible, whose genius conceived and wrote it. Shall it be said that the farther time separates us from them the better we understand them-better than they understood themselves?
American Insurance Co. v. Canter came to this court and was argued by Mr. Webster. We may quote what he said. His views were more than those of an advocate. He expressed them elsewhere when a different, if not not higher, duty demanded reflection, consideration and sincerity. “What is Florida?” he asked. “It is no part of the United
States. How can it be? How is it represented? Do the laws of the United States reach Florida? Not unless by particular provision.” And, responding to the argument, the court decided through Chief Justice Marshall that the judicial power of the United States, as declared by the Constitution, did not extend to Florida, and the title to one hundred and fifty-six bales of cotton was held to pass by a sale under the order of a court, which consisted of a notary and five jurors, established by an act of the governor and council of Florida.
From the light of previous opinions the language of Mr. Justice Wayne, in Cross v. Harrison, receives explanation. The treaty with Mexico, following the war, defined the “boundaries of the United States,” and made the reclaimed territory, which included California, a part of the United States. In other words, the acquisition (if it can be called such) of California was in recognition of boundaries, and hence the learned justice called it a part of the United States. But not uniformly. Mark this sentence: “But after the ratification of the treaty, California became a part of the United States or a ceded conquered territory.” That his language marked a distinction there can be no doubt, but it was of no consequence to observe. The principle enforced did not need it. In either case the action of the President was the potent thing.
2. The line of judicial precedents relied upon in the opinion of the court in the case at bar ends with Cross v. Harrison, and the practice and rulings of the executive departments of the government are considered. They are said to be in accordance with the ruling ascribed to Cross v. Harrison, with but a single exception. If there is one legal exception the rule is gone. It is not a case where an exception can prove the rule; it is one where the exception destroys the rule. The exception was Louisiana. Between December 20, 1803, when possession was delivered to the United States, and March 25, 1804, when the act of February 24 became effective, Louisiana was treated as a foreign country under the customs laws; but this the court in the opinion just announced says “is manifestly inconsistent with the position subsequently taken by this court in Cross v. Harrison, wherein it is said of the action of Mr. Harrison in California: That war tariff, however, was abandoned as soon as the military governor had received from Washington information of the exchange and ratification of the treaty with Mexico, and duties were afterwards levied in conformity with such as Congress had. imposed upon foreign merchandise imported into the other ports of the United States, Upper California having been ceded by the treaty to the United States. This last was done with the assent of the executive of the United States or without any interference to prevent it. Indeed, from the letter from the then Secretary of the Treasury, we cannot doubt that the action of the military governor of California was recognized as allowable and lawful by Mr. Polk and his cabinet.' After saying that, and this action