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1822. by the proper authorities of the nation to which she y~*^T**' belongs, is complete proof of her national character. Santissima A bill of sale is not necessary to be produced. Nor will the Courts of a foreign country inquire into the means by which the title to the property has been acquired. It would be to exert the right of examining into the validity of the acts of the foreign sovereign, and to sit in judgment upon them in cases where he has not conceded the jurisdiction, and where it would be inconsistent with his own supremacy. The commission, therefore, of a public ship, when duly authenticated, so far at least as foreign courts are concerned, imports absolute verity, and the title is not examinable. The property must be taken to be duly acquired, and cannot be controverted. This has been the settled practice between nations ; and it is a rule founded in public convenience and policy, and cannot be broken in upon, without endangering the peace and repose, as well of neutral as of belligerent sovereigns. The commission in the present case is not expressed in the most unequivocal terms; but its fair purport and interpretation must be deemed to apply to a public ship of the government. If we add to this the corroborative testimony of our own and the British Consul at Buenos Ayres, as well as that of private citizens, to the notoriety of her claim of a public character; and her admission into our own ports as a public ship, with the immunities and privileges belonging to such a ship, with the express approbation of our own government, it does not seem too much to assert, whatever may be the private suspicion of a lurking American interest, that she must be judicially held to be a public ship of the country whose commission she bears.

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There is another objection urged against the ad- sanijma

mission of this vessel to the privileges and immunities of a public ship, which may as well be disposed of in connexion with the question already considered. It is, that Buenos Ayres has not yet been acknowledged as a sovereign independent government by the executive or legislature of the United States, and, therefore, is not entitled to have her ships of war recognized by our Courts as national ships. We have, in former cases, had occasion to express our

opinion on this point. The government of the Uni

ted States has recognized the existence of a civil war between Spain and her colonies, and has avowed a determination to remain neutral between the parties, and to allow to each the same rights of asy

lum and hospitality and intercourse.

Each party is,

therefore, deemed by us a belligerent nation, hav

ing, so far as concerns us, the sovereign rights of war, and entitled to be respected in the exercise of those We cannot interfere to the prejudice of either belligerent without making ourselves a party to the contest, and departing from the posture of neutrality. All captures made by each must be considered as having the same validity, and all the immunities which may be claimed by public ships in our ports under the law of nations must be considered as equally the right of each; and as such must be recognized by our Courts of justice, until Congress shall prescribe a different rule. This is the


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During the existence of the civil war between Spain and her colonies, and previous to the acknowledgment of the Independence of the latter by the United States, the colonies were deemed by us belligerent nations, and entitled to all the sovereign rights of war against their enemy.


The Santissima Trinidad.

The doctrine that if witnesses concur in proof of a material fact, they ought to be believed in respect, to that fact, whatever may be other contradictions in their testimony, ought to be received under many qualifications, and with great caution.

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doctrine heretofore asserted by this Court, and we
see no reason to depart from it.
The next question growing out of this record, is
whether the property in controversy was captured
in violation of our neutrality, so that restitution ought,
by the law of nations, to be decreed to the libellants.
Two grounds are relied upon to justify restitution:
First, that the Independencia and Altravida were ori-
ginally equipped, armed, and manned as vessels of
war in our ports; Secondly, that there was an illegal
augmentation of the force of the Independencia with-
in our ports. Are these grounds, or either of them,
sustained by the evidence 2
If the cause stood solely upon the testimony of
the witnesses who have been examined on behalf of
the libellants, we should have great hesitation in ad-
mitting the conclusions which have been drawn from
it. The witnesses, indeed, speak directly and uni-
formly either to the point of illegal equipment, or
illegal augmentation of force within our ports. But
their testimony is much shaken by the manifest con-
tradictions which it involves, and by declarations of
facts, the falsity of which was entirely within their
knowledge, and has been completely established in
proof. It has been said, that if witnesses concur in
proof of a material fact, they ought to be believed in
respect to that fact, whatever may be the other con-
tradictions in their testimony. That position may
be true under circumstances; but it is a doctrine
which can be received only under many qualifica-
tions, and with great caution. If the circumstances


respecting which the testimony is discordant be im- 1822. material, and of such a nature, that mistakes may v"~^rh<^'/ easily exist, and be accounted for in a manner con- Santiasima


sistent with the utmost good faith and probability,

there is much reason for indulging the belief that the

discrepancies arise from the infirmity of the human

mind, rather than from deliberate error. But where App|ication 0f

the party speaks to a fact in respect to which he can- w'^^nojai.

^ , i i- i i -i . i • nu in emniito.

not be presumed liable to mistake, as in relation to the country of his birth, or his being in a vessel on a particular voyage, or living in a particular place, if the fact turn out otherwise, it is extremely difficult to exempt him from the charge of deliberate falsehood; and Courts of justice, under such circumstances, are bound, upon principles of law, and morality and justice, to apply the maxim falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus. What ground of judicial belief can there be left, when the party has shown such gross insensibility to the difference between right and wrong, between truth and falsehood? The contradictions in the testimony of the witnesses of the libellants have been exposed at the bar with great force and accuracy; and they are so numerous that, in ordinary cases, no Court of justice could venture to rely on it without danger of being betrayed into the grossest errors. But in a case of the description of that before the Court, where the sovereignty and rights of a foreign belligerent nation are in question, and where the exercise of jurisdiction over captures made under its flag, can be justified only by clear proof of the violation of our neutrality, there are still stronger reasons for abstaining

1822. from interference, if the testimony is clouded with To doubt and suspicion. We adhere to the rule which Santissima has been already adopted by this Court, that restitu* tion ought not to be decreed upon the ground of capture in violation of our neutrality, unless the fact

be established beyond all reasonable doubt.
But the present case does not stand upon this tes-
timony alone. It derives its principal proofs altoge-
ther from independent sources, to the consideration
of which the attention of the Court will now be di-


our municipal The question as to the original illegal armament

***::... and outfit of the Independencia may be dismissed in to "i": a few words. It is apparent, that though equipped merely subject, 5

... To as a vessel of war, she was sent to Buenos Ayres natious, to the

É... on a commercial adventure, contraband, indeed, but *** in no shape violating our laws on our national neutrality. If captured by a Spanish ship of war during the voyage she would have been justly condemned as good prize, and for being engaged in a traffick prohibited by the law of nations. But there is nothing in our laws, or in the law of nations, that forbids our citizens from sending armed vessels, as well as munitions of war, to foreign ports for sale. It is a commercial adventure which no nation is bound to prohibit; and which only exposes the persons engaged in it to the penalty of confiscation. Supposing, therefore, the voyage to have been for commercial purposes, and the sale at Buenos Ayres to have been a bona fide sale, (and there is nothing in the evidence before us to contradict it,) there is no pretence to say, that the original outfit on the

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