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A contract made in the United States at that time for the purchase of land in Texas,
would have been valid even if the money was afterwards used to support hostilities with Mexico. But in this case it was not an ordinary purchase, but the object of the complainants, as avowed in the contract and the bill, was to aid Texas in its
war with Mexico., The contract being absolutely void by the laws of the United States at the time it was
made, the circumstance that it was valid in Texas, and that Texas has since become a member of the Union, does not entitle the complainants to enforce it in the courts
of the United States. No contract can be enforced in the courts of the United States, no matter where
made or where to be executed, if it is in violation of the laws of the United States, or is in contravention of the public policy of the government or in conflict with subsisting treaties.
In this cause Mr. Justice Catron was absent, because of indisposition, during the hearing before the court, and took no part in the decision.
This was an appeal from the District Court of the United States for the District of Texas.
The facts in the case are stated in the opinion of the court.
There were several causes of demurrer filed in the court below, but it is necessary to notice only the following, because the decision in this court turned entirely upon them.
1. The said bill, if the facts therein were true, which is in no sort admitted, contains no matter or thing of equity upon which to ground any decree, or give the complainants any aid or relief.
2. The complainants' said bill shows no legal or valid agreement upon which to ask the aid or decree of the court; but, to the contrary, sets out and shows an agreement which was in violation of the neutrality of the United States towards the Republic of Mexico in her contest with Texas.
3. The complainants' said bill seeks the aid or assistance of the court to enforce the specific execution of an agreement made in the State of Kentucky, between citizens thereof and this defendant, in violation of the policy of the government of the United States in her intercourse with foreign governments.
The demurrer was sustained generally by the court below, and therefore all the points were open to argument in this court; but it is not necessary to notice any except those upon which the judgment of the court rested.
It was argued by Mr. Snethen, for the appellants, and there was also a brief filed
upon that side by Mr. L. Sherwood. On the part of the appellee it was argued by Mr. Volney E. Howard.
Mr. Snethen contended that the neutrality and foreign policy of the United States towards Mexico were regulated entirely by law, which was found in the 6th section of the act of Congress
Kennett et al. v. Chambers.
of the 20th of April, 1818, (3 Stat. at Large, 449.) There is an entire absence, in the contract, of all declaration or indication of the place or country where the proposed military expeditions were to be begun, or of the place whence they were to be carried on. It will not be denied that, to subject an offender to the pains and penalties of this section, it must be incontestably and directly shown and proved that the “military expedition or enterprise” which he may “begin or set on foot," or "provide or prepare the means for," was begun or set on foot “within the territory or jurisdiction of the United States," and was “to be carried on from thence against a nation with whom they were at peace. So obvious a proposition hardly needs the weight of authority to support it. Now the contract proves no such offence. The defendant may have done, and intended to have carried all the acts which the complainants enabled him to do, within and from some other country than the United States. The place or country where the forbidden acts were done and whence they were to be carried on, cannot be inferred from the language of the contract with any degree of certainty, and the omission cannot be supplied by any known rule of construction.
The 6th section of the act of 1818, is a penal enactment and must be construed strictly, and the proof to sustain an offence against it must be direct and positive. The contract affords not only no such proof, but no proof at all, that the forbidden acts were done within the United States, and to be carried on from thence. No such oflence, therefore, as that denounced by the act, when strictly construed, having been proved against the parties to the contract, the contract itself consequently was not, when made, in violation of the neutrality or foreign policy of this country towards Mexico and other nations, as established and defined by said section and act.
The same course of argument was pursued by Mr. L. Sher. wood in his brief for the appellants.
1. Texas, at the time of this contract, was an independent government. And in making the contract the complainants did not violate the laws of the United States, enacted to preserve our neutrality, with nations with whom we were at peace, nor did they violate our treaty of amity with Mexico. Hence, the contract was legal, under the laws of the United States.
The people of Texas, represented by delegates, met in general convention at Washington, in Texas, on the 2d day of March, 1836, and declared themselves a “ Free and Independent Republic." And then and there set themselves at work to organize and establish a government. And on the 17th day of the same month, had fully organized a government by the name
Kennett et al. v. Chambers.
of “ The Republic of Texas,” under a written Constitution. (Laws of Republic of Texas, vol. 1, page 1 to 25.)
Then a new nation was born. An independent nation, that maintained her independence and freedom among the nations of the earth, and was subsequently recognized by them as possessing all the sovereignty and attributes of other nations. · As such Republic, she maintained her independence in fact and in name, until she became incorporated into the government of the United States, December 29, 1845.
The first question to be determined by this court is, whether Texas, at the time before stated; had the right to become, and whether she did becoine an independent government?
That she had the right so to become, will not be doubted by any man, nor by any court, who “hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.'
Such right your honors will not doubt. It was happily incorporated in the first principles of the first truly written international law;- in America, the first law that is learned by the courts or by the bar -- learned generally, ere professional studies are commenced, and imbibed almost with the first nourishment of the American child.
That Texas, at the time to which I have referred, became entirely severed from the Republic of Mexico, is fully shown by the reference I have made to the first volume of her laws. That she maintaineu her independence, and was never again subjected to the dominion of Mexico, is a fact, sustained by the history of her struggles, as well as by the history of our owi government, and other governments in their negotiations with her.
Although our government had not officially recognized the independence of Texas, at the date of this contract, yet, shortly after that period, official correspondence and intercourse commenced between the United States and the Republic of Texas, and we find a treaty negotiated between th~ two governments, as early as April, 1838. 8 Stat. at Large, 510.
It is claimed that this contract is void, as being in violation of the laws of the United States, provided for the punishment
Kennett et al. v. Chambers.
of persons who shall, within the territory or jurisdiction of the United States, “ begin or set on foot, or provide or prepare, the means for any military expedition or enterprise, to be carried on from thence against the territory or dominions of any foreign prince or State, with whom the United States are at peace.”
This is a penal statute, and must be construed strictly. And I respectfully insist, that, while it is the policy of the United States government, to preserve her neutrality between bellige. rent nations, there is nothing in this law to prevent one of her citizens entering into a contract with a citizen of another independent government for the purchase of land lying in that government, even though it be recited in the contract, that it is the intention of the person selling his lands to use the money he receives for them in raising and equipping volunteers to maintain and advance the independence of his country.
It does not appear, from the bill, that the contract was for the advancement of funds to raise and equip volunteers within the United States, or to carry on war from thence against Mexico. For aught that appears, the design of General Chambers was to raise his volunteers in Texas. "And it might as well bę presumed that they were to be raised in Europe, as in the United States.
Besides, Texas was an independent government. And the purpose of General Chambers, as declared, was, to maintain her independence; and not to make incursions from the United States, or even from Texas, into Mexico.
There is nothing in this statute inhibiting a citizen of the United States from volunteering in the service of another government to maintain her independence, already declared; and uphold her government, fully instituted; nor declaring it unlawful for a citizen of the United States to contribute means for such purposes.
Again, it is insisted by the defendant, that this contract is in violation of the treaty of amity, commerce and navigation between the United States of America and the United Mexican States, of April 5, 1832.
The 1st article of that treaty is in these words : « There shall be a firm, inviolable, and universal peace, and a true and sincere friendship between the United States of America and the United Mexican States, in all the extent of their possessions and territories, and between their people and citizens respectively, without distinction of persons or places."
In revolutions, there must be a time when an old government ends and a new one begins. And when a new one begins, it must embrace a certain portion of the earth of which it has possession. Now with regard to this provision of the Treaty, I
Kennett et al. v. Chambers.
respectfully insist, that, by a revolution, a portion of what was before Mexico, ceased to be any part of the possessions or ter. ritory of Mexico, and became the possessions and territory of the new government; and that this provision in the treaty could no longer bind the United States to regard the revolted territory as any part of the Mexican territory.
In regard to the obligations of this Treaty, and its binding force upon the United States, in September, 1836, the question is not, whether the United Nates had recognized the independence of Texas; but whether Texas had, in fact, achieved her independence.
If Texas had not achieved her independence in 1836, when this contract was executed, then she had not achieved it at a subsequent period, when the United States government did officially recognize her independence. And if these citizens of Ohio, in September, 1836, violated this treaty of amity with Mexico, then the United States government violated the same treaty in March, 1837, by recognizing, and in April, 1838, by treating with the Republic of Texas. For when this contract was made, the revolted colony had already achieved her independence, established her government, and had never relinquished any part of her territory acquired by the revolution.
The question whether Texas had achieved her independence in September, 1836, was a historic and governmental fact - a fact not depending upon any question of recognition by other and different nations.
It is true that other governments might or might not, as they should choose, send to and receive from Texas diplomatic agents. But whether they did or not, could nui alter the fact of Texan independence, so long as Mexico never repossessed herself of the revolting territory. And so far as the fact of Texan independence was concerned, it was no more the province of our government than of any other to determine when that fact transpired. And, as I conceive, no more the province of any government, than of the citizens, except so far as concerrs the relations of diplomacy.
The recognition of the independence of Texas, by the United States, in no way determined the fact as to when she became independent, any more than did the acknowledgment of the independence of the United States by the British government, determine the fact as to when the United States became independent. If the time or date of the independence of revolting colonies depends on the decision of neutral nations, and not upon the fact whether the revolting colony has established a civil government which is continued in successful operation, performing all the functions of an independent power, then we are