Page images
PDF
EPUB

Kennett et al. v. Chambers.

all mistaken in the date of our national existence; and instead of celebrating the anniversary of the 4th of July, 1776, we should ascertain the different days of the recognition of our independence by other nations, and celebrate them. And thus, instead of having one national holiday, we would have as many as there are nations with whom we have diplomatic relations. By such a decision our boys would be delighted, and the interests of pyrotechnists greatly benefited.

Mr. Volney E. Howard, for the appellees.

We insist that the bill in this case cannot be maintained, because,

1. It is shown, on the face of the contract and the bill, that the obligation was given to enable General Chambers to raise and equip volunteers, to carry on a war in Texas against the republic of Mexico, and was therefore in violation of our neuirality laws with Mexico. The contract was entered into in Ohio, in September, 1836, before this government had acknow. ledged the independence of Texas. Contracts to furnish money to carry on war by revolted subjects, against a government with whom we are at peace, are void. 1 Kent, 116, 118, 123;, Dewentz v. IIendricks, 9 Moore, C. B. 586. If the government does not interfere, it is illegal for citizens to do so. 1 Kent, 24, note A, 25, note. And, until the government acknowledges the independence of the revolted province, the courts recognize the ancient condition of things, under which this contract would be illegal. 1 Kent, 25; 9 Ves. 317; 4 Cranch, 272; 13 J. R. 561, 587; 3 Wheat. 324, 610; Wheaton's Elements, 453.

2. It appears from the contract, and the allegations of the bill, on page

8 of the record, that the contract in this case was entered into, not only for the purpose of furnishing money to equip volunteers to carry on a war in Texas against Mexico, in aid of the revolutionists, but for the further illegal purpose of raising volunteers to proceed from this country. The contract was therefore void, as against the laws of the United States and our treaty of amity and friendsliip with Mexico. The con*ract was executed in Cincinnati, on the 16th September, 1836, and recites that General Chambers “is now engaged in raising, arming, and equipping volunteers for Texas,” &c. Act of Congress, 1836, p. 53; Senate Journal, 1837, pp. 110, 310; Act of March 10, 1833, 5 Stat. at Large, 212; Ex. Doc. 1835, p. 183; Vol. 6, Doc. 256; Doc. 38, p. 36.

Mr. Chief Justice TANEY delivered the opinion of the court.

This is an appeal from the decree of the District Court of the United States for the District of Texas.

Kennett et al. v. Chambers.

The appellants filed a bill in that court against the appellee, to obtain the specific execution of an agreement which is set out in full in the bill; and which they allege was executed at the city of Cincinnati, in the State of Ohio, on or about the 16th of September, 1836. Some of the complainants claim as original parties to the contract, and the others as assignees of original parties, who have sold and assigned to them their interest.

The contract, after stating that it was entered into on the day and year above mentioned, between General T. Jefferson Cham, bers, of the Texan army, of the first part, and Morgan Neville and six others, who are named in the agreement, of the city of Cincinnati, of the second part, proceeds to recite the motives and inducements of the parties in the following words:

“ That the said party of the second part, being desirous of assisting the said General T. Jefferson Chambers, who is now engaged in raising, arming, and equipping volunteers for Texas, and who is in want of means therefor; and, being extremely desirous to advance the cause of freedom and the independence of Texas, have agreed to purchase of the said T. Jefferson Chambers, of his private estate, the lands hereinafter described."

And after this recital follows the agreement of Chambers, to sell and convey to them the land described in the agreement, situated in Texas, for the sum of twelve thousand five hundred dollars, which he acknowledged that he had received in their notes, payable in equal instalments of four, six, and twelve months, and he covenanted that he had a good title to this land, and would convey it with general warranty. There are other stipulations, on the part of Chambers, to secure the title to the parties, which it is unnecessary to state, as they are not material to the questions before the court.

After setting out the contract at large, the bill avers, that the notes given, as aforesaid, were all paid; and sets forth the manner in which the complainants, who were not parties to the original contract, had acquired their interest as assignees; and charges that, notwithstanding the full payment of the money, Chambers, under different pretexts, refuses to convey the land, according to the terms of his agreement.

It further states, that they are informed and believe that he received full compensation, in money, scrip, land, or other valuable property, for the supplies furnished by him, and in arming and equipping the Texan army referred to in the said contract, and which it was in part the object of the said parties of the second part to assist him to do, by the said advances made by them, as before stated, and which said advances did enable the said Chambers so to do.

Kennett et al. v. Chambers

To this bill the respondent (Chambers) demurred, and the principal question which arises on the demurrer is, whether the contract was a legal and valid one, and such as can be enforced by either party in a court of the United States. It appears on the face of it, and by the averments of the appellants in their bill, that it was made in Cincinnati, with a general in the Texan army, who was then engaged in raising, arming, and equipping volunteers for Texas, to carry on hostilities with Mexico; ană that one of the inducements of the appellants, in entering into this contract and advancing the money, was to assist him in accomplishing these objects.

The District Court decided that the contract was illegal and void, and sustained the demurrer and dismissed the bill; and we think that the decision was right.

The validity of this contract depends upon the relation in which this country then stood to Mexico and Texas; and the duties which these relations imposed upon the government and citizens of the United States.

Texas had declared itself independent a few months previous to this agreement. But it had not been acknowledged by the United States; and the constituted authorities charged with our foreign relations, regarded the treaties we had made with Mexico as still in full force, and obligatory upon both nations. By the treaty of limits, Texas had been admitted by our government to be a part of the Mexican territory; and by the first article of the treaty of amity, commerce, and navigation, it was declared, " that there should 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 place.” These treaties, while they remained in force, were, by the Constitution of the United States, the supreme law, and binding not only upon the government, but upon every citizen. No contract could lawfully be made in violation of their provisions.

Undoubtedly, when Texas had achieved her independence, no previous treaty could bind this country to regard it as a part of the Mexican territory. But it belonged to the government, and not to individual citizens, to decide when that event had taken place. And that decision, according to the laws of nations, depended upon the question whether she had or had not a civil government in successful operation, capable of performing the duties and fulfilling the obligations of an independent power. It depended upon the state of the fact, and not upon the right which was in contest between the parties. And the

Kennett et al. v..Chambers.

President, in his message to the Senate, of December 22, 1836, in relation to the conflict between Mexico and Texas, which was still pending, says: "All questions relative to the government of foreign nations, whether of the old or the new world, have been treated by the United States as questions of fact only, and our predecessors have cautiously abstained from deciding upon them until the clearest evidence was in their possession, to enable them not only to decide correctly, but to shield their decision from every unworthy imputation.” Senate Journal of 1836, 37, p. 54.

Acting upon these principles, the independence of Texas was not acknowledged by the Government of the United States until the beginning of March, 1837. Up to that time, it was regarded as a part of the territory of Mexico. The treaty which admitted it to be so, was held to be still in force and binding on both parties, and every effort made by the government to fulfil its neutral obligations, and prevent our citizens from taking part in the conflict. This is evident, from an official communication from the President to the Governor of Tennessee, in reply to an inquiry in relation to a requisition for militia, made by General Gaines. The despatch is dated in August, 1836; and the President uses the following language: “ The obligations of our treaty with Mexico, as well as the general principles which govern our intercourse with foreign powers, require us to maintain a strict neutrality in the contest which now agitates a part of that republic. So long as Mexico fulfils her duties to us, as they are defined by the treaty, and violates none of the rights which are secured by it to our citizens, any act on the part of the Government of the United States, which would tend to foster a spirit of resistance to her government and laws, whatever may be their character or form, when administered within her own limits and jurisdiction, would be unauthorized and highly improper. Ex. Doc. 1836, 1837, Vol. 1, Doc. 2, p. 58. · And on the very day on which the agreement of which we are speaking, was made, (September 16, 1836,) Mr. Forsyth, the Secretary of State, in a note to the Mexican Minister, assured him that the government had taken measures to secure the execution of the laws for preserving the neutrality of the United States, and that the public officers were vigilant in the discharge of that duty. Ex Doc. Vol. 1, Doc. 2, page 63 - 64.

And still later, the President, in his message to the Senate of December 22, 1836, before referred to, says : “ The acknowledgment of a new State as independent, and entitled to a place in the family of nations, is at all times an act of great delicacy and responsibility; but more especially so when such a State has Kennett et al. v. Chambers.

forcibly separated itself from another, of which it formed an integral part, and which still claims dominion over it." And, after speaking of the policy which our government had always adopted on such occasions, and the duty of maintaining the established character of the United States for fair and impartial dealing, he proceeds to express his opinion against the acknowledgment of the independence of Texas, at that time, in the following words :

“ It is true, with regard to Texas, the civil authority of Mexico has been expelled, its invąding army defeated, the chief of the republic himself captured, and all present power to control the newly organized Government of Texas annihilated within its confines. But, on the other hand, there is, in appearance at least, an immense disparity of physical force on the side of Mexico. The Mexican republic, under another executive, is rallying its forces under a new leader, and menacing a fresh invasion to recover its lost dominion. Upon the issue of this threatened invasion, the independence of Texas may be considered as suspended ; and, were there nothing peculiar in the relative situation of the United States and Texas, our acknowledgment of its independence at such a crisis would scarcely be regarded as consistent with that prudent reserve with which we have heretofore held ourselves bound to treat all similar questions."

The whole object of this message appears to have been to impress upon Congress the impropriety of acknowledging the independence of Texas at that time; and the more especially as the American character of her population, and her known desire to become a State of this Union, might, if prematurely acknowledged, bring suspicion upon the motives by which we were governed.

We have given these extracts from the public documents not only to show that, in the judgment of our government, Texas had not established its independence when this contract was made, but to show also how anxiously the constituted authorities were endeavcring to maintain untarnished the honor of the country, and to place it above the suspicion of taking any part in the conflict.

This being the attitude in which the government stood, and this its open and avowed policy, upon what grounds can the parties to such a contract as this, come into a court of justice of the United States and ask for its specific execution? It was made in direct opposition to the policy of the government, to which it was the duty of every citizen to conform. And, while they saw it exerting all its power to fulfil in good faith its neutral obligations, they made themselves parties to the war, by

« EelmineJätka »