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The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History - 02539 (Page 7)

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The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History - 02539
GLC02539
only for the ordinary purposes of the nation, then there can be no just motive for interupting a
commerce which ought to be pronounced lawful.
This principle woud seem to mark the boundaries of the conflicting rights of neutral &
belligerent powers. For neutrals have a right to carry on their usual commerce, & belligerents
have a right to prevent them from supplying the enemy with instruments of war.
But in the application of principle considerable difficulty exists. The two nations judge
differently on the circumstances attending each case & to prevent the quarrels which may grow
our of this difference of judgement, a precise list of contraband is usually agreed on between
them.
[15] If however in the enumeration there be an ambiguous expression, it ought to be expounded
with a reference to those general principles, intended to have been renderd definite by the
particular agreement; & the enquiry ought always to be made, whether the article was really
designed for a prohibited object, or was transported for the ordinary purposes of commerce.
In the catalogue of contraband agreed on between the United States & Great Britain, there is one
description which leaves to construction what specific articles it may comprehend. It is in the
following words- "and generally what were may serve directly to the equipment of vessels."
In construing this expression the british courts of vice admiralty appear t consider it as
including whatever might, by any possibility be applied to the equipment of vessels. Altho the
article be in itself unfit & improper for that use, & therefore be not in common so applied, yet if
it might by possibility, from a want of other proper materials, admit of such an application, the
courts adjudge, altho such other materials be not wanting at the port of destination, that it is
contraband of war.
This construction we deem alike unfriendly & unjust. We conceive that the expression
which has been [16] cited, comprehends only such articles, as in themselves are proper for, & in
their ordinary use are applied to, the equipment of vessels."
Under the british construction all operation in referrd to the word "directly". Expunge it
from the sentence and according to them, the sense will remain the same. But plain reason, & the
soundest, & most universally admitted rules of construction, forbid us to interpret by garbeling a
compact. The word "directly" is an important word, which forms a necessary & essential part of
the description, & must have been inserted for the purpose of having its due weight in
ascertaining the sense of the article. We can discover no effect which is allowed to it, unless it be

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