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The first point made at the bar is, whether this enactment be a constitutional exercise of the authority delegated to Congress upon the subject of piracies. The constitution declares, that Congress shall have power “ to define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offences against the law of nations." The argument which has been urged in behalf of the prisoner is, that Congress is bound to define, in terms, the offence of piracy, and is not at liberty to leave it to be ascertained by judicial interpretation. If the argument be well founded, it seems admitted by the counsel that it equally applies to the 8th section of the act of Congress of 1790, ch. 9. which declares, that robbery and murder committed on the high seas shall be deemed piracy; and yet, notwithstanding a series of contested adjudications on this section, no doubt has hitherto been breathed of its conformity to the constitution.
In our judgment, the construction contended for proceeds upon too narrow a view of the language of the constitution. The power given to Congress is not merely “to define and punish piracies;'' if it were, the words “ to define,” would seem almost superfluous, since the power to punish piracies would be held to include the power of ascertaining and fixing the definition of the crime. And it has been very justly observed, in a celebrated commentary, that the definition of piracies might have been left without inconvenience to the law of nations, though a legislative definition of them is to be found in most muni
But the power is also given “ to define and punish felonies on the high seas, and offences against the law of nations.” The term “felonies," has been supposed in the same work, not to have a very exact and determinate meaning in relation to offences at the common law committed within the body of a county. However this may be, in relation to offences on the high seas, it is necessarily somewhat indeterminate, since the term is not used in the criminal jurisprudence of the admiralty in the technical sense of the common law. Offences, too, against the law of nations, cannot, with any accuraсу, , be said to be completely ascertained and defined in any public code recognised by the common consent of nations. In respect, therefore, as well to felonies on the high seas as to offences against the law of nations, there is a peculiar fitness in giving the power to define as well as to punish ; and there is not the slightest reason to doubt that this consideration had very great weight in producing the phrascology in question.
But supposing Congress were bound in all the cases included in the clause under consideration to stitutionally define the offence, still there is nothing which restricts it to a mere logical enumeration in detail of this to the law all the facts constituting the offence. Congress may that crime. as well define by using a term of a known and determinate meaning, as by an express enumeration of all the particulars included in that term. That is cer
The crime of piracy is coudefined by Congress, in an act refer
a The Federalist, No. 42. p.
tain which is by necessary reference made certain. When the act of 1790 declares, that any person who shall commit the crime of robbery, or murder, on the high seas, shall be deemed a pirate, the crime is not less clearly ascertained than it would be by using the definitions of these terms 'as they are found in our treatises of the common law. In fact, by such a reference, the definitions are necessarily included, as much as if they stood in the text of the act. In respect to murder, where “malice aforethought” is of the essence of the offence, even if the common law definition were quoted in express terms, we should still be driven to deny that the definition was perfect, since the meaning of “malice aforethought” would remain to be gathered from the common law. There would then be no end to our difficulties, or our definitions, for each would involve some terms which might still require some new explanation. Such a construction of the constitution is, therefore, wholly inadmissible. To define piracies, in the sense of the constitution, is merely to enumerate the crimes which shall constitute piracy; and this may be done either by a reference to crimes having a technical name, and determinate extent, or by enumerating the acts in detail, upon which the punishment is inflicted.
It is next to be considered, whether the crime of law of nations, piracy is defined by the law of nations with reasonaCongress. r ble certainty. What the law of nations on this sub
jcct is, may be ascertained by consulting the works of jurists, writing professedly on public law; or by the general usage and practice of nations; or by ju
Definition of piracy by the
dicial decisions recognising and enforcing that law.
the human race. Indeed, until the statute of 28th of Henry VIII. ch. 15. piracy was punishable in England only in the admiralty as a civil law offence; and that statute, in changing the jurisdiction, has been universally admitted not to have changed the nature of the offence. Sir Charles Hedges, in his charge at the Admiralty sessions, in the case of Rex v. Dawson, (5 State Trials,) declared in emphatic terms, that “piracy is
a Santerna, (lib. 4. note 50.) for instance, says, “Inter pira. tam et latronem, non sit alia differentia, nisi quia pirata depredator est in mari et potest dici fur et latro maris, quia latrocinium et furtum sicut fit in terra, sic fit in mari.” And Emerigon, (1 Emerig. Assur. ch. 12. s. 29. p. 523.) “ La piraterie est un brigandage sur mer. Le Brigandage, sur terre est appellé vol ou rapine.” So Straccha “Piratae sunt latrones maritim."
b Hawk. P. G. ch. 37. §. 2. 3 Inst. 112. Vol. V.
only a sea term for robbery, piracy being a robbery committed within the jurisdiction of the admiralty." Sir Leoline Jenkins, too, on a like occasion, declared that “a robbery, when committed upon the sea, is what we call piracy ;” and he cited the civil law writers, in proof. And it is manifest from the language
of Sir William Blackstone,“ in his comments on piracy, that he considered the common law definition as distinguishable in no essential respect from that of the law of nations. So that, whether we advert to writers on the common law, or the maritime law, or the law of nations, we shall find that they universally treat of piracy as an offence against the law of nations, and that its true definition by that law is robbery upon the sea. And the general practice of all nations in punishing all persons, whether natives or foreigners, who have committed this offence against any persons whatsoever, with whom they are in amity, is a conclusive proof that the offence is supposed to depend, not upon the particular provisions of any municipal code, but upon the law of nations, both for its definition and punishment. We have, therefore, no hesitation in declaring, that piracy, by the law of nations, is robbery upon the sea, and that it is sufficiently and constitutional
ly defined by the fifth section of the act of 1819. The special Another point has been made in this case, which case contains is, that the special verdict does not contain sufficient upon which to facts upon which the Court can pronounce that the prisoner guilty
a 4 BI, Comm. 73.
verdict in this