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Perrin, 4 Ct. Cl. 543 (1868), affirmed, 79 U.S. 315 (1871) (U.S. reprisal bombardment, Greytown Nicaragua, July 13 1854), documents: 1854, 1868, 1871Latest

United States Court of Claims

Mrs. Perrin’s Case

December 1868, Term
Marie Louise Perrin and)
Trautman Perrin,)
her husband,)
The United States,)

On Demurrer

{A legal “so what,” a “motion to dismiss” in modern practice}


Claimant seeks compensation for property destroyed by the bombardment and burning of San Juan, or Greytown, by the United States ship of war Cyane, on the 13th of July, 1854. At the time of the bombardment the claimant was a French subject; has since become naturalized; at the time of bringing her suit in the Court of Claims is a citizen of the United States.


One who takes up a residence in a foreign place and there suffers injury to his property by reason of belligerent acts committed against that place by another foreign nation, must abide the chances of the country in which he chose to reside; and his only claim, if any, is a personal one against the government of that country.


One who was a French subject at the time of the loss complained of, but who has since become a citizen of the United States, cannot maintain an action against the government for property destroyed by the United States in the bombardment of Greytown. The claim is political, to be settled by the executive branch of the government with the government of Nicaragua. The distinction between this case and Grant’s Case (1 C. Cls. R., p.41) and Wiggins’ Case (3 C. Cls. R., p.197) pointed out.

Argument for the claimants

Mr. Caleb Cushing and Mr. W. W. Boyce, for the claimants:

The case comes up under a general demurrer to the plaintiffs petition.

The petition, in addition to the formal facts necessary, states:

1.  That, on July 13, 1854, the petitioner, Marie Louise Perrin, was the wife of her co-petitioner, and now is.

2.  That, on July 13, 1854, the petitioners were subjects of the Emperor of the French, but that at the time of filing this petition they were naturalized citizens of the United States.

3.  That neither of petitioners, at any time, were citizens of Greytown, or owed allegiance, to, or claimed protection from, the government thereof.

4.  That shortly before the 13th of July, 1854, Mrs. Perrin arrived at Greytown, with a valuable invoice of merchandise, to which town her husband had preceded her, with the intention of establishing a commercial house in some part of Central America, having previously shipped to that port, becaus`e it was free and on the transit to the interior of the five Central {4 Ct. Cl. 543, 544} American States, a first large invoice of merchandise, which was landed May 1, 1854. That, on the arrival of Madam Perrin with the second invoice, about the middle of June, 1854, her husband left Greytown for the interior of Nicaragua, with samples of their goods, for the purpose of selecting in Nicaragua or Costa Rica a place at which to locate and establish a commercial house.

5.  That, while Madam Perrin remained alone in Greytown hourly waiting the return of her husband to remove all the property to the interior, on the 13th day of July, 1854, the said town of San Juan (Greytown) was bombarded and burnt by the United States sloop of war Cyane, Commander Hollins, and all the merchandise, books, and papers, together with the personal effects of Madam Perrin, were wholly destroyed by said bombardment and burning.

6.  That the merchandise burnt was worth $ 13,900.

7.  That the Emperor of France declined to press the claims of French subjects for indemnity.

8.  Application made by petitioners, February 10, 1868, to the Secretary of State of the United States for compensation.

I.  Under this state of facts, as set forth in the petition, the question arises whether there is any liability on the part of the United States to make compensation to Madam Perrin for her property destroyed at Greytown.

We submit that there is, and on the following grounds:

1.  Because of the clause of the Constitution of the United States which provides that “private property shall not be taken for public use except on just compensation.” {Fifth Amendment}

In the case of Wiggins v. The United States (3 C. Cls. R., p.412), this court decided, under the above cited clause of the Constitution, that the United States were liable for certain powder belonging to a citizen of the United States, and being stored across the bay from Greytown, at Punta Arenas, and being destroyed to prevent its being used by the inhabitants of Greytown to injure the warehouses of the Transit Company, in which it was stored.

a.  That the powder was located at Punta Arenas it is submitted is immaterial. If the powder had been in Greytown and destroyed for the same motive, it would not have weakened Wiggins’ claim for compensation.

b.  The particular motive Commander Hollins had for destroy {4 Ct. Cl. 543, 545} ing the powder was of no importance. The great question was, whether the powder was taken for public use.

c.  The fact that Wiggins was a citizen of the United States does not place him in a better condition than the petitioner. The Constitution says not private property of citizens, but “private property” generally, shall not be taken.

2.  Should we be in error in the grounds previously taken, then we submit that the United States are liable in another aspect of the case; that is to say, the bombardment and burning of Greytown were in violation of international law; and as by such violation damage resulted to the petitioners, an implied contract arises on the part of the United States to make compensation:

1.  Because application should have been first made to Nicaragua for redress.

2.  Violation of the neutrality of Nicaragua.

3.  Bombardment and burning in violation of the laws of war.

Mr. Marcy objects to the claim of French subjects arising out of bombardment of Greytown principally on two grounds:

1.  Because foreigners domiciled in a foreign country must look to that country for protection.

2.  Foreigners domiciled in foreign countries must share with citizens of that country in fortunes of war.

In regard to the first point, a distinction is to be taken between foreigners domiciled and those present in a foreign country for a temporary purpose.

As to second point, the same distinction should be taken.

In both cases, Mr. Marcy assumes that war existed, which is not conceded.

In view of the facts and law of the case, we conclude that the United States are liable to the petitioners, and that the demurrer should be overruled.


The Assistant Attorney General, for the defendants.

Opinion of the court

Casey, Ch. J., delivered the opinion of the court.

The petition in this case claims a sum exceeding twenty thousand dollars, for merchandise destroyed by the bombardment and burning of San Juan, or Greytown, by Commander Hollins, {4 Ct. Cl. 543, 546} of the United States Navy, in command of the United States man-of-war Cyane, on the 13th of July, 1854.

The claimant and her husband, Mr. Trautman Perrin, were French subjects, temporarily domiciled at Greytown, having with them, contained in a store hired for the purpose, a valuable lot of merchandise. ¶

The inhabitants of Greytown prior to this time had been guilty of many outrages and depredations upon the persons and property of the citizens of the United States passing that way. They had also treated with great rudeness and indignity an accredited minister of the United States to one of the South American governments in his passage through Nicaragua. ¶

The passage across Central America had become a matter of great importance to the United States by the cession of California to her by Mexico, the discovery of large deposits of gold there, the consequent rush of emigration, and the necessity for the shortest and most rapid route of communication between the Atlantic seaboard and her Pacific possessions; and Greytown had become the resort of desperate and reckless adventurers, who took pleasure in despoiling the citizens of the United States and insulting her flag and authority. ¶

The United States applied to the Nicaraguan authorities to restrain and suppress this lawless and obnoxious conduct. But the local government was either unable or unwilling to do so. The outrageous character of these acts, and the frequency of their occurrence, called for prompt and decided action on the part of the United States. ¶

Accordingly, by command of the President of the United States, Cammander Hollins proceeded with the United States ship Cyane to that place. Arriving there, he communicated with Mr. Fabens, the commercial agent of the United States at Greytown. He also made repeated demands upon the authorities for reparation and indemnity for property belonging to citizens of the United States taken or destroyed by inhabitants of Greytown, and secretly connived at or openly sanctioned by the public authorities of the town. He also required suitable apologies to be made for the indignities offered to the United States in the person of her accredited minister; and gave full and distinct notice that unless such reparation was made, and such apologies offered as were satisfactory to the United States, within a given time, he would open fire upon the place. ¶

These demands remained unheeded, and on the 13th July, 1854, Commander Hollins opened fire from his ship upon {4 Ct. Cl. 543, 547} the town. A large portion of the place was battered down by the guns of the ship, and then a party was sent on shore to apply the torch, and complete by burning what had escaped the bombardment. The town was totally destroyed. ¶

Commander Hollins made a detailed report of his operations to the Secretary of the Navy; and the President in his annual message for 1854 communicated all the facts in the case to Congress. Commander Hollins’ conduct was approved, and he was commended for the prompt and efficient manner in which he had carried out the instructions of his government. ¶

It is part of the case that the claimant has applied successively to the French government, to Congress, and the executive authorities of the United States for redress and indemnity for her losses without success.

The claimant’s case must necessarily rest upon the assumption that the bombardment and destruction of Greytown was illegal and not justified by the law of nations. And hinging upon that, it will be readily seen that the questions raised are such as can only be determined between the United States and the governments whose citizens it is alleged have been injured by the injurious acts of this government. They are international political questions, which no court of this country in a case of this kind is authorized or empowered to decide. They grew out of and relate to peace and war, and to the relations and intercourse between this country and foreign nations. They are political in their nature and character, and under our system belong to the political departments of the government to define, arrange, and determine. And when the questions arise incidentally in our courts the judiciary follow and adopt the action of the executive and legislative departments, whatever that may be. ¶

The case, we think, bears no resemblance to that of Grant v. The United States (1 C. Cls. R., p.41) or Wiggins v. The United States (3 Id., p.197). In both cases the claim was for property of citizens taken by the United States and destroyed to prevent it falling into the hands of the public enemy. It was not destroyed in hostile operations against the public enemy, but for the purpose of preventing the aid and succor it would have afforded him if it had been permitted to fall into his hands. ¶

No government, except as a special favor bestowed, has ever paid for the property of even its own citizens in its own country destroyed in attacking or defending against a common public {4 Ct. Cl. 543, 548} enemy; much less is any government bound to pay for the property of neutrals domiciled in the country of its enemy, which its forces may chance to destroy in its operations against such enemy. ¶

The doctrine is clearly and concisely stated in the letter of Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, to Hon. Charles Sumner, chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations of the United States, dated February 26, 1868, and in reference to this case.

“Sir: I have examined the claim which you commended to the attention of this department, of Mr. Trautman Perrin, for damages sustained in the bombardment of Greytown in 1854, by Commander Hollins.

It would be a sufficient answer that Mr. Perrin, at the time the injuries were sustained, was a French subject, and that his government has acquiesced in the refusal of the United States to grant any indemnity for the losses of French subjects on that occasion.

The British government, upon the advice of the law officers of the Crown, declared to Parliament its inability to prosecute similar claims. In 1857 Lord Palmerston applied the decision in the case of Greytown as a precedent for refusing compensation to British merchants whose property in a Prussian port had been destroyed by a British squadron during the Crimean war. (See note in Lawrence’s Wheaton, p.145).

Henry Wheaton (1785-1848), Elements of International Law (Philadelphia, Carey, Lea & Blanchard, 1836) {LCCN: 32005547} (London, B. Fellowes, 1836) {LCCN: 05029661}, 6th edition (1855, William Beach Lawrence (1800-1881), editor) {LCCN: unk82010322}; 7th edition (Boston, Little, Brown and Company 1863, “2d annotated edition,” by William Beach Lawrence (1800-1881)) {LCCN: 05029664}, 8th edition (Boston, Little, Brown, and Company, 1866, Richard Henry Dana Jr. (1815-1882), editor) {LCCN: 04033832}CJHjr

The governments of Austria and Russia have applied the doctrine involved in the Greytown case to the claims of British subjects injured by belligerent operations in Italy in 1849 and 1850. (See note p.49, vol. 2, of Vattel, Guillaumin & Co’s edition, 1863) {LCCN: 10019772}. ¶

Online editions: Emmerich de Vattel (1714-1767), The Law of Nations or the Principles of Natural Law (Neufchatel, 1758), English edition (London, G.G. and J. Robinson, 1797, Joseph Chitty, translator, editor) {LCCN: 24003584}, from the 1852 edition (Philadelphia, T. & J.W. Johnson & Co., 1852, 1853) {LCCNs: 16018098, 2005486541}, omitting Edward D. Ingraham, his 1852 annotated commentaries) (Lonang Institute, Livonia Michigan, 2003, 2005, JavaScript coded text, not copyable), 1999 digital edition, “taken from the 1883 printing of the 1852 edition” (Philadelphia, T. & J.W. Johnson & Co., 1883) {LCCN: 45000564}, including the 1852 “appended commentaries by Edward D. Ingraham, used in lectures at William and Mary College” and silently correcting “numerous typographical and spelling errors” (Constitution Society, 1999, Jon Roland, editor), translating, Emer de Vattel, Le droit des gens, ou Principes de la loi naturelle, appliqués à la conduite et aux affaires des Nations et des Souverains “(Londres, 1758)” {LCCN: 10017155, 3 volumes?}, in 2 volumes (French) {22.02mb.pdf, source, 14.58mb.pdf, source}CJHjr

We have applied the same principle in declining to make reclamations for citizens of the United States whose property was destroyed in the bombardment of Valparaiso by a Spanish fleet, and in resisting the claims of subjects of neutral powers who sustained injury from our military operations in the Southern States during the recent rebellion. It will probably be found a sufficient answer to the reclamations of many of our citizens who have sustained losses from belligerent operations on both sides during the recent occupation of Mexico by French troops. ¶

The principle affirmed is, that one who takes up a residence in a foreign place and there suffers an injury to his property by reason of belligerent acts committed against that place by another foreign nation, must abide the chances of the {4 Ct. Cl. 543, 549} country in which he chose to reside; and his only claim, if any, is a personal one against the government of that country in which his own sovereign will not interest himself.

The only discrimination suggested in Mr. Perrin’s case is on account of the very temporary nature of his sojourn at Greytown. I think this cannot affect the principle, which is too valuable in the present circumstances of this country, to allow us to waive or impair it.

By no allowed construction of the laws could this claim be paid out of any fund under the control of the department, and the considerations I have stated forbid its recommendation to Congress.

Your obedient servant,

William H. Seward.”

Adopting these views as a correct exposition of the laws and usages of nations upon this subject, we are very clear that the claimants have presented no available claim against the United States which is cognizable in this court. We therefore sustain the demurrer and dismiss the petition.


Full-text: November 13 1871
79 U.S. 315 (1870, 1871)

Supreme Court of the United States

Perrin v. United States
December, 1870, Term
{argued November 9, decided November 13, 1871}

Appeal from the Court of Claims dismissing a petition before it, as not “founded upon any law of Congress, or upon any regulation of an executive department, or upon any contract, express or implied, with the government of the United States;” confessedly the only cases, in which the court, by the statutes creating it, has jurisdiction.

Mr. W. W. Boice, for the appellants; Mr. Akerman, Attorney-General, and Mr. C. H. Hill, contra.


Mr. Justice Clifford stated the case and delivered the judgment of this court.

The petitioners alleged in the court below that they were naturalized citizens of the United States; that just before the 13th of July, 1854, they arrived at San Juan del Norte, or Greytown, possessed of a valuable invoice of merchandise, with the intention of establishing a commercial house in some part of Central America; that on that day the town of San Juan was bombarded and burnt by the United States sloop-of-war Cyane, and all the merchandise, books, and papers of the petitioners, together with their personal effects. ¶

Appearance was entered by the Assistant Attorney-General, and he demurred to the petition because it did not set forth facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action, and the court below sustained the demurrer and dismissed the petition. ¶

Whereupon the petitioners appealed to this court, and alleged that the decision sustaining the demurrer was erroneous, but the court here, inasmuch as the claim is not one “founded upon any law of Congress, or upon any regulation of an executive department, or upon any contract, express or implied, with the government of the United States,” concurs in opinion with the Court of Claims and

Affirms the decree dismissing the petition.



December 4 1854
State of the Union message

Franklin Pierce (U.S. President), second annual message to Congress (December 4 1854) (written, not a speech), printed, “Message of the President,” Appendix to the Congressional Globe, pages 1-6 (U.S. Congress 33-2, Dec. 4 1854-1855 Mar. 3), reprinted, A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents 1789-1897 {LCCN: 01002728}, volume 5 (Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan), pages 273-293 (U.S. GPO, Washington D.C., 1897) (U.S. Congressional Serial Set, volume 3265-5, U.S. Congress 53-2, House misc. doc. no. 210, 10 volumes) (excerpt) {p.273}:

Fellow-Citizens of the Senate and of the House of Representatives:

The past has been an eventful year, and will be hereafter referred to as a marked epoch in the history of the world.

* * * {p.280} * * *

As incidental to these questions, I deem it proper to notice an occurrence which happened in Central America near the close of the last session of Congress. ¶

So soon as the necessity was perceived of establishing {p.281} interoceanic communications across the Isthmus a company was organized, under the authority of the State of Nicaragua, but composed for the most part of citizens of the United States, for the purpose of opening such a transit way by the river San Juan and Lake Nicaragua, which soon became an eligible and much used route in the transportation of our citizens and their property between the Atlantic and Pacific. ¶

Meanwhile, and in anticipation of the completion and importance of this transit way, a number of adventurers had taken possession of the old Spanish port at the mouth of the river San Juan in open defiance of the State or States of Central America, which upon their becoming independent had rightfully succeeded to the local sovereignty and jurisdiction of Spain. These adventurers undertook to change the name of the place from San Juan del Norte to Greytown, and though at first pretending to act as the subjects of the fictitious sovereign of the Mosquito Indians, they subsequently repudiated the control of any power whatever, assumed to adopt a distinct political organization, and declared themselves an independent sovereign state. ¶

If at some time a faint hope was entertained that they might become a stable and respectable community, that hope soon vanished. They proceeded to assert unfounded claims to civil jurisdiction over Punta Arenas, a position on the opposite side of the river San Juan, which was in possession, under a title wholly independent of them, of citizens of the United States interested in the Nicaragua Transit Company, and which was indispensably necessary to the prosperous operation of that route across the Isthmus. The company resisted their groundless claims, whereupon they proceeded to destroy some of its buildings and attempted violently to dispossess it.

At a later period they organized a strong force for the purpose of demolishing the establishment at Punta Arenas, but this mischievous design was defeated by the interposition of one of our ships of war at that time in the harbor of San Juan. ¶

Subsequently to this, in May last, a body of men from Greytown crossed over to Punta Arenas, arrogating authority to arrest on the charge of murder a captain of one of the steamboats of the Transit Company. Being well aware that the claim to exercise jurisdiction there would be resisted then, as it had been on previous occasions, they went prepared to assert it by force of arms. ¶

Our minister to Central America happened to be present on that occasion. Believing that the captain of the steamboat was innocent (for he witnessed the transaction on which the charge was founded), and believing also that the intruding party, having no jurisdiction over the place where they proposed to make the arrest, would encounter desperate resistance if they persisted in their purpose, he interposed, effectually, to prevent violence and bloodshed. ¶

The American minister afterwards visited Greytown, and whilst he was there a mob, including certain of the so-called public functionaries of the place, surrounded the house in which he was, avowing that they had come to arrest him by order of {p.282} some person exercising the chief authority. ¶

While parleying with them he was wounded by a missile from the crowd. A boat dispatched from the American steamer Northern Light to release him from the perilous situation in which he was understood to be was fired into by the town guard and compelled to return. ¶

These incidents, together with the known character of the population of Greytown and their excited state, induced just apprehensions that the lives and property of our citizens at Punta Arenas would be in imminent danger after the departure of the steamer, with her passengers, for New York, unless a guard was left for their protection. For this purpose, and in order to insure the safety of passengers and property passing over the route, a temporary force was organized, at considerable expense to the United States, for which provision was made at the last session of Congress.

This pretended community, a heterogeneous assemblage gathered from various countries, and composed for the most part of blacks and persons of mixed blood, had previously given other indications of mischievous and dangerous propensities. Early in the same month property was clandestinely abstracted from the depot of the Transit Company and taken to Greytown. The plunderers obtained shelter there and their pursuers were driven back by its people, who not only protected the wrongdoers and shared the plunder, but treated with rudeness and violence those who sought to recover their property.

Such, in substance, are the facts submitted to my consideration, and proved by trustworthy evidence. ¶

I could not doubt that the case demanded the interposition of this Government. Justice required that reparation should be made for so many and such gross wrongs, and that a course of insolence and plunder, tending directly to the insecurity of the lives of numerous travelers and of the rich treasure belonging to our citizens passing over this transit way, should be peremptorily arrested. Whatever it might be in other respects, the community in question, in power to do mischief, was not despicable. It was well provided with ordnance, small arms, and ammunition, and might easily seize on the unarmed boats, freighted with millions of property, which passed almost daily within its reach. ¶

It did not profess to belong to any regular government, and had, in fact, no recognized dependence on or connection with anyone to which the United States or their injured citizens might apply for redress or which could be held responsible in any way for the outrages committed. Not standing before the world in the attitude of an organized political society, being neither competent to exercise the rights nor to discharge the obligations of a government, it was, in fact, a marauding establishment too dangerous to be disregarded and too guilty to pass unpunished, and yet incapable of being treated in any other way than as a piratical resort of outlaws or a camp of savages depredating on emigrant trains or caravans and the frontier settlements of civilized states. {p.283}

Seasonable notice was given to the people of Greytown that this Government required them to repair the injuries they had done to our citizens and to make suitable apology for their insult of our minister, and that a ship of war would be dispatched thither to enforce compliance with these demands. But the notice passed unheeded. ¶

Thereupon a commander of the Navy, in charge of the sloop of war Cyane, was ordered to repeat the demands and to insist upon a compliance therewith. Finding that neither the populace nor those assuming to have authority over them manifested any disposition to make the required reparation, or even to offer excuse for their conduct, he warned them by a public proclamation that if they did not give satisfaction within a time specified he would bombard the town. ¶

By this procedure he afforded them opportunity to provide for their personal safety. To those also who desired to avoid loss of property in the punishment about to be inflicted on the offending town he furnished the means of removing their effects by the boats of his own ship and of a steamer which he procured and tendered to them for that purpose. ¶

At length, perceiving no disposition on the part of the town to comply with his requisitions, he appealed to the commander of Her Britannic Majesty’s schooner Bermuda, who was seen to have intercourse and apparently much influence with the leaders among them, to interpose and persuade them to take some course calculated to save the necessity of resorting to the extreme measure indicated in his proclamation; but that officer, instead of acceding to the request, did nothing more than to protest against the contemplated bombardment. ¶

No steps of any sort were taken by the people to give the satisfaction required. No individuals, if any there were, who regarded themselves as not responsible for the misconduct of the community adopted any means to separate themselves from the fate of the guilty. The several charges on which the demands for redress were founded had been publicly known to all for some time, and were again announced to them. They did not deny any of these charges; they offered no explanation, nothing in extenuation of their conduct, but contumaciously refused to hold any intercourse with the commander of the Cyane. ¶

By their obstinate silence they seemed rather desirous to provoke chastisement than to escape it. There is ample reason to believe that this conduct of wanton defiance on their part is imputable chiefly to the delusive idea that the American Government would be deterred from punishing them through fear of displeasing a formidable foreign power, which they presumed to think looked with complacency upon their aggressive and insulting deportment toward the United States. ¶

The Cyane at length fired upon the town. Before much injury had been done the fire was twice suspended in order to afford opportunity for an arrangement, but this was declined. Most of the buildings of the place, of little value generally, were in the sequel destroyed, but, owing to the considerate precautions taken by our naval commander, there was no destruction of life. {p.284}

When the Cyane was ordered to Central America, it was confidently hoped and expected that no occasion would arise for “a resort to violence and destruction of property and loss of life.” Instructions to that effect were given to her commander; and no extreme act would have been requisite had not the people themselves, by their extraordinary conduct in the affair, frustrated all the possible mild measures for obtaining satisfaction. ¶

A withdrawal from the place, the object of his visit entirely defeated, would under the circumstances in which the commander of the Cyane found himself have been absolute abandonment of all claim of our citizens for indemnification and submissive acquiescence in national indignity. It would have encouraged in these lawless men a spirit of insolence and rapine most dangerous to the lives and property of our citizens at Punta Arenas, and probably emboldened them to grasp at the treasures and valuable merchandise continually passing over the Nicaragua route. ¶

It certainly would have been most satisfactory to me if the objects of the Cyane’s mission could have been consummated without any act of public force, but the arrogant contumacy of the offenders rendered it impossible to avoid the alternative either to break up their establishment or to leave them impressed with the idea that they might persevere with impunity in a career of insolence and plunder. ¶

This transaction has been the subject of complaint on the part of some foreign powers, and has been characterized with more of harshness than of justice. If comparisons were to be instituted, it would not be difficult to present repeated instances in the history of states standing in the very front of modern civilization where communities far less offending and more defenseless than Greytown have been chastised with much greater severity, and where not cities only have been laid in ruins, but human life has been recklessly sacrificed and the blood of the innocent made profusely to mingle with that of the guilty.

* * * {p.293} * * *

Franklin Pierce.”



Let’s see if I understand this:

A lucrative business opportunity developed in Nicaragua, transporting passengers, baggage, and cargo between the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean, to avoid the long, expensive alternative trip around the tip of South America. This, prior to completion of the transcontinental railroad (May 10 1869) and the 51.2 mile Panama Canal (August 15 1914).

American business interests settled in for the rich takings, and so too local indigenous Nicaraguans and others, who posed a competitive threat to American business.

And so, the U.S. Military, acting on orders, used its iron fist to destroy the competition and secure a monopoly for the friends and political allies of the U.S. President, with the usual pretexts about how law-abiding the U.S. is (concealing its provocations) and how lawless the competition is?

I guess I’ll have to make a trip down to the U.K. Public Record Office and see what the Commander of HMS Bermuda had to say about this episode. Who knows? Maybe we can take this President at his word. Statistically speaking, they can’t all be perfidious liars. At least not all the time.

Meanwhile, here’s a history of these events, involving Cornelius Vanderbilt and his Accessory Transit Company, servicing his American Atlantic and Pacific Ship Canal Company. It looks like my suspicions are warranted, but I’m suspending judgment as I’m busy working on more recent events: Michael D. Lien (Department of Anthropology, University of Georgia), Regional Political Structures on the Mosquito Coast, 1845-1864, Ethnohistory, vol.43(3), pp.256-287 (1987)



Eye witness accounts

Message of the President of the United States, communicating, in compliance with a resolution of the Senate, the correspondence between the Department of State and the Minister of Bremen, on the subject of claims for losses alleged to have been sustained by subjects of the Hanse Towns at the bombardment of Greytown (U.S. Congress 35-1, Senate executive document, Ex. Doc. No. 10, January 4 1858, serial set?) {59kb.txt, 3.83mb.pdf, 2.7mb.pdf/bw, source} (truncated copy, omitting this, the final document, “Mr. Schleiden to Mr. Marcy, with accompaniments, January 28, 1856,” and a portion of this, the preceding document, “Mr. Marcy to Mr. Schleiden, November 24, 1855.”).


Sources: Court of Claims opinion: 1868 U.S. Ct. Cl. Lexis 98, verified to a photocopy of 4 Ct. Cl. pages 543-549 (1868), also available, 1800 WestLaw 685 (Ct.Cl.). Supreme Court opinion: LexisOne Free Case Law. “Dates of Early Supreme Court Decisions and Arguments” (volumes 2-107 U.S., 1791-1882) {1.1mb.pdf, source} (U.S. Supreme Court). Franklin Pierce’s state of the union message (1864) (presidency.ucsb.edu), with an error corrected to conform to a photocopy from the book cited above, an official U.S. Government publication.

By CJHjr: Formatting (xhtml/css), bold-face, links, text {in braces}, text beside a green bar |, text in yellow boxes, highlighting, added paragraphing (for ease of reading) in all three documents marked with this trailing paragraph symbol:  ¶ .

This case: Perrin v. United States, 4 Ct. Cl. 543 (1868), affirmed, 79 U.S. (12 Wall.) 315 {justia, altlaw, lexisone} (1870 Term, decided Nov. 13 1871).

Discussed in: El-Shifa Pharmaceutical Industries Company v. United States (U.S. missile-strike on Sudan, August 20 1998) (Article I, U.S. Court of Federal Claims), refused to adjudicate, 55 Fed. Cl. 751 (C.F.C., No. 00-CV-00443, March 14 2003, complaint filed, July 27 2000, reconsideration denied, April 14 2003), affirmed refusal to adjudicate, 378 F.3d 1346 (Fed. Cir., No. 03-5098, August 11 2004, appeal docketed, May 19 2003, rehearing and rehearing en banc denied, December 28 2004), refused to review refusal to adjudicate, certiorari denied, 545 U.S. 1139 {10.44mb.pdf} (U.S., No. 04-1291, June 27 2005, petition docketed, March 25 2005).

Related case: El-Shifa Pharmaceutical Industries Company v. United States (U.S. missile-strike on Sudan, August 20 1998) (Article III, U.S. District Court), refused to adjudicate (D.D.C., No. 01-CV-731, November 29 2005, complaint filed, April 4 2001, motion to alter judgment denied, March 28 2007), appeal docketed, May 31 2007, briefs filed, Jan. 18, Feb. 21, March 4, 2008, oral argument, April 7 2008, affirmed refusal to adjudicate, March 27 2009 {98.2kb.pdf, source} (D.C. Cir., No. 07-5174).


Related case: Idris v. U.S. Treasury Department (the owner of El-Shifa), filed, Feb. 26 1999 (D.D.C., No. 99-CV-472), dismissed as moot, May 5 1999) (blocked bank accounts, unblocked by the U.S. government, to avoid answering this complaint).

This document is not copyrighted and may be freely copied.


Charles Judson Harwood Jr.

Posted Oct. 22 2003. Updated May 14 2009.


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