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A public armed ship, in the service of a foreign sovereign, with whom the government of the United States is at peace, and having entered an American port open for her reception, on the terms on which ships of war are generally permitted to enter the ports of a friendly power, must be considered as having come into the American territory, under an implied promise, that while necessarily within it, and demeaning herself in a friendly manner, she should be exempt from the jurisdiction of the country.
Two Maryland citizens owned a vessel that was forcibly seized under the decrees of Napoleon, the French emperor. The vessel sailed into an American port and the citizens filed a libel action to reclaim it. The district court denied the libel for lack of jurisdiction. The appellate court reversed and ordered the vessel be restored to the citizens, who claimed to be the vessel's sole owners. The French, through its reigning emperor, Napoleon, had an interest in the vessel and sought review.
Can an American citizen assert, in an American court, a title to an armed national vessel, found within the waters of the United States?
The court found that the vessel was a national armed vessel commissioned by, and in the service of the emperor of France. The court found that the United States was at peace with France and permitted the vessel to enter the ports as a friendly power. The court held that when the vessel entered American territory, it did so under the implied promise that the vessel was exempt from United States jurisdiction and enjoyed sovereign immunity.