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Law School Case Brief

Ware v. Hylton - 3 U.S. (3 Dall.) 199 (1796)


A treaty of peace abolishes the subject of the war, and that after peace is concluded, neither the matter in dispute, nor the conduct of either party, during the war, can ever be revived, or brought into contest again. All violencies, injuries, or damages sustained by the government, or people of either, during the war, are buried in oblivion; and all those things are implied by the very treaty of peace; and therefore not necessary to be expressed. Hence it follows, that the restitution of, or compensation for, British property confiscated, or extinguished, during the war, by any of the United States, could only be provided for by the treaty of peace; and if there had been no provision, respecting these subjects, in the treaty, they could not be agitated after the treaty, by the British government, much less by her subject in courts of justice. If a nation, during a war, conducts herself contrary to the law of nations, and no notice is taken of such conduct in the treaty of peace, it is thereby so far considered lawful, as never afterwards to be revived, or to be a subject of complaint. 


Plaintiff, a subject of Great Britain, appealed from the judgment of the Circuit Court for the District of Virginia, which ruled in favor of defendants, citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Court held that the paying of a debt due before the war from the American citizen to British subjects into the loan office of Virginia in pursuance of the law of that state discharged the debtor from their creditor. The British subject argued that the Treaty of Paris ensured the collection of the debt.


Did the Treaty of Paris override the Commonwealth of Virginia law?




The United States Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court.The enacting clauses of the law of Virginia evidenced no intention to confiscate the British debts paid into the state's treasury; and the preamble was manifestly inconsistent with such an intention. Any impediment to the recovery of the debt was removed by the treaty between the United States and Great Britain, Congress having a power to repeal all the acts of the several states in order to obtain peace and the treaty made for that purpose being the supreme law of the land. The Court held that the eminent domain of Virginia must, therefore, be confined to internal affairs and that it was not sufficient to object that the property of the debt in question was within the limits of Virginia's territory and, therefore, was subject to the state's laws.

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