Opinion of Mr. Commissioner Frazer in the
case of John C. Rahming, No. 7. (See p.
Conceding that in this case there must be an award of damages, yet I do not agree that it should be large.
When the American rebellion began he was domiciled at Nassau, and so continued until June 13, 1861, when he removed to New York, having made his arrangements for that purpose the previous year, (his deposition, p. 37.)
The rebellion was not hatched in a corner. The firing upon Fort Sumter was not a surprise. For many weeks prior thereto, it was known all over America and Europe that elaborate preparations were being made for the attack. It was virtually under siege for weeks before a gun was fired, its supplies cut off, and fortifications for attack being built. This is public history. It is not pretended that this was not known in Nassau. Arms of all kinds were sought and in demand in the South. This claimant was at that time willing to supply that demand, and for the sake of profit to put in Wilmington two cannon which he owned, to be used to destroy the Government whose hospitality he intended in a few weeks to accept. One of his explanations of this is that, when so intending in April, 1861, he did not know that firing upon Sumter had really yet begun! This was his statement to Consul Archibald, (memorial, p. 17,) in September, 1861. It is possible that the consul did not give his statement correctly. But in December, 1872, he plainly means to be understood that at that time (April, 1861) he “got news” for the first time that there was “likely to be war,” and therefore he did not send the guns to Wilmington! (his deposition, p. 48.) It overtaxes credulity to be expected to believe that an intelligent merchant at Nassau did not learn, long before April, that there was “likely to be a war.”
On September 2, 1861, the Government, being informed merely that he had attempted to have the guns shipped from Nassau to Wilmington, and, so far as we know, not learning that he was at the time a resident of Nassau, and that it was probably before there was actual war, had him arrested. Learning the facts as stated by the consul, he was promptly released after sixteen days’ detention.
The Government had learned enough to have made it almost criminal not to be afterwards suspicious of Rahming. He had been willing to supply the rebels with arms. He was trading ostensibly with Nassau, notoriously a mere way-station for goods intended for the rebels. He had a trading-house there. He was in business correspondence with, and sending goods to persons there known to be in the confederate [Page 242] trade. He was suspected and watched. It would have been wicked negligence not to have watched him. Packages shipped by him were found on board a confederate vessel captured in attempting to violate the blockade—the “Margaret and Jessie.”
Domiciled now in New York, he could not lawfully aid the insurgents by trading with them either directly or indirectly, even in the absence of a blockade and an act of Congress prohibiting it. He was now in that respect bound by all the duties incumbent on American citizens. He must restrain his avarice—forego profit for the sake of the country in which he resided.
Non-intercourse between belligerents rests upon a principle of public law, and needed no act of Congress or public proclamation to establish it. Trade with the enemy indirectly, via Nassau, was notless a violation of this principle than direct trade. If there was probable cause to believe him guilty of this, his arrest was fully warranted. If he so conducted his business as to create this belief, tempted thereto by the hope of gain, he must submit to the consequences naturally resulting from it. He had abundant notice that he was suspected, and this should have put him on his guard.
December 31, 1863, he was again arrested, and was held six months and two days. Was there probable cause for this arrest? It must not be forgotten that it occurred immediately after the hearing and decree in the case of the “Margaret and Jessie,” in which it appeared that cases shipped by Rahming were on board, the marks unchanged, and that the Government acted and must have acted upon what then appeared not what now appears.
- Two years and a half before, he had shown himself willing, for gain, to aid even in arming the insurgents.
- Having a house of trade at Nassau, he had opportunities, nay, excellent facilities, to participate in the confederate trade.
- His business ostensibly with Nassau was large.
- Much of the goods shipped by him were adapted to the confederate demand.
- Some of his shipments, it appeared, were actually found on board a ship sailing under the confederate flag en route to Wilmington.
One might well inquire what more was needed to constitute probable cause for his arrest.
Nor am I yet satisfied of his innocence. His own deposition, if fully credited, ought perhaps to be deemed a sufficient explanation of nearly everything. But I cannot accord full credit to his statements. He furnished abundant reasons for (at least) caution in this respect. He made his memorial under oath, stating when certain vessels were detained, to his injury, viz, the Prince Alfred, in May, 1863, and the Star of the West, in June. In his deposition he places the first event sixteen months earlier, and the last eleven months earlier. The explanation is that these errors must have been either clerical or typographical. That they are not typographical appears by our files. Then we have his positive and unnecessary affidavit in bankruptcy that he is an American citizen, and his explanation that he did not read the affidavit! The least that can reasonably be said of these explanations of his is that he is not careful as to what he shall swear to| an oath being by him regarded as imposing upon the conscience no obligation to know what it is that is affirmed. What would become of the administration of justice if all men were thus careless?[Page 243]
His explanation of the marks on cases found on board the Margaret and Jessie leaves something more to be desired. It is not very probable that a steamship running the blockade would be laden, to any extent, with empty barrels and boxes; and where merchants use old cases in which to pack goods, they mark them anew. The old marks, it is true, sometimes remain legible, but the Margaret and Jessie had on board several cases with only the marks of Rahming’s consignees. It hardly explains this to say that his Nassau house was in the habit of selling their empty boxes for what they would bring, unless we are also to suppose that when the same cases were afterwards found in the confederate steamship they were empty!
In short, I am not sure that it was not to him a great favor that he was discharged without a trial.
His complaints of harsh and inhuman treatment in prison, other than would ordinarily attend secure imprisonment, are, I think, sufficiently met by the evidence for the defense.
But I think that he was detained too long; that he was reasonably entitled to either trial or discharge earlier.