No. 164.
Mr. Frelinghuysen to Mr. West.

Sir: With reference to your note of the 30th of November last, in which you refer to the case of a seaman of British nativity who died at Yokohama, Japan, in May, 1883, having in his possession a continuous-service certificate of the United States Navy, and request the views of this Department as to whether seamen of British nativity discharged from United States naval vessels and in a destitute condition in foreign ports should be relieved by the American Government or that of Great Britain, in reply I have the honor to inform you that upon the receipt of your note the attention of the American consul at Yokohama was called to the matter. A report has now been received from him, from which it appears that John Devany, the seaman in question, was discharged from the naval service of the United States in February, 1880, more than three years prior to the date of his death, which occurred on the 23d of May, 1883. The mere fact that this man had at one time served in the American Navy would not seem to place this Government under obligations to defray his funeral expenses, upon his death, years afterwards, even had he been an American citizen. The continuous-service certificate found in the possession of this man cannot be regarded as creating any such obligation, as such certificates are issued to enlisted men in the United States Navy entitled to an honorable discharge, and are intended to encourage good men to continue in the service by enabling them to re-enlist with increased pay, and to secure other benefits accruing after a period of continuous service.

With regard to the general subject, a seaman enlisting in the American Navy within the geographical limits of the United States is entitled, upon the expiration of the term of his enlistment, to be returned to a port upon the Atlantic or Pacific coast, according to circumstances, or may, at his option, receive his discharge at a foreign port, unless the public interests require that he shall be temporarily retained in the service. When his enlistment occurs without the limits referred to, he has no option as to the place of discharge, but may, in the discretion of the proper commanding officer, be discharged at a foreign port or temporarily retained in the service. If, in the case of enlistment in the United States, the seaman elects to be discharged at a foreign port, he thereby waives the right of transportation to the United States. Under those regulations [Page 241] it is not probable that eases of the discharge of seamen from American naval vessels in foreign ports in a destitute condition will often occur.

As to the case under consideration, it would seem that the moral obligations to defray the expenses of the burial of the deceased attach rather to the representative of the Government of which he had always been a subject than to that of the Government to which he had only rendered temporary service, for which he had received due compensation.

I have, &c.,