Mr. Bayard to Sir L. S. Sackville
Washington , December 15, 1886.
Sir: With reference to your note of the 2d instant, inquiring whether shipwrecked seamen and other distressed British subjects who may be sent by British consular officers to American ports for immediate transshipment to their destination, and whose expenses are provided for by the British Government, are subject to the capitation tax imposed by the act of Congress of August 3, 1882, I have the honor to inform you that I have just received a letter from my colleague, the Secretary of the Treasury, in which he states that it is a well recognized rule in the administration of the American tariff and navigation laws that special exemptions are to be granted to vessels and foreign goods thrown upon the shores of this country by shipwreck or other casualty; that goods under such circumstances are not treated as importations, unless the parties in interest waive the exemption; that wrecked vessels are, as a general rule, exempt from the requirements of law as to entry, and that [Page 497] the general principle underlying these rulings is that our laws relating to foreign commerce are intended to apply in their restrictive provisions to trade and commerce only when carried on under normal conditions, that is to say, when voluntary and free, and not when enforced by a pressure of circumstances beyond the control of the parties concerned.
The Secretary of the Treasury adds that, in his opinion, the spirit of the above rulings in respect to laws governing trade and commerce should apply a fortiori to laws like that in question, which, while akin to those relating merely to matters of trade, subserve a higher purpose in the interests of humanity. He holds, therefore, that seamen and others in distress, of the character referred to in your note, are not subjects for the tax prescribed by the act of Congress in question, and that of course the same exemption applies to shipwrecked and other distressed Canadians.
I have, etc.,