To James Monroe
Montpel[i]er Aug. 20. 1813
I return the papers relating to Yeaton, with the opinion of the attorney general on the case.1 According to that opinion, the claim of the Revenue officers does not commence, till recovery of the forfeiture takes place, and recovery means a receipt of the forfeiture & readiness for its distribution. The revenue officers are then barred of their claim or will be barred by a pardon issued previous to a consummation of the Judgment of the Court into actual rect. of the forfeiture: and the questions now existing are 1. whether the pardon already issued be sufficient to release & restore the whole; 2. if not whether a further and more precise one may properly be now issued. As no obstacle to a restoration of the whole forfeiture can have intervened according to the opinion of Mr. P. I see no objection to an enlarged or more explicit pardon if necessary to effectuate what was the intention of the first pardon, namely to release to Yeaton the whole interest of the U.S. who alone it appears have an interest to be released. This course seems to be safe in every view, as the operation of either or both the Pardons may be made Judicial questions by claimants whoever they may be. If there be doubts on the subject, &. the Revenue Officers do not, on learning the opinion of Mr. P. desist from their claim, it may be well to take this opinion, on the precise course to be pursued by the Executive. Should a new pardon issue the phraseology cited by Mr. P. and that of the president in the time of Mr. Adams, may be consulted.
Aug. 21. I this moment receive the letter of B. & Kurtz relating to the case of the Alleghany; of which my knowledge is too imperfect to justify an operative opinion.2 In general a reference of questions between the public, & individuals, to arbitrators or even to Cou[r]ts; tho apparently equitable, is known from experience to be unfavorable to the public: Nor can the Ex. pursue such a course unless they have power to do the thing, without the sanction of such a Tribunal. In general therefore it is best to decide without it: leaving the party to his resort to Congress should the Ex. decision not be satisfactory. These remarks do not preclude a regard to peculiar cases, which may justify a departure from a general rule; & of which the present may be one. Affec. respects
RC (DLC: Monroe Papers). Enclosures not found, but see n. 1.
1. William Yeaton’s ship, the Betsey and Charlotte, cleared from Alexandria in September 1806 for Santiago de Cuba but sailed to Cap Français. At a district court trial upon its return, the ship was judged to be forfeit to the U.S. government for violation of a 28 Feb. 1806 law limiting commerce with Haiti. The circuit court reversed the decision on appeal, but the Supreme Court upheld it in 1808 (“United States v. The Schooner Betsey and Charlotte and her Cargo,” 4 Cranch 443–52). In response to a petition from Yeaton which was supported by “a majority of the Judges of the Supreme Court,” JM issued a pardon on 24 June 1811, remitting the forfeiture “so far forth as the United States are interested therein.” The revenue officers involved in the case, however, maintained their claim to a percentage of the forfeiture, causing Yeaton to apply to JM again for clarification. Unsure whether he could remit the revenue officers’ portion without incurring liability to them on the part of the U.S. government for that amount, JM had Monroe request William Pinkney’s opinion on the question. In accord with Pinkney’s response, the president signed a second pardon on 27 Aug. 1813, which stated that he had “thought proper to superadd” to the first remission “this present full and entire remission of the said forfeiture, whether accruing to the United States or otherwise” (DNA: RG 59, PPR; Monroe to Pinkney, 10 Aug. 1813, DNA: RG 59, DL). For background on Yeaton and his first petition, see Henry Lee to JM, 24 June 1811, PJM-PS description begins Robert A. Rutland et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series (6 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1984–). description ends , 3:357 and n. 1.