Three Insular Cases and the Taiwan Status

by Richard W. Hartzell

1 of 1, 2, 3, 4 pages.

This article discusses the international legal status of Taiwan by reference to three US Supreme Court cases. Our discussion begins with DeLima v. Bidwell, (1901):

In this and the following cases, which may be collectively designated as the 'Insular Tariff Cases,' the dates here given become material:
In July, 1898, Porto Rico was invaded by the military forces of the United States under General Miles.

On August 12, 1898, during the progress of the campaign, a protocol was entered into between the Secretary of State and the French Ambassador on the part of Spain, providing for a suspension of hostilities, the cession of the island, and the conclusion of a treaty of peace. 30 Stat. at L. 1742.

On October 18 Porto Rico was evacuated by the Spanish forces.

On December 10, 1898, such treaty was signed at Paris (under which Spain ceded to the United States the island of Porto Rico), was ratified by the President and Senate February 6, 1899, and by the Queen Regent of Spain March 19, 1899. 30 Stat. at L. 1754.

On March 2, 1899, an act was passed making an appropriation to carry out the obligations of the treaty.

On April 11, 1899, the ratifications were exchanged, and the treaty proclaimed at Washington.

On April 12, 1900, an act was passed, commonly called the Foraker act, to provide temporary revenues and a civil government for Porto Rico, which took effect May 1, 1900. [182 U.S. 1, 3] Messrs. Frederic R. Coudert, Jr., Charles F. Adams, and Paul Fuller for plaintiffs in error.

This case raises the single question whether territory acquired by the United States by cession from a foreign power remains a 'foreign country' within the meaning of the tariff laws.

Whether these cargoes of sugar were subject to duty depends solely upon the question whether Porto Rico was a 'foreign country' at the time the sugars were shipped, since the tariff act of July 24, 1897 (30 Stat. at L. 151, chap. 11), commonly known as the Dingley act, declares that 'there shall be levied, collected, and paid upon all articles imported from foreign countries' certain duties therein specified. A foreign country was defined by Mr. Chief Justice Marshall and Mr. Justice Story to be one exclusively within the sovereignty of a foreign nation, and without the sovereignty of the United States.

Reference for the Taiwan status issue:
A foreign country is distinguished here from a foreign territory under the dominion of the United States. As the inhabitants of both are aliens to the USA, the difference is a class originated from a foreign country and a class originated from a foreign territory under dominion of the US Military Government, or successor civilian government if an organic act is authorized like the first one called the Foraker Act for Puerto Rico. In the case of Puerto Rico, it is a US possession unlike the Cuba cession. Today, Puerto Rico is actually a part of the US Customs Territory, but other cessions such as the USVI or Saipan still are not.

The Eliza, 2 Gall. 4, Fed. Cas. No. 4,346; Taber v. United States, 1 Story, 1, Fed. Cas. No. 13,722; The Adventure, 1 Brock, 235, 241, Fed. Cas. No. 93.

The status of Porto Rico was this: The island had been for some months under military occupation by the United States as a conquered country, when, by the 2d article of the treaty of peace between the United States and Spain, signed December 10, 1898, and ratified April 11, 1899, Spain ceded to the United States the island of Porto Rico, which has ever since remained in our possession, and has been governed and administered by us. If the case depended solely upon these facts, and the question were broadly presented whether a country which had been ceded to us, the cession accepted, possession delivered [182 U.S. 1, 181] and the island occupied and administered without interference by Spain or any other power, was a foreign country or domestic territory, it would seem that there could be as little hesitation in answering this question as there would be in determining the ownership of a house deeded in fee simple to a purchaser who had accepted the deed, gone into possession, paid taxes, and made improvements without let or hindrance from his vendor.

But it is earnestly insisted by the government that it never could have been the intention of Congress to admit Porto Rico into a customs union with the United States, and that, while the island may be to a certain extent domestic territory, it still remains a 'foreign country' under the tariff laws, until Congress has embraced it within the general revenue system.

We shall consider this subject more at length hereafter, but for the present call attention to certain cases in this court and certain regulations of the executive departments which are supposed to favor this contention.

In United States v. Rice, 4 Wheat. 246, 4 L. ed. 562, which was an action of debt brought by the United States upon a bond for duties upon goods imported into Castine, in the district (now state) of Maine, during its temporary occupation by the British troops in the war of 1812, it was held the action would not lie, though Castine was subsequently evacuated by the enemy and restored to the United States. The court said that, by the military occupation of Castine, the enemy acquired a possession which enabled him to exercise the fullest rights of sovereignty; that the sovereignty of the United States was suspended, and our laws could be no longer rightfully enforced there, or be obligatory upon the inhabitants; that by the surrender the inhabitants passed under a temporary allegiance to the British government, and were only bound by the laws of that government, and that Castine was during this period to be deemed a foreign port; that goods brought there were subject to duties which the British government chose to impose, and were in no correct sense imported into the United States; and that the subsequent evacuation by the enemy did not change the character of the transaction, since the goods were not liable to American duties when imported. In that case the character of the port, as foreign or [182 U.S. 1, 182] domestic was held to depend upon the question of actual occupation, and the right of the defendant determinable by the facts then existing, and, further, that the subsequent reoccupation of the port by the United States was ineffectual to change the right of the defendant or to vest a new right in the United States.

A case, somewhat to the converse of this, was that of Fleming v. Page, 9 How. 603, 13 L. ed. 276, which was an action against the collector at Philadelphia, to recover back duties upon merchandise imported from Tampico, in Mexico, during a temporary military occupation of that place by the United States. It was held that, although Tampico was within the military occupation of the United States, it had not ceased to be a foreign country, in the sense in which these words are used in the acts of Congress. In delivering the opinion of the court Mr. Chief Justice Taney observed: 'The United States, it is true, may extend its boundaries by conquest or treaty, and may demand the cession of territory as the condition of peace, in order to indemnify its citizens for the injuries they have suffered, or to reimburse the government for the expenses of the war.

But this can be done only by the treaty-making power or the legislative authority, and is not a part of the power conferred upon the President by the declaration of war. . . . While it was occupied by our troops, they were in an enemy's country, and not in their own; the inhabitants were still foreigners and enemies, and owed to the United States nothing more than the submission and obedience, sometimes called temporary allegiance, which is due from a conquered enemy when he surrenders to a force which he is unable to resist.'

This was clearly a sufficient reason for disposing of the case adversely to the importer, but the learned Chief Justice proceeded to put the case upon another ground, that 'there was no act of Congress establishing a custom house at Tampico, nor authorizing the appointment of a collector; and consequently there was no officer of the United States authorized by law to grant the clearance and authenticate the coasting manifest of the cargo in the manner directed by law, where the voyage is from one port of the United States to another;' that the only [182 U.S. 1, 183] collector was one appointed by the military commander, and that a coasting manifest granted by him could not be recognized in the United States as the document required by law when the vessel is engaged in the coasting trade, nor exempt the cargo from the payment of duties. He states that this construction of the tariff laws had been uniformly given by the administrative department of the government, and cited the case of Florida, after it had been ceded to the United States and the military forces had taken possession of Pensacola: 'That is, that, although Florida had by cession actually become a part of the United States, and was in our possession, yet, under our revenue laws, its ports must be regarded as foreign until they were established as domestic by act of Congress. And it appears that this decision was sanctioned at the time by the Attorney General of the United States, the law officer of the government. And, although not so directly applicable to the case before us, yet the decisions of the Treasury Department in relation to Amelia island and certain ports in Louisiana, after that province had been ceded to the United States, were both made upon the same grounds. And in the later case, after a customhouse had been established by law [2 Stat. at L. 418, chap. 14], at New Orleans, the collector at that place was instructed to regard as foreign ports Baton Rouge and other settlements still in the possession of Spain, whether on the Mississippi, Iberville, or the seacoast. The department, in no instance that we are aware of, since the establishment of the government, has ever recognized a place in a newly acquired country as a domestic port from which the coasting trade might be carried on, unless it had been previously made so by act of Congress.'

While we see no reason to doubt the conclusion of the court, that the port of Tampico was still a foreign port, it is not perceived why the fact that there was no act of Congress establishing a customhouse there, or authorizing the appointment of a collector, should have prevented the collector appointed by the military commander from granting the usual documents required to be issued to a vessel engaged in the coasting trade. A collector, though appointed by a military commander, may be presumed to have the ordinary power of a collector under an [182 U.S. 1, 184] act of Congress, with authority to grant clearances to ports within the United States, though, of course, he would have no power to make a domestic port of what was in reality a foreign port.

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