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Joint Resolution of Congress Concerning Seizure of Enemy Ships


(S.J. RES. 42.)

     Joint Resolution Authorizing the President to take over for the United States the possession and title of any vessel within its jurisdiction, which at the time of coming there in was owned in whole or in part by any corporation, citizen, or subject of any nation with which the United States may be at war, or was under register of any such nation, and for other purposes.

     Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the President be, and he is hereby, authorized to take over to the United States the immediate possession and title of any vessel within the Jurisdiction thereof, including the Canal Zone and all territories and insular possessions of the United States exsept the American Virgin Islands,1 which at the time of coming into such jurisdiction was owned in whole or in part by any corporation, citizen, or subject of any nation with which the United States may be at war when such vessel shall be taken, or was flying the flag of or was under registration of any such nation or any political subdivision or municipality thereof; and, through the United States Shipping Board, or any department or agency of the Government, to operate,lease, or charter, and equip such vessel in any service of the United States, or in any commerce, foreign or coastwise.

     Sec. 2. That the Secretary of the Navy be, and he is hereby, authorized and directed to appoint, subject to the approval of the President, a board of survey, whose duty it shall be to ascertain the actual value of the vessel, its equipment, appurtenances, and all property contained therein, at the time of its taking, and to make a written report of their findings to the Secretary of the Navy who shall preserve such report with the records of his department. These findings shall be considered as competent evidence in all proceedings on any claim for compensation.2

     Approved, May 12, 1917.

Source Note: Printed, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517.

Footnote 1: On the special situation in the Virgin Islands, see: Office of the Chief of Naval Operations to James H. Oliver, 7 May 1917.

Footnote 2: This joint resolution was requested by President Woodrow Wilson. On 21 April, Wilson sent to the chairmen of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees a draft of this resolution drawn up by the Attorney General, Thomas W. Gregory. Wilson Papers, 42: 113. In his letters to Sen. Charles A. Culberson and Rep. Edwin Y. Webb, Wilson wrote: “Just now our relation to the German ships which are in our custody is a very anomalous one and I think the public opinion of the country would justify the action I am suggesting.” Ibid., 116-7. Two days later, on 14 May, Wilson issued another executive order authorizing the Secretary of the Navy to seize and bring into service two German ships in the harbor at San Juan, Puerto Rico. DNA, RG 45, Entry 517; First Annual Report of the Shipping Board (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1917), 19-20. The survey mandated in the order of 12 May, was undertaken under the auspices of the United States Shipping Board and on 30 June 1917, Wilson issued an executive order giving that board the power to seize the enemy vessels identified in the survey and enter them into the U.S. registry. Ibid. On 7 July, Wilson turned over twelve of the German ships to the Navy to be used as troop transports. DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers, Diary, Roll 1, Entry of 7 July 1917.

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