Sapphire Case 

11 Wall 64; 1870


The case was one of a collision between the American Ship Sapphire and the French transport, Euryale, which took place in the harbor of San Francisco on the morning of December 22, 1867, by which the Euryale was considerably damaged.

A libel was filed in the District Court two days afterwards, in the name of the Emperor Napoleon III, then Emperor of the French, as owner of the Euryale, against the Sapphire.

The claimants filed an answer, alleging, among other things that the damage was occasioned by the fault of the Euryale. Depositions were taken, and the court decreed in favor of the libellant, and awarded him $15,000, the total amount claimed. The claimants appealed to the Circuit Court (of United States for the District of California), which affirmed the decree. They then, in July 1869, appealed to this court (US Supreme Court).

In the summer of 1870, Napoleon III was deposed.


1. Does the Emperor of France have the right to bring the suit in our courts?

2. Had the suit not become abated by the deposition of the Emperor Napoleon III?


1. NO. The sovereign of a country, the public rights or property of which have been destroyed, or injured, by a citizen of another country, cannot maintain suit against such citizen, in the judicial tribunals of the country to which such citizen belongs, to recover compensation for the injury. The remedy, and the only remedy of the foreign sovereign is by diplomatic correspondence and arrangement between two countries. The repose of nations and their intercourse with each other, cannot be maintained, if sovereign rights are to be ascertained and adjudicated by a suit, in the name of the foreign sovereign against a private citizen by whom they may have been violated.

The case before the court illustrates the propriety of the principle and reason upon which the position is taken. The claimants cannot all upon Napoleon, to answer interrogatories, upon oath, under the admiralty rule which requires libellants to answer. The owners of the Sapphire, say that

the collision was caused by the fault of the French transport. Admitting this to be true, they cannot obtain a warrant for the arrest of a vessel belonging to the navy of France, and which is in our harbor in the charge of an officer of the French navy.

2. NO. Supposing that the suit could yet be maintained if Napoleon III were now emperor, it would seem certain that it cannot be continued, he being now deposed, and reduced to the state of a private person. The Euryale is a vessel of the French government; a government with which he has nothing whatever now to do; being banished and a fugitive.

People v Perfecto

G.R. No. 18463; Oct 4, 1922


Fernando Guerrero, the Secretary of the Philippine Senate, discovered that certain documents which constituted the records of testimony given by witnesses in the investigation of oil companies, had disappeared from his office. He informed the Philippine Senate of such fact and stated that steps were taken by him to discover the guilty party. Thereafter, the newspaper La Nacion, edited by Mer. Gregorio Perfecto, published an article criticizing the Senate and its members regarding their failure to resolve the robbery of records in the Senate.  Thus, an information was filed against Perfecto for violation of Article 256 of the Penal Code, which punishes "Any person who by . . . writing, shall defame, abuse, or insult any Minister of the Crown or other person in authority . . ., "

Trial judge found Perfecto guilty as charged. It explained that notwithstanding the change of sovereignty, Art 256 will continue to be in force until it shall be repealed or superseded, and thus, anyone who made an insulting remark about the President of the United States was punishable under it.

Defendant asserted that Article 256 of the Spanish Penal Code is no longer in force because it was abrogated by the change from Spanish to American sovereignty over the Philippines and because it was inconsistent with democratic principles of government.

ISSUE: Was Article 256 of the Spanish Penal Code still in force despite change from Spanish to American sovereignty over the Philippines?

RULING: NO. It is a general principle of the public law that on acquisition of territory the previous political relations of the ceded region are totally abrogated. "Political" is here used to denominate the laws regulating the relations sustained by the inhabitants to the sovereign. All laws, ordinances and regulations in conflict with the political character, institutions and Constitution of the new government would at once cease to be of obligatory force without any declaration to that effect.

Article 256 of the Spanish Penal Code was enacted by the Government of Spain to protect Spanish officials who were the representatives of the king. However, with the change to American sovereignty, there is no longer a Minister of the Crown or a person in authority of such exalted position. "The President and Congress framed the government on the model with which Americans are familiar, and which has proven best adapted for the advancement of the public interest and the protection of individual rights and privileges." Thus, in the eye of the present Constitution and laws, every man is a sovereign, a ruler and a freedom, and has equal rights with every other man.

Thus, Article 256 of the Penal code is contrary to the genius and fundamental principles of the American character and systems of government. This article was crowded out by implication as soon as the United States established its authority in the Philippine Islands.

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