Excerpt from Report of the Minority of the Committee on Military Affairs, on the Petition of the Legal Representaives of Antonio Pacheco, Praying Compensation for a Slave, 1848
Thus a military officer may undoubtedly bind his government, so far as may be necessary to provide the men under his command with the ordinary rations to sustain them, if not provided by the other agents of government; but if they be furnished by the government, and the officer purchases, upon the public credit, wines, or chocolate, or other luxuries, such contract places the government under no moral or legal obligation to pay for them. The rule in regard to military officers is nearly the same as that in civil life. While the agent acts strictly within the limits of his authority he binds his principal, but when he transcends his authority his acts become his own, for which he alone is liable. These principles have been so often decided that it would seem useless to quote precedents.
And now, admitting this man Lewis to have been the property of the petitioner, had the officer who sent him west of the Mississippi legal authority to bind his government by such act? Had the same officer taken the horse or the ox of the petitioner and sent him west of the Mississippi, in the same manner, would the government have been bound to pay for him? Certainly not. The officer, if necessary to transport his baggage or provisions, would have possessed authority to hire, or even to purchase, or to impress into the service horses or oxen for that purpose. But he had no authority to hire, purchase, or impress a horse or ox to send out of the country. Such act would have rendered the officer liable, but not the government.
Taking the negro, had he been property, for the purpose of sending him west of the Mississippi would not have constituted a "taking for the public use." He cannot be regarded as used by the public while he is pursuing his own happiness in the western country. Not being taken for public use, the taking was the act of the officer, for which the government is not responsible under the practice which has been followed since our existence as a nation.
But questions of the most grave importance seem legitimately involved in this case. The character of slavery and the constitutional relation which the federal government and the people of the free States hold to that institution, must necessarily be determined before we can arrive at a satisfactory conclusion upon the case presented.
1st. As to the character of slavery. In the earlier ages, many nations of the earth regarded war as the only honorable employment of man. When prisoners were captured, it was supposed that the victor had the legitimate right to deprive them of life, or to save the life of the prisoner and hold him as a slave. Thus, slavery is regarded by most writers as one of the resulting consequences of war. The prisoners captured were held by physical force, and whenever they made their escape they became free. To effect their escape, they might use any means within their power, provided they did not injure innocent persons.
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