The Schooner Exchange v

The Schooner Exchange v. McFaddon
Supreme Court of the United States
11 U.S. 116 (1812)
I. The schooner Exchange was a privately owned American vessel. Two men owned
the ship, one of which was John McFaddon. In December 1810, the vessel was
allegedly seized on orders of the French government while sailing in French
II. The schooner was then named Balaou and the French outfitted the vessel with
military equipment and began using the vessel as a warship.
III. In 1812, Balaou was forced to make port in Pennsylvania. At this time,
McFaddon made claims to his former vessel. Because the ship was now a warship
for the French government, when McFaddon sued for the rights to his former
property, he was suing the French government in the American court system (US
Supreme Court).
I. Does John McFaddon have entitlement to his seized property?
II. Is the schooner Balaou sovereign immune or does the District Court in the
District of Pennsylvania have the jurisdiction to hear the case?
After the case was dropped by the District Court for the District of Pennsylvania
for libel, the case was eventually appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court
agreed with the District Court and found in favor of the Exchange. The justices claimed
that the Pennsylvania District Court lacked jurisdiction because the confiscation of the
Exchange was legal under French law and the incident supposedly occurred in French
In regards to John McFaddon’s property, the US Supreme Court was unable to
help him. The vessel was seized legally by another sovereign entity. Technically
speaking, the French government had abided by law and was in no way libel.
I. The Supreme Court used the principle of sovereign immunity in determining
jurisdiction in this case. It determined that since France was a sovereign entity and
that the incident occurred in French waters that the United States courts could not
intervene. The United States lacked territorial jurisdiction.
II. This case also dealt with the issue of sovereign immunity when dealing with
private ships versus public ships. Justice Marshall stated, “In all respects different
is the situation of a public armed ship. She constitutes a part of the military force
of her nation; acts under the immediate and direct command of the sovereign”
(US Supreme Court). Since the Exchange was used as a warship by the French
government it was entitled to sovereign immunity.
This case is important for two reasons; one of which is far more important, but
both should be mentioned. The ruling of the Supreme Court depicts that law is not always
fair in the basic sense of the word. McFaddon had his property “stolen” and by law the
confiscation was completely legitimate. It is fascinating to have such a case because no
matter what the court ruled, justice could not be fully achieved either for McFaddon or
for the French government. This case is also extremely important because it “is the
source of American foreign sovereign immunity jurisprudence” (WSG). This case set the
precedent in the United States for sovereign immunity. The Supreme Court had not seen
a case that dealt with the sovereign immunity of another state since its founding. There
was international precedent, but The Schooner Exchange v. McFaddon was a landmark
case in US legal system.
Tara Krumholz, 8 October 2009
"THE EXCHANGE V. MCFADDON, 11 U. S. 116 (1812) -- US Supreme Court Cases
from Justia & Oyez." US Supreme Court Cases & Opinions from Justia & US
Court Forms & Oyez. Web. 07 Oct. 2009.
"A Primer on Foreign Sovereign Immunity." Association of global legal
serv. Web. 08 Oct. 2009. <
"The Schooner Exchange v. M'Faddon -." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Web. 07 Oct.
2009. <'Faddon>.