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Mr. Smith applied immediately to the department for a reversal of this decision, and denied the right of the government to annul the contract; and he now presents a claim for $26,061 09, which may be generally stated thus: Materials and expenses, with yearly interest charged, as specified in the account..
$12,317 01 Unsettled accounts...
1,516 28 Profits on $13,833 29, say 33 per cent..
4,611 09 Petitioner's time, 4 years.....
Deduct for materials sold and on hand...
And he bases his claim upon the ground that he, having asked for an extension of time within which to complete his contract, in writing, terminating November 1, 1852—"say till the 1st day of July or August next, 1853—and the Secretary having answered, among other things, that "if Mr. Smith concludes to progress with the work agreeably to the above, the additional time he may require will be granted, this correspondence operates as a waiver of time by the government, and gives him any time he may require in which to construct the light-house; that his subsequent letter of September 13, 1852, asking another limitation-to wit, the 1st of November, 1853– and the Secretary's agreement thereto, September 20, 1852, (not communicated to Mr. Smith,) has no effect upon the question, and consequently the annulment of the contract on the 8th of May, 1854, was illegal, and inflicted a wrong upon him, which government is bound to redress.
Your committee do not take the same view of the question, but are of opinion that the government, upon being applied to for an extension, having stated to Mr. Smith if he proceeded at his own risk he should have the time he might require; and thereupon he having named November 1, 1853, as the time when the work should be completed—there being no mistake or misapprehension on either sidethe question must be considered as definitely settled. This opinion is supported by the declaration of Mr. Smith himself, who, on the 29th of April, 1853-seven months after the correspondence with the Secretary upon this subject of extension-in a letter to the Lighthouse Board proposing additions to his plan, says, “all the parts of the contract, with the exception of the changes herein described, to be completed, according to its terms, by the 1st day of November next, (1853.) It is clear from this letter that the petitioner considered himself bound to complete his contract on the 1st of November, 1853; and if so, the committee cannot doubt the right of the government to declare, in May, 1854, that it would be no longer held upon the contract; and they ask to be discharged from any further consideration of the subject.
SPIRITS OF TURPENTINE ON BOARD OF VESSELS.
January 30, 1855.–Laid upon the table, and ordered to be printed.
Mr. T. WENTWORTH, from the Committee on Commerce, made the
The Committee on Commerce, to whom was referred a bill to regulate
the carrying of turpentine on board of vessels propelled in whole or in part by steam, report:
That the ninth section of the act of August 30, 1852, entitled “An act to provide for the better security of the lives of passengers on board of vessels propelled in whole or in part by steam, and for other purposes," provides that “upon the application of the master or owner of any steamboat employed in the carriage of passengers, for a license to carry gunpowder, oil of turpentine, oil of vitriol, camphene, or other explosive burning fluids and materials which ignite by friction, or either of them, the inspectors shall examine such vessel; and if they find that she is provided with chests or safes composed of metals, or entirely lined therewith, or one or more apartments thoroughly lined with metal, at a secure distance from any fire, they may grant a certificate to that effect, authorizing such vessel to carry as freight any of the articles aforesaid ; those of each description to be secured in such chest, safe, or apartment containing no other article, and carried at a distance from any fire to be specified in the certificate.”
The above-mentioned act was prepared with great care and consideration, and its general necessity was admitted by the whole community. Previous to its passage, the loss of life in steamboats, particularly upon the western waters, had been so great as to stand out a living rebuke of Congressional remissness. By a table prepared in reference to the subject, it appears that the loss of life in steamboats per annum was as follows:
Prior to 1849, one person to every 3.07 boats. In 1849, on 585 boats, 266 persons killed. In one year prior to January 11, 1851, on 601 boats, 277 persons killed. In one year prior to June 30, 1851, on 601 boats, 628 persons In one year prior to September 30, 1854, on 534 boats, 74 persons
It will be thus seen, that whilst in the year ending June 30, 1851, the number of persons killed in boats propelled by steam was ninetyfour per cent. of the number of boats in use, in the year ending September 30, 1854—being the first year after the law went into operation—the loss of life in such boats was only fourteen per cent.!
It will be difficult to find on the pages of our statutes a law which has apparently done so much for human security as the one now sought to be amended; and the committee would be unwilling to recommend any change in its provisions, unless the same was one of necessity.
The bill referred to your committee contemplates a repeal of so much of the act as prohibits the carrying on board steamboats spirits of turpentine, unless secured in the manner provided in a part of the section quoted above; and the reasons for the change in the law are given in a certificate signed by fourteen steamboat captains, which is as follows:
“We certify that we consider spirits of turpentine on board of steamboats, exposed to chimney or other sparks, not more liable to take fire than whiskey or other spirits, and if not prohibited by law we would as soon carry it.
"MOBILE, December 18, 1854."
This certificate is apparently given in good faith, and the committee see no reason to doubt the correctness of its conclusion, if to it be added the additional fact, that the spirits of turpentine and the whiskey be contained in vessels alike incombustible. But it is supposed that the framers of the law proceeded on the ground that spirits of turpentine was, in its nature, much more combustible than spirituous liquors; and in case of a fire happening on board a steamboat, would subject her and her passengers and crew to much more danger than would an equal quantity of the latter article. Gunpowder might be placed in vessels that would afford a perfect security against chimney or other sparks; but in case of a fire breaking out on board a steamboat, the knowledge that the article was on board and not secured in the manner provided by law, would produce immediate confusion, anel, in many cases, lead to fatal disasters, which, but for that cause alone, might have been avoided. The certificate is apparently founded on the idea that the law is intended only to guard against fires proceeding from sparks flying about the boat from the chimney or otherwise, and assuming that, as spirits of turpentine can be secured safely from sparks whilst on its transit, it does not come within the reason of the law. We think this is taking too narrow a view of the subject, and that the better opinion is that the law was designed, so far as was possible, to prevent the happening of fires on board of steamboats from any cause, either arising from sparks, from overheated chimneys, carelessness of either firemen or others of the crew, or from accidents of the passengers, the bursting of boilers, or collisions, and intended, in view of the great loss of life that had been suffered on American waters, to provide, by a wise foresight, against all probable accidents, and to that end prescribes not only that combus
tible matters, but those merely corrosive, and substances that ignite by friction, shall all be placed in equal security against fire; so that in case a steamboat, from any cause, takes fire, all on board may know where the combustible and dangerous articles are deposited, and be enabled to act with an understanding of their real situation. This knowledge would, doubtless, in many instances, enable the passengers and crew to save themselves and the boat, while a want of it might create a panic that would end in one of those frightful calamities that have too often attended our inland navigation, and from which our Atlantic steamers have by no means escaped.
No statistics showing the amount of this business, nor any suggestion that the trade suffers for want of other mode of conveyance than that furnished by passenger steamboats, has been made to the committee, and they unanimously recommend that no legislation be had upon the subject, and they ask to be discharged from any further consideration of the same.