Comprehending laws and contracts is impossible, unless we first learn the meaning of the words and phrases they contain.

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KJV References



Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language, 1828
AD'MIRALTY, noun In Great Britain, the office of Lord High Admiral. This office is discharged by one person, or by Commissioners, called Lords of the Admiralty; usually seven in number.

The admiralty court, or court of admiralty is the supreme court for the trial of maritime causes, held before the Lord High Admiral, or Lords of the admiralty

In general, a court of admiralty is a court for the trial of causes arising on the high seas, as prize causes and the like. In the United States, there is no admiralty court, distinct from others; but the district courts, established in the several states by Congress, are invested with admiralty powers.
Bouvier’s Dictionary of Law, 1856

1. The name of a jurisdiction which takes cognizance of suits or actions which arise in consequence of acts done upon or relating to the sea; or, in other words, of all transactions and proceedings relative to commerce and navigation, and to damages or injuries upon the sea. 2 Gall. R. 468. In the great maritime nations of Europe, the term " admiralty jurisdiction," is, uniformly applied to courts exercising jurisdiction over maritime contracts and concerns. It is as familiarly known among the jurists of Scotland, France, Holland and Spain, as of England, and applied to their own courts, possessing substantially the same jurisdiction as the English Admiralty had in the reign of Edward III. Ibid., and the authorities there cited; and see, also, Bac. Ab. Court of Admiralty; Merl. Repert. h. t. Encyclopedie, h. t.; 1 Dall. 323.

2. The Constitution of the United States has delegated to the courts of the national government cognizance "of all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction;" and the act of September 24, 1789, ch. 20 s. 9, has given the district court " cognizance of all civil causes of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction," including all seizures under laws of imposts, navigation or trade of the United States, where the seizures are made on waters navigable from the sea, by vessels of ten or more tons burden, within their respective districts, as well as upon the high seas.

3. It is not within the plan of this work to enlarge upon this subject. The reader is referred to the article Courts of the United States, where he will find all which has been thought necessary to say upon it as been the subject. Vide, generally, Dunlap's Adm. Practice; Bett's Adm. Practice; 1 Kent's Com. 353 to 380; Serg. Const. Law, Index, h. t.; 2 Gall. R. 398. to 476; 2 Chit. P. 508; Bac. Ab. Courts of Admiralty; 6 Vin. Ab. 505; Dane's Ab. Index b. t; 12 Bro. Civ. and Adm. Law; Wheat. Dig. 1; 1 Story L. U. S. 56, 60; 2 Id. 905, 3 Id. 1564, 1696; 4 Sharsw. cont. of Story's L. U. S. 2262; Clerke's Praxis; Collectanea Maritima; 1 U. S. Dig. tit. Admiralty Courts, XIII.
An ancient book compiled in the reign of Edw. III. It has always been deemed of the highest authority in matters concerning the admiralty. It contains the laws of Oleron, At large; a view of the crimes and offences cognizable in the admiralty; ordinances and commentaries on matters of prize and maritime torts, injuries and contracts, 2 Gall. R. 404.
A court having jurisdiction of all maritime causes. Vide Admiralty; Courts of the United States; Instance Courts; Prize Court; 2 Chit. Pr. 508 to 538.
Rights claimed by the government over the property of an enemy. In England, it has been usual, in maritime wars, for the government to seize and condemn, as droits of admiralty, the property of an enemy found in her ports at the breaking out of hostilities. 1 Rob. R. 196; 13 Ves. jr. 71; Edw. R. 60; 3 B. & P. 191.

Black’s Law Dictionary, 1st edition, 1891
A court exercising jurisdiction over maritime causes, both civil and criminal, and marine affairs, commerce and navigation, controversies arising out of acts done upon or relating to the sea, and over questions of prize.

Also. the system of jurisprudence relating to and growing out of the jurisdiction and practice of the admiralty courts.

In English law. The executive department of state which presides over the naval forces of the kingdom. The normal head is the lord high admiral, but in practice the functions of the great office are discharged by several commissioners, of whom one is the chief, and is called the “First Lord.” He is assisted by other lords and by various secretaries.
Also, the court of the admiral.

The building where the lords of the admiralty transact business.

In American law. A tribunal exercising jurisdiction over all maritime contracts, torts, injuries, or offenses. 2 Pars. Mar. Law, 508.

The Century Dictionary, an Encyclopedic Lexicon of the English Language, 1895
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WEX Legal Dictionary
Admiralty Court

See: Maritime Court
Maritime Court

A federal court that hears issues of maritime law. These courts follow special procedural rules.
See 28 U.S.C. § 1333
Admiralty Law

See Admiralty.
Maritime Law

See admiralty.
Maritime Lien

Name for a category of liens that stem from admiralty law and do not necessarily depend on a contract or local statute for their existence. A common feature of maritime liens is that they attach to the item of property itself (most often, a ship or other seafaring vessel). As a result, maritime liens may continue to stay in effect even after the property is sold in good faith to a bona fide purchaser without knowledge of the lien.

Admiralty law or maritime law is the distinct body of law (both substantive and procedural) governing navigation and shipping. Topics associated with this field in legal reference works may include: shipping; navigation; waters; commerce; seamen; towage; wharves, piers, and docks; insurance; maritime liens; canals; and recreation. Piracy (ship hijacking) is also an aspect of admiralty.

The courts and Congress seek to create a uniform body of admiralty law both nationally and internationally in order to facilitate commerce. The federal courts derive their exclusive jurisdiction over this field from the Judiciary Act of 1789 and from Article III, § 2 of the U.S. Constitution. Congress regulates admiralty partially through the Commerce Clause. American admiralty law formerly applied only to American tidal waters. It now extends to any waters navigable within the United States for interstate or foreign commerce. In such waters admiralty jurisdiction includes maritime matters not involving interstate commerce, including recreational boating.

Admiralty law in the United States developed from the British admiralty courts present in most of the American colonies. These courts functioned separately from courts of law and equity. With the Judiciary Act, though, Congress placed admiralty under the jurisdiction of the federal district courts. Although admiralty shares much in common with the civil law, it is separate from it. Common law does not act as binding precedent on admiralty courts, but it and other law may be used when no law on point is available.

Parties subject to admiralty may not contract out of admiralty jurisdiction, and states may not infringe on admiralty jurisdiction either judicially or legislatively. Since admiralty courts, however, are courts of limited jurisdiction (which does not extend to nonmaritime matters), 28 USC § 1333(1), the "Savings to Suitors Clause," does provide for concurrent state jurisdiction so that non-admiralty remedies will not be foreclosed. Moreover, state courts may have jurisdiction where the matter is primarily local.

Under admiralty, the ship's flag determines the source of law. For example, a ship flying the American flag in the Persian Gulf would be subject to American admiralty law; and a ship flying a Norwegian flag in American waters will be subject to Norwegian admiralty law. This also applies to criminal law governing the ship's crew. But the ship must be flying the flag legitimately; that is, there must be more than insubstantial contact between the ship and its flag, in order for the law of the flag to apply. American courts may refuse jurisdiction where it would involve applying the law of another country, although in general international law does seek uniformity in admiralty law.

Just as the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure placed law and equity under the same jurisdiction in 1938, the 1966 rules subsumed admiralty. Nonetheless, the Supplemental Admiralty Rules take precedence over the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in the event of conflict between the two.

A term in admiralty law, referring to a lawyer.
Admiralty and Maritime Power

In the case Southern Pacific Co. v. Jensen, 244 U.S. 205 (1917), the Supreme Court determined that the Necessary and Proper Clause grants to Congress complete and plenary power to fix and determine the maritime laws throughout the country.

See congressional power.

The American Insurance Company, and the Ocean Insurance Company, (of New-York) v. 356 Bales of Cotton, David Canter
"A case in admiralty does not, in fact, arise under the Constitution or laws of the United States. These cases are as old as navigation itself; and the law admiralty and maritime as it existed for ages, is applied by our Courts to the cases as they arise."
The Blaireau, 2 Cranch 264; Ex parte Newman, 14 Wall. 152.
"Admiralty has jurisdiction of an action between parties who are foreigners where the parties consent to the jurisdiction."
The St. Lawrence (Meyer v. Tupper)
"Congress is barred from enlarging Admiralty and Maritime jurisdiction."
The Hine v. Trevor
"Wherever the district courts of the United States have original cognizance of admiralty causes by virtue of an act of Congress, that cognizance is exclusive with the exception that always of such concurrent remedy is given by the common law."
People's Ferry Co. v. Beers
"The true limits of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction can only be ascertained by reference to what cases were cognizable in the maritime courts when the Constitution was formed. What was reserved to the States to be regulated by their own institutions can not be rightfully infringed by the General Government, either through its legislative or its judicial departments."
Insurance Company v. Dunham
"A contract of marine insurance is a maritime contract within admiralty jurisdiction."
Moore v. Purse Seine Net
"Actions in common law courts are usually in personam as contrasted to the in rem proceedings of admiralty courts, but an action in rem can be brought by the state in an ordinary common law court for the forfeiture of goods or articles used in violation of laws imposing such a penalty even though articles sought to be forfeited are ships, appurtenances, thereof or cargoes."
Propeller Genessee Chief et al. v. Fitzhugh et al. (1851)
"The jurisdiction of the U.S. courts over admiralty and maritime cases is not exclusive, and an act of the legislature conferring admiralty jurisdiction upon the district courts in this state is constitutional."
Taylor v. The Columbia (1855), 5 C. 268.
"This power is as extensive upon land as upon water. The Constitution makes no distinction in that respect. And if the admiralty jurisdiction, in matters of contract and tort which the courts of the United States may lawfully exercise on the high seas, can be extended to the lakes under the power to regulate commerce, it can with the same propriety and upon the same construction, be extended to contracts and torts on land when the commerce is between different States. And it may embrace also the vehicles and persons engaged in carrying it on (my note - remember what the law of the flag said when you receive benefits from the king). It would be in the power of Congress to confer admiralty jurisdiction upon its courts, over the cars engaged in transporting passengers or merchandise from one State to another, and over the persons engaged in conducting them, and deny to the parties the trial by jury. Now the judicial power in cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, has never been supposed to extend to contracts made on land and to be executed on land. But if the power of regulating commerce can be made the foundation of jurisdiction in its courts, and a new and extended admiralty jurisdiction beyond its heretofore known and admitted limits, may be created on water under that authority, the same reason would justify the same exercise of power on land."
Waring, et al,. v. Clarke, (1847)
"It is only with the extent of powers possessed by the district courts, acting as instance courts of admiralty, we are dealing. The Act of 1789 gives the entire constitutional power to determine 'all civil causes of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction,' leaving the courts to ascertain its limits, as cases may arise."
Jackson v. Magnolia (1852), 20 How 296 315, 342.
"Next to revenue (taxes) itself, the late extensions of the jurisdiction of the admiralty are our greatest grievance. The American Courts of Admiralty seem to be forming by degrees into a system that is to overturn our Constitution and to deprive us of our best inheritance, the laws of the land. It would be thought in England a dangerous innovation if the trial, of any matter on land was given to the admiralty.
J. Johnson, concurring remarks in Ramsay v. Allegre (1827), 12 W. 611, 614.
"I concur with my brethren in sustaining the decree below, but cannot consent to place my decision upon the ground on which they have placed theirs. I think it high time to check this silent and stealing progress of the admiralty in acquiring jurisdiction to which it has no pretensions. Unfounded doctrines ought at once to be met and put down; and dicta, as well as decisions, that cannot bear examination ought not to be evaded and permitted to remain on the books to be commented upon and acquiesced in by courts of justice, or to be read and respected by those whose opinions are to be formed upon books. It affords facilities for giving an undue bias to public opinion, and, I will add, of interpolating doctrines which belong not to the law.

"I have now said a great deal on this subject, and I could not have said less, and discharged the duty which I feel I owe to the community. I am fortifying a weak point in the wall of the Constitution. Every advance of the admiralty is a victory over the common law; a conquest gained upon the trial by jury. The principles upon which alone this suit could have been maintained are equally applicable to one-half the commercial contracts between citizen and citizen. Once establish the rights here claimed, and it may bring back with all the admiralty usurpations of the fifteenth century. In England there exists a controlling power, but here there is none. Congress has, indeed, given a power to issue prohibitions to a district court, when transcending the limits of the admiralty jurisdiction. But who is to issue a prohibition to us, if we should ever be affected with a partiality for that jurisdiction?

"I therefore hold that we are under a peculiar obligation to restrain the admiralty jurisdiction within its proper limits.

" (t)hat in case of contracts it has no jurisdiction at all in personam, except as incident to the exercise of its jurisdiction in rem." .
Bains v. The Schooner James & Catherine (1832), 2 Fed. 410, pp. 565-566.
"(B)y attempting to introduce the admiralty jurisdiction of the civil law, a foundation is laid for interminable conflicts of jurisdiction between the courts of the doctrines which belong not to the law.

"I have now said a great deal on this subject, and I could not have said less, and discharged the duty which I feel I owe to the community. I am fortifying a weak point in the wall of the Constitution. Every advance of the admiralty is a victory over the common law; a conquest gained upon the trial by jury. The principles upon which alone this suit could have been maintained are equally applicable to one-half the commercial contst annul the 7th Amendment or judicial subtlety transform a suit at common law into a case of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, before I take cognizance of such a case as this without a jury."
DeLovio v. Boit, 2 Gall. 398, Fed Cas. No. 3,776.
"The jurisdiction of the admiralty depends, or ought to depend, as to contracts upon the subject matter, i. e., whether maritime or not; "
Delovio v. Boit, 2 Gall. 398, 400.
"What is the true interpretation of the clause–"all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction?" If we examine the etymology, or received use of the words "admiralty" and "maritime jurisdiction," we shall find that they include jurisdiction of all things done upon and relating to the sea; or, in other words, all transactions and proceedings relative to commerce and navigation, and to damages or injuries upon the sea. In all the great maritime nations of the Europe, the terms "admiralty jurisdiction" are uniformly applied to Courts exercising jurisdiction over maritime contracts and concerns. We shall find the terms just as familiarly known among the jurists of Scotland, France, Holland, and Spain, as of England, and applied to their own Courts, possessing substantially the same jurisdiction as the English admiralty in the reign of Edward the Third.

"The clause however of the Constitution not only confers admiralty jurisdiction, but the word "Maritime" is superadded seemingly ex industria, to remove every latent doubt. "Cases of maritime jurisdiction" must include all maritime contracts, torts and injuries, which are in the understanding of the common law, as well as of the admiralty "


U.S. Constitution, Article III, Section 2.
The judicial power shall extend to all cases, in law and equity, arising under this Constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made, or which shall be made, under their authority;--to all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls;--to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction;--to controversies to which the United States shall be a party;--to controversies between two or more states;--between a state and citizens of another state;--between citizens of different states;--between citizens of the same state claiming lands under grants of different states, and between a state, or the citizens thereof, and foreign states, citizens or subjects.



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