This section is from "The American Cyclopaedia", by George Ripley And Charles A. Dana. Also available from Amazon: The New American Cyclopędia. 16 volumes complete..
The European states afford no parallel to these, and to adopt literally the limits of the jurisdiction fixed by the practice of their admiralty courts was to exclude the ships and commerce of all these waters. Nevertheless, the precedents of the foreign admiralty lawr in these respects were closely followed for fully half a century after the foundation of the government; and though our courts did not submit to the limited jurisdiction by which the English courts were restrained within headlands or the bodies of counties, yet they did hold regularly that no cause came within their power unless it arose within the movement of the tides. At last a case arose in the harbor of New Orleans. There the waters of the Mississippi flow always outward and never backward with the ocean tide; but upon proof that there was nevertheless a perceptible rise and fall of the water, caused by the tides below, it was held that this was sufficient and that the jurisdiction attached. The decision was admitted to be a forced one, and the tide on which it rested was afterward spoken of in the supreme court rather contemptuously as "an occult tide without ebb or flow." But there was good sense at the bottom of the decision, and the inconvenience of making tide waters the limit of the jurisdiction led to the enactment in 1845 of the famous act " extending the jurisdiction of the district courts to certain cases upon the lakes and the navigable waters connecting the same." This act did not cover the great rivers which do not connect the lakes, nor did it profess to extend a real admiralty jurisdiction even over the waters to which it referred.
It created rather a sort of imitation jurisdiction, modelled all the way after the real. The act caused more embarrassment than it relieved, and in fact it has been prac- tically annulled by the supreme court by deci- sions which declared subsequent to its enact-ment that the admiralty and maritime jurisdic- tion given by the constitution was not in fact limited to the high seas and tide waters, but, by its own proper force, covered as well the great interior lakes and rivers wherever they were navigable, so that the act of 1845 was unnecessary and inoperative. - As to the subject matter, it may be said generally that the American admiralty exercises a jurisdiction based largely upon that of the English court in the time of Edward III., and embraces all maritime causes of action, as well matters of contract as matters of tort, and under the latter covers all injuries and damage done upon the seas, even though done in a port or harbor or within the body of a county. With reference to the contracts which are within the reach of the court, the distinction must be first made between those which directly and of themselves touch maritime affairs, and those which are only preliminary or subordi-: nate to such agreements; for the former the court will pass upon, but it will not upon the latter.
Thus a charter party or, as within a year or two it has been decided, a policy of marine insurance is a maritime con- tract which the court will aid in enforcing; but it has no power in respect to an agreement to make a charter party or a policy. The dis- tinction in these cases is rather obvious and reasonable, but it is not so clear as to some other cases. For example, the earlier maritime law, as it was administered in those periods and courts to which our court appeals for tests of jurisdiction, covered all contracts which concern the ship, and thus included all contracts for building, repairing, supplying, or equipping her. But as to a contract for building a ship, our supreme court has held that it was not within its jurisdiction. It may be observed, however, that the court in Massachusetts has since decided the contrary, and also that the recent English admiralty court acts expressly confer jurisdiction in such cases upon the court. The court does without hesitation entertain suits by material men for repairing and supplying the ship and for towing her, and even claims for shipping a crew and procuring a cargo; but it has declined to hear actions by stevedores and ship keepers, or claims for advertising the vessel for sea or preparing her cargo for stowage, or for the wages of "lightermen, and even claims for scraping the ship's bottom preparatory to coppering her.
The jurisdiction also includes what are called possessory and petitory actions respecting a ship - that is to say, cases in which the title to possession of the ship is involved, and cases of dispute between part owners as to their interests in the employment of the vessel; contracts of affreightment, either at the instance of the owners for their freight, or of the shippers for damages for the non-fulfilment of the contract of carriage, and also contracts for the carriage of passengers; cases of jettison and average, bottomry and respondentia bonds, and all hypothecations of ship or cargo; of salvage, collision, surveys, and sales of condemned vessels; demurrage, pilotage, and wharfage, and seamen's wages - and all persons stand on the footing of seamen who serve or are useful in the navigation of the ship, including cooks and carpenters, coopers on whaling voyages, and firemen and engineers and deck hands on steamboats. The court has also jurisdiction of all assaults and batteries, imprisonment or improper treatment of sailors or of passengers, and all other damages and injuries done on the high seas and navigable waters, and also of questions of prize and of seizure under the revenue and navigation laws. (See Prize.) With respect to the relations of the federal and the state courts, it is now settled, but it was not until very lately, that the jurisdiction of the former in admiralty suits in rem is exclusive, and consequently none of the states can give their local courts power, under statutes, to enforce liens in rem which are of a purely maritime and admiralty nature. - Though the court of admiralty exercises its jurisdiction upon principles of equity and natural justice, and may administer equitable relief upon a subject which is fairly within its characteristic powers, yet it is not in the ordinary sense a court of equity, and cannot intervene in that class of cases which are peculiarly passed upon in such a court; and though it construes the contracts and obligations of parties before it less strictly than the courts of common law, and will mitigate the severity of contracts or moderate exorbitant demands, yet it will not assume to go further and grant purely equitable relief.