The interesting point was, however, made in this case, that though a lien attaching to a piece of property owned by the State is not enforceable, the lien itself may exist, and becomes enforceable as soon as the State voluntarily sells or otherwise parts with the actual possession of the property. Thus in the case at bar which was a suit to subject the proceeds from the sale of a ship, taken as a prize of war by the United States, to a claim for damages occasioned by the collision of that ship with a ship privately owned, the court granted the claim, saying:
"The authorities to which we have referred are sufficient to show that the existence of a claim, and even of a lien upon property, is not always dependent upon the ability of the holder to enforce it by legal proceedings. A claim or lien existing and continuing will be enforced by the courts whenever the property upon which it lies becomes subject to their jurisdiction and control. Then the rights and interests of all parties will be respected and maintained. Thus, if the government, having the title to land subject to the mortgage of the previous owner, should transfer the property, the jurisdiction of the court to enforce the lien would at once attach, as it existed before the acquisition of the property by the government.
"So, if the property belonging to the government, upon which claims exist, is sold upon judicial decree and the proceeds are paid into the registry, the court would have jurisdiction to direct the claims to be satisfied out of them. Such decree of sale could only be made upon application of the government, and by its appearance in court, as we have already said, it waives its exemption and submits to the application of the same principles by which justice is administered between private suitors.
"Now, it is a settled principle of admiralty law, that all maritime claims upon the vessel extend equally to the proceeds arising from the sale and are to be satisfied out of them. Assuming, therefore, that The Siren was in fault and that by the tort she committed a claim was created against her, we do not perceive any just ground for refusing its satisfaction out of the proceeds of her sale. The Government is the actor in the suit for her condemnation. It asks for her sale, and the proceeds coming into the registry of the court, come affected, with all the claims which existed upon the vessel created subsequent to her capture."
In The Davis68 it was held that personal property of the United States was subject to a lien for salvage purposes, if such property was not actually in the possession of the United States, and if the lien could be enforced without bringing a direct suit against the United States. Defining what should be deemed possession under this rule, the court said that it must be an actual and not a constructive one - one that "can only be changed under process of the court by bringing the officer of the court into collision with the officer of the Government, if the latter should choose to resist."