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Appropriation of private property for public use without compensation.
The act by which the estate, goods or chattels of a person who has been guilty of some crime, or who is a public enemy, is declared to be forfeited for the benefit of the public treasury. When property is forfeited as a punishment for the commission of crime it is usually called a forfeiture.
It is a general rule that the property of the subjects of an enemy found in the country may be appropriated by the government without notice unless there be a treaty to the contrary. It has been frequently provided by treaty that foreign subjects should be permitted to remain and continue their business, notwithstanding a rupture between the governments, so long as they conducted themselves innocently and when there was no such treaty, such a liberal permission has been announced in the very declaration of war.
In the United States the broad principle has been assumed 'that war gives to the sovereign full right to take the persons and confiscate the property of the enemy, wherever found. The mitigations of this rigid rule, which the policy of modern times has introduced into practice, will more or less affect the exercise of this right, but cannot impair the right itself.' Commercial nations have always considerable property in the possession of their neighbors: and when war breaks out the question, what shall be done with enemies property found in the country, is one rather of policy than of law and is properly addressed to the consideration of the legislature and not to courts of law. The strict right of confiscation exists in congress; and without a legislative act authorizing the confiscation of enemies' property it cannot be condemned.
The claim of a right to confiscate debts contracted by individuals in time of peace, and which remain due to subjects of the enemy in time of war, rests very much upon the same principles as that concerning the enemy's tangible property found in the country at the commencement of the war. But it is the universal practice to forbear to seize and confiscate debts and credits.