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The right of preemption is the right of a nation to detain the merchandise of strangers passing through her territories or seas, in order to afford to her subjects the preference of purchase.This right is sometimes regulated by treaty. In that which was made between the United States and Great Britain, dated the 10th day of November, 1794, it was agreed, after mentioning that the usual munitions of war, and also naval materials should be confiscated as contraband, that "whereas the difficulty of agreeing on precise cases in which alone provisions and other articles not generally contraband may be regarded as such, renders it expedient to provide against the inconveniences and misunderstandings which might thence arise. It is further agreed that whenever any such articles so being contraband according to the existing laws of nations, shall for that reason be seized, the same shall not be confiscated, but the owners thereof shall be speedily and completely indemnified; an the captors, or in their default-the government under whose authority they act, shall pay to the masters or owners of such vessel the full value of all articles, with a reasonable mercantile profit thereon, together with the freight, and also the damages incident to such detention."
By the laws of the United States the right given to settlers of public lands, to purchase them in preference to others, is called the preemption right.