ArtII.S3.4 Protection of American Rights of Person and Property Abroad

Article II, Section 3:

He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper; he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers; he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States.

In 1854, one Lieutenant Hollins, in command of a United States warship, bombarded the town of Greytown, Nicaragua because of the refusal of local authorities to pay reparations for an attack by a mob on the United States consul. 1 Upon his return to the United States, Hollins was sued in a federal court by Durand for the value of certain property which was alleged to have been destroyed in the bombardment. His defense was based upon the orders of the President and Secretary of the Navy and was sustained by Justice Nelson, on circuit. 2 As the Executive head of the nation, the President is made the only legitimate organ of the General Government, to open and carry on correspondence or negotiations with foreign nations, in matters concerning the interests of the country or of its citizens. It is to him, also, the citizens abroad must look for protection of person and of property, and for the faithful execution of the laws existing and intended for their protection. For this purpose, the whole Executive power of the country is placed in his hands, under the Constitution, and the laws passed in pursuance thereof; and different Departments of government have been organized, through which this power may be most conveniently executed, whether by negotiation or by force – a Department of State and a Department of the Navy.

Now, as it respects the interposition of the Executive abroad, for the protection of the lives or property of the citizen, the duty must, of necessity, rest in the discretion of the President. Acts of lawless violence, or of threatened violence to the citizen or his property, cannot be anticipated and provided for; and the protection, to be effectual or of any avail, may, not unfrequently, require the most prompt and decided action. Under our system of Government, the citizen abroad is as much entitled to protection as the citizen at home. The great object and duty of Government is the protection of the lives, liberty, and property of the people composing it, whether abroad or at home; and any Government failing in the accomplishment of the object, or the performance of the duty, is not worth preserving.3

This incident and this case were but two items in the 19th century advance of the concept that the President had the duty and the responsibility to protect American lives and property abroad through the use of armed forces if deemed necessary. 4 The duty could be said to grow out of the inherent powers of the Chief Executive 5 or perhaps out of his obligation to take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.6 Although there were efforts made at times to limit this presidential power narrowly to the protection of persons and property rather than to the promotion of broader national interests, 7 no such distinction was observed in practice and so grew the concepts which have become the source of serious national controversy in the 1960s and 1970s, the power of the President to use troops abroad to observe national commitments and protect the national interest without seeking prior approval from Congress.

Congress and the President Versus Foreign Expropriation

Congress has asserted itself in one area of protection of United States property abroad, making provision against uncompensated expropriation of property belonging to United States citizens and corporations. The problem of expropriation of foreign property and the compensation to be paid therefor remains an unsettled area of international law, of increasing importance because of the changes and unsettled conditions following World War II. 8 It has been the position of the Executive Branch that just compensation is owed all United States property owners dispossessed in foreign countries and the many pre-World War II disputes were carried on between the President and the Department of State and the nation involved. But commencing with the Marshall Plan in 1948, Congress has enacted programs of guaranties to American investors in specified foreign countries. 9 More relevant to discussion here is that Congress has attached to United States foreign assistance programs various amendments requiring the termination of assistance and imposing other economic inducements where uncompensated expropriations have been instituted. 10 And when the Supreme Court in 1964 applied the act of state doctrine so as not to examine the validity of a taking of property by a foreign government recognized by the United States but to defer to the decision of the foreign government, 11 Congress reacted by attaching another amendment to the foreign assistance act reversing the Court’s application of the doctrine, except in certain circumstances, a reversal which was applied on remand of the case. 12


  1.  Jump to essay-17 J. Moore, Digest of International Law 346-54 (1906).
  2.  Jump to essay-2Durand v. Hollins, 8 Fed. Cas. 111 (No. 4186) (C.C.S.D.N.Y. 1860).
  3.  Jump to essay-3 8 Fed. Cas. at 112.
  4.  Jump to essay-4See United States Solicitor of the Department of State, Right to Protect Citizens in Foreign Countries by Landing Forces (3d rev. ed. 1934); M. Offutt, The Protection of Citizens Abroad by the Armed Forces of the United States (1928).
  5.  Jump to essay-5Durand v. Hollins, 8 Fed. Cas. 111 (No. 4186) (C.C.S.D.N.Y. 1860).
  6.  Jump to essay-6M. Offutt, supra at 5.
  7.  Jump to essay-7E. Corwin, supra at 198-201.
  8.  Jump to essay-8Cf. Metzger, Property in International Law, 50 Va. L. Rev. 594 (1964); Vaughn, Finding the Law of Expropriation: Traditional v. Quantitative Research, 2 Texas Intl. L. Forum 189 (1966).
  9.  Jump to essay-962 Stat. 143 (1948), as amended, 22 U.S.C. § 2191 et seq. See also 22 U.S.C. § 1621 et seq.
  10.  Jump to essay-1076 Stat. 260 (1962), 22 U.S.C. § 2370(e)(1).
  11.  Jump to essay-11Banco Nacional de Cuba v. Sabbatino, 376 U.S. 398 (1964).
  12.  Jump to essay-1278 Stat. 1013 (1964), as amended, 22 U.S.C. § 2370(e)(2), applied on remand in Banco Nacional de Cuba v. Farr, 243 F. Supp. 957 (S.D.N.Y. 1965), aff’d 383 F.2d 166 (2d Cir. 1967), cert. denied, 390 U.S. 956 (1968).