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There was an old statute of Henry VIII giving courts within England jurisdiction to try citizens accused of committing treason outside the country island of England.  This was the statute which the Crown intended to use to try the offenders who attacked the Gaspee.

Yet the Crown chose an old instrument to accomplish the task.  Presumably the special Gaspee commission was appointed because of the fear that the local Rhode Island authorities and magistrates would not do much to find the offenders.   Yet, the Commission appointed by the Crown to investigate the Gaspee affair had only the authority to investigate and then deliver their findings to local magistrates. 

As General Thomas Gage wrote, the commissioners might uncover evidence but "they will find no magistrate who will regard or obey their orders." Massachusetts’ Chief Justice Oliver agreed with Gage's assessment of the situation.

Carter, Clarence Edwin, ed. The Correspondence of Gen. Thomas Gage with the Secretaries of State 1763 - 1775. New Haven, CT, 1931.

Oliver, Peter. Origin and Progress of the American Revolution. Edited by Douglas Adair and John A. Schutz. Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1961.

There were several other legal approaches possible for the investigation.  For example, the Crown could have appointed a special vice-admiralty court, with a judge appointed by the Crown, to either investigate and then issue warrants, or to receive the report of the commission and issue warrants.  Or indeed, the Commission could have been given the authority to issue warrants and have the army and navy execute them to arrest the offenders.

A lawyer is left with the impression that the Crown officers simply did not understand that the Americans were using a theory of English constitutional law that would prevent local courts from arresting the offenders.

Use the links below to go to major areas of this site.

Summary of Attack ] Law as Weapon ] Theory of Attack ] Forensic History ] Attack Force ] Persons Involved ] Witnesses Said ] Post Gaspee Events ] JBS Library ]