Bank of the Metropolis v. Jones
IN error to the circuit court of the United States for the county of Washington, in the district of Columbia.
This was an action on a promissory note, drawn by Betty H. Blake, executrix of J. H. Blake, for the sum of five thousand two hundred dollars, on the 27th of March 1822-in favour of the defendant, and by him indorsed to plaintiffs. The defendant pleaded non-assumpsit, and the statute of limitation.
On the trial of the cause before the circuit court, the following bill of exceptions was signed.
'Be it remembered, that on the trial of the above cause, the plaintiff, in order to sustain the issue, gave in evidence the following promissory note, on which the action was brought:
'Washington City, March 27, 1822. $5,200. Sixty days after date, I promise to pay to Dr William Jones, or order, five thousand two hundred dollars, for value received, negotiable at the Bank of the Metropolis.
'BETTY H. BLAKE,
'Executrix of J. H. Blake.
'16th May 1825. I do hereby admit that a part of the above note is due, and that I am bound to pay whatever balance thereof is due, as far as I was originally bound as indorser.
'And the defendant admitted the indorsement thereon, as well as the memorandum on the face thereof, to be in his hand writing; and the plaintiff further proved that said note was regularly protested for non-payment, and notice thereof duly given to the defendant, and the defendant waived before the jury the defence upon the statute of limitation.
'Whereupon the defendant, to prove the issue on his part, under the plea of non-assumpsit, produced Mrs Betty H. Blake, the drawer of said note, to whom a release was executed by defendant, exonerating her from any responsibility for the costs in this suit, to the form of which release no objection was made. The plaintiff objected to the competency of Mrs Betty H. Blake to certify to any matters impeaching the original validity of the said note, or of said indorsement, but the court overruled the exception, and permitted the said witness to be sworn and examined.'
The evidence of Mrs Blake was the following: 'that, at the time of the death of her husband, Doctor James H. Blake, in the summer of 1819, there were several notes drawn by him running in said Bank of the Metropolis, and that said deceased was also indebted to other persons in various sums. That, when the notary came with one of said notes to procure payment from her, she, being the sole devisee and executrix of the last will and testament of said deceased, objected to a renewal. Witness sent to general Van Ness, who was at the time the president of the said Bank of the Metropolis, and whom her deceased husband, on his death bed, had recommended to her to consult. Witness informed him that she did not wish to renew the notes, but he advised her to amalgamate the notes in bank. She informed him that she could not ask any one to indorse for her; that she would prefer having the property sold, and the debts paid. She never heard general Van Ness say any thing upon the subject of the indorsements by the defendant until long after they were made. Her conversation with general Van Ness was in relation to the indorsement by her son James; he was consulted by her as her confidential friend and adviser. He advised her against selling the property, as it was very valuable and would increase daily in value: that witness had better procure some friend to indorse for her; that the security was so valuable the indorser would incur no responsibility. He suggested her son James as an indorser. She said he was not of age, and that she did not wish him to commence the world incumbered with liabilities. He said it was immaterial; that the security was so valuable he could incur no risk. Under this impression, and in consequence of this conversation, she procured her son to indorse said note, and he continued on the note until he left Washington in the autumn of 1820: and she then mentioned to Dr Jones, the defendant, what general Van Ness had advised and informed her; who, in consequence, became the indorser, and so continued upon the renewal of said notes, until the date of the note in question. She gave a deed of trust of certain property of James H. Blake, to secure the Metropolis Bank the amount of the note, which she has been advised she had no authority to give, because she was not authorized to give a preference to the Bank of the Metropolis over other creditors, and she has repeatedly mentioned this circumstance.'
The counsel for the plaintiff moved the court to instruct the jury, that this evidence was incompetent upon the trial of the issue; but the court overruled the motion; and instructed the jury that the evidence was competent and proper evidence for their consideration on the trial.
To this overruling exception was taken, and the plaintiffs prosecuted this writ of error.
The case was argued by Mr Coxe, for the plaintiff in error; no counsel appeared for the defendant.
Mr Coxe submitted to the court that the principle of evidence involved in the case, was determined in the case of the Bank of the United States v. Dunn, 6 Peters 51. The whole question is, whether any testimony can be given by a party to a note to invalidate it.
Mr Justice M'LEAN delivered the opinion of the Court.