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Broome v. United States/Opinion of the Court

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Opinion of the Court
Dissenting Opinion

United States Supreme Court

56 U.S. 143

Broome  v.  United States

The possession of the deed by the lessor or plaintiff, who offers it in proof, is prim a facie evidence of its delivery. Under ordinary circumstances, no other evidence of the delivery of a deed than the possession of it by the person claiming under it, is required.' Games v. Stiles, 14 Peters, 327; S. P. Hare v. Horton, 2 Nev. & M. 428; 5 Barnwell & Ad. 715.

'If the original deed remained in existence, proof of the handwriting, added to its being in possession of the grantee, would, it is presumed, be prim a facie evidence that it was sealed and delivered. No reason is perceived why such evidence should not be as satisfactory in the case of a deed as in the case of a bond.' Lessee of Sicard v. Davis, 6 Peters, 137. In that case the original deed was lost, but the execution and the delivery thereof were inferred from circumstances.

'All deeds do take effect from, and therefore have relation to, the time, not of their date, but of their delivery. And this is always presumed to be the time of their date, unless the contrary do appear.' Touchstone, chap. 4, sect. 8, p. 72.

These principles seem to me to be sufficient to warrant the rulings and charges by the court, on the subject of the delivery of the bond.

If a bond, with surety required by law of an officer, be signed and sealed by the parties who are named as obligors to the United States, and sent by mail, or by private conveyance, to the proper department, and be sued upon by the United States, such circumstances must be prim a facie evidence of delivery; which delivery must be presumed to be the time of the date, until the contrary be made to appear; otherwise the great affairs of this government, spreading over such vast territories, requiring bond and security from officers intrusted with the collections or disbursements of public moneys, could not be administered safely, unless all the various officers, who are by law required to give bond with security, to be filed in the proper department, should be required to come with their sureties to the seat of government, and execute and deliver in person, in the proper office, their respective obligations. Such a rule would be highly inconvenient, excessively dilatory, if not impracticable. Such a rule could be endured only in a village, town, or city, or in a district of country of small extent.

That A. Macon signed the bond is admitted. After he signed and sealed he did not keep it in his possession; it was not found after his death among his papers; he delivered it to some person; the purpose for which he signed and sealed the bond was, that it should be delivered into the proper department of the government; it expresses that purpose on its face, and to that intent it expresses to have been 'sealed and delivered in the presence of witnesses,-Robert Lord, George G. Holt,' who, as witnesses, have signed their names. It came to the possession of the proper department of the Government of the United States, and was given in evidence by the department.

From all these circumstances the inference is irresistible that, after A. Macon signed and sealed the bond, and caused it to be attested by the witnesses, he delivered it to some person to be sent to the proper department of the Government of the United States, the obligee named in the bond. The jury have found in favor of the United States, without any improper instruction from the court, and the verdict is conclusive.

III. The question raised for the defendant in the District Court, now plaintiff in error, as to the sum of $1,279.92 appearing in the account against Mr. Crane, as collector of the customs for the district of St. Mark's, and inspector of the revenue for the port of Magnolia, is so properly and clearly treated of by the judge in his charge to the jury, as not to require of me any thing in addition to what he has said.

As to the sums of $3,000 and $6,500, it appears in evidence that they were paid to Crane, upon his representation and requisition, to defray the current expenses of his office; and on this account the judge ruled that they were legitimate charges as against his sureties.

This view is supported by the provisions. Law which require the collector to pay the expenses of his office out of its revenue, or to disburse the money received by him from the government to supply any deficiencies in such revenue. See Act of 1799, (1 Stat. at Large, 707); Act of 1823, (3 Id. 723.)

The government advanced money to Crane, under the statute cited, to defray the expenses of his office.

The conditions of the collector's bond were to execute and discharge all the duties of his office faithfully. This condition was broken if the collector made false statements to the Comptroller of the Treasury of the sums necessary to the current expenses of the district whereof he was collector, and false requisitions upon the Treasury Department, for moneys to pay those current expenses, it was a malfeasance in office, a breach of the condition of the collector's bond, for which the surety was chargeable.

The collector was, by law, the officer to pay the current expenses of the district whereof he was appointed collector, and he and his surety were properly chargeable with all moneys put into the hands of the collector for such purposes.

Mr. Justice WAYNE delivered the opinion of the court.

Ambrose Crane was appointed collector of customs for St. Mark's, in Florida, and signed, with his sureties, Swain and Macon, what was meant by them to be an official bond. The form of the bond is given in the statute. This conforms to it in every particular. 1 Stat. at Large, 705. Crane, the collector, became a defaulter. This suit was brought to recover the amount of the defalcation from the administrator of Macon, one of the sureties of Crane. The bond is dated on the 2d June, 1837. Two indorsements are upon it. One of them was made by the District Attorney of the United States for Florida.

Office of the United States Attorney, Middle District of Florida, July 4th, 1837. I hereby certify, that Peter H. Swain and Arthur Macon, Esqrs., who appear to have executed the within bond as securities, are generally esteemed to be, and in my opinion undoubtedly are, good for the amount of this bond. They reside in Leon county, and I would take either of them, without hesitation, as security for a private debt of that amount. The signatures appear to be genuine.

CHARLES S. SIBLEY, District Attorney.

Comptroller's Office, July 31, 1837. Approved in the above certificate.

GEORGE WOLFE, Comptroller.

Macon died on the 24th July, seven days before the date of the comptroller's approval, and twenty-four days after the date of the district attorney's indorsement. The evidence in the case shows that, in the year 1837, the mail time between Tallahassee and Washington was from eight to ten days. The distance might have been travelled by an individual in less time, but not in less than seven or eight days. This testimony was introduced by the plaintiff to prove that the bond, if it had not been delivered before the 24th of July, the day of Macon's death, that it must have been in the course of transmission from the obligors before that day, as the comptroller's approval is dated the 31st of the month. The act directing bond to be taken from collectors, with sureties, to be approved by the Comptroller of the Treasury of the United States, will be found in 1 Stat. at Large, 705. It is, that every collector, naval officer, and surveyor, employed in the collection of the duties upon imports and tonnage shall, within three months after he enters upon the duties of his office, give bond, with one or more sureties, to be approved by the Comptroller of the Treasury of the United States, and payable to the United States, with condition for the true and faithful performance of the duties of his office, according to law. The condition of the bond is, that whereas the President of the United States hath, pursuant to law, appointed the said _____ to the office of _____, in the State of _____. Now, therefore, if the said has truly and faithfully executed and discharged, and shall continue truly and faithfully to execute and discharge all the duties of said office, according to law, then the above obligation is to be void and of none effect, otherwise it shall abide, and remain in full force and virtue.

In this state of the case, a recovery upon this bond is resisted by an objection that it never had a legal existence as to Macon, the intestate of the appellant, because he died before it was approved by the comptroller. It is not denied-or, if it be, the evidence makes it altogether probable-that the bond had been delivered before Macon died. We cannot admit that the date of the approval can be taken absolutely as the time when the bond was accepted, without any relation to the time when it was delivered. A bond may not be a complete contract until it has been accepted by the obligee; but if it be delivered to him to be accepted if he should choose to do so, that is not a conditional delivery, which will postpone the obligor's undertaking to the time of its acceptance, but an admission that the bond is then binding upon him, and will be so from that time, if it shall be accepted. When accepted, it is not only binding from that time forward, but it becomes so upon both from the time of the delivery. That is the offer which the obligor makes, when he hands the bond to the obligee, and in that sense the obligee received it. Such is just the case before us. The act requires the collector to give a bond, 'with sureties to be approved by the comptroller;' it must be done in three months after he has entered upon the duties of his office; it must be retrospective to that time, and be for the future also. The comptroller may accept the sureties or reject them. He may call at any future time for other sureties, if circumstances shall occur, or information shall be received, which make it necessary that the United States should have a more responsible security. Or he may call, under the direction of the Secretary of the Treasury, for a new bond. He may decide upon the sufficiency of the sureties before they have made themselves so, or after they have signed the collector's bond. The first course is not the usual practice. The bond is commonly sent to the collector with such sureties as he can get. The comptroller receives it under the law, to be afterwards approved, upon such information as he has or may procure, concerning the responsibility of the sureties. The time is not limited for the use of his discretion for that purpose. He knows, and the collector knows, that the bond ought to be given in three months after the collector has begun to discharge the duties of his office. It is his duty to give the bond. It is the comptroller's to see that it is done. It is not necessary that it should be handed to the comptroller. It may be handed to an agent appointed by the comptroller to receive it, or it may be put into the possession of any person to deliver it, or it may be transmitted by mail. If done in any one of these ways, it is a delivery from the moment that the collector and his sureties part with it. It is from that moment in the course of transmission, with the intention that the law may act upon it through the comptroller's agency, and his subsequent approval is an acceptance with relation to the time beginning the transmission. The statute does not require the approval to be in writing. It may be so, and may be done verbally; or it may not be done in either way. Receiving the bond, and retaining it for a considerable time without objection, will be sufficient evidence of acceptance to complete the delivery, especially when the exception is taken by the party who had done all he could to complete it. Postmaster-General v. Norvell, 1 Gilpin Rep. 106-121. And we add, that the retention of such a bond by the comptroller without objection, for a longer time than the statute require it to be given, would be presumptive evidence of its approval and acceptance. This presumption of acceptance has been ruled by this court, in the case of the United States Bank v. Dandridge and others, 12 Wheat. 64. In that case, an objection was taken in the Circuit Court to the admissibility of evidence to show a presumptive acceptance of a cashier's bond, because the charter of the bank required a bond to be given satisfactory to the directors. The Circuit Court sustained the objection, and ruled that the approval must be in writing to bind the cashier's sureties. This court ruled otherwise. Presumptive evidence, then, being admissible to prove the acceptance of a bond-such as its being in the possession of the obligee-having been retained without objection, and the obligor continuing to act under it, without having called for a more formal acceptance, it follows that a written acceptance, dated after a delivery, as was done in this case, is not to be taken as the time from which the completeness of the contract is to be computed; but that such an acceptance has a relation to the time of delivery, making that time the beginning of its obligation upon the parties to the bond. We remark, also, that there is no rule which can be applied to determine what constitutes the approval of official bonds. Every case must depend upon the laws directing such an approval. The purpose for which such a bond is required must be looked to. The character of the office and its duties must be examined. The time within which such a bond must be given and approved, and whether it is to be retrospective or for the future only, must be considered before it can be determined how and when the approval must be made. The differences suggested may be seen by comparing the terms of the statute of 1825, requiring bonds to be given by postmasters directly to the Postmaster-General, and not to the United States, with the phraseology of the section of the act directing bonds to be taken from the collectors to the United States.

The case of Bruce and others v. The State of Maryland, for the use of Love, in 11 Gill & Johnson, 382, which was supposed to have a bearing upon the case, will illustrate fully, the differences of which we have spoken.

The 42d article of the Constitution of Maryland, requires bonds from the sheriff of that State, with sureties, before they can be sworn in to act as such. The act of Maryland, carrying that article into operation, (2d vol. Laws of Maryland, November, 1794), fixes the time within which sheriffs shall give bonds, and the manner of taking them is prescribed. It must be done in a county court, or before the Chief Justice, or two associate Justices, &c., but by whomsoever approved, the act directs that the official doing so, shall immediately transmit it to the County Court to be recorded. The case came before the Court of Appeals, from a county court, which had decided that the bond of the sheriff operated from its date, that bond having been given without the approval in the manner prescribed. The Court of Appeals overruled the court below, saying that the bond had been irregularly taken, and that a sheriff's bond was only obligatory from the time of its approval. Under that statute, the question, when a sheriff's bond became operative, could not properly occur, it having made the delivery and approval of the bond simultaneous, that there might be a compliance with the constitution, which declared that no sheriff should act until he had given bond. The act which we have been considering, does not require the comptroller's approval to be in writing. A collector may be permitted to discharge the duties of his office, for three months, before he gives a bond, if the Secretary of the Treasury shall think it safe to be done. But if otherwise, he may require a bond before the collector enters upon the duties of the office. The statute means that the three months allowed for a bond to be given, is an indulgence to the collector, and not a rule binding upon the government, when its proper functionary shall determine that a bond shall be given earlier. We think, too, that the approval by the comptroller is directory, and not a condition precedent to give validity to the bond. The doctrine that deeds and bonds take effect by relation to the time they are delivered, is well understood. The cases cited by the Attorney-General, in support of it, are sufficient for the occasion. We need not add to them. It applies to this case. Macon was bound as the surety of Crane, by the delivery of the bond before his death. The evidence in support of such a delivery, was fairly put to the jury.

We have compared the charge of the judge, with the instructions which were asked by the counsel of the defendant, upon the point we have been considering, and we think that it covers all of them correctly.

Another objection against a recovery upon this bond remains to be disposed of.

It is said that Crane, the collector, received money belonging to the United States, out of the line of his duty, which has been improperly charged to make up the amount of the defalcation, which his sureties are now called upon to pay.

The duties of collectors have been much multiplied by other acts, since the act of 1799 was passed. Scarcely an act, and no general act has been passed since, concerning the collection of duties upon imports and tonnage, without some addition having been made to the collector's duties. They are suggested from experience. The collector, too, has always been a disbursing officer for the payment of the expenses of his office, and may pay them out of any money in hand, whether received from duties or from remittances to him for that purpose, where the expenses are not unofficial, have been sanctioned by law, and have been incurred by the direction of the Secretary of the Treasury. For such payments, he may credit himself in his general account against the sums which may have been received for duties. He may retain his own salary, or fees and commissions; pay the salaries of inspectors and other officers attached to the office; make disbursements for the revenue boats, lighthouse buoys, &c., and apply money collected for duties, to all expenses lawfully incurred by himself or by his predecessors. For such as may have been incurred by his predecessor, he may receive from him any money in his hands, when he is going out of office, belonging to the United States, and which have been retained by him for the payment of such expenses.

When so turned over to a successor, he receives it officially, to be applied by him to the purposes for which it had been retained. Himself and his sureties are as much responsible for the faithful application of it as they are for his fidelity to his trust, for duties received by himself, or for other sums which may have been remitted to him by the order of the government. It has often been the case, and must be so again, as it now is, that the convenience of the government and the interest of its citizens, require collection districts to be established, which do not, and are not expected at first to pay expenses. Remittances then must be made for such purposes. They are made to the collector, because it is under his personal supervision that the work is done, or the goods are funished for the government, at the point of his office where the law requires him to reside. What we have said, covers all of the remittances which were made to Crane, by Breedlove, the collector of Mississippi; and also the payment of $1,279.92 received by him from Willis, his predecessor, when he was going out of office, and when Crane was coming in. It appears, from the accounts, that he received it as collector. It cannot be denied that there was then a debt due by the government, on account of the expenses of the office, to which that sum ought to have been applied. Had it been so, he would have been credited with the sum in his next quarterly settlement. And if it was not so applied, it cannot be said that there was fidelity to his official trust in withholding it and applying other money of the government subsequently collected or received, to the payment of its antecedent debt. In this instance, there is less reason for not exempting the securities of Crane from responsibility for the sum received by the collector from his predecessor, because the evidence in the case shows it was afterwards sanctioned by the government, and that it might have been applied by the collector to the liquidation of an official debt, as far as it would go, due by this government to himself. What has been said, covers every instruction which the court below was asked to give upon this point. We do not think that the judge erred in his general charge upon them to the jury, or that in making the charge which he did, that there is any error of which the defendant can complain.

We affirm the judgment below, and direct a mandate to issue accordingly.

This cause came on to be heard on the transcript of the record, from the Circuit Court of the United States for the Northern District of Florida, and was argued by counsel. On consideration whereof, it is now here ordered and adjudged by this court, that the judgment of the said Circuit Court, in this cause, be, and the same is hereby, affirmed, with interest, until paid, at the same rate, per annum, that similar judgments bear in the courts of the State of Florida.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).