Brown v. Kennedy

Brown v. Kennedy by William Strong
Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

82 U.S. 591

Brown  v.  Kennedy

ERROR to the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Kansas; the case being thus:

An act of Congress of July 17th, 1862, 'to seize and confiscate the property of rebels,' provided, that if any persons in the then rebel States being engaged in armed rebellion against the government of the United States, or aiding or abetting such rebellion, shall not, within a time specified, cease to aid, countenance, and abet such rebellion, and return to his allegiance to the United States, 'all the estate, property, money, stocks, and credits of such persons, shall be liable to seizure as aforesaid,' and it was made the duty of the President to seize and use them as aforesaid, or the proceeds thereof. The statute further enacted, 'that to secure the condemnation and sale of any such property, proceedings in rem shall be instituted in the name of the United States,' in the District Court; and that the proceedings shall conform as nearly as may be to proceedings in admiralty and revenue cases; 'and if said property, whether real or personal, shall be found to have belonged to a person engaged in rebellion, or who has given aid or comfort thereto, the same shall be condemned as enemies' property.'

This act had now three times been before this court for construction. It came up once in Pelham v. Rose, [1] where the court took a distinction between a promissory note, the evidence of a credit and the credit itself; and held that when the debtor had given to his creditor a promissory note, and that note was in existence, and was the thing proceeded against, it was necessary to the legal service of any monition that the marshal should seize and take it into his possession and control. The corollary was, that when the note, at the commencement of and during the pendence of proceedings to confiscate, was beyond the jurisdiction of the marshal, there was no due service and no confiscation.

The statute came up for consideration at a later date in Miller v. United States. [2]

In that case a libel had been filed under the act to confiscate railroad stocks belonging to a rebel, and the notice, instead of being served on the owner, was served on the officers of the railroad company.

The court held that the service was good. It said that 'the act of Congress made it the duty of the President to cause the seizure of all the estate, property, money, stocks, credits, and effects of the persons described, and in order to secure the condemnation and sale of such property after its seizure, directed judicial proceedings in rem to be instituted. It contemplated that every kind of property mentioned could be seized effectually in some mode. It had in view not only tangible property, but that which is in action. It named stocks and credits; but it gave no directions respecting the mode of seizure. It was, therefore, 'the court said, 'a fair conclusion that the mode was intended to be such as was adapted to the nature of the property directed to be seized, and in use in courts of revenue and admiralty. And it was a legitimate,' the court added, 'in certain proceedings in courts of admiralty, to attach credits and effects of such an intangible nature that they cannot be taken into actual possession by the marshal, and the mode of attachment was by notice, dependent upon statutory enactment.'

The court accordingly held that the confiscation and sale had made a valid transfer of the stock.

The act came up a third time, in Pelham v. Way, reported in an earlier part of this volume, [3] where the court said 'that undoubtedly a debt or credit was capable of seizure under the confiscation acts, and of subsequent condemnation and sale;' though the court there held that the proceeding not having been against the debt or credit, but only against the material evidence of it, and that material evidence having been out of the marshal's jurisdiction, and not having been seized, no confiscation of anything had taken place.

The statute thus above explained being in force, an information was filed by the district attorney in the District Court of the United States for the District of Kansas against a bond, dated May 28, 1860, executed by Lawrence Kennedy to Edward S. Brown, and secured by mortgage made and acknowledged by said Lawrence and Eliza his wife, on the same day, and on it recorded. The information prayed that process might issue against the bond and mortgage, and against 'the estate, property, claim, credits, and rights thereto and therein belonging to said Edward S. Brown, to enforce the forfeiture thereof.' Following this information a warrant was issued on the 28th of March, 1863, to the marshal of the district, commanding him to 'attach said bond and mortgage, and the estate, property, claim, credits, and rights thereto and therein belonging to the said Edward S. Brown,' and to retain the same in his custody to await the further order of the court, giving notice to all persons claiming the same to appear on the 20th of April, 1863, and show cause, if any they had, why the property should not be condemned as forfeited. To this warrant the marshal made return that he had attached the 'bond, mortgage, and credit,' and had cited Lawrence Kennedy and Eliza Kennedy (the obligors and mortgagors), and all other persons having, or pretending to have, any right, title, or interest therein, as he was commanded. Then followed the decree of the court, entered May 5th, 1863, which, after reciting the marshal's return that he had attached the bond and mortgage, credits, and property, and given due notice, after reciting also that proclamation had been made, and that default had been entered, ordered that 'the said bond, mortgage, and credit' be condemned and declared forfeited to the United States. The decree also ordered Kennedy, one of the obligors and mortgagors, to pay the debt into the court for the use of the United States, and in pursuance of the decree payment was made to the officers of the court.

In 1868 Brown obtained a pardon from the President, and on his application, previously made, the District Court ordered that all the money that had been collected under the confiscation decree by the officers of the court should be paid to him, after deducting therefrom some unpaid legal costs. And subsequently he caused to be filed in the confiscation proceedings a petition praying for judgment in his favor against those officers for the money. In point of fact, however, Brown received nothing on account of the order.

In this state of things Brown filed a bill in the court below, the Circuit Court for the District of Kansas, against Lawrence Kennedy and wife for the foreclosure of the mortgage. The principal defence was that the mortgage and the debt secured by it had been confiscated under the act of Congress; the defendant asserting also that by coming in to get the money produced by the confiscation, the complainant was estopped from proceeding by way of foreclosure. This defence was the less pressed, as the complainant expressly disclaimed wanting more than one satisfaction. As matter of fact, it was admitted by a statement of facts agreed on, that Brown, the complainant, was, and always had been, a resident of Virginia, and from June, 1860, till September, 1865, had continuously, at his home, in that State, the bond and mortgage, and that neither of the instruments was, during any part of that term, in the District of Kansas.

The court below dismissed the bill; and from its action herein, this appeal came.

Mr. E. S. Brown, for the appellant:

The court held in Pelham v. Rose, and Pelham v. Way, that the note, being capable of manual caption, must be taken into the actual custody of the marshal to constitute a valid seizure, and without this the court cannot adjudicate the condemnation thereof. In the appeal now before the court, it is part of the case as agreed on and admitted, that there was no seizure of the bond and mortgage by the marshal for the District of Kansas; but that at the time of the said pretended confiscation proceedings, the bond and mortgage were without the District of Kansas, and within the exclusive possession and control of Brown, at his home in Virginia, so that the court acquired no jurisdiction thereof.

The whole argument, then, of the other side, must rest on the use of the word credit in the proceedings.

But this word in the marshal's return can mean nothing but the bond and the mortgage. He describes the bond and mortgage, and nothing else; and when he says 'the following described bond, mortgage, and credit,' to wit, he means the bond and mortgage, and nothing else. He uses the word (credit) as a synonym with them. On this return, specially hinges the jurisdiction of the court. No matter what had been done before, if the official act of the marshal did not bring the res within the territorial jurisdiction of the court, no jurisdiction was acquired over the subject.

Further indeed. If the marshal had adopted the language of the information and the warrant, and after the words, 'the bond and mortgage' he had added 'and the estate, property, claim, credits, and rights thereto and therein belonging to the said Edward S. Brown,' that return would have comprehended no other res than Brown's bond and mortgage. To pretend that the owner's right to the res may be seized in one territorial jurisdiction, while the res is in another, is far beyond what was ever maintained in any court. Can it be maintained that the owner's right to his horse may be seized in Kansas, while the horse is in his quiet possession in Virginia? or, that the captain's right to his ship may be seized in Kansas, while the captain is in command, and the ship securely sailing in mid-ocean? The forfeiture of the horse, or ship, or bond and mortgage, is nothing but the forfeiture of the owner's 'estate, property, claim, credits, and rights thereto and therein.'

Miller v. United States does not interfere with the position taken above, nor the views expressed thereon. It is distinguished therefrom in Pelham v. Way.

Messrs. E. Stillings and T. P. Fenlon, contra.

Mr. Justice STRONG delivered the opinion of the court.


  1. 9 Wallace, 103.
  2. 11 Wallace, 296.
  3. Supra, 196. See the case.

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