Haycraft v. United States


Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

89 U.S. 81

Haycraft  v.  United States

APPEALS from the Court of Claims; the case being thus.

By an act of March 3d, 1863, [1] relating to the Court of Claims, it was enacted that—

'The said court shall have and determine all claims founded upon . . . any contract, express or implied, with the government of the United States.'It was further enacted:

'SECTION 10. That every claim against the United States, cognizable by the said court, shall be forever barred unless the petition setting forth a statement of the claim be filed in the court . . . within six years after the claim accrued.'

This statute relating to the Court of Claims being in existence, the act of March 12th, 1863, relative to captured and abandoned property was passed. That act enacts:

'SECTION 1. That it shall be lawful for the Secretary of the Treasury . . . to appoint a special agent or agents to receive and collect all abandoned or captured property in any State or Territory designated as in insurrection, &c.; Provided, That such property shall not include any kind or description which has been used or which was intended to be used for waging or carrying on war against the United States, such as arms, ordnance, ships, steamboats, or other water craft, and the furniture, forage, military supplies, or munitions of war.

'SECTION 2. That any part of the goods or property received or collected . . . may be appropriated to public use on due appraisement and certificate thereof, or forwarded to any place of sale within the loyal States, as the public interests may require; and all sales of such property shall be at auction to the highest bidder, and the proceeds thereof shall be paid into the Treasury of the United States.

'SECTION 3. That the Secretary of the Treasury . . . shall also cause a book or books of account to be kept showing from whom such property was received, the cost of transportation, and proceeds of transportation.

'And any person claiming to have been the owner of any such abandoned or captured property may at any time within two years after the suppression of the rebellion prefer his claim to the proceeds thereof in the Court of Claims; and on proof to the satisfaction of the said court of his ownership of said property, of his right to the proceeds thereof, and that he has never given any aid or comfort to the present rebellion, receive the residue of such proceeds,' &c.

All these provisions of the two statutes being in existence, one Haycraft, of Mississippi, a person who had given aid and comfort to the late rebellion, was the owner of a quantity of cotton in the State just named, which in April, 1863, during the rebellion, the United States had seized as abandoned property, and sold; the proceeds ($27,000) being now in the treasury.

Haycraft having been, as just above said, disloyal to the United States, and unable to give all the proofs which the Captured and Abandoned Property Act required, was precluded by the terms of the act, as things stood at the time of its passage, from suing under it.

However, on the 8th December, 1863 (that is to say within less than nine months from the passage of the act), the President issued a proclamation offering full pardon and restoration of property to all insurgents (certain classes excepted), provided they would take an oath to support, protect, and defend the Constitution and Union, abide by and support all acts of Congress, and all proclamations of the President made during the rebellion, with reference to slaves.

Lee surrendered April 9th, 1865; Joseph Johnston on the 26th. On the 10th of May Jefferson Davis was captured, and on the 26th Kirby Smith gave up the remnant of the rebel army.

On the 29th of May pardon and restoration was offered to all (certain classes excepted) who would simply take an oath of allegiance, and keep it.

The war in Mississippi was, by proclamation, legally ended April 2d, 1866. [2]

On the 7th of September, 1867, another proclamation was made offering pardon and restoration of property to all (except certain classes more limited than before), who would take an oath of allegiance.

The latest of all these proclamations of pardon, it will be observed, was within two years after the war was legally ended.

On the 25th of December, 1868,-this being, however, more than two years after the war was ended, even legally viewed,-a final proclamation was issued by President Johnson, by which 'a full pardon and amnesty for the offence of treason against the United States, or of adhering to their enemies during the late civil war, with restoration of all rights, privileges, and immunities under the Constitution and the laws which have been made in pursuance thereof,' was proclaimed and declared 'unconditionally and without reservation to all, and to every person who directly or indirectly participated in the late insurrection or rebellion.'

In the United States v. Klein, [3] this court (December Term, 1874) decided that the restoration of captured and abandoned property became the absolute right of persons pardoned, as much as of loyal people; suit being brought for it in the Court of Claims within two years from the close of the war.

In this state of enactments and pardons, Haycraft, already mentioned, on the 30th of July, 1872, six years and more after the close of the war, filed his petition in the Court of Claims, and without so much as alleging that he had been within one of the classes excepted from the benefit of those different proclamations which preceded the last, sought to recover the proceeds of his cotton.

The petition was in the nature of an implied assumpsit for the value of the cotton. It alleged that during the rebellion the voluntary residence of the petitioner was in Mississippi, where, for some time during his said residence, the rebel force held sway; that he did give aid and comfort to persons engaged in the rebellion, and was, therefore, precluded from redress by suit in the Federal courts, and especially from the remedy afforded to claimants under the provisions of the act of Congress approved March 12th, 1863; the Captured and Abandoned Property Act.

It further averred that he was entitled to and had received the benefit of the 'full pardon and amnesty, duly granted by the authority of the United States, on the 25th day of December, A.D. 1868, whereby his civil disabilities were removed, and his right of redress by suit in the United States courts was restored,' together 'with restoration of all his rights, privileges, and immunities under the Constitution and laws of the United States.'

The petition went on:

'Your petitioner further states that his property aforesaid having been taken possession of by the United States government, and appropriated by it, and the money arising from the sale of said property being now held by the government, an implied contract has arisen on its behalf to make petitioner just compensation therefor, according to what it was reasonably and fairly worth at the time and place at which it was so taken from him as aforesaid, and accordingly to pay over to him the net proceeds of the sale of said cotton.'

Finally, it alleged the cotton to have been at the time and place of its seizure as aforesaid, reasonably worth $27,000, being the amount of the net proceeds of the sale thereof, which amount under the implied contract aforesaid, the claimant alleged himself entitled to receive from the United States.

The United States demurred, and the Court of Claims dismissed the petition; placing the dismissal upon the grounds—

1st. That no action for proceeds of captured and abandoned property would lie except under the provisions of the act of March 12th, 1863.

2d. That such action to be maintainable must be brought within two years after the suppression of the rebellion.

From this ruling the claimant allealed, alleging that the Court of Claims erred,

1st. In holding that the only right of action for such proceeds was exclusively under the act of March 12th, 1863.

2d. In holding that it had not jurisdiction, because the suit had not been brought within two years after the suppression of the rebellion.

3d. In holding further that this limitation was available to defeat the claimant's action, though he was debarred by an act of Congress from bringing or maintaining such an action.


Messrs. J. Casey and J. W. Bartley, for the appellant:


I. The right of suit for these proceeds was not exclusively under the act of March 12th, 1863.

The radical error of the Court of Claims consists in supposing that the jurisdiction to hear and decide these cases is a special one. But what is the truth? The act provides that where a loyal man's property has been taken and sold by the United States, he may, within two years after the war, bring suit to recover the proceeds; that is to say, the United States have taken his property, which they had no right to take at all, and have converted it into money, and they hold it as a trustee for him, as the Supreme Court has declared in United States v. Padelford, [4] United States v. Klein, [5] and in other cases. Then he brings an action for money had and received to his use, on the implied promise; and that is the whole of this action. This is the essence of the act.

Of all such actions, the Court of Claims has had jurisdiction ever since it has existed. Under the acts constituting it,

'The said court shall have and determine all claims founded upon any law of Congress, or upon any regulation of an executive department, or upon any contract, express or implied, with the government of the United States.'

Now the Captured and Abandoned Property Act remitted claimants to that court, under the general powers and faculties of the court, as therefore defined by law. Such has been the construction uniformly given to this act by this court.

In United States v. Anderson, [6] the counsel for the United States contended that the powers of the Court of Claims in these cases were defined and limited exclusively by the act of March 12th, 1863; and that the court could not render a judgment for a specific sum, because the act did not provide for that. But this court rejected this narrow view, and held that the authority conferred by this special act of March 12th, 1863, was to be exercised by the court, under the general powers of the court.

So in the case of United States v. Padelford. The same strict and narrow construction was again urged upon the court by the counsel for the United States; and that actual, personal, and continual loyalty was a jurisdictional prerequisite to enable to the Court of Claims to entertain the suit at all. But this court rejected the position of counsel.

So in United States v. Zellner, [7] where the Court of Claims had decided that the act of March 12th, 1863, did not give the right of appeal; and where Congress, recognizing the same view, passed the act of June 25th, 1868, [8] to confer that right on the United States. But this court held that the claimant could appeal under the general provisions contained in the act of March 3d, 1863. [9]

This court, by Nelson, J., says:

'The Court of Claims was organized as a special judicial tribunal to hear and render judgment in cases between the citizen and the government; the subjects of its jurisdiction were defined in the act, and generally the mode of conducting its proceedings, subject, of course, to such alterations and changes as Congress, from time to time, might see fit to make. The subject of its jurisdiction might be enlarged or diminished, but this would not disturb or in any way affect the general plan or system of its organization.'

II. The difference in legal status of loyal and disloyal persons, affected differently, too, the property of such persons respectively, seized under the Captured and Abandoned Property Act, and of course affected differently its proceeds.

There was no legislation of Congress that authorized any officer of the United States, civil or military, to seize and sell the property of a loyal man. But knowing that mistakes as to the true status of persons had been and would be made, Congress provided for loyal men in this act. As to the proceeds of the disloyal person's property, it remained in the treasury subject to the policy which the legislative or executive branches of the government should adopt.

In United States v. Klein, Chase, C. J., for the court, says:

NotesEdit

^1  Act reorganizing the Court of Claims, 12 Stat. at Large, 767; and see the act of February 24th, 1855, 10th id. 612, organizing the said court.

^2  The Protector, 12 Wallace, 700.

^3  13 Wallace, 136.

^4  9 Wallace, 531.

^5  13 Id. 139.

^6  9 Waliace, 56.

^7  9 Wallace, 244.

^8  15 Stat. at Large, 75.

^9  12 Id. 767, § 5, the act governing the court generally.

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).