Knote v. United States

Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

95 U.S. 149

Knote  v.  United States

APPEAL from the Court of Claims.

The petition of the claimant alleged that he was the owner of certain described personal property in West Virginia, which was seized and libelled by the authorities of the United States on the alleged ground of his treason and rebellion; that, by a decree of the District Court for that district, the property was condemned and forfeited to the United States, and sold; and the net proceeds of the sale, amounting to the sum of $11,000, were paid into the treasury of the United States, the proceedings for its condemnation and sale having been taken under the confiscation act of July 17, 1862; that subsequently, by virtue of the amnesty proclamation of the President, of Dec. 25, 1868, the claimant was pardoned and relieved of all disabilities and penalties attaching to the offence of treason and rebellion, for which his property was confiscated, and was restored to all his rights, privileges, and immunities under the Constitution and the laws made in pursuance thereof, and thus became entitled to receive the said proceeds of sale; but that the United States, disregarding his rights in the premises, had refused to pay them over to him, and therefore he prayed judgment against them. Upon demurrer for insufficiency of the facts thus alleged to constitute a cause of action the petition was dismissed, and hence the present appeal.

The proclamation of President Johnson relied upon is in the following words:--

'Whereas the President of the United States has heretofore set forth several proclamations offering amnesty and pardon to persons who had been or were concerned in the late rebellion against the lawful authority of the government, which proclamations were severally issued on the eighth day of December, 1863, on the twenty-sixth day of March, 1864, on the ttwenty-ninth day of March, 1865, on the seventh day of September, 1867, and on the fourth day of July, in the present year.

'And whereas the authority of the Federal government having been re-established in all the States and Territories within the jurisdiction of the United States, it is believed that such prudential reservations and exceptions, as at the dates of said several proclamations, were deemed necessary and proper, may now be wisely and justly relinquished, and that a universal amnesty and pardon for participation in said rebellion, extended to all who have borne any part therein, will tend to secure permanent peace, order, and prosperity throughout the land, and to renew and fully secure confidence and fraternal feeling among the whole people, and their respect for and attachment to the national government designed by its patriotic founders for the general good.

'Now, therefore, be it known that I, Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, by virtue of the power and authority in me vested by the Constitution, and in the name of the sovereign people of the United States, do hereby proclaim and declare unconditionally, and without reservation, to all and to every person who directly or indirectly participated in the late insurrection or rebellion, 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.' 15 Stat. 711.

Mr. Thomas Jesup Miller, and Mr. Linden Kent, for the appellant.

As to offences against the United States, the pardoning power of the President is unlimited, except in cases of impeachment. Const. U.S., art. 2, sect. 2; Ex parte Wells, 18 How. 307; Ex parte Garland, 4 Wall. 333.

The pardon relied on here is in general terms, and its meaning and intent are clear beyond cavil. Even if it were ambiguous, it is to be construed most beneficially to the parties who claim its benefits. 4 Bl. Com. 401; Wywill's Case, 5 Co. 49; United States v. Klein, 13 Wall. 128.

In England, a restoration of forfeited estates, if they have not inured to the benefit of some third person, is inherently incident to a full and complete pardon. 3 Coke, Inst. 233; 4 Bl. Com. 402; 1 Russell, Crimes, 175; 3 id. 621; Bac. Abr., tit. Pardon; Cole's Case, Plow. 401; Brown v. Brashaw, 1 Bulst. 154; Toomb's Adm'r v. Ethrington, 1 Sand. 353; Ludlam v. Lopez, 1 Stra. 529; Biggin's Case, 5 Co. 50; Burgess v. Wheat, 1 Eden, 201; Brown v. Waite, 2 Mod. 133.

The same rule prevails in this country. Such a pardon, therefore, wipes out an offence and its consequences. Cathcart v. Robinson, 5 Pet. 264; United States v. Wilson, 7 id. 160; Ex parte Wells, 18 How. 307; Ex parte Flavel, 8 Watts & S. (Pa.) 197; Ex parte Garland, 4 Wall. 380; Perkins v. Stevens, 24 Pick. (Mass.) 280; Armstrong's Foundry, 6 Wall. 766; United States v. Padelford, 9 id. 531; United States v. Klein, 13 id. 128; Armstrong v. United States, id. 154; Pargoud v. United States, id. 156; Carlisle v. United States, 16 id. 147; Osborn v. United States, 91 U.S. 474; 2 Op. Att.-Gen. 329; 3 id. 317; 4 id. 458; 6 id. 488; 8 id. 281; 10 id. 452.

The proceeds of the sale of the claimant's property are held by the government, and no third party is interested in them. His right to them under the pardon imposes legal obligations on the government, and may be judicially enforced. Brown v. United States, 1 McCahon, 229; Osborn v. United States, supra United States v. Klein, supra.

The Solicitor-General, contra.

1. At common law, a simple charter of pardon did not restore forfeited property which had already vested in the crown A special clause of restitution in the cha ter was required for that purpose. Chitty on Prerogative, 102.

2. The clause of restitution in the present case being limited to rights, &c., under the Constitution, does not include rights of property. Slaughter-House Cases, 16 Wall. 36; United States v. Cruikshank et al., 92 U.S. 542.

3. At all events, without authorization by Congress, the President has no power, whether by a clause in a charter of pardon or otherwise, to render to the claimant the moneys derived from the sale of his property, under a decree of forfeiture, which have been paid into the treasury of the United States.

MR. JUSTICE FIELD delivered the opinion of the court.


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).