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United States Supreme Court

75 U.S. 507

Morris's Cotton

APPEAL from the District Court for the Middle District of Alabama.

Three acts of Congress, one of July 13th, 1861, another of August 6th, 1861, and a third of July 17th, 1862, passed during the late rebellion, authorized the seizure and confiscation in the District or Circuit Courts of property used for insurrectionary purposes, and to a certain extent prescribed the mode of proceeding.

Under one of these acts it was decided, in the Union Insurance Company v. United States and in Armstrong's Foundry, [1] that while proceedings for the condemnation of property or land might be shaped in the form and modes analogous to those used in admiralty, yet that issues of fact must, on the demand of either party, be tried by jury; and that while, where a proceeding under that act to enforce the forfeiture of real estate had been carried on in conformity with the practice of courts of admiralty, this court would take jurisdiction of the decree on appeal, yet that it would do so only for the purpose of reversing the decree and directing a new trial, with proceedings conformed in respect to trial by jury and exceptions to evidence to the course of proceeding by information on the common law side of the court in cases of seizure upon lands.

The three acts above mentioned being in force, and in an action purporting to be in conformity to them, the United States filed an information in rem against certain cotton (Morris claimant) alleged to have been seized on land and forfeited to the United States under the statutes above referred to. The information was tried in the District Court as a suit in admiralty. The claimant prayed for a jury, but his prayer was denied. A decree of forfeiture having passed against the cotton, the case was brought by the claimant before this court from the District Court by appeal, and not by writ of error.

Mr. P. Phillips, for the appellant (a brief of Mr. Chilton being filed), relying on certain testimony not given in the preceding statement to show that the seizure (if indeed any had been made, a fact which he denied) was wholly void, contended, on the authority of Morris & Johnson v. United States, [2] that a valid and subsisting seizure, at the time of filing the information, was indispensable to give this court jurisdiction; and further, on the authority of the two cases mentioned above, in the statement of the case, that the refusal of a trial by jury was erroneous. He inferred accordingly that, as in the case of Morris & Johnson v. United States, this court would dismiss the proceeding and order restitution.

Mr. Hoar, Attorney-General, and Mr. Field, Assistant Attorney-General, contra, contended that no question of merits arose; and that if this court could do anything more than dismiss the appeal, it could only order the decree to be reversed as irregular, the pleadings reformed, and a new trial had according to the course of the common law; that this was what was in fact decided in the Union Insurance Company v. United States, and in the case of Armstrong's Foundry, exactly like which the present case plainly was; that it could not now be known what the issues would be when the pleadings were reformed; that Morris & Johnson v. United States, [3] relied on to show that the proceeding should be dismissed and the property restored, differed from this one; that it was a suit of a species not authorized by the statutes, and not a suit in which a cause of action was defectively set forth, or one in which the trial was irregular and not according to law.

Mr. Justice CLIFFORD gave the details of the case, and delivered the opinion of the court.


^1  6 Wallace, 759 and 766.

^2  7 Wallace, 578.

^3  Ib.

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).