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United States Supreme Court

88 U.S. 441

Trist  v.  Child

APPEAL from the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia; the case being thus:

N. P. Trist having a claim against the United States for his services, rendered in 1848, touching the treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo-a claim which the government had not recognized-resolved, in 1866-7 to submit it to Congress and to ask payment of it. And he made an agreement with Linus Child, of Boston, that Child should take charge of the claim and prosecute it before Congress as his agent and attorney. As a compensation for his services it was agreed that Child should receive 25 per cent. of whatever sum Congress might allow in payment of the claim. If nothing was allowed, Child was to receive nothing. His compensation depended wholly upon the contingency of success. Child prepared a petition and presented the claim to Congress. Before final action was taken upon it by that body Child died. His son and personal representative, L. M. Child, who was his partner when the agreement between him and Trist was entered into, and down to the time of his death, continued the prosecution of the claim. By an act of the 20th of April, 1871, Congress appropriated the sum of $14,559 to pay it. The son thereupon applied to Trist for payment of the 25 per cent. stipulated for in the agreement between Trist and his father. Trist declined to pay. Hereupon Child applied to the Treasury Department to suspend the payment of the money to Trist. Payment was suspended accordingly, and the money was still in the treasury.

Child, the son, now filed his bill against Trist, praying that Trist might be enjoined from withdrawing the $14,559 from the treasury until he had complied with his agreement about the compensation, and that a decree might pass commanding him to pay to the complainant $5000, and for general relief.

The defendant answered the bill, asserting, with other defences going to the merits, that all the services as set forth in their bill were 'of such a nature as to give no cause of action in any court either of common law or equity.'

The case was heard upon the pleadings and much evidence. A part of the evidence consisted of correspondence between the parties. It tended to prove that the Childs, father and son, had been to see various members of Congress, soliciting their influence in behalf of a bill introduced for the benefit of Mr. Trist, and in several instances obtaining a promise of it. There was no attempt to prove that any kind of bribe had been offered or ever contemplated; but the following letter, one in the correspondence put in evidence, was referred to as showing the effects of contracts such as the one in this case:



WASHINGTON, D. C., Feb. 20th, 1871.

MR. TRIST: Everything looks very favorable. I found that my father has spoken to C_____ and B_____, and other members of the House. Mr. B_____ says he will try hard to get it before the House. He has two more chances, or rather 'morning hours,' before Congress adjourns. A_____ will go in for it. D_____ promises to go for it. I have sent your letter and report to Mr. W_____, of Pennsylvania. It may not be reached till next week. Please write to your friends to write immediately to any member of Congress. Every vote tells; and a simple request to a member may secure his vote, he not caring anything about it. Set every man you know at work, even if he knows a page, for a page often gets a vote. The most I fear is indifference.

Yours, &c.,


The court below decreed,

1st. That Trist should pay to the complainant $3639, with interest from April 20th, 1871.

2d. That until he did so, he should be enjoined from receiving at the treasury 'any of the moneys appropriated to him' by the above act of Congress, of April 20th, 1871.

From this decree the case was brought here.

The good character of the Messrs. Child, father and son, was not denied.

Messrs. Durant and Horner, for the appellants, upon the main point of the case (the validity of the contract between Child and Trist), relied upon Marshall v. Baltimore Railroad, [1] in this court, and upon the principles there enunciated in behalf of the court by Grier, J.


^1  16 Howard, 314. They relied also on Tool Company v. Norris, 2 Wallace, 54.

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).