United States v. Grossmayer

Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

76 U.S. 72

United States  v.  Grossmayer

THIS case, like the one immediately preceding, was an appeal from the Court of Claims, and was thus:

Elias Einstein, a resident of Macon, Georgia, was indebted, when the late rebellion broke out, to Grossmayer, a resident of New York, for goods sold and money lent, and while the war was in progress a correspondence on the subject was maintained through the medium of a third person, who passed back and forth several times between Macon and New York. The communication between the parties resulted in Grossmayer requesting Einstein to remit the amount due him in money or sterling exchange, or, if that were not possible, to invest the sum in cotton and hold it for him until the close of the war.

In pursuance of this direction-and, as it is supposed, because money or sterling exchange could not be transmitted Einstein purchased cotton for Grossmayer, and informed him of it; Grossmayer expressing himself satisfied with the arrangement. The cotton was afterwards shipped as Grossmayer's to one Abraham Einstein, at Savannah, who stored it there in his own name, in order to prevent its seizure by the rebel authorities. It remained in store in this manner until the capture of Savannah, in December, 1864, by the armies of the United States, when it was reported to our military forces as Grossmayer's cotton, and taken by them and sent to New York and sold.

Grossmayer now preferred a claim in the Court of Claims for the residue of the proceeds, asserting that he was within the protection of the Captured and Abandoned Property Act.

That court considering that the purchase by Elias Einstein for Grossmayer was not a violation of the war intercourse acts set forth in the preceding case, decided that he was so, and gave judgment in his favor. The United States appealed.

Mr. George Taylor, for Grossmayer, and in support of the judgment below:

The cotton, the proceeds of which are in question, was purchased during the rebellion, by an agent of the claimants, residing within the Confederacy, and therefore was not a violation of the Non-intercourse Act; it being a settled principle of public law that a citizen of a country at war with another may have an agent in the enemy's country, and may enforce the contracts or accept the beneficial acts of his agent after peace; and, in this respect, he may do by an agent what he could not do himself. [*]

Even if the messages from Grossmayer to his agent were illegal, and no authority were given to the agent, yet the agent had a right, voluntarily on his own motion, to purchase and appropriate this property to his creditor, and by the appropriation of it, and the shipment of it to Savannah for storage for him, the title passed, subject only to the ratification of Grossmayer. [**]

The case shows that the purchase was ratified by Grossmayer. Claiming the cotton, and instituting suit for it, is itself a ratification. This ratification reverts back, and is equivalent to a previous permission or command.

Mr. Hoar, Attorney-General, and Mr. R. S. Hale, special counsel for the United States, contra.

Mr. Justice DAVIS delivered the opinion of the court.


^*  Potts v. Bell, 8 Term, 548; Denniston v. Imbrie, 3 Washington Circuit Court, 396; Paul v. Christie, 4 Harris & McHenry, 161; Buchanan v. Curry, 19 Johnson, 137; Ward v. Smith, 7 Wallace, 452.

^**  Ogle v. Atkinson, 5 Taunton, 759; Mitchel v. Ede, 11 Adolphus & Ellis, 888; Fowler v. Down, 1 Bosanquet & Puller, 47; Wilkes v. Ferris, 5 Johnson, 335; Coit v. Houston, 3 Johnson's Cases, 243, and remarks upon it in 19 Wendell, 517.

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).