ALDRIDGE V. WILLIAMS, 44 U. S. 9 (1845)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Aldridge v. Williams, 44 U.S. 3 How. 9 9 (1845)

Aldridge v. Williams

44 U.S. (3 How.) 9


The Act of Congress, of March 2, 1833, commonly called the Compromise Act, did not, prospectively, repeal all duties upon imports after 30 June, 1842.

Repealing only such parts of previous acts as were inconsistent with itself, it left in force, after 30 June, 1842, the same duties which were levied on 1 June, 1842.

Duties were directed by the act of 1833 to be levied according to a home valuation, "under such regulations as may be prescribed by law." This phrase embraces all regulations lawfully existing-\ at the time the home valuation went into operation, whether made before or after the passage of the act of 1833.

And the regulations established in the 7th and 8th sections of the act of 1832 are sufficient for the correct performance of the duty.

The regulations prescribed by the Secretary of the Treasury, under a power given to him by the 9th section of the act of 1832, are also "regulations prescribed by law."

The court, in construing an act, will not consider the motives, or reasons, or opinions, expressed by individual members of Congress, in debate, but will look, if necessary, to the public history of the times in which it was passed.

This case was brought up by writ of error, from the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Maryland, and involved the construction of the Act of Congress of March 2, 1833, commonly called the Compromise Act. Williams was the collector of the port of Baltimore, and the plaintiffs in error were importing merchants, who sued to recover duties paid under protest.

The title of the act was "An act to modify the Act of 14 July, 1832, and all other acts imposing duties on imports."

The 1st section provided that from and after 31 December, 1833, in all cases where duties shall exceed twenty percentum on the value thereof, one-tenth part of such excess shall be deducted; from and after 31 December, 1835, another tenth part; from

Page 44 U. S. 10

and after 31 December, 1837, another tenth part; from and after 31 December, 1839, another tenth part; from and after 31 December, 1841, one-half of the residue of such excess shall be deducted; and from and after 30 June, 1842, the other half thereof shall be deducted.

The 2d section raised the duty upon certain woolens from five to fifty percentum.

The 3d section was as follows:

"That until 30 June, 1842, the duties imposed by existing laws, as modified by this act, shall remain and continue to be collected. And from and after the day last aforesaid, all duties upon imports shall be collected in ready money, and all credits, now allowed by law, in the payment of duties, shall be, and hereby are, abolished, and such duties shall be laid for the purpose of raising such revenue as may be necessary to an economical administration of the government, and from and after the day last aforesaid, the duties required to be paid by law on goods, wares, and merchandise, shall be assessed upon the value thereof at the port where the same shall be entered, under such regulations as may be prescribed by law."

The 4th section exempted certain articles from duty during the interval between 31 December, 1833, and 30 June, 1842.

The 5th section exempted certain articles from duty after 30 June, 1842, and concluded as follows:

"And all imports on which the first section of this act may operate, and all articles now admitted to entry free from duty, or paying a less rate of duty than twenty percentum, ad valorem, before the said 30 June, 1842, from and after that day may be admitted to entry, subject to such duty, not exceeding twenty percentum, ad valorem, as shall be provided for by law."

The 6th and last section was as follows:

"That so much of the Act of 14 July, 1832, or of any other act as is inconsistent with this act, shall be and the same is hereby repealed, provided that nothing herein contained shall be so construed as to prevent the passage, prior or subsequent to the said 30 June, 1842, of any act or acts, from time to time, that may be necessary to detect, prevent, or punish evasions of the duties on imports imposed by law, nor to prevent the passage of any act prior to 30 June, 1842, in the contingency either of excess or deficiency of revenue, altering the rates of duties on articles which, by the aforesaid Act of 14 July, 1832, are subject to a less rate of duty than twenty percentum ad valorem in such manner as not to exceed that rate, and so as to adjust the revenue to either of the said contingencies."

The statement of facts agreed upon in the court below was as follows:

Page 44 U. S. 11

"In this case it is admitted that on 20 August, 1842, the plaintiffs in this cause imported into the port of Baltimore, from Liverpool, in England, a large quantity of goods, wares, and merchandise, and on the same day entered the same at the custom house in the port of Baltimore; that the following is a true entry and list of said goods, their equality, character and value. [Here followed a list of the goods, with their value, amounting to 8254 16s.]"


Value at Baltimore per appraisement . . . . . . . . . $44,346.00

20 percent -- am't duties paid collector under protest 8,869.20


Value per invoice, � str. 8254.16.0, or . . . . . . . $36,651.00

20 percent. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7,330.20


Duty per home valuation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $ 8,869.20

Per invoice value . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7,330.20


$ 1,539.00


"That, on their entry, the defendant exacted and required of the plaintiffs to pay, as and for duties on said goods, the sum of eight thousand eight hundred and sixty-nine dollars and two cents, which the plaintiffs first refused to pay, but not being able to get their goods without paying the same, they did pay the same under protest; that the value of the goods, by the true invoice cost, adding freight and other charges, was thirty-six thousand six hundred and fifty-one dollars ($36,651); that the home valuation in Baltimore, as fixed by the appraisers, was forty-four thousand three hundred and forty-six dollars, ($44,346); that the duties upon the invoice cost and charges would have been seven thousand three hundred and thirty dollars and twenty cents ($7,330.20)."

"It is further agreed that the duties, so collected as aforesaid by the defendant, were exacted under and in pursuance of orders and regulations from the Treasury Department of the government of the United States and with the approbation, and sanction, and direction of the President of the United States."

"And it is also admitted that the amount exacted as aforesaid by defendant of plaintiffs and by them paid him as aforesaid was deposited by the defendant in the Merchants' Bank of Baltimore to the credit of the Treasurer of the United States on 29 August, 1842."

"It is also agreed that the court may infer from the facts hereinbefore agreed upon whatever a jury might infer."

"If upon the foregoing statement of facts the court shall be of opinion that the plaintiffs are entitled to recover the above sum of eight thousand eight hundred and sixty-nine dollars and twenty

Page 44 U. S. 12

cents ($8,869.20) or any part thereof, then judgment to be entered for the plaintiffs for the amount so determined to be due, with interest; if they should be of opinion that the plaintiffs are not entitled to recover at all, then judgment to be entered for defendant."

"It is further agreed that this Court enter up a judgment upon the aforegoing case stated for the defendant and that the plaintiffs be at liberty to appeal or prosecute a writ of error to the like effect and purport as if the above facts were stated in a bill of exceptions and judgment rendered upon them for the defendant."

"And it is further agreed that either party shall be at liberty, in the Supreme Court, to raise and argue in that Court any points or questions which it may appear to that court could be raised upon the aforegoing facts."

"REVERDY JOHNSON, for plaintiffs"

"Z. COLLINS LEE, U.S. Attorney"

"29th November, 1842"

The court below gave judgment for the defendant, and a writ of error brought the proceedings up to this Court.

Page 44 U. S. 23

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