GARDNER V. THE COLLECTOR, 73 U. S. 499 (1867)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Gardner v. The Collector, 73 U.S. 6 Wall. 499 499 (1867)

Gardner v. The Collector

73 U.S. (6 Wall.) 499


Whenever a question arises of the existence of a statute, or of the time when a statute takes effect, or of its precise terms, the judges who may be called upon to decide it may resort to any source of information which in its nature is capable of conveying to the judicial mind a clear and satisfactory answer to such question, always resorting first to that which in its nature is most appropriate, unless the then positive law has enacted a different rule.

"Every bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate shall, before it becomes a law, be presented to the President of the United States; if he approve, he shall sign it, but if not, he shall return it, with his objections, to that House in which it shall have originated. . . . If any bill shall not be returned by the President within ten days (Sunday excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the same shall be a law in like manner as if he had signed it."

And an Act of September 15, 1789, creating the Department of State, provides that whenever a bill, order, resolution or vote of the Senate and House of Representatives, having been approved and signed by the President of the United States, or not having been returned by him with his objections, shall become a law or take effect, it shall forthwith thereafter be received by the said Secretary from the President, and he shall carefully preserve the originals, and cause them to the recorded in books provided for that purpose. An Act of July 7th, 1838, dispenses with this recording in a book.

With these provisions in force, Congress passed through both houses, in December, 1861, a bill which declared "that from and after the date of the passage of the act," the duties on tea should be twenty cents per pound. A previous statute

Page 73 U. S. 500

had fixed the duty at fifteen cents. The roll of the engrossed bill was taken to the President, and by him thus signed, no year being indicated:

`APPROVED December 24


The record kept in the office of the Secretary of State showed, however, that this enrolled statute, with the President's approval on it, was filed in that office December 26, 1861, and the journal of the House of Representatives, in Congress, showed that a message was received from the President January 6, 1862, stating that on the 24th day of the preceding month he had approved this bill.

In the volume of the statutes of the United States, published by authority in 1863, the act was presented with an approval thus indicated:

"APPROVED December 24 [1861]"

In this state of things, Gardner, in 1864, entered at the custom house in New York certain packages of tea, on which the collector of the customs there, assuming that there was a statute laying that duty, required him to pay twenty cents per pound. Gardner declined to pay twenty cents per pound on the ground that there was no statute fixing that duty, but offered to pay fifteen cents, the duty fixed by what he asserted to be the only act in the case. Being compelled to pay the twenty cents, and having paid it under protest, he brought suit in the court below to recover the excess. The court below gave judgment against him, and on error here the question was, whether the bill fixing the twenty cents had passed, or, in other words, whether it was a law on the 28th April, 1864, when the teas in question were entered.

Page 73 U. S. 504

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