THE OUACHITA COTTON, 73 U. S. 521 (1867)

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U.S. Supreme Court

The Ouachita Cotton, 73 U.S. 521 (1867)

The Ouachita Cotton

73 U.S. 521


1. The statute of July 13, 1861, and the subsequent proclamation of President Lincoln under it, which made all commercial intercourse between any part of a state where insurrection against the United States existed and the citizens of the rest of the United States "unlawful," so long as such condition of hostility should continue, rendered void all purchases of cotton from the rebel confederacy by citizens or corporations of New Orleans, after the 6th of May, 1862, from which date the restoration of the national authority had fixed upon them the same disabilities as to commercial intercourse with the territory declared to be in insurrection as it had previously fixed upon the inhabitants of the loyal states.

2. Under the proviso of the above-mentioned statute which gave the President power in his discretion to license commercial intercourse, no one else could give licenses. Accordingly, any given by the military authorities were nullities. The Reform, 3 Wall. 617, and The Sea Lion, 3 Wall. 642, affirmed.

3. The title of a purchaser from a citizen of New Orleans, who had himself purchased from the rebel confederacy after the 6th of May, 1862, was not made valid by the fact that such second purchaser was a foreign neutral purchasing bona fide for value.

The case thus entitled was a matter of three appeals from the Circuit Court of the United States for Illinois in a question of 395 bales of cotton which had been seized during the rebellion by a flotilla of the United States. The matter was thus:

An act of Congress of July 1, 1861, passed soon after the outbreak of the late rebellion, enacts (§ 5) that

"It may and shall be lawful for the President, by proclamation, to declare that the inhabitants of such state, or any section or part thereof where such insurrection exists, are in a state of insurrection against the United States, and thereupon all commercial intercourse by and between the same and the citizens thereof and the citizens of the rest of the United States shall cease and be unlawful so long as such condition of hostility shall continue."

The act proceeds:

"And all goods and chattels, wares and merchandise, coming from said state or section into the other parts of the United

Page 73 U. S. 522

States, and all proceeding to such state or section by land or water, shall, together with the vessel or vehicle conveying the same, or conveying persons to or from such state or sections, be forfeited to the United States."

The same section also contained this proviso:

"That the President may, in his discretion, license and permit commercial intercourse with any such part of said state or section, the inhabitants of which are so declared in a state of insurrection, in such articles, and for such time, and by such persons, as he, in his discretion, may think most conducive to the public interest, and such intercourse, so far as by him licensed, shall be conducted and carried on in pursuance of rules and regulations prescribed by the Secretary of the Treasury."

On the 16th of August, 1861, the President issued a proclamation, declaring

"that the inhabitants of Louisiana and some other states named (except the inhabitants of that part of the state of Virginia lying west of the Alleghany Mountains, and of such other parts of that state and the other states hereinbefore mentioned as might maintain a loyal adhesion to the Union and Constitution, or might be from time to time occupied and controlled by forces of the United States engaged in the dispersion of said insurgents), were in a state of insurrection against the United States, and that all commercial intercourse between the same and the inhabitants thereof, with the exceptions aforesaid, and the citizens of other states, and other parts of the United States, is unlawful, and shall remain unlawful until such insurrection shall cease or has been suppressed."

With this statute and this proclamation in force, three distinct parties, American citizens or subjects -- namely, Withenbury & Doyle, The New Orleans Bank, and one Leon Queyrous -- purchased during the rebellion, but after New Orleans was restored, by capture, May 6, 1862, to the federal jurisdiction, a quantity of cotton from the late rebel confederation. The cotton had been raised on the Ouachita, in Louisiana, and in 1862 sold by its owners to the confederation, who left it stored on the plantation where it was raised.

Page 73 U. S. 523

The circumstances under which the three parties above-named purchased respectively from the Confederate government were these:

1. Withenbury & Doyle were citizens of Ohio. The outbreak of the rebellion found them in Louisiana owners and masters there of two steamers running in lawful commerce between New Orleans and Upper Louisiana. Before very long, the boats were in the service of the rebel confederacy -- wholly by compulsion, as was asserted by Withenbury & Doyle, and against every loyal effort on their part to keep their boats from it. The Confederacy, as in time of war, had seized them, it was alleged, meaning to pay what it deemed a fair price. Being thus indebted to Withenbury & Doyle for the use of the boats, these persons took the cotton (still on the plantation where it was raised) in payment, making the negotiation by which they became owners, with one McKee, an agent of the Confederate government. Such was their title to the cotton bought by them.

2. The title of the Bank was thus:

On the capture of New Orleans by the forces of the United States, the Louisiana state Bank, a moneyed corporation in that city, found itself with a large amount of Confederate currency on hand, which, as was said, it had been compelled by the rebel confederacy to receive on deposit. It being valueless at New Orleans after the capture, and its effect -- if it could be put into circulation in the regions yet under rebel control -- being likely to be the yet further discrediting of the rebel credit -- while if cotton could be got for it and brought into loyal regions -- that would add to the resources of these last, the commander of the United States forces in New Orleans, in December, 1862, authorized the bank at its desire to dispose of this currency in the purchase of cotton within the rebel lines. Under this permission, an agent of the bank passed through the United States lines into Upper Louisiana and purchased the cotton in question (or some other which to facilitate transfer he exchanged for it) of a sub-agent of McKee, the agent already named, in August, 1863.

3. Queyrous' purchase was thus:

He was a naturalized

Page 73 U. S. 524

citizen of the United States residing in New Orleans, and, in March, 1864, purchased the cotton of Buckner, an agent of the Confederate states.

Soon after all this, to-wit, in April, 1864, a flotilla of gunboats of the United States sailed up the Ouachita River, found the cotton still upon the plantation, where it had been raised and which was in a part of Louisiana then, as from the origin of the rebellion it had been, subject to the power of the rebel confederacy -- and seizing 935 bales of it, transported it to Cairo, where it was libeled in the district court there, as prize of war.

Withenbury & Doyle intervened as claimants, on sale of it, to its proceeds, under their title as stated, for the whole 935 bales. A firm named Grieff & Zunts, who had purchased from the bank, came in as succeeding to its title for the same total amount; while a French firm, foreigners, resident in France, Le More & Co., who had purchased 830 bales from Queyrous, intervened for that proportion of the capture.

By order of the court, the claims were consolidated, and having been considered, were dismissed on the ground that the transactions of the original parties, Withenbury & Doyle, the Bank and Queyrous, were "void," the inhabitants of the loyal and disloyal districts having been rendered incapable of any dealing with each other so long as the rebellion continued, prohibition being the rule and license the exception, and the license in this case not having been by the President, who alone was capable of giving one. None of the original parties, therefore, who dealt with the rebels, had any title, and neither Grieff & Zunts nor the house of Le More in France, who stood in the shoes of two of them, could get through them one that should be different.

The claims of all three intervenors were accordingly dismissed, and without the question between the captors and the United States having been disposed of, the correctness of this decree of dismissal was made by this appeal the question now before the court.

Page 73 U. S. 527

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