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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Anderson, 76 U.S. 9 Wall. 56 56 (1869)

United States v. Anderson

76 U.S. (9 Wall.) 56


1. Under the Act of March 12, 1863, commonly called the "Abandoned or Captured Property Act," it is not necessary that a party preferring his claim in the Court of Claims for the proceeds of property taken and sold under it to prove, in addition to his own loyalty, the loyalty of the persons from whom he bought the property taken and sold, the property having been purchased by him in good faith and without intent to defraud the government or anyone else.

2. Notwithstanding the 4th section of the Act of June 25, 1868, the vendors of the property so taken and sold are competent witnesses, on a claim preferred by the owners in the Court of Claims, in supporting such claim if they themselves never had any title, claim, or right against the government, and are not interested in the suit.

3. As respects rights intended to be secured by the above-mentioned Abandoned or Captured Property Act, "the suppression of the rebellion" is to be regarded as having taken place on the 20th of August, 1866, on which day the President by proclamation declared it suppressed in Texas "and throughout the whole of the United States of America," that same date being apparently adopted by Congress in a statute continuing a certain rate of pay to soldiers in the army "for three years after the close of the rebellion, as announced by the President of the United States by proclamation bearing date August 20, 1866."

4. Under the Captured or Abandoned Property Act, the Court of Claims may render judgment not only generally for the claimant, but for a specific sum as due to him.

Congress, by Act of July 13, 1861, [Footnote 1] passed soon after the outbreak of the late rebellion, enacted that it might be

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lawful for the President by proclamation to declare that the inhabitants of any state or part of a state where such insurrection was existing were in a state of such insurrection, and that thereupon (with a proviso that the President might, to a limited extent and under regulations to be prescribed by the Secretary of the Treasury, license it) all

"commercial intercourse by and between the same and citizens thereof, and citizens of the rest of the United States, should cease, and be unlawful so long as such condition of hostility should continue."

By a subsequent Act of July 17, 1862, [Footnote 2] it was enacted:

"That to insure the speedy termination of the present rebellion, it shall be the duty of the President of the United States to cause the seizure of all the estate and property, money, stocks, credits, and effects of the persons hereinafter named in this section and to apply and use the same and the proceeds thereof for the support of the army of the United States."

The enumeration of persons includes several classes of persons, and the section concludes by declaring that

"All sales, transfers, or conveyances of any such property shall be null and void."

Another section goes on to say:

"And if any person within any state or territory of the United States other than those named as aforesaid, after the passage of this act, being engaged in armed rebellion against the government of the United States or aiding or abetting such rebellion, shall not within sixty days after public warning and proclamation duly given and made by the President of the United States cease to aid, countenance, and abet such rebellion and return to his allegiance to the United States, all the estate and property, money, stocks, and credits of such persons shall be liable to seizure as aforesaid, and it shall be the duty of the President to seize and use them as aforesaid, or the proceeds thereof. And all sales, transfers, or conveyances of any such property,

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after the expiration of the said sixty days from the date of such warning and proclamation shall be null and void."

By a still later act, one passed when the armies of the United States were beginning to march into the rebellious regions -- the Act, namely, of March 12, 1863 [Footnote 3] -- entitled "An act to provide for the collection of abandoned property &c., in insurrectionary districts within the United States," it was provided as follows:

"And person claiming to have been the owner of any such abandoned or captured property may, at any time within two years after the suppression of the rebellion, prefer his claim to the proceeds thereof in the Court of Claims, and on proof to the satisfaction of said court (1) of his ownership of said property, (2) of his right to the proceeds thereof, and (3) that he has never given any aid or comfort to the present rebellion, receive the residue of such proceeds, after the deduction of any purchase money which may have been paid, together with the expense of transportation and sale of said property and any other lawful expenses attending the disposition thereof."

The time mentioned in this act as that within which a party might prefer his claim, "any time," to-wit, "within two years after the suppression of the rebellion," was one which, as events in the conclusion of the rebellion subsequently proved, was not to common apprehension entirely definite. As matter of fact, rebellious districts were brought under the control of the government in different parts of the South at different times, and in April, 1865, the armies of the rebel generals Lee and Johnston surrendered, their surrender being followed by that of Taylor's army on the 4th of May, and by that of Kirby Smith's on the 26th of the same month. With this last-named surrender, all armed resistance in the least formidable to the authority of the government ceased, and as matter of fact the rebellion was prostrate, though rebel cruisers continued their depredations on our commerce, and though there were, in Texas and elsewhere,

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some wandering bands of robbers. Still, after Kirby Smith's surrender May 26, 1865, intercourse, commercial and other, between the inhabitants of the different sections began to resume itself; trade opened, more or less, on its ancient basis, remittances were made, debts were paid or compromised, and bills of exchange were drawn between the inhabitants of the two sections.

The courts which in each section had been closed to the inhabitants of the other were soon opened, in form at least. The Court of Claims assumed jurisdiction of cases under the Abandoned Property Act, and between the termination of actual hostilities and the date fixed by the court below as the legal suppression of the rebellion (20 August, 1866), thirty causes were commenced in that court under the act and jurisdiction of them entertained.

In this Court, the causes pending at the beginning of the war to which inhabitants of the states in rebellion were parties and which had been suspended and postponed from term to term during the continuance of the war were, at the December Term 1865, by the order of the Court, called and heard in their order on the calendar or on special days to which they were assigned.

Post Offices were reopened, [Footnote 4] the letting of contracts for mail service throughout the rebellious states resumed, [Footnote 5] and the revenue system extended throughout the same states. [Footnote 6]

The federal courts, too, were reopened in the insurrectionary districts.

But notwithstanding all this, the late rebellious states were not politically restored to the Union, nor were many of them so restored till long afterwards. On the contrary, many of them were kept under military government in virtue of statutes of the United States known as the reconstruction acts. And the complete status ante bellum was not yet visible.

So far as executive recognitions of the date when the rebellion was to be assumed to have been "suppressed" were

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concerned, the government issued three proclamations, one dated June 13, 1865, [Footnote 7] in relation to the suppression of the rebellion in Tennessee; another, dated April 2, 1866, [Footnote 8] in regard to the suppression of the rebellion in the States of Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Florida, and the third, dated August 20, 1866, [Footnote 9] declaring the rebellion suppressed in Texas "and throughout the whole of the United States of America."

And an Act of Congress passed March 2, 1867, [Footnote 10] declared that a previous act of Congress, passed June 20, 1864, [Footnote 11] to increase the pay of soldiers in the army should be

"continued in full force and effect for three years after the close of the rebellion, as announced by the President of the United States by proclamation bearing date August 20, 1866."

In this state of enactments, proclamation, and fact, one Anderson, a free man of color, possessed of real and personal property, by occupation a drayman and cotton sampler, and a resident of Charleston, South Carolina, preferred, on the 5th of June, 1868, to the Court of Claims, under the provisions of the already-mentioned "Abandoned Property Act" of 1863, as it was familiarly styled, a claim for the residue of the proceeds of some cotton.

Twenty days after Anderson preferred his claim to the Court of Claims -- that is to say, on the 25th June, 1868 -- Congress passed a law [Footnote 12]

"That no plaintiff, or claimant, or any person, from or through whom any such plaintiff or claimant derives his alleged title, claim or right against the United States, or any person interested in any such title, claim, or right, shall be a competent witness in the Court of Claims in supporting any such title, claim, or right."

When the matter came on afterwards to be heard, Anderson proved this case (proving it, in part, by two persons, the one named Fleming, and the other Doucen, who resided within the insurrectionary district, and from whom he had

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bought the cotton), the case, to-wit, that he had bought part of the cotton in the early part of the war, and the rest in the autumn of 1864, before the evacuation of Charleston by the rebels; that on the 5th March, 1865, the military authorities of the United States being now in possession of Charleston, he reported it to them, and that on the 5th of April following, it was removed under their direction from its place of deposit to the Charleston custom house, whence it was shipped to New York, and there sold for the United States and the gross proceeds paid into the Treasury, the net proceeds amounting to $6,723. The loyalty of Fleming and Doucen, from whom the cotton was purchased, was not proven, but that of Anderson was, and that he had never given any aid or comfort to the rebellion, or to the persons who were engaged in it.

In the Court of Claims, the counsel for the government urged four principal grounds of objection to the allowance of the claim.

1st. That the action was barred by the limitation in the statute of March 12, 1863.

2d. That if in this they were mistaken, still that the suit must fail because the persons who sold the property to Anderson, being residents of an insurrectionary district, were unable, under the state of the law on this subject, to convey title to him.

3d. That the vendors of the cotton in question were incompetent witnesses, by reason of the Act of 25 June, 1865, and that their testimony should have been excluded.

4th. That the court had no authority to render judgment for a specific sum, its power being limited to the point of deciding whether the claimant was entitled to recover at all, leaving the amount to be determined by computation by the proper officers of the Treasury Department.

But the Court of Claims held:

1st. That the claim was not barred by the limitation mentioned

2d. That the cotton had not been ipso facto forfeited because it had belonged to persons resident in the insurrectionary

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district, no proceedings having been instituted to confiscate the same as the property of such persons.

3d. That the vendors of the property were not incompetent witnesses.

4th. That upon the whole case the claimant was entitled to judgment for the net proceeds as proved.

The correctness of these several rulings was the matter now here for review.

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