MASON V. UNITED STATES, 84 U. S. 67 (1872)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Mason v. United States, 84 U.S. 17 Wall. 67 67 (1872)

Mason v. United States

84 U.S. (17 Wall.) 67


The United States offered to A. an order for 50,000 muskets on certain terms specified, with an agreement that 100,000 would be received if delivered within a time named. A. accepted the offer, and laid out a large sum of money in getting his works in condition to execute the order, and thus and otherwise was able and ready to execute it. Subsequently to this, the War Department appointed a commission to adjust all contracts, orders, and claims on the department in respect to arms, its decision

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to be final and conclusive as respected the department, as to the validity, execution, and sums due or to become due upon such contracts, and invited all persons interested in such orders to appear before it and be heard respecting their claims. Whether A. came before it did not appear. The commission, however, did, without his consent and against his remonstrance, pass on his case, and reported that the order to him be confirmed to the extent of 30,000 muskets, upon condition that be should execute a bond with sureties for the performance of the contract as thus modified, and upon his failure to execute such bond that the original order should be held null. The bond being prepared and sent to him by the department, he executed it. Held that such execution was his voluntary act, and that the original contract for the 100,000 muskets was thus changed and modified.

On the 7th January, 1862, the chief of ordnance, General Ripley, by direction of the Secretary of War, made in writing, on behalf of the government, this offer to one Mason, a manufacturer of arms at Taunton Massachusetts:

"I offer you an order for 50,000 muskets, with appendages, of the Springfield pattern, on the following terms and conditions, viz.: [Here followed a variety of minute specifications as to the character of the muskets, and the time when they were to be delivered.]"

"It is further directed by the War Department that double the number of arms and appendages, viz., 100,000, will be received if manufactured at your establishment in Taunton and delivered within the times before specified for the delivery of the 50,000 arms and appendages, all the other terms and conditions of this order remaining unchanged for the additional 50,000."

On the 20th January, 1862, Mason in writing, accepted the foregoing order, and his acceptance thereof was received by the chief of ordnance.

Mason immediately proceeded to make changes of machinery in his machine works, and to do whatever was necessary to insure the full and complete performance of the agreement, and was able and willing to perform his agreement according to the terms of it. His expenditures for changing his machine works into an armory, as required

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by the agreement, amounted to $75,000, and the profits which he would have made upon the muskets ordered if he had been allowed to perform would have amounted to $5.25 per musket.

On the 13th March, 1862, the War Department ordered:

"That Joseph Holt and Robert Dale Owen be a special commission to audit and adjust all contracts, orders, and claims on the War Department in respect to arms, their decision to be final and conclusive as respects the department on all questions touching the validity, execution and sums due or to become due upon such contracts and upon all other questions arising between contractors and the government upon such contracts."

"That the commission should proceed forthwith to investigate all claims and contracts in respect to arms in the department, or pending settlement and final payment, and adjudicate the same."

The order added:

"All persons interested in such contracts may appear in person, but not by attorney, before said commissioners and be heard respecting their claims at such time and place as the commissioners shall appoint. All claims that they may award in favor of shall be promptly paid. No application will be entertained by the department respecting any claim or contract which they shall adjudge to be invalid."

On the 15th of May, 1862, the commission, without the consent and against the remonstrances of the claimant, decided and reported to the chief of ordnance:

"That the order to Mr. Mason be confirmed, subject to all its terms, to the extent of 30,000 muskets, upon condition that he shall, within fifteen days after notice of this decision, execute bond, with good and sufficient sureties, in the form and with the stipulations prescribed by law and the regulations, for the performance of the contract, as thus modified, resulting from said order and acceptance, and, upon his failure or refusal to execute such bond, then the said order shall be declared annulled and of no effect."

On the 30th of May, 1862, the chief of ordnance transmitted

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a copy of this decision to Mason and also the contract and bond contemplated by the commission in its decision, with the request that he would execute and file them within fifteen days after their receipt by him, if he should "accept the order as confirmed by the commission." Mason thereupon executed such written contract, on the 25th day of June, 1862, whereby he contracted and engaged to furnish to the defendants "30,000 muskets of the Springfield pattern." This contract was performed by both the parties, and no other muskets were ever furnished by Mason to the government.

Upon these facts the Court of Claims, as a conclusion of law, decided:

That the original contract between the parties for the purchase and sale of 100,000 Springfield muskets was changed and modified by the voluntary act of the parties in the written contract, 25th of June, 1862, and that the petition of the claimant should be dismissed.

From that decree Mason took this appeal.

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