50 U.S. 501 (1850), U.s. v. Roberts

Citation:50 U.S. 501, 13 L.Ed. 234
Case Date:May 29, 1850
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 501

50 U.S. 501 (1850)

13 L.Ed. 234




United States Supreme Court.

May 29, 1850


        THIS case was brought up, by writ of error, from the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Illinois.

        It was an action of debt, brought by the United States in the Circuit Court, on an official bond against John S. Roberts, who had been postmaster at Springfield, Illinois, and James F. Reed and James Adams, his sureties.

        The facts in the case were these.

        On the 3d of March, 1825, Congress passed an act (4 Stat. at Large, 112), the thirty-second section of which enacted as follows, viz.:----

        'That if any postmaster shall neglect to render his accounts for one month after the time, and in the form and manner, prescribed by law, and by the Postmaster-General's instructions conformable therewith, he shall forfeit double the value of the postages which shall have arisen at the same office in any equal portion of time, previous or subsequent thereto; or in case no account shall have been rendered at the time of trial of such case, then such sum as the court and jury shall estimate as equivalent thereto, to be recovered by the Postmaster-General, in an action of debt on the bond against the postmaster and his securities, and for which the securities shall be liable.'  This was no new provision, being substantially a reenactment of the thirtieth section of the Post-Office Act of 1810. 2 Statutes at Large, 602.

        In 1836 Congress passed another act (5 Stat. at Large, 81), the ninth section of which gave to the Postmaster-General authority to prescribe regulations for the proper enforcement of the duties of postmasters.

        Under this authority, Amos Kendall, then Postmaster-General, issued the following circular.


        'Post-Office Department, April 13, 1838.


        Postmaster at Springfield, Ill.

        'Sir,--You are required, within two days after the close of each quarter, to forward your quarterly accounts to this Department; or, if there be no mail from your office within that time, then by the next mail.  The quarters end on the 31st March, 30th June, 30th September, and 31st December.

        'By having your accounts of mails sent, and mails received,

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copied beforehand, up to the last day, you can finish the copies, make the calculations, and have them ready to be forwarded, in a few hours.

        'As you have no right to use or credit out the money which belongs to the United States, it is required that you have the balance due at the end of each quarter ready to be paid on demand.

        'The contractor named at the foot of this letter, who carries the mail on the route there stated, on which your office is situated, is authorized to demand and receive of you, either in person or by his agent, at the end of each quarter, so long as he shall actually carry the mail on said route, or until you shall be otherwise directed, the whole amount due from you to the United States, including the quarter then just terminated, as shown in your account current.

        'Blank forms of orders and receipts (specimens of which, filled up, are hereto annexed) will be sent, for every collection, to the contractor.  These forms, and no others, must be used in your payments to contractors.  If the contractor call on you in person for the money, the orders will not be necessary, and you will take from him two receipts in the form prescribed, one of which you will keep, and send the other by the next mail to the Auditor for the Post-Office Department.  If any other person call for the money as agent, he must produce to you two orders in the prescribed form, signed by the contractor, with the blank receipts annexed; and after you have paid him, he will fill up and sign both receipts, and leave both orders and both receipts with you; one of each you will forthwith send to the Auditor for the Post-Office Department, and retain the other.

        'These claims and orders cannot be sold, negotiated, or transferred, and no credit will be allowed you for any payment to any other person than the contractor, or the persons named in his orders; nor in the latter case will credit be allowed, unless the order accompany the receipt; nor unless the receipt be dated on the day when the money is paid.

        'When demand is made of you as herein prescribed, it is expected that you will make instant payment, and the contractor is instructed to report forthwith to the Department every refusal or failure on your part.

        'Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

        'AMOS KENDALL.

        'Pay to Robert Allen,

        Contractor on route No. 2,701.

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        'You will take care to write or stamp the name of your office on the outside of the packet containing your quarterly returns for each quarter.

        'Auditor's Office, P. O. Dep.'

        Annexed to this letter were blank forms, which the postmaster was directed to follow.

        There was also issued the following circular to contractors for carrying the mail.

        'Post-Office Department, 183


        Contractor on Mail Route No.

        'The postmaster at ----- [and] ----- are instructed to pay over to you, or your order, on damand, at the end of each quarter, so long as you shall actually carry the mail on said route, or until they shall be otherwise directed, the whole amount due from them to the Department, for the quarter then just terminated, as shown by their several accounts current.

        'You are requested to make demand as soon as possible after the first day of the next quarter, and report to the Department every failure or refusal to pay, with the reasons therefor, whether given by the postmasters, or otherwise known to you.

        'When you have received the balances due from all these postmasters, or as many of them as can be collected, you will fill up, sign, and send to the Department the blank 'acknowledgment' sent to you, of which a specimen is annexed, showing the name of each postmaster, the name of his office, and the amount received from him, upon receipt of which a draft will be forwarded for any amount which may still be due to you; provided that, in case you fail to collect any one of said balances, no part of the balance due will be paid you until the Department shall be satisfied that you have used due diligence to effect the collection, and that it could not be done.

        'Herewith you will also receive the proper number of orders and receipts, in blank, for collections on the above route; that is, an original and duplicate for each office, which you are required to use in all your collections from the postmasters.  Similar blanks will be forwarded for each successive quarter.  You will collect at the end of each quarter from those offices only which are named in the blanks sent to you for that quarter.  If you apply for the money in person, the orders will be unnecessary, and you will fill up and hand to each postmaster from whom you may receive payment the original and duplicate

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receipts, sent to you for his office,--one for his own use, the other to be sent to the Department.  If you send any other person to call for the money at an office, you will fill up in his favor, and give him the two orders (original and duplicate) sent to you for that office, with the blank receipts annexed; and when he has received the money, he will fill up and sign the annexed receipts, and leave both orders and both receipts with the postmaster.

        'You are not authorized to sell, negotiate, or transfer any of these claims, and no payment will be recognized by the Department unless made directly to you, or to the person named in your orders.

        'Every order and every receipt must bear the true date of its signature, in default of which it will not be considered a good voucher at the Department.

        'Very respectfully, your obedient servant.'

        Annexed to this letter also were blanks, and copies were sent to the postmasters.

        On the 9th of July, 1840, John S. Roberts, being reappointed postmaster at Springfield, executed a bond to the United States, with James Adams and James F. Reed as sureties, in the penal sum of five thousand dollars, with the condition that he should well and truly execute the duties of the said office according to law and the instructions of the Postmaster-General, &c., &c.

        The contractor for carrying the mail on route No. 2,701, from Springfield in Illinois to Terre Haute in Indiana, was Robert Allen.

        It appeared from the testimony of Thomas A. Scott, a clerk in the office of the Auditor of the Treasury for the Post-Office Department, that for the third quarter of 1840, Allen, the contractor, transmitted an acknowledgment for collection made on route No. 2,701; that, in this acknowledgment, the said Allen acknowledged no sum as received from said Roberts, and that, no receipt having been received from said Roberts, no charge was made on account of any such collection against said Allen for said quarter, nor was any credit given to said Roberts; but that deponent, considering that said Roberts was in default in respect to said quarter by not paying over his quarterly dues to the said contractor according to his duty under his standing instructions, and upon the printed receipts sent to the contractor for that purpose, regarded it as his duty to report said default for the information of the Postmaster-General, and did accordingly make such report on the 14th of November, 1840.

        'And deponent further saith, that, for the fourth quarter of

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1840, the said Allen transmitted an acknowledgment for collecting on said route No. 2,701; that, in this acknowledgment, said Allen having reported no sum...

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