James Converse, Administrator of Philip Greely, Deceased Plaintiff In Error v. the United States

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtTANEY
Citation62 U.S. 463,16 L.Ed. 192,21 How. 463
Decision Date01 December 1858

THIS case was brought up by writ of error from the Circuit Court of the United States for the district of Massachusetts.

The case is explained in the opinion of the court.

It was argued by Mr. Russell and Mr. Cushing for the plaintiff in error, and submitted by Mr. Stanton on a brief by Mr. Black (Attorney General) for the United States.

The examination, by the counsel, of the various acts of Congress bearing upon the point in dispute is rendered unnecessary by the investigation of them contained in the opinion of the court, and also in the opinion of the dissenting judges.

Mr. Chief Justice TANEY delivered the opinion of the court.

This is a writ of error to the Circuit Court of the United States for the district of Massachusetts.

The pleadings and facts in the case, and the points in controversy, are briefly yet clearly stated in the exception and opinion of the court, as set forth in the transcript, in the following words:

'Be it remembered, that at a term of the Circuit Court of the United States, holden at Boston, within and for the district of Massachusetts, on the 15th day of May, 1857, by the Honorable Benjamin R. Curtis, circuit judge, and the Honorable Peleg Sprague, district judge, came the United States of America, and by an action of assumpsit declared against James C Converse, of Boston, in said district, as he is administrator of the goods and estate of Philip Greely, jun., late of said Boston, deceased, and late collector of customs at said Boston, in said district, as by the writ and declaration of record will appear; to which the defendant pleaded the general issue, and filed certain claims in set-off, as by said set-off of record will appear; and the plaintiffs joined in said issue, and thereupon said cause came on for trial before the said Circuit Court, at said May term, before a jury empannelled for that purpose, and the said defendant then and there claimed to be allowed, among other things, in set-off against the plaintiffs' claim, the sum of seventeen thousand six hundred and eighty-four dollars and ninety-two cents, ($17,684.92,) as commissions due him from the plaintiffs upon certain contracts, purchases, and disbursements, made by him for oil and other articles for the light-house service of the United States, under direction of the Secretary of the Treasury.

'At the trial it appeared by the transcript from the Treasury Department of the plaintiffs, introduced by them in evidence, that said claims had been duly and properly presented by the defendant's intestate, Mr. Greely, at the Treasury Department, for credit and allowance, and had there been disallowed, and no objection was made by the plaintiffs to the defendant's right to recover of the plaintiffs upon this ground.

'It also appeared that the defendant's intestate, as collector, had, during each year he was collector, received the compensation of six thousand dollars, and also the sum of four hundred dollars allowed by law.

'No question was made as to the amount of commissions claimed. The plaintiffs, in their transcripts, admit that the sum of $17,684.92 is two and a half per cent. commission upon the defendant's disbursements for light-house purposes during his term of office, and no objection was made that that is not the proper commission, if the defendant is entitled to any.

'It was further admitted that the defendant was, from May 1st, 1849, to April 1st, 1853, superintendent of lights and disbursing agent for the district of Boston.

'The duties of this office, it was offered to prove, were the charge and superintendence of all light-houses between Eastham and Plum Island, Newburyport, including the making of all necessary disbursements for the payment of the keepers' salaries, wages of men, repairs, and the necessary supplies, in the same manner as other superintendents and disbursing agents in their respective districts.

'The defendant then offered to prove the following facts in regard to these disbursements upon which the aforesaid commission was claimed.

'The Secretary of the Treasury, or the proper officer under him, during the whole term of the defendant's office, was accustomed from time to time to send specific orders to him to advertise for proposals, make contracts for and purchase all the oil, lamps, wicks, and supplies of every kind, required for the whole light-house service of the United States, as well that of the sea coasts as the lakes and rivers.

'Agreeably to such orders or requests, the defendant did, from time to time, make all these contracts and purchases, draw the necessary contracts, and all payments and disbursements thereunder and therefor, take charge of the property when purchased, and distributed the same in such quantities and to such points, all over the United States, as were required or directed by the Treasury Department. These services involved much time, labor, and responsibility, on the part of the defendant, and were performed at the request and upon the order of the Treasury Department. The defendant paid out no moneys which have not been allowed.

'And it was upon all disbursements thus made that he claimed the aforesaid two and a half per cent. commissions, amounting to $17,684.92.

'The plaintiffs objected to this evidence, because they said, admitting all that was thus proposed to be proved, it gave the defendant no claim whatever to the commissions claimed.

'The court thereupon, after consideration, ruled and decided that, admitting all that the defendant thus offered to prove to be true and as alleged, yet the defendant had no rightful claim against the plaintiffs to the said commissions, or any part thereof, and could not recover the same in set-off, but that the defendant being the collector of customs, and, as such, having received the aforesaid compensation of $6,000 and of $400 each year, could not recover any sum whatever for the commissions claimed as aforesaid; and the court thereupon refused to admit the evidence offered, and instructed the jury, in accordance with said ruling, and for the reasons therein stated, that the defendant could not recover for said commission.

'To which ruling, decision, and instruction, the defendant then and there excepted.'

The question to be decided on this exception is undoubtedly one of some difficulty. But the difficulty arises not so much from ambiguity of language in any one of the acts of Congress, as from the great number of acts passed from time to time on this subject, which have been referred to in the argument. They, for the most part, differ in language in some degree from one another, and are generally introduced in some clause or proviso of the usual annual appropriation law, or an appropriation to provide for previous expenditures, and yet all bear, with more or less force, on the question before us.

The acts referred to are: 1822, 3 Stat., 696; 1839, 3 Stat., 439; 1841, 5 Stat., 432; 1842, 5 Stat., 510; 1845, 5 Stat., 736; 1848, 9 Stat., 297; 1849, 9 Stat., 365, 367; 1850, 9 Stat., 504, 542, 543; 1851, 9 Stat., 629; 1852, 10 Stat., 97, 100; 1852, 10 Stat., 119, 120.

It is obvious, therefore, that in order to carry into execution the intention of the legislative department of the Government, these various laws on the same subject-matter must be taken together and construed in connection with each other. And we should defeat instead of carrying into execution the will of the law-making power, if we selected one or two or these acts, and founded our judgment upon the language they contained, without comparing and considering them in association with other laws passed upon the same subject.

It would extend this opinion to an unreasonable length, to quote at large the language of the various acts and provisos above mentioned; nor indeed do we deem it necessary, because the object and policy of this whole legislation, when taken together, will be made evident by looking to the state of the law before and at the time the different laws were passed, and the defects which then existed, and which they were intended to remedy. A particular reference to a few of them, in chronological order, will be sufficient for this purpose, and we shall refer to those which have been mainly relied on by the Circuit Court, or by the counsel for the United States, in order to support the judgment of the court below.

The first law upon this subject is the act of May 7, 1822, section 18, which provides that 'no collector, surveyor, or naval officer, shall ever receive more than $400 annually, exclusive of his compensation as collector, surveyor, or naval officer, and the fines and forfeitures allowed by law for any service he may render in any other office or capacity.'

At the time this law was passed, the collectors, surveyors, and naval officers, were, in certain contingencies mentioned in the act of March 2, 1799, required to do the duties of the offices of each other; and, without any special law upon the subject, it was the settled practice and usage of the Government to require collectors to superintend lights and light-houses in their respective districts, and to disburse money for marine hospitals and the revenue-cutter service; for which, by the practice and regulations of the Treasury Department, they were allowed certain commissions. But there was no act of Congress imposing these duties on the collector, or fixing his commissions for these services and disbursements. They were charged as extra services that is, as not belonging to the office of collector, and the amount of his compensation depended altogether upon the discretion of the Secretary of the Treasury for the time being. These extra allowances in some instances amounted to very large sums; and it appears that the attention of Congress was at length attracted to this subject, and it was...

To continue reading

Request your trial
52 cases
  • Bond v. Phelps, Case Number: 33240
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oklahoma
    • 30 Marzo 1948
    ...could have been allowed."The same doctrine was announced by the Supreme Court of the United States in Converse v. United States, 16 L.Ed. 192."In United States v. Saunders, 30 L.Ed. 594, it was decided by the Supreme Court of the United States that the Federal law prohibiting the allowance ......
  • Bond v. Phelps
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oklahoma
    • 30 Marzo 1948
    ...... announced and followed by many Courts in States having. constitutional provisions similar to our ... him.'. . .          . James, Auditor, v. Cammack, 139 Ky. 223, 129 S.W. ... under the government of the United States, or of this State,. or any other State ...It is an. error to suppose that two things are, in a legal ...The plaintiffs allege. that the plaintiff Bond was elected a member of said. Commission at ... United States in Converse v. United States, 62 U.S. 463, 16 L.Ed. 192. ......
  • Turner v. Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Corp., Civ. A. No. 82-436-B.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of Louisiana
    • 23 Octubre 1984
    ......Civ. A. No. 82-436-B. United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana. October ...Faucheux, Jr., Reserve, La., for plaintiff.         W.S. McKenzie, Taylor, Porter, ......
  • N. Pac. R. Co. v. Barnes
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of North Dakota
    • 21 Enero 1892
    ...times, are to be treated prospectively, and construed together, as though they constituted a single act. Suth. St. Const. § 283; Converse v. U. S., 21 How. 463; Railroad Co. v. Barden, 46 Fed. Rep. 602. It is a matter of public notoriety and general history that at the time this resolution ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT