Samuel Downes v. George Bidwell

Decision Date27 May 1901
Docket NumberNo. 507,507
PartiesSAMUEL DOWNES, Doing Business under the Firm Name of S. B. Downes & Company, Plff. in Err ., v. GEORGE R. BIDWELL
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

[Syllabus from pages 244-247 intentionally omitted] This was an action begun in the circuit court by Downes, doing business under the firm name of S. B. Downes & Co., against the collector of the port of New York, to recover back duties to the amount of $659.35 exacted and paid under protest upon certain oranges consigned to the plaintiff at New York, and brought thither from the port of San Juan in the island of Porto Rico during the month of November, 1900, after the passage of the act temporarily providing a civil government and revenues for ths island of Porto Rico, known as the Foraker act.

The district attorney demurred to the complaint for the want of jurisdiction in the court, and for insufficiency of its averments. The demurrer was sustained, and the complaint dismissed. Whereupon plaintiff sued out this writ of error.

Messrs. Frederic R. Coudert, Jr., and Paul Fuller for plaintiff in error.

Solicitor General Richards and Attorney General Griggs for defendant in error.

Statement by Mr. Justice Brown:

This case involves the question whether merchandise brought into the port of New York from Porto Rico since the passage of the Foraker act is exempt from duty, notwithstanding the 3d section of that act which requires the payment of '15 per centum of the duties which are required to be levied, collected, and paid upon like articles of merchandise imported from foreign countries.'

1. The exception to the jurisdiction of the court is not well taken. By Rev. Stat. § 629, subd. 4, the circuit courts are vested with jurisdiction 'of all suits at law or in equity arising under any act providing for revenue from imports or tonnage,' irrespective of the amount involved. This section should be construed in connection with § 643, which provides for the removal from state courts to circuit courts of the United States of suits against revenue officers 'on account of any act done under color of his office, or of any such [revenue] law, or on account of any right, title, or authority claimed by such officer or other person under any such law.' Both these sections are taken from the act of March 2, 1833 (4 Stat. at L. 632, chap. 57) commonly known as the force bill, and are evidently intended to include all actions against customs officers acting under color of their office. While, as we have held in De Lima v. Bidwell, 181 U. S. ——, ante, 743, 21 Sup. Ct. Rep. 743, Actions against the collector to recover back duties assessed upon nonimportable property are not 'customs cases' in the sense of the administrative act, they are, nevertheless, actions arising under an act to provide for a revenue from imports, in the sense of § 629, since they are for acts done by a collector under color of his office. This subdivision of § 629 was not repealed by the jurisdictional act of 1875, or the subsequent act of August 13, 1888, since these acts were 'not intended to interfere with the prior statutes conferring jurisdiction upon the circuit or district courts in special cases and over particular subjects. United States v. Mooney, 116 U. S. 104, 107, 29 L. ed. 550, 552, 6 Sup. Ct. Rep. 304, 306. See also Merchants' Ins. Co. v. Ritchie, 5 Wall. 541, 18 L. ed. 540; Philadelphia v. The Collector, 5 Wall. 720, sub nom. Philadelphia v. Diehl, 18 L. ed. 614; Hornthall v. The Collector, 9 Wall. 560, sub nom. Hornthall v. Keary, 19 L. ed. 560 As the case 'involves the construction or application of the Constitution,' as well as the constitutionality of a law of the United States, the writ of error was properly sued out from this court.

2. In the case of De Lima v. Bidwell just decided, 181 U. S. —, ante, 743, 21 Sup. Ct. Rep. 743, we held that, upon the ratification of the treaty of peace with Spain, Porto Rico ceased to be a foreign country, and became a terri- tory of the United States, and that duties were no longer collectible upon merchandise brought from that island. We are now asked to hold that it became a part of the United States within that provision of the Constitution which declares that 'all duties, imposts, and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.' Art. 1, § 8. If Porto Rico be a part of the United States, the Foraker act imposing duties upon its products is unconstitutional, not only by reason of a violation of the uniformity clause, but because by § 9 'vessels bound to or from one state' cannot 'be obliged to enter, clear, or pay duties in another.'

The case also involves the broader question whether the revenue clauses of the Constitution extend of their own force to our newly acquired territories. The Constitution itself does not answer the question. Its solution must be found in the nature of the government created by that instrument, in the opinion of its contemporaries, in the practical construction put upon it by Congress, and in the decisions of this court.

The Federal government was created in 1777 by the union of thirteen colonies of Great Britain in 'certain articles of confederation and perpetual union,' the first one of which declared that 'the stile of this confederacy shall be the United States of America.' Each member of the confederacy was denominated a state. Provision was made for the representation of each state by not less than two nor more than seven delegates; but no mention was made of territories or other lands, except in article 11, which authorized the admission of Canada, upon its 'acceding to this confederation,' and of other colonies if such admission were agreed to by nine states. At this time several states made claims to large tracts of land in the unsettled west, which they were at first indisposed to relinquish. Disputes over these lands became so acrid as nearly to defeat the confederacy, before it was fairly put in operation. Several of the states refused to ratify the articles, because the convention had taken no steps to settle the titles to these lands upon principles of equity and sound policy; but all of them, through fear of being accused of disloyalty, finally yielded their claims, though Maryland held out until 1781. Most of these states in the meantime having ceded their interests in these lands, the confederate Congress, in 1787, created the first territorial government northwest of the Ohio river, provided for local self-government, a bill of rights, a representation in Congress by a delegate, who should have a seat 'with a right of debating, but not of voting,' and for the ultimate formation of states therefrom, and their admission into the Union on an equal footing with the original states.

The confederacy, owing to well-known historical reasons, having proven a failure, a new Constitution was formed in 1787 by 'the people of the United States' 'for the United States of America,' as its preamble declares. All legislative powers were vested in a Congress consisting of representatives from the several states, but no provision was made for the admission of delegates from the territories, and no mention was made of territories as separate portions of the Union, except that Congress was empowered 'to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States.' At this time all of the states had ceded their unappropriated lands except North Carolina and Georgia. It was thought by Chief Justice Taney in the Dred Scott Case, 19 How. 393, 436, 15 L. ed. 691, 713, that the sole object of the territorial clause was 'to transfer to the new government the property then held in common by the states, and to give to that government power to apply it to the objects for which it had been destined by mutual agreement among the states before their league was dissolved;' that the power 'to make needful rules and regulations' was not intended to give the powers of sovereignty, or to authorize the establishment of territorial governments,—in short, that these words were used in a proprietary, and not in a political, sense. But, as we observed in De Lima v. Bidwell, the power to establish territorial governments has been too long exercised by Congress and acquiesced in by this court to be deemed an unsettled question. Indeed, in the Dred Scott Case it was admitted to be the inevitable consequence of the right to acquire territory.

It is sufficient to observe in relation to these three fundamental instruments, that it can nowhere be inferred that the territories were considered a part of the United States. The Constitution was created by the people of the United States, as a union of states, to be governed solely by representatives of the states; and even the provision relied upon here, that all duties, imposts, and excises shall be uniform 'throughout the United States,' is explained by subsequent provisions of the Constitution, that 'no tax or duty shall be laid on articles exported from any state,' and 'no preference shall be given by any regulation of commerce or revenue to the ports of one state over those of another; nor shall vessels bound to or from one state be obliged to enter, clear, or pay duties in another.' In short, the Constitution deals with states, their people, and their representatives.

The 13th Amendment to the Constitution, prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude 'within the United States, or in any place subject to their jurisdiction,' is also significant as showing that there may be places within the jurisdiction of the United States that are no part of the Union. To say that the phraseology of this amendment was due to the fact that it was intended to prohibit slavery in the seceded states, under a possible interpretation that those states were no longer a part of the Union, is to confess the very point in issue, since it involves an admission...

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