Page images
PDF
EPUB

ment other than for interest on the public debt, and the letter of the act certainly makes United States notes payable for all demands against the Government, except such interest. But can any such construction of the act be maintained; can judicial sanction be given to a proposition that the Government may discharge its obligation to the depositors of bullion, by tendering them a number of note dollars equal to the number of coined dollars which it has contracted by law to pay?

But we need not pursue the subject further. It seems to us clear, beyond controversy, that the act must receive the reasonable construction not only warranted, but required, by the comparison of its provisions with the provisions of other acts, and with each other, and that upon such reasonable construction it must be held to sustain the proposition that express contracts to pay coin dollars can only be satisfied by the payment of coin dollars. These are not debts which may be satisfied by the tender of United States notes. It follows, that the tender of such notes in payment of the bond under consideration, was not warranted in law, and the decree directing satisfaction of the mortgage was erroneous.

Some difficulty has been felt in regard to the judgment proper to be entered on contracts payable in coin. This difficulty arises from the supposition that damages can be assessed only in one description of money, but the Act of 1792 provides that “the money of the coin of the United States shall be expressed in dollars, dimes, cents, and mills, and that all accounts in the public offices, and all proceedings in the courts of the United States, shall be kept and had in conformity to this regulation.” This regulation is part of the first Coinage Act, and doubtless has reference to the coins provided for by it, but it is a general regulation, and relates to all accounts and all judicial proceedings. When, therefore, two descriptions of money are sanctioned by law, both expressed in dollars, and both made current in payment, it is necessary, in order to prevent ambiguity and to prevent a failure of justice, to regard this regulation as applicable alike to both; when, therefore, contracts made payable in coin are sued upon, judgment may be rendered for coined dollars and parts of a dollar, and, when contracts have been made payable in dollars generally, without specifying in what description of currency payment is to be made, judgment may be entered accordingly, without such description. We have already adopted this rule as to judg. ments for duties, by affirming a judgment of the Circuit Court for the District of California, in favor of the United States, for one thousand three hundred and eighty. eight dollars and ten cents, payable in gold and silver coin, and judgments on contracts between individuals for the payment of coin may be entered in like manner. It results that the decree of the Court of Appeals, of New York must be reversed, and the cause remanded to that court for further proceedings.

Davis, J. – I assent to the result which a majority of the court has arrived at, that an express contract to pay coin of the United States, made before the Act of Feb. 25, 1862, commonly called the Legal Tender Act, is not within the clause of that Act which makes treasury notes a legal tender in payment of debts. But I think it proper to guard against all possibility of misapprehension, by stating that if there be any reasoning in the opinion of the majority which can be applicable to any other class of contracts, it does not receive my assent.

SWAYNE, J.-I concur in the conclusion announced by the Chief Justice. My opinion proceeds entirely upon the language of the contract and the construction of the statutes. The question of the constitutional power of Congress, in my judgment, does not arise in the case.

MILLER, J. – I do not agree to the judgment of the court in this case, and shall, without apology, make a very brief statement of my reasons for believing that the judgment of the Court of Appeals of New York should be affirmed. The opinion just read correctly states that the contract in this case, made before the passage of the act commonly called the Legal Tender Act, was an agreement to pay $1,400“ in gold and silver coin, lawful money of the United States." I agree that it was the intention of both parties to this contract that it should be paid in coin. I go a step further than this, and agree that the legal effect of the contract, as the law stood when it was made, was that it should be paid in coin, and could be paid in nothing else. This was the conjoint effect of the contract of the parties and the law under which that contract was made. But I do not agree that, in this respect, the contract under consideration differed, either in the intention of the parties, or in its legal effect, from a contract to pay $1,400, without any further description of the dollars to be paid. The only dollars which, by the law which was then in force, or which ever had been in force since the adoption of the Federal Constitution, could have been legally tendered in payment of any contract simply for dollars, were gold and silver. These were the lawful money of the United States mentioned in the contract, and the special reference to them gave no effect to that contract beyond what the law gave. This contract, then, did not differ in its legal obligation from any other contract payable in dollars.

[graphic]

Much weight is attached in the opinion to the special intention of the parties in using the words “gold and silver coin;” but, as I have shown that the intent thus manifested is only what the law would have implied if these words had not been used, I cannot see their importance in distinguishing this contract from others which omit these words. Certainly, every man who at that date received a note payable in dollars, expected and had a right to expect to be paid in gold and silver coin, lawful money of the United States, if he chose to demand it. There was, therefore, no difference in the intention of the parties or in the legal obligation, between such a contract and an ordinary contract for the payment of money, so far as the rights of the payee to exact coin are concerned. If I am asked why those words were used in this case, I may answer they were used out of abundant caution, by some one not familiar with the want of power in the States to make legal-tender laws. It is very well known that, under the system of State banks, which furnished almost exclusively the currency in use for a great many years prior to the issue of legal-tender notes by the United States, there was a difference between the value of that currency and gold, even while the bank-notes were promptly redeemed in gold, and it was doubtless to exclude any possible assertion of the right to pay this contract in bank-notes, that the words "gold and silver coin” were used, and not with any reference to a possible change in the laws of legal tender, established by the United States, which had never, during the sixty years that the Government had been administered under the present Constitution, declared any thing else to be legal tender of lawful money but gold and silver coin.

But if I correctly apprehend the scope of the opinion delivered by the Chief Justice, the effort to prove for this contract a special intent of payment in gold, is only for the purpose of bringing it within the principle there asserted, both by express words and by strong implication, that all contracts must be paid according to the intention of the parties making them. I think I am not mistaken in my recollection, that it is broadly stated that it is the business of courts of justice to enforce contracts as they are intended by the parties, and that the tender must be according to the intent of the contract. Now, if the argument used to show the intent of the parties to the contract, is of any value in this connection, it would prove that such intent must enter into and form a controlling element in the judgment of the court in construing the legal-tender acts. I shall not consume time by any attempt to show that the contract in this case is a debt, or that when Congress said that the notes it was about to issue should be received as legal tender in payment of all private debts, it

intended that which these words appropriately convey. To assume that Congress did not intend by that act to authorize payment by a medium differing from that which the parties intended by the contract, is in contradiction to the express language of the statute, to the sense in which it was acted on by the people who paid and received those notes in discharge of contracts, for incalculable millions of dollars, where gold dollars had been in contemplation of the parties when the contracts were made, and to the decisions of the highest courts of fifteen States of the Union, being all that have passed upon the subject. As I have no doubt that it was intended by those acts to make the notes of the United States, to which they applied, a legal tender for all private debts then due, or which might become due on contracts then in existence, without regard to the intent of the parties on that point, I must dissent from the judgment of the court, and from the opinion on which it is founded.

There are, we suppose, few thinking people who are not glad that the Supreme Court has been able to arrive at this conclusion; how they arrived at it is not so clear. As an abstract question of law, the almost unanimous decisions of the State courts, backed as they are by the pithy judgment of Mr. Justice Miller, are perhaps not outweighed by the opinion of the majority of the Supreme Court.

BUTLER v. HORWITZ. A covenant in a lease, made in 1791, provided for the payment of an annual rent of £15, “ current money of Maryland, payable in English golden guineas, weighing five pennyweights sixteen grains, at thirty-five shillings each, and other gold and silver at their present established weight and rate according to Act of Assembly.” Held, that the covenant required the delivery of a certain amount of gold and silver, in payment of the rent; and that in an action to recover the rent, judgment should be entered for that amount in gold and silver coin.

Error to the Court of Common Pleas for the State of Maryland. — Daniel Bowly, on the 18th of February, 1791, leased to Conrad Orendorf a lot of ground on Water Street, in the city of Baltimore, for ninety-nine years, renewable for ever, reserving rent, in the following words: “Yielding and paying therefor, to the said Daniel Bowly, his heirs and assigns, the yearly rent or sum of fifteen pounds, current money of Maryland, payable in English golden guineas, weighing five pennyweights and six grains, at thirty-five shillings each, and other gold and silver at their present established weight and rate, according to Act of Assembly, on the 1st day of January in each and every year during the continuance of this present demise.” On the 1st of January, 1866, Mr. Horwitz was the owner of the rent and reversion, and Mr. Butler of the leasehold interest in the lot. Mr. Butler tendered the amount of the annual rent ($10) then due, in currency, which Mr. Horwitz refused to receive, and brought suit to recover the value of the gold, in currency, on the 1st of January, 1866, which was $58. The Court of Common Pleas gave judgment in favor of Mr. Horwitz for that amount, with interest. The case was brought before the Supreme Court of the United States by writ of error.

J. R. Quinn, for the plaintiff in error.
Benj. F: Forwitz, for the defendant in error.

CHAdE, C.J. — The principles which determined the case of Bronson v. Rodes, will govern our judgment in this case. The record shows a suit for breach of the covenant for payment of rent in a lease of certain premises in the city of Baltimore, made in 1791, for ninety-nine years, renewable for ever, upon an annual rent of £15, current money of Maryland, payable in English golden guineas, weighing five pennyweights sixteen grains, at 35 shillings each, and this gold and silver at their present weight and rate established by Act of Assembly.

[graphic]

The obvious intent of the contract was to secure payment of a certain rent in gold and silver, and thereby avoid the fluctuations to which the currency of the country, in the days which preceded and followed the establishment of our independence, had been subject, and also all future fluctuations incident to arbitrary or uncertain measures of value, whether introduced by law or usage.

It was argued in the court below that the rent due upon the lease, reduced to current gold and silver coin, was, on the 1st of January, 1866, $40, and judgment was rendered on the 27th of June, 1866, for $59.17. This judgment was rendered as the legal result of two propositions :

1st. That the covenant in the lease required the delivery of a certain amount of gold and silver in payment of rent; and

2d. That damages for non-performance must be assessed in the legal-tender currency.

The first of these propositions is, in our judgment, correct; the second is, we think, erroneous. It is not necessary to go at length into the grounds of this conclusion. We will only state briefly the general proposition on which it rests, most of which bas been stated more fully in Bronson v. Rodes.

A contract to pay a certain sum in gold and silver is, in substance and legal effect, a contract to deliver a certain weight of gold and silver, of a certain fineness, to be ascertained by count. Damages for non-payment of such a contract may be recovered at law as for non-performance of a contract to deliver bullion, or any other commodity, but whether the contract be for delivery or payment of coin, or bullion, or other property, damages for non-performance must be assessed in lawful money; that is to say, in money declared to be legal tender in payment, by a law made in pursuance of the Constitution of the United States.

It was not necessary in the case of Bronson v. Rodes, nor is it necessary now, to decide the question whether the acts making United States notes legal tender are warranted by the Constitution. We express no opinion on that point, but assume, for the present, the constitutionality of these acts. Proceeding upon this assumption, we find two descriptions of lawful money in use under the acts of Congress, in either of which damages for non-performance of contracts, whether made before or since the passage of the Currency Acts, may be properly assessed in the absence of any different understanding or agreement between parties; but the obvious intent in contracts for payment in coin, to guard against fluctuations in the medium of payment, warrants the inference that it was the understanding of the parties that such contracts should be satisfied, whether before or after the judgment, only by tender of coin ; while the absence of any express stipulation as to description in contracts for payment of money generally warrants the opposite inference of an understanding between parties that such contracts may be satisfied, before or after judgment, by the tender of any lawful money.

This inference as to contracts made prior to the passage of the acts making United States notes legal tender, is strengthened by the consideration that these acts not only do not prohibit, but by strong implication sanction contracts, since their passage, for the payment or delivery of coin, and, consequently, taken in connection with the pro vision of the Act of 1792, concerning money on account, require the damages upon such contracts to be assessed in coin, and judgment rendered accordingly, leaving the VOL. III.

37

assessment of damages for breach of other contracts to be made and judgment rendered in lawful money.

It would be unreasonable to suppose that the legislature intended a different rule as to contracts prior to the enactment of the Currency Laws, from that sanctioned by them in respect to contracts since. We are of the opinion, therefore, that assessments of damages, whether in coin or in lawful money, severally, and judgments upon such assessments, should be in conformity to the stipulation of contracts in regard to the medium of payments. It follows that in the case before us the judgment was erroneously entered. The damage should be assessed at the sum agreed to be due, with interest, in gold and silver coin, and judgment for that amount, with costs.

The judgment of the Court of Common Pleas must therefore be reversed, and the
Cause remanded for further proceedings.
MILLER,

J., dissented, for reasons given by him in Bronson v. Rodes.
We are indebted for this last case to the Baltimore Law Transcript.

The Supreme Court has also decided that United States certificates of indebtedness and Treasury notes are exempt from State taxation. The Banks v. Mayor, and The Bank v. The Supervisors ; and also that the Legal Tender Act does not prevent a State from collecting its taxes in gold and silver coin, such taxes not being debts within the meaning of the acts. Lane County v. Oregon.

CALIFORNIA. SUPREME Court. Civil Rights Bill. The People v. George Washington. The defendant was indicted for the crime of robbery. The person alleged to have been robbed was a Chinaman named Ah Wang. The indictment was found exclusively upon the testimony of Chinese witnesses, and for that reason counsel for the defendant moved to set it aside. Thereupon, for the purpose of disposing of the whole case, as well as the motion, it was stipulated between the District Attorney and the counsel for the defendant, that the defendant was a mulatto, born within the United States, and not subject to any foreign power; that all the evidence in the case known to the District Attorney was the testimony of Chinese witnesses, who were born without the United States, and within the Chinese Empire. In view of these facts, the indictment was set aside, and the defendant discharged by the court below.

A statute of the State in relation to crimes and punishments, provides that “no Indian or person having one-half of mere Indian blood, or Mongolian, or Chinese, shall be admitted to give evidence in favor of or against any white person.

The Thirteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution provides that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction," and that “Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation;" and the first section of the Act of Congress passed in pursuance thereof, entitled '' An act to protect all persons in the United States in their civil rights, and furnish the means of their vindication," and commonly called the Civil Rights Bill, which provides that “all persons born in the United States, and not subject to any foreign power, excluding

97

« PreviousContinue »