United States v. Peck - 102 U.S. 64 (1880)
U.S. Supreme Court
United States v. Peck, 102 U.S. 64 (1880)
United States v. Peck
102 U.S. 64
1. Parol evidence of the surrounding circumstances is admissible to show the subject matter of a contract.
2. The conduct of one party to a contract which prevents the other from per forming his part is an excuse for nonperformance.
Peck, the claimant, entered into a contract with the proper military officer to furnish and deliver a certain quantity of wood and hay to the military station at Tongue River, in the Yellowstone region, on or before a specified day. He furnished the wood, but failed to furnish the hay, which was furnished by other parties at an increased expense. The accounting officers of the government claimed the right to deduct from the claimant's wood account the increased cost of the hay. Whether this could lawfully be done was the principal question in the cause.
The court, upon an examination of the contract and of the surrounding circumstances of the case, were of opinion that the contracting parties, in stipulating relating to hay, contemplated hay to be cut in the Yellowstone Valley, and specially at the Big Meadows near the mouth of Tongue River -- which was, indeed, the only hay which the claimant could have procured within hundreds of miles, and which it was known he relied on. The government officers, fearing that the claimant would not be able to carry out his contract, and it being absolutely necessary that the hay should be had, allowed other parties to cut the hay at Big Meadows, and therewith to supply the Tongue River station. The claimant complained of the double injury: first, of giving the hay which he relied on to other parties, and secondly, of charging him for the increased expense of getting it. The question was whether the surrounding circumstances could be taken into consideration in the claimant's excuse, although the contract made no mention of the source from which he was to procure the hay to be supplied by him to the government.