Blake v. United States
103 U.S. 227

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U.S. Supreme Court

Blake v. United States, 103 U.S. 227 (1880)

Blake v. United States

103 U.S. 227

Syllabus

1. The President has the power to supersede or remove an officer of the army or the navy by the appointment, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, of his successor.

2. It was not the purpose of the fifth section of the Act of July 13, 1806, c. 176, 12 Stat. 92, to withdraw that power.

This suit was instituted in the Court of Claims by Blake to recover the amount claimed to be due him by way of salary as a post chaplain in the army from April 28, 1869, to May 14, 1878.

The court below found that under date of Dec. 24, 1868, Blake, a post chaplain in the army stationed at Camp McDowell, Arizona, addressed to the Secretary of War a communication in which he complained of unjust treatment to which, during several years, he had been subjected by various officers. He asked for the fullest and most thorough investigation of the facts, and concluded:

"But if this cannot be done, then I wish to tender to the Honorable the Secretary of War my resignation as a chaplain of the army and to lay the facts, which I have for years been accumulating with the greatest care, before the church and the country at large."

After this letter came to the hands of the post commandant, his attention was called to the mental condition of Blake, and it was suggested that the latter was not responsible for his act in writing the letter. It was therefore retained until Dec. 31, 1868, when it was forwarded by the commandant with an endorsement recommending the acceptance of the resignation and saying, among other things, that "the tenor of this and other communications forwarded will, no doubt, convince the department commander of his utter uselessness in the position he holds."

The letter of Dec. 24, 1868, was forwarded through the district and department headquarters, and finally through the headquarters of the military division of the Pacific to the Secretary of War, by whom it was transmitted to the President, who accepted the resignation, to take effect March 17, 1869. Each of the commanding officers through whose office

Page 103 U. S. 228

the letter passed recommended the acceptance of the resignation.

On March 28, 1869, Blake telegraphed to the delegate in Congress from Arizona, stating that he did not intend to resign; and that if his letter was construed as a resignation, to withdraw it immediately. When the Secretary of War was informed of the telegram, he stated that the resignation had been accepted and was beyond recall.

Blake, having received official notice of such acceptance, addressed the following letter to the Secretary of War:

"NAPA CITY, CAL., April 27, 1869"

"Hon. JOHN A. RAWLINS"

"Secretary of War, Washington, D.C.:"

"DEAR SIR -- To my great surprise I was yesterday informed, thro' H'd Q'rs Dep't of California, that my 'resignation' as post chaplain, U.S. Army, 'had been accepted by the President, . . . to take effect March 17, 1869.'"

"As I am not aware of having at any time resigned my commission, and as I am now in a state of feeble health, caused by efficient services in the line of duty in 1863, 1864, and since, I beg that the favorable reconsideration of the President may be given to my case and that I may be ordered before a retiring board for examination, and to duty if fit for it."

"Justice to the service, no less than to myself and family, after eight years of devoted labors, will not permit me to be silent in view of the wrongs done me at Camp McDowell, A.T., and I am confident that you will not allow me to suffer wrongfully."

"I have the honor to remain, with great respect, your ob'd't servant,"

"(Signed) CHARLES M. BLAKE"

"(Late) Post Chaplain, U.S.A."

This letter was referred to the adjutant general, who returned it with this endorsement:

"Respectfully returned to the Secretary of War with the paper on which the resignation of Chaplain Blake was accepted. Chaplain Blake appears not to be of sane mind."

"E. D. TOWNSEND, Adjt.-Genl."

On July 7, 1870, the President nominated to the Senate six persons to be post chaplains in the army, to rank from July 2,

Page 103 U. S. 229

1870; among them was that of "Alexander Gilmore, of New Jersey, vice Blake, resigned." Gilmore's nomination was confirmed July 12, 1870, and on the 14th of that month he was commissioned as post chaplain, to rank as such from July 2, 1870. He has since regularly received his salary and performed his duties as such post chaplain.

The court further found that for some time prior to and on Dec. 24, 1868, Blake had been suffering from physical disease and mental prostration; that in the light of subsequent events, "there can be no doubt he was then insane;" that he was at times irritable and incoherent, manifesting egotism and suspicion of his superiors; that not until after the above date were these symptoms developed to such an extent as necessarily to induce persons who came in contact with him to believe he was mentally incapable of acting with sound reasoning purpose; also that at the date of the telegram to the delegate from Arizona, he was "totally unqualified for business," and at the date of the letter of April 27, 1869, "he was not of sound mind."

It also found that the insanity of Blake continued until about the year 1874.

On Sept. 28, 1878, the President made the following order:

"EXECUTIVE MANSION, Sept. 28, 1878"

"It appearing from the evidence and from the reports of the surgeon-general of the army and the superintendent of the government hospital for the insane that Chaplain Blake was insane at the time he tendered his resignation, it is held that said resignation was and is void, and the acceptance thereof is set aside. Chaplain Blake will be ordered to duty, and paid from the date of the resignation of post chaplain Preston Nash, to-wit, May 14, 1878, by which resignation a vacancy was created which has not been filled. The claim of Chaplain Blake for pay from the date of his resignation to May 14, 1878, during which his successor held the office, discharged its duties, and received pay, is not decided, but is left for the decision of the court, where it is understood to be now pending."

"R. B. HAYES"

Oct. 2, 1878, the following order was issued by direction of the General of the Army:

Page 103 U. S. 230

"HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY"

"ADJUTANT-GENERAL'S OFFICE"

"WASHINGTON, Oct. 2, 1878"

"1. It appearing from the evidence presented and from the reports of the Surgeon-General of the Army and the superintendent of the government hospital for the insane that Post-Chaplain Charles M. Blake, U.S. Army, was insane at the time he tendered his resignation, December 24, 1868, said resignation is, by direction of the President, declared void, and the acceptance of the same in letter from this office, dated March 17, 1869, as announced in Special Orders No. 62, March 17, 1869, from this office, is set aside."

"Chaplain Blake is restored to the list of post chaplains of the army with his original date of rank, and with pay from May 14, 1878, since which date a vacancy in that grade has existed. He will report in person to the commanding officer, department of Arizona, for assignment to duty."

"* * * *"

"By command of General Sherman."

"(Signed) E. D. TOWNSEND, Adjutant-General"

The court below dismissed the petition, whereupon Blake appealed to this court.

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