Nicol v. Ames
173 U.S. 509 (1899)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Nicol v. Ames, 173 U.S. 509 (1899)

Nicol v. Ames

No. 435 and 4 Original argued, and Nos. 625 and 686

submitted, December 18, 1898

Decided April 8, 1899

173 U.S. 509

Syllabus

When an act of Congress is claimed to be unconstitutional, the presumption is in favor of its validity, and it is only when the question is free from any reasonable doubt that this Court should hold an act of the lawmaking power of the nation to be in violation of that fundamental instrument upon which all the powers of the government rest.

The tax authorized by the Act of June 13, 1898, by the board of trade or exchanges upon the sale of property is not a direct tax, nor a tax upon the business itself which is so transacted, but is a duty upon the facilities made use of and actually employed in the transaction of the business, separate and apart from the business itself, and is a constitutional exercise of the powers of taxation granted to Congress.

A sale at an exchange forms a proper basis for a classification which excludes all sales made elsewhere from taxation.

The means actually adopted by Congress in the act in question do not illegally interfere with or obstruct the internal commerce of the states, and are not a restraint upon that commerce so far as to render illegal the means adopted.

There is no difference, for the purposes of this decision, between the Union Stock Yards and an exchange or board of trade.

Page 173 U. S. 510

These cases involve the validity and construction of some of the provisions of section 6, and a portion of Schedule A, therein referred to, of the Act of Congress approved June 13, 1898, c. 448, 30 Stat., entitled "An act to provide ways and means to meet war expenditures, and for other purposes," commonly spoken of as the "War Revenue Act." The cases come before the Court in this way:

No. 435 is an appeal to this Court from an order made by the Circuit Court of the United States for the Northern District of Illinois discharging a writ of habeas corpus and remanding the petitioner to the custody of the marshal. The petition to the circuit court for the writ alleged that the petitioner, Nicol, had been convicted in the United States Court for the Northern District of Illinois upon an information, duly filed, charging him with selling at the Chicago Board of Trade, and at its rooms, two carloads of oats

"without then and there making and delivering to the buyer any bill, memorandum, agreement, or other evidence of said sale, showing the date thereof, the name of the seller, the amount of the same, and the matter or thing to which it referred, as required by the act of Congress"

above mentioned. He was sentenced to pay a fine and to be imprisoned until paid. He refused to pay, and was taken into custody by the marshal. That part of the act referring to the making and delivering of a bill or memorandum, etc., the petitioner claimed was unconstitutional. The circuit court, after argument, held the law valid, and the conviction legal. 89 F. 144.

No. 4 is an application to this Court for leave to file a petition for a writ of habeas corpus to bring before the court the petitioner, George R. Nichols, and for a rule requiring the Marshal for the Northern District of Illinois, in whose custody the petitioner is, to show cause why the writ should not issue. The petition states that Nichols was convicted and sentenced, under the act of Congress above mentioned upon an information filed in the District Court of the United States for the Northern District of Illinois for selling at the Chicago Board of Trade, of which he was then a member, for immediate delivery, to one Roloson, also a member of such board,

Page 173 U. S. 511

ten tierces, or three thousand pounds, of hams, then in Chicago at a price named, amounting to $195, and on the sale unlawfully making and delivering to Roloson a bill and memorandum of the sale showing the date thereof, the name of the seller, the amount of the same, and the matters and things to which it referred without having the proper stamps affixed to said bill or memorandum denoting the internal revenue accruing upon said sale, bill, or memorandum, as required by law, but, on the contrary, unlawfully refusing and neglecting to affix any such stamps to said bill or memorandum. Upon the trial, the jury rendered a verdict finding the petitioner guilty as charged in the information, and the court sentenced him to pay a fine of $500, and to be committed to the county jail until such fine and costs should be paid. The petitioner refused to pay the fine, and an order of commitment was made out and placed in the hands of the marshal, who arrested the petitioner, and he is now in the custody of the marshal. The petitioner upon the trial claimed that the act in regard to the matters named in the information was unconstitutional, and therefore no offense was charged in the information, that the court had no jurisdiction to try him, and that his conviction and subsequent arrest and detention were wholly without jurisdiction. The petitioner gives as a reason for his application to this Court for the writ of habeas corpus that one James Nicol (the appellant in No. 435) had been convicted of substantially the same offense in the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, and that he had made application for a writ of habeas corpus to the circuit court held in that district, which court, after a hearing upon the writ, decided against Nicol and in favor of the constitutionality of the act of Congress herein questioned, and the petitioner herein alleges that it would be a vain act to apply for a writ of habeas corpus to the same circuit court which had already, after a hearing, decided the question in a way unfavorable to the claims of the petitioner herein.

No. 625 is also an appeal to this Court from an order of the Circuit Court of the United States for the Northern District of Illinois discharging a writ of habeas corpus, and remanding

Page 173 U. S. 512

the petitioner, Skillen, to the custody of the marshal. The petitioner was convicted upon an information of the same nature as is above set forth in No. 435 excepting that the information in this case alleged that the contract was for future delivery of 5,000 bushels of corn, and that Skillen unlawfully failed and refused to make and deliver to the buyer any bill or memorandum as required by the act. The petitioner was convicted upon a trial had upon such information, and the court imposed upon him a fine in the sum of $500, besides costs, and directed that he should be committed to the county jail until such fine and costs were paid. The same proceedings were then taken as are set forth in No. 435.

No. 636 is a writ of error to the District Court of the United States for the Northern District of Illinois to review a conviction of the plaintiff in error upon an information charging him with making a sale of certain cattle at the Union Stock Yards, Chicago, and delivering the same, without making any written memorandum, etc., as required by the act of Congress. The information also charged, in a second count, a sale at the same place of certain livestock, and a delivery of a memorandum of the kind mentioned in the act of Congress, and a failure and refusal to affix the stamps as provided for in such act. Upon the trial, a nolle prosequi was duly entered upon the first count. The plaintiff in error claims that the act of Congress is unconstitutional on the same grounds mentioned in the other cases, and sets up as a special and separate defense that a sale at the stockyards is not included in the act of Congress, as it is not an "exchange or board of trade or other similar place" within the meaning of that act.

Page 173 U. S. 513

Official Supreme Court caselaw is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia caselaw is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.