United States v. Wilkins
19 U.S. 135 (1821)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Wilkins, 19 U.S. 135 (1821)

United States v. Wilkins

19 U.S. 135

Syllabus

Where, in a contract with the Secretary of War for supplying the troops of the United States with provisions, specific prices are stipulated for rations issued at certain places mentioned in the contract, and it is further provided that "should any rations be required at any places not specified in this contract, the price of the same shall be hereafter agreed on betwixt the public and the contractor;" if the parties cannot agree upon the price for the rations thus required, a reasonable compensation is to be allowed, and is to be proved by competent evidence and settled by a jury, and the contractor, upon the trial, is at liberty to show that the sum allowed by the Secretary of War is not a reasonable compensation.

Under the third and fourth sections of the Act of 3 March, 1797, ch. 74, the defendant is entitled at the trial to the full benefit of any credit in his favor, whether arising out of the particular transaction for which he was sued or out of distinct and independent transactions, which would constitute a legal or equitable setoff, in whole or in part, of the debt sued for by the United States.

This was an action of debt brought in the District Court of Kentucky against the defendant, a former contractor for supplying the troops of the United

Page 19 U. S. 136

States with provisions. The defendant pleaded nil debet. The attorney of the United States, to support the issue on the part of the United States, produced a certain account marked A. The counsel for the defendant, to support the issue on his part, produced the contract marked B.; also a paper marked C. and an account for contingent claims, marked D. By the contract entered into between the defendant and the Secretary of War on 3 July, 1801, it was among other things agreed that the contractor should receive

"for every complete ration issued at the Chickasaw Bluffs at Nashville, at Bear Creek, on the Tennessee, or at any other place on the road between Nashville and Bear Creek, fourteen cents,"

and

"for every complete ration issued at any place in the Chickasaw or Chocktaw country on the road between Bear Creek and Natchez, eighteen cents and one-half cent,"

and that

"should any rations be required at any places or within any other districts not specified in this contract, the price of the same shall be hereafter agreed on betwixt the public and the contractor."

It appeared from the evidence that at the time the contract was entered into, the road from Nashville to Natchez crossed the Tennessee River at the mouth of Bear Creek, which empties into the Tennessee River on the southwest side. That after the date of the contract, a new road from Nashville to Natchez, passing through the Chickasaw and Chocktaw country, was cut out by the United States troops which crossed the Tennessee River about twelve or fourteen miles above the mouth of Bear Creek, and

Page 19 U. S. 137

about ten miles further from Nashville. That during the continuance of the contract, a cantonment was established on the southwest side of the Tennessee River at the crossing point of the new road and in the Chickasaw country. That the rations on which the two first deductions were made in the paper marked C. were issued at this cantonment, and on the new road as far as Bear Creek. That supplying rations at the cantonment and on the road as aforesaid, was more expensive to the contractor than it would have been at the mouth of Bear Creek. That Fort Deposit is situated on the road from Natchez to Nashville on the northeast side of the Bayou Piere, about half a mile above the Grindstone Ford. That when the contract was entered into, the Bayou Piere was considered the Chocktaw boundary, but at the treaty afterwards held at Fort Adams it was discovered that an old boundary line existed between the Chocktaw Indians and the French twenty miles in advance from the Grindstone Ford, and this line was adopted in the treaty. That at this post the rations were deposited, on which the third deduction was made in the paper, marked C.

On the trial of this cause, the following questions occurred:

1. Whether, under the contract marked B., the defendant was entitled to the sums, or either of them, disallowed in the papers C. and D., which had been presented to the proper officers and by them disallowed.

2. If the defendant be not entitled to the amount

Page 19 U. S. 138

claimed in the first, second, and third items or either of them in the paper marked C., on the ground that the place at which the rations were delivered is not specially provided for in the contract, has he a right to show that the sum allowed by the Secretary of War for those rations is not a reasonable compensation?

3. Upon such proof, is the defendant entitled to a reasonable compensation for those rations to be ascertained by the jury?

4. If the defendant be entitled to any of the above sums, can he be permitted to claim a credit for them in this suit?

The opinions of the judges of the circuit court being opposed upon these questions, they were ordered to be certified to this Court according to the act of Congress.

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