Briscoe v. Commonwealth's Bank of Kentucky
33 U.S. 118 (1834)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Briscoe v. Commonwealth's Bank of Kentucky, 33 U.S. 8 Pet. 118 118 (1834)

Briscoe v. Commonwealth's Bank of Kentucky

33 U.S. (8 Pet.) 118

Syllabus

In cases where constitutional questions are involved, unless four judges of the Court concur in opinion, thus making the decision that of a majority of the whole Court, it is not the practice of the Court to deliver any judgment except in cases of absolute necessity.

Four judges not having concurred in opinion as to the constitutional questions argued in these cases, the Court directed that the cases shall be reargued at the next term.

The Legislature of the State of Kentucky, on 29 November, 1820, incorporated a "Bank of the Commonwealth," the whole capital stock of which, amounting to two millions of dollars, belonged exclusively to the state, and consisted of certain funds, moneys, stocks, &c., enumerated in the act. The bills and notes of this bank were made receivable in all payments for taxes and other demands of the state, the interest arising from loans and discounts, after the payment of expenses, became part of the annual revenue, and the revenue of the state was made part of the capital of the bank. The management of the institution was entrusted to a president and twelve directors, chosen annually by joint ballot of both houses of the general assembly. See the act, 2 Littell & Swigert's Digest of the Stat. Laws of Kentucky, sec. 1, 3, 5, 17, 24, 25, 155, 156, 159, 162, 163.

On 25 December, 1820, the legislature passed another act, making it lawful, when any execution should issue, for the plaintiff to endorse thereon, that notes of the Bank of Kentucky or its branches, or notes of the Bank of the Commonwealth

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or its branches, would be received in payment, whereupon such execution should be collected and replevied agreeably to the laws then in force, allowing three months replevin only. But if any execution issued without such endorsement, such execution was allowed to be stayed two years on giving bond with approved security, &c., 2 Littell & Swigert's Digest 459-500, sec. 1 and 2.

This was an action brought in March, 1831, in the Circuit Court of Mercer Circuit, Kentucky, by the bank so incorporated against George H. Briscoe and others to recover the sum of $2,048.37, the amount of a promissory note given by them to the bank.

The defendants in the court below, the plaintiffs in error, pleaded in substance that the note sued on was given in renewal of another note and that of a preceding one, and that the only consideration given for the original note by the said bank was bills of credit issued by the State of Kentucky through and by means of the said bank, contrary to the Constitution of the United States.

To the pleas of the defendants the plaintiffs demurred, and the circuit court sustained the demurrers and gave judgment against the defendants for the amount of the note, with interest and costs. The defendants appealed, and the Court of Appeals, at May term, 1832, affirmed the judgment of the circuit court.

The Court of Appeals being the highest court of law of the State of Kentucky in which a decision on the case could be had, and there being drawn in question rights attempted to be derived under a law of a state impugned on the ground of its repugnance to the Constitution of the United States, the case has been removed from the Court of Appeals of Kentucky to the Supreme Court of the United States by writ of error pursuant to the provisions of the twenty-fifth section of the Judiciary Act of 1789.

For the plaintiffs in error, three points were insisted on.

1. That the record shows a proper case for the jurisdiction of this Court within the provisions of the twenty-fifth section of the Judiciary Act of 1789.

2. That the act of the Legislature of Kentucky establishing

Page 33 U. S. 120

the Bank of the Commonwealth, is unconstitutional and void; being repugnant to the provision of the Constitution of the United States, which declares that no state shall emit bills of credit.

3. That the Bank of the Commonwealth has no right to recover on the promissory note which is the foundation of this suit, because the consideration was illegal.

The opinion of the Court was given on this and on the following case together.

THE MAYOR, ALDERMEN and COMMONALTY of the CITY OF NEW YORK,

Plaintiffs v. GEORGE MILN

"On a certificate of division in opinion of the judges of the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York."

The plaintiffs instituted an action against the defendant, George Miln, in the circuit court to recover certain penalties and forfeitures alleged to have been incurred by him for a violation of the provisions of an act of the Legislature of the State of New York entitled "an act concerning passengers in vessels coming to the port of New York," passed February 11 in the year of our Lord 1824 by which it was, among other things, enacted that every master or commander of any ship or other vessel arriving at the port of New York from any country out of the United States or from any other of the United States than this state shall, within twenty-four hours after the arrival of such ship or vessel in the said port, make a report in writing on oath or affirmation to the Mayor of the City of New York, or, in case of his sickness or absence, to the recorder of the said city of the name, place of birth, and last legal settlement, age, and occupation of every person who shall have been brought as a passenger in such ship or vessel on her last voyage from

Page 33 U. S. 121

any country out of the United States into the port of New York or any of the United States and from any of the United States other than this state to the City of New York, and of all passengers who shall have landed or been suffered or permitted to land from such ship or vessel at any place during such her last voyage, or have been put on board or suffered or permitted to go on board of any other ship or vessel with the intention of proceeding to the said city, under the penalty on such master or commander, and the owner or owners, consignee, or consignees of such ship or vessel, severally and respectively, of $75 for every person neglected to be reported as aforesaid and for every person whose name, place of birth, and last legal settlement, age, and condition, or either or any of such particulars, shall be falsely reported as aforesaid, to be sued for and recovered as hereinafter provided.

And further that it shall be lawful for the said mayor, or, in case of his sickness or absence, for the said recorder to require, by a short endorsement on the aforesaid report, every such master or commander of any ship or vessel to be bound, with two sufficient sureties (to be approved by the said mayor or recorder) to the mayor, aldermen, and commonalty of the City of New York in such sum as the said mayor or recorder may think proper, not exceeding three hundred dollars for each passenger not being a citizen of the United States, to indemnify and save harmless the said mayor, aldermen and commonalty and the overseers of the poor of the said city and their successors for all and every expense or charge which shall or may be incurred by them for the maintenance and support of every such person and for the maintenance and support of the child or children of any such person which may be born after such importation in case such person or any such child or children shall, at any time within two years from the date of such bond, become chargeable to the said city, and that if any such master or commander shall neglect or refuse to give such bond within three days after such vessel shall have so arrived at the said port of New York, every such master or commander, and the owner or owners, consignee or consignees of such ship or vessel, severally and respectively, shall be subject to a penalty of five hundred dollars for each and every person, not being a citizen of the United States, for whom the mayor or recorder shall determine

Page 33 U. S. 122

that bonds should have been given as aforesaid, to be sued for and recovered as hereinafter provided. And further that all and singular the aforesaid penalties and forfeitures shall and may be sued for and recovered, with full costs of suit, by action of debt, in any court having cognizance thereof in the name of the said mayor, aldermen and commonalty.

To the declaration on this act the defendant entered a demurrer, and the case came on to be argued before the circuit court.

The judges of that court were divided in opinion on the following point, presented on the part of the defendant, and this division was certified to the Supreme Court.

"That the act of the Legislature of the State of New York, mentioned in the plaintiff's declaration, assumes to regulate trade and commerce between the port of New York and foreign ports, and is unconstitutional and void."

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