Jones v. United States
48 U.S. 681 (1849)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Jones v. United States, 48 U.S. 7 How. 681 681 (1849)

Jones v. United States

48 U.S. (7 How.) 681

Syllabus

Where a running account is kept at the Post Office Department between the United States and a postmaster in which all postages are charged to him, and credit is given for all payments made, this amounts to an election by the creditor to apply the payments, as they are successively made to the extinguishment of preceding balances.

This the creditor has a right to do in the absence of instructions from the debtor.

The English decisions and those of this Court examined.

The Act of Congress of 1825, 4 Stat. 102, which exonerates the sureties if balances are not sued for within two years after they occur, does not apply to this case because, by this mode of keeping the account, the balance due from the postmaster is thrown upon the last quarter.

This was a suit brought by the United States upon a postmaster's bond against Walter F. Jones (the postmaster at Norfolk, in Virginia) and Thomas Ap Catesby Jones and Duncan

Page 48 U. S. 682

Robertson, his sureties. Judgment went by default against the postmaster and Robertson.

The act of Congress upon which the defense rested was the following, viz.:

The act of 3 March, 1825, 4 Stat. 102, is entitled "An act to reduce into one the several acts for establishing and regulating the Post Office Department," and in its third section enacts

"That it shall be the duty of the Postmaster General, upon the appointment of any postmaster, to require and take of such postmaster bond, with good and approved security, in such penalty as he may judge sufficient, conditioned for the faithful discharge of all the duties of such postmaster required by law, or which may be required by any instruction or general rule for the government of the department, provided however that if default shall be made by the postmaster aforesaid at any time and the Postmaster General shall fail to institute suit against such postmaster and said sureties for two years from and after such default shall be made, then and in that case the said sureties shall not be liable to the United States, nor shall suit be instituted against them."

Jones was postmaster from 1830 to August, 1839, during which time a running account was kept up with him at the Post Office Department, with only one rest -- namely in August, 1836, when the account was added up and a balance transferred to a new account. The following is the debit side of the account.

To balance transferred from old account . . . . $ 345.50

To balances due the United States on his

quarterly returns as postmaster, viz.:

From July 1 to Sept. 30, 1836 . . . . . . . . . 2,073.77

" Oct. 1 " Dec. 31, " . . . . . . . . . 2,488.16

" Jan. 1 " March 31, 1837 . . . . . . . . . 2,746.04

" April 1 " June 30, " . . . . . . . . . 2,634.93

" July 1 " Sept. 30, " . . . . . . . . . 2,187.79

" Oct. 1 " Dec. 31, " . . . . . . . . . 2,298.13

" Jan. 1 " March 31, 1838 . . . . . . . . . 2,450.65

" April 1 " June 30, " . . . . . . . . . 2,422.47

" July 1 " Sept. 30, " . . . . . . . . . 2,233.48

" Oct. 1 " Dec. 31, " . . . . . . . . . 2,618.26

" Jan. 1 " March 31, 1839 . . . . . . . . . 2,829.60

" April 1 " April 3, " . . . . . . . . . 53.11

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$27,381.89

==========

To balance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5,515 89

==========

To interest from August, 1839, to

Page 48 U. S. 683

The credit side of the account ran on continuously as in the following, which is the conclusion of the account:

1838

By amount brought over . . . . $18,198.64

Dec. 4, By draft No. 8448. . . . 62.54

" 4, " " " 8452. . . . 42.94

" 4, " " " 8455. . . . 77.19

" 4, " " " 8465. . . . 98.57

" 15, " " " 8745. . . . 50.26

" 15, " " " 8746. . . . 43.64

" 17, " " " 8768. . . . 132.79

" 31, " " " 8967. . . . 88.52

" 31, " " " 8968. . . . 206.48

1839

Jan. 19, " " " 9100. . . . 45.00

Feb. 19, " " " 9792. . . . 750.00

" 20, " " " 9801. . . . 863.29

March 13, " " " 271. . . . 46.04

" 13, " " " 274. . . . 38.56

Aug. 31, cash . . . . . . . . . . 1,121.54

Balance . . . . . . . . . . . 5,515.89

----------

$27,381.89

The substance of the pleadings in the court below and the prayers of the respective counsel are given in the opinion of this Court, and need not be here repeated.

Page 48 U. S. 684

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