Thompson v. Bowie
71 U.S. 463 (1866)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Thompson v. Bowie, 71 U.S. 4 Wall. 463 463 (1866)

Thompson v. Bowie

71 U.S. (4 Wall.) 463

Syllabus

On an issue as to whether certain promissory notes, dated on a particular day, were given for money lost at play and therefore void, it is not allowable to prove that the party giving them was intoxicated on the day of the date of the notes in suit, and that when intoxicated he had a propensity to game.

Thompson sued Bowie, in the Supreme Court for the District of Columbia, on three promissory notes for $1,000, all dated on the 1st January, 1857, and all drawn payable to and endorsed by one Steer.

The defense was that the notes were given for a gaming consideration, and were, therefore, void even in the hands of a bona fide holder, under the statute of 9 Anne, ch. 14, § 1, in force in the district, [Footnote 1] which statute makes such notes "utterly void, frustrate, and of none effect, to all intents and purposes whatsoever."

The defendant did not offer any direct evidence tending to establish the defense; but resorted to and relied on proof of a circumstantial sort, or such as he so regarded. It consisted of the following facts, tending to prove which the court below allowed evidence to be given.

1st. That Steer, the payee of the notes, was the keeper of a gambling house in Washington City at the date of the notes.

2d. That at the time of the making of the notes, Steer

Page 71 U. S. 464

was not engaged in any other business than gambling, nor was he the owner of any property.

3d. That another note of the defendant, of the same date (January 1, 1857), as those sued on, of the same amount ($1,000), as those sued on, was given, payable to the order of one Campbell, who was not only a frequenter of the gaming house of Steer, but also in his employment as a dealer of faro.

4th. That the body of all four of said notes was in the handwriting of one J. R. James, who was a professional gambler, and a frequenter, among other such places, of the gambling house of the said Steer.

5th. That on the night of the 31st of December, 1856 (New Year's eve), the defendant, being at a social entertainment, became greatly intoxicated -- so much so that he was unfit to transact any business; and that he was in that condition when with the witnesses he left the place of the entertainment, between one and two o'clock in the morning of the 1st of January, 1857, and was no more seen by them that day.

6th. That whenever the defendant was under the influence or excitement of wine or spirits, he had a propensity to gamble, and was in the habit of going into gambling houses, faro banks &c., and there gambling, but not at other times; that in the knowledge of the witness, he was always in this condition when he frequented such places; that the witness was a great deal with the defendant during the sessions of Congress; that he was in the witness' room almost every night, and frequently, when in liquor, would leave the witness to go with his friends to gambling houses, and request the witness to go with him.

7th. That at the date of the notes the defendant was wealthy.

On this testimony, and without the plaintiff endeavoring to rebut this case, or to show in what manner he obtained possession of the notes, the case was given to the jury, who rendered a verdict in favor of the defendant.

On error here, one question among others, and the chief

Page 71 U. S. 465

question, was as to the admissibility of the evidence tending to show that when the defendant was under the excitement of ardent spirits he had a propensity to game, was in the habit of going into gaming houses &c., and of there gaming, but not at other times; and that, in the knowledge of the witness, he was always in this condition when he frequented such places.

Page 71 U. S. 470

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