Meade v. United States
76 U.S. 691 (1869)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Meade v. United States, 76 U.S. 9 Wall. 691 691 (1869)

Meade v. United States

76 U.S. (9 Wall.) 691

Syllabus

l. The claims of American citizens against Spain, for which by the convention (subsequently becoming the treaty) of February 22, 1819, the United States undertook to make satisfaction to an amount not exceeding $5,000,000 were such claims as, at the date of the convention, were unliquidated, and statements of which had been presented to the Department of State or to the minister of the United States. And within this class, on the said 22d of February, were the claims of the late Richard W. Meade. And this was the only class that the commissioners appointed subsequently, on the ratification of the treaty, to pass upon claims had power to pass upon.

2. The convention, as signed February 22, 1819, subject to ratification within six months, though it was not ratified within the time stipulated, was never abandoned, though some expressions in the notification of August 21, 1819, by the United States to Spain (notifying to that government that after the next day, "as the ratifications of the convention will not have been exchanged," all the claims and pretensions of the United States will stand in the same situation as if that convention had never been made) indicated that the United States might be induced to refuse to carry it into effect.

3. This notification did not, by the nonratification within the six months, make revocable the power which citizens of the United States, by filing their claims with it, had given their government to make reclamations against Spain in their behalf, nor did Mr. Meade in point of fact revoke the power which he had so given his government.

4. Mr. Meade having subsequently to the appointment of commissioners presented to them his claims not in an unliquidated form, but in the shape of a debt acknowledged by Spain in a judgment against it given by a royal junta or special judicial tribunal of that country, made after the above-mentioned notification by the United States, the commissioners properly rejected the claims as thus made. They did not reject his claims in their unliquidated form and as filed previously to the convention in the Department of State and with the American minister.

5. The fact that before the said commission rejected the claim of Mr. Meade in the form in which he had presented it -- the form, namely, of an award or judgment by a Spanish tribunal for a sum certain -- he requested the government of the United States to procure from the Spanish government his original vouchers and evidences of debt, under a clause of the treaty which obliged the Spanish government to furnish, at the instance of the said commissioners, all such documents and elucidations as might be in their possession for the adjustment of the unliquidated claims provided for by the treaty does not, even assuming that it shows that he meant to present his claims in an unliquidated form, show any cause of action against the United States over which the Court of Claims could exercise jurisdiction.

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6. The award of the tribunal of the Spanish government in favor of Mr. Meade, made on the 19th May, 1820, was not, in that form, included by the 5th article of the convention of February 22, 1819, renouncing certain unliquidated claims then existing.

7. There having been no evidence in a finding of the Court of Claims that an assurance, which that court found as matter of fact had been given by the minister of the United States at the court of Madrid to the government of Spain that a debt due by the last-named government to Mr. Meade would certainly be paid if a treaty whose ratification had been suspended was ratified, and which treaty was afterwards ratified, was given in pursuance of any instructions from the President or by virtue of any authority from the United States, the said assurance is to be regarded as having been given without authority, and therefore to be held void.

8. This Court does not agree with the Court of Claims in its opinion that, on the facts found by it, the United States, by the acceptance of the Treaty of Spain of February 22, 1819, and the cession of the Floridas, unencumbered by certain private grants, to a recognition of which as valid our government had objected, appropriated the property of Mr. Meade, and that he acquired a good claim against them for $373,879.88, for which they were not liable legally and judicially except by and through the investigation, allowance, and award of the commissioners appointed under the treaty. But they do agree with that court in the opinion that the decision of the commissioners dismissing the claim in the form in which it was presented to them barred a recovery in the Court of Claims on merits. And that the joint resolution of Congress of July 25, 1866, referring the case back to the Court of Claims after it had been once decided adversely to the claimant, was not a waiver of the bar, and did not allow that court to consider it upon merits irrespectively of the dismissal by the commissioners.

9. This Court, in conclusion, expresses its regret that entitled as Mr. Meade clearly was to prove his unliquidated claims before the commissioners, he did not do so, and they observe that now the only remedy of his representatives is by "an appeal to the equity of Congress."

Richard W. Meade, of Philadelphia, a native-born citizen of the United States, went to Spain towards the beginning of this century and became engaged extensively in commerce with that country. He was there during the invasion of the French under Napoleon, and continued to reside there until the year 1821. While so resident, he entered into numerous contracts with the Spanish government after the year 1802 and before the year 1819 which involved large

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amounts of money, and his resources contributed to the support of that government during its contests with the French. By this means, Spain became largely his debtor. After the restoration of the King of Spain to the throne, Mr. Meade was seized and imprisoned by order of the government, confined for a long period of time, and finally released only by reason of the active interposition of the government of the United States in his behalf. About the time of his release, our government and Spain were in negotiations in regard to claims which citizens of the United States were making upon Spain for wrongs done to them, in which negotiations a cession of the region known as the Floridas to the United States had been proposed. And on the 6th June, 1818, Mr. Meade, being then in Spain, addressed a letter to Mr. Adams, our then Secretary of State, informing him of a hint which he had received that his just claims against the government of Spain, and such further sum as he might advance, might be satisfied by a cession of lands in that region, and desiring to know whether this would interfere with the designs of the United States. In reply to this letter, he was informed that no such cession would be recognized if made after a certain date, to be fixed by the contracting parties. Mr. Meade thereupon abandoned the idea of getting satisfaction of his claim by a grant of land, and there being now a prospect that a treaty would be made in which all claims, including his own, would be provided for, he submitted, January 17, 1819, the claim to the Department of State "for that protection which his government might think proper to grant." The claim, as sent by Mr. Meade to the United States, showed an aggregate of near $400,000.

On the 22d of February, 1819, a treaty was signed [Footnote 1] between the United States and Spain by which the Floridas were agreed to be ceded to the United States, we contracting that all grants made therein by Spain before January 24th, 1818 (the date when the proposal for cession was made) should be

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confirmed to the persons in the possession, and both parties agreeing that all grants made subsequently to that date should be void. By the 9th article, the two governments reciprocally renounced.

"All claims for damages or injuries which they themselves, as well as their respective citizens and subjects, may have suffered until the time of signing this treaty."

In the same article (one which brought Mr. Meade's notices within the treaty) it was specified (Specification 5) that this renunciation extended

"To all claims of citizens of the United States upon the Spanish government, statements of which, soliciting the interposition of the government of the United States, have been presented to the Department of State or to the minister of the United States in Spain since the date of the convention of 1802 and until the signature of this treaty."

The 11th article of the treaty opened as follows:

"The United States, exonerating Spain from all demands in future on account of the claims of their citizens to which the renunciations herein contained extend, and considering them entirely cancelled, undertake to make satisfaction for the same to an amount not exceeding five millions of dollars."

It was agreed that there should be a commission "to ascertain the full amount and validity of those claims;" such commission to "hear, examine, and decide upon the same within three years from the time of their first meeting." And it was agreed further that

"the Spanish government shall furnish all such documents and elucidations as may be in their possession for the adjustment of the said claims, the said documents to be specified, when demanded, at the instance of said commissioners."

The final ratification of this treaty was limited by its terms to the 22d of August, 1819.

On the 10th of March, 1819, after the treaty had been ratified by the United States, but before it was ratified by

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Spain, the government of the United States notified to the government of Spain that the article in the treaty which provided that all grants of lands made by Spain in the Floridas after the 24th of January, 1818, should be declared null and void,

"had been agreed to on the part of the United States, with a clear understanding that it included certain grants alleged to have been made, in the course of the preceding winter, by the King to the Duke of Alagon, the Count Rostro, and a certain Mr. Vargas,"

and that the exchange of ratifications must be "with a full and clear understanding" that these were "among the grants thus declared null and void." In point of fact, the grants which the United States insisted were by the treaty declared null and void had been made prior to the 24th day of January, 1818 (the date when the cession was proposed). And upon the notification given by our government, the government of Spain refused to exchange ratifications, alleging that such declaration or understanding, with regard to the intent and meaning of the treaty, would "annul one of its most clear, precise, and conclusive articles." And that government continued to refuse to ratify the treaty until the 22d of August (the limit of time provided for the ratification) had passed.

On the 21st of August, 1819, the United States notified to Spain that

"after the 22d day of the present month, as the ratifications of the convention of the 22d of February will not have been exchanged, all the claims and pretensions of the United States, which, with the spirit of moderation, the love of peace, and the delusive expectation that all causes of difference and dispute with Spain would be thereby adjusted and settled, that consented to modify or waive, will stand in the same situation as if that convention had never been made."

After the notices above mentioned had been given by the United States to Spain, and after the time for exchanging ratifications of the treaty of 22d of February, 1819, had expired, Mr. Meade proceeded to prosecute his several claims before a royal junta of Spain, [Footnote 2] which had been appointed to

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hear and determine his claims by the government of Spain, at the solicitation and with the approval of the government of the United States, expressed before the signing of the treaty of 22d of February, 1819. While the ratifications of the treaty were held in abeyance as already stated, Mr. Meade refrained from prosecuting his claims before this junta; but after the notices given by the United States to Spain, to-wit, on the 31st of August, 1819, and at various times thereafter, he appeared before the junta and produced, under and in presence of a decision thereof, all his original documents, vouchers, and evidences of debt, and also evidence as to his alleged personal injuries. And on the 19th day of May, 1820, the junta, with the approval of the King of Spain, made a decree by which it was adjudged that the government of Spain was indebted to him upon his claims and accounts, and for interest on them down to the time of the award, and for his personal injuries, in a sum in gross, given in Spanish money, and equivalent, in the currency of the United States, to $373,879.88. The King of Spain at the same time approved, transmitted, and delivered to Mr. Meade the formal certificate or evidence of such award, which was, by the laws and customs of Spain, final and conclusive upon the respective parties, and possessed all the solemnity and verity of a judgment, and the record thereof, in courts of the common law. Mr. Meade was, however, at the same time, by the junta, required to, and did surrender to the government of Spain all his original documents, vouchers, and evidences of debt establishing his claims. These were received by the Spanish government, "cancelled," and carried, in its fiscal department, to the various accounts to which they respectively belonged, and were considered and treated by that government as forever discharged and merged. They were never restored to Mr. Meade, nor to his representatives. Immediately after the decree was rendered, the government of Spain and Mr. Meade each duly notified it to the government of the United States, which government raised no objection to it, but, on the contrary, expressed its approval to both the government of Spain and to Mr. Meade.

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In addition to what immediately precedes (the first four findings, in substance, of the Court of Claims), that court went on to find, in terms, as follows:

"Fifth. -- After the award rendered by the junta, to-wit, in August, 1820, the government of Spain resumed the consideration of the treaty of 22d February, 1819, and of the demand made by the United States, that the three certain private grants of lands in the Floridas, made by Spain to her own citizens, not included in the terms of the treaty, should be annulled. And the Cortes of Spain, in which body was vested the sole constitutional power to annul such private grants or cessions, refused to annul the same until the United States should agree to pay and discharge in full the indebtedness of Spain to the said Meade, upon the award of the royal junta. And thereupon the United States, by their minister at the Court of Madrid, gave to Spain"

"a clear and distinct assurance that the debt due to Richard W. Meade would certainly be paid to him by the United States if the treaty were ratified by the Spanish government, and the cessions (to the Duke of Alagon, and the Count Rastro, and Mr. Vargas) totally annulled."

"And upon the faith of these assurances the Spanish government annulled such three private cessions, and duly ratified the said treaty, whereby the Floridas, free of and unencumbered by these private grants, passed to the United States. And the said Meade duly notified the government of the United States of the assurances given by their minister, and that the Spanish government had acted upon the faith thereof when annulling the private grants and ratifying the treaty, which notice was duly received by the President, and by him transmitted to the Senate while that body was considering the acceptance or re-ratification of the treaty. And the United States, with full notice and knowledge of all the facts and circumstances set forth in this finding, did, on the 19th of February, 1821, accept and assent to the treaty as ratified by Spain, and became seized and possessed of the Floridas thereby."

"Sixth. -- And the said Meade, at the time the acceptance of the treaty, as ratified by Spain, was under consideration in the Senate, notified the United States that the award of the royal junta was a good and valid certificate or evidence of indebtedness, and that he protested against the same's being appropriated by the United States unless express provision should at the

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same time be made for the full payment thereof by them exclusive of any provision which might be made for American claimants, by the terms of the treaty. And he also requested that such award held by him be expressly excepted and excluded from any operation of the treaty, and that he be allowed to seek the payment thereof from Spain. But the United States, on the contrary, against the will and consent of said Meade, did take and appropriate such indebtedness of the Spanish government, and did relinquish the same to Spain and discharge and release Spain from the payment thereof. And such claim, demand, or award belonging to the said Meade, so taken and appropriated, constituted and was in fact a part of the consideration paid by the United States to Spain for the cession of the Floridas, and the sole consideration paid to Spain by the United States for an annulment of the three private grants."

The treaty being thus finally ratified, commissioners were appointed in accordance with its terms. The findings of the Court of Claims give the subsequent history of the case thus:

"Seventh. -- The said Meade, after the taking or appropriation of his property or award by the defendants, as set forth in the sixth finding, did demand payment therefor from the defendants, but was not paid; and, on the contrary, he was required to present his demand to the commissioners appointed under and by virtue of the terms of the treaty of 22d of February, 1819. And the commissioners, upon such award or decree of the royal junta being presented to them, did refuse to allow the same; and on the contrary, did determine and decide that the only claims against Spain which they had authority to investigate and allow were claims existing prior to the date of the treaty of 22d of February, 1819, and that inasmuch as the award or decree of the royal junta was subsequent to the date of the treaty, they had no authority to investigate or allow it; and the commissioners accordingly did, on the 29th day of May, 1824, reject and dismiss the same."

The next finding had reference to a matter which made another topic in the case. It was thus:

Eighth. -- As soon as the commissioners notified the said Meade of their determination to reject his demand for the payment of

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his award by the royal junta, but before their final decision or rejection of the same, he duly requested, to-wit, on the 17th of April, 1823, the defendants to procure from the Spanish government his original vouchers and evidences of indebtedness described in the fourth finding, and the defendants accordingly did request the Spanish government to furnish and transmit the same to them. But the Spanish government did positively refuse to produce and deliver up such vouchers and evidences of indebtedness upon the ground that the award of the royal junta was a judicial decree, and final and conclusive upon the parties by the laws and customs of Spain, and that the said vouchers were merged therein, and had been given up to and duly filed and credited in the department of finance. And the Spanish government did subsequently assure the defendants that such cancelled vouchers would be given up as requested; but the same never were so produced and given up, and have ever since been and are still held by the government of Spain. And by reason of such refusal and neglect on the part of Spain to deliver up and surrender such vouchers, the commission never considered or allowed the same, nor any portion of the demand of the said Meade. And on the contrary, the commission allowed the claims of other persons existing prior to the date of the treaty, to an amount in the aggregate of $5,454,545.13. And the defendants thereupon paid away upon such allowed claims pro rata the sum of $5,000,000, being the whole of the amount provided by said treaty and the acts of Congress in furtherance for the liquidation thereof. And on the 8th of June, 1824, after making such awards, the said commission expired.

Being thus unable to proceed further in any way before the commission, Mr. Meade brought the matter before Congress. It was steadily kept before the attention of that body until the establishment of the Court of Claims. After the establishment of the Court of Claims, 11th of February, 1856, the Senate, by resolution, referred the case to that court for adjudication, and on the 17th of October, 1859, a decision was given (by a divided court) adverse to the claim.

At that time, the decisions of the court were reported to Congress, and the claim went back and received the further

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consideration of Congress. In 1863, the Court of Claims was reorganized by an act of Congress, [Footnote 3] which gave it jurisdiction over private claims against the government,

"founded upon any law of Congress, or upon any regulation of an executive department, or upon any contract, express or implied, with the government of the United States,"

and subsequently to this, Congress by a joint resolution reciting that doubts were entertained whether the claim of the estate of Mr. Meade was within a section of the said act, resolved

"That the said claim be and the same hereby is referred to the Court of Claims for adjudication thereof pursuant to authority conferred upon said court by any existing law to examine and decide claims against the United States."

The court then heard the case anew, and in accordance with the rules laid down by this Court regulating appeals from the Court of Claims, [Footnote 4] made a finding, which was meant to be a finding of facts, and reported also the conclusions in law of the court upon them. The "finding of facts" is given in what precedes. It purported to be made in accordance with the rule of this Court which should govern such finding, a rule in these words:

"The facts so found are to be the ultimate facts or propositions which the evidence shall establish in the nature of a special verdict, and not the evidence on which these ultimate facts are founded."

Upon the findings of fact as made by it, the Court of Claims, as a conclusion of law, decided:

1. That by the acceptance of the Treaty with Spain of 22 February, 1819, and the cession of the Floridas, free of and unencumbered by the three private grants, the United States took and appropriated the property of Mr. Meade, and that he thereby, on the 19th of February, 1821, acquired a good and valid claim against them for $373,879.88.

2. That the United States were not liable legally and judicially for such appropriation so taken for the public use,

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except by and through the investigation, allowance, and award of the commission appointed by the United States, under and in pursuance of the Treaty with Spain of 22d of February, 1819, and that the decision of such commission dismissing the same was final and conclusive upon the claimant, and bars a recovery upon the merits in this Court.

3. That the joint resolution, 25 July, 1866, referring back this case after the same had been once decided by the former Court of Claims adversely to the claimant, was not a waiver of the said bar, and did not allow this Court to adjudge and decide the case upon the merits irrespective of the decision and dismissal by the said commission.

And that judgment should be rendered herein for the defendants, and the petition be dismissed.

From this decree the representative of Mr. Meade took an appeal here.

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