Marsh v. Fulton County
77 U.S. 676

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U.S. Supreme Court

Marsh v. Fulton County, 77 U.S. 10 Wall. 676 676 (1870)

Marsh v. Fulton County

77 U.S. (10 Wall.) 676

Syllabus

1. In February, 1853, the Mississippi & Wabash Railroad Company was incorporated by the Legislature of Illinois and authorized to construct a railroad from Warsaw, on the Mississippi River, to the east line of the state. In February, 1857, an act was passed by that legislature amending the charter of the company by which the line of the railroad was divided into three divisions, designated as the Western, the Central, and the Eastern, and each division was created a new company, so that there were three distinct corporations in place of the original corporation. Held that a subscription of stock and issue of county bonds, authorized upon a vote of the people of the county to the original corporation, could not be legally made to one of the three new corporations.

2. Where county bonds to a railroad company are issued without any authority, they are invalid in the hands of an innocent purchaser.

Page 77 U. S. 677

The authority to contract must exist before any protection as innocent purchaser can be claimed by the holder.

3. A ratification being in its effect, upon the act of an agent, equivalent to the possession by him of a previous authority, and operating upon the act ratified in the same manner as though the authority of the agent to do the act existed originally, can only be made when the party ratifying possesses the power to perform the act ratified. Accordingly, where supervisors of a county possessed no authority to make a subscription or issue bonds to a railroad company in the first instance without the previous sanction of the qualified voters of the county, they could not ratify a subscription to the company already made without such authorization.

In 1849, the Legislature of the State of Illinois passed an act which provided that whenever the citizens of any city or county in that state were desirous that such city or county should subscribe for stock in any railroad company already organized or incorporated or thereafter to be organized or incorporated under any law of the state, such city or county might and were authorized to purchase or subscribe for shares of the capital stock in any such company in any sum not exceeding $100,000 for each of such cities or counties, but that no subscription should be made or purchase or bond issued under the provisions of the act whereby any debt should be created unless a majority of the qualified voters of such county or city should vote for the same. The act also required that the notices calling for the election should specify the company in which stock was proposed to be subscribed.

A law of the state of 1861 provided that the powers of a county in Illinois could only be exercised by the board of supervisors thereof, or in pursuance of a resolution by them adopted. [Footnote 1]

In February, 1853, the Mississippi & Wabash Railroad Company was incorporated by the Legislature of Illinois and authorized to construct a railroad from Warsaw on the Mississippi River to the east line of the state.

Page 77 U. S. 678

In September, 1853, the board of supervisors of Fulton County, through which county the projected line of the road was to run, ordered that the question be submitted to the voters of the county at the ensuing November election whether the county should subscribe $75,000 to the capital stock of his company and a like sum to the capital stock of the Petersburgh & Springfield Railroad Company, payable in the bonds of the county, such bonds not be issued to the former company until its secretary should certify to the board that $700,000 had been subscribed to its stock and 5 percent thereon had been paid. At the election mentioned, the vote was taken and a majority of the votes of the county was cast in favor of the subscription.

In April, 1854, the board ordered its clerk to subscribe the $75,000 voted to the Mississippi & Wabash Company, and to issue the bonds when it should be certified to him by the secretary of the company that $700,000 of the stock had been subscribed and 5 percent thereon had been paid.

In September, 1855, a similar order was made by the board, requiring its clerk to enter the subscription on the books of the company in the name of the County of Fulton.

In February, 1857, an act was passed by the Legislature of Illinois amending the charter of the Mississippi & Wabash Company by which the line of the railroad was divided into three divisions, designated the Western, the Central, and the Eastern divisions, and each division was placed under the management and control of a board of three commissioners, to be elected by the stockholders of the division and to be invested with all the powers of the original board of directors of the company over the road in their division.

In April, 1857, the stockholders within the Central Division elected commissioners of the division, who thenceforth, until December, 1868, exercised all the powers conferred by this amendatory act.

On the books of the Central Division thus organized, the clerk of the County Court of Fulton County, acting as clerk of the board of supervisors of that county, made the subscription of $75,000 in the name of the county, and in September

Page 77 U. S. 679

following issued to this division the fifteen bonds which are in suit in this cause. These bonds purport to be obligations of the County of Fulton to the Central Division of the Mississippi & Wabash Railroad Company, and pledge the faith of the county, and its property, revenue, and resources for their payment.

The following is a copy of a bond and coupon:

"No. 11 $500"

"UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,"

STATE OF ILLINOIS, COUNTY OF FULTON

"Bond due in ten years after date. -- Central Division,"

"Mississippi & Wabash Railroad Company"

"Know all men by these presents that there is due from the County of Fulton to the Central Division of the Mississippi & Wabash Railroad Company, OR BEARER, five hundred dollars, lawful money of the United States, with interest at the rate of seven percent per annum, payable annually on the first day of July in each year, at the Treasury of said County of Fulton, on the presentation and surrender of the annexed coupons, the principal to be due and payable ten years from the date hereof. For the performance of all which the faith of the said County of Fulton is irrevocably pledged, as also the property, revenue, and resources of said County of Fulton."

"In testimony whereof John H. Peirsol, Clerk of the County Court, has hereunto subscribed his name and affixed the common seal of said County Court this 1st day of September, 1857."

"[L. S.] JOHN H. PEIRSOL,"

"Clerk of the County Court"

"Bond No. 11 STATE OF ILLINOIS $35"

"The County of Fulton will pay thirty-five dollars on this coupon on the first day of July, 1859, at the Treasury of said county."

"JOHN H. PEIRSOL"

"Clerk of the County Court"

Page 77 U. S. 680

There were various acts of the Board of Supervisors of Fulton County done after issue of these bonds which tended to show that the board recognized them and considered the county bound for them.

Interest was on one occasion paid on some of the bonds by the county treasurer, and the amount paid was allowed to him by the board in settlement.

The records of the board, held on the 15th of September, 1857, showed the adoption of a report of the finance committee, estimating the amount required to pay the interest on county bonds, "issued and to be issued" that year, including county expenses and interest on railroad bonds, and levying a tax to pay the same, with no reservation or exception as to these bonds.

At the same session, the board appointed county agents as to this railroad, and required them to attend the meetings of stockholders, election of officers, and to represent the county "as a stockholder." The clerk issued certificates of appointment to the county agents and they were paid by the county for their services. At the session of March, 1858, the board appointed a fiscal agent to manage the sinking fund on "railroad bonds," and in the following September appointed a committee to estimate the amount of money for the current year, required to pay interest on county bonds "issued for railroad purposes." The committee reported that $350 was needed to pay interest on $4,500 of these bonds.

At the session of March, 1858, it was ordered that the claim of Graham, one of the agents of the county as to the Mississippi & Wabash Railroad Company, for services as such agent, be paid, and at the September session, 1859, that the county treasurer pay "the interest on the Fulton bonds," and without any reservation of the bonds in suit, and at the September session, 1860, that the county treasurer pay all coupons presented prior to March, 1861, and from June, 1861, purchase as many bonds, at not exceeding sixty cents of the dollar, as the sinking fund would pay.

In September, 1865, the board paid two of the bonds at a discount, protesting, however, against liability upon them.

Page 77 U. S. 681

On the 13th of September, 1866, the board ordered payment of two more of the bonds in full, upon the recommendation of the finance committee, and their statement that "they entertained no doubt that they ought to be paid," and the bonds were surrendered.

On the next day, however, the board, by order, reconsidered the vote ordering payment and finally refused to pay the bonds.

The present action was brought on fifteen bonds issued by the Clerk of the County Court of Fulton County, acting as clerk of the board of supervisors of that county to the Central Division of the Mississippi & Wabash Railroad Company, and on the coupons annexed to said bonds.

The declaration contained special counts on the instruments, and also the common counts. The defendants pleaded the general issue, and judgment passed in their favor. The plaintiff below brought the case here on writ of error.

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