McVeigh v. United States
78 U.S. 259

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U.S. Supreme Court

McVeigh v. United States, 78 U.S. 11 Wall. 259 259 (1870)

McVeigh v. United States

78 U.S. (11 Wall.) 259

Syllabus

1. In a libel of information for the forfeiture of property, under the Act of Congress of July 17, 1862, entitled "An act to suppress insurrection, to punish treason and rebellion, to seize and confiscate the property of rebels, and for other purposes," for certain offenses charged against the owner, his alleged criminality lies at the foundation of the proceeding, and the questions of his guilt and ownership are fundamental in the case.

2. The owner of property for the forfeiture of which a libel is filed under the act above mentioned is entitled to appear and to contest the charges upon which the forfeiture is claimed although he was at the time of filing the libel a resident within the Confederate lines and a rebel, and he can sue out a writ of error from this Court to review any final decree of the court below condemning his property.

On the 17th of July, 1862, Congress passed an act entitled "An act to suppress insurrection, to punish treason and rebellion, to seize and confiscate the property of rebels, and for other purposes." This act provided for the seizure and confiscation of the property of persons holding certain offices or agencies under "the Confederate States," and of persons engaged in the rebellion then existing or aiding or abetting such rebellion who should not cease to aid, countenance, and abet such rebellion within sixty days after public warning

Page 78 U. S. 260

and proclamation by the President and return to their allegiance to the United States. The act contains numerous sections. They are set forth with fullness in a case which was decided soon after this one and which is reported next to it, Miller v. United States, the leading case on the Confiscation Acts, and in which, rather than in this one where the main subjects were hardly reached, the provisions of the statute are inserted. To understand the present case, it is indispensable that the reader be possessed of the nature of that statute, and of its provisions. He will therefore have the goodness to turn forward to page 78 U. S. 269, and to read from the words, beginning with an "*", "The Act of July 17, 1862, contains fourteen sections," on that page, to the words on page 78 U. S. 273, beginning with a "**", "In order to carry out these acts," after which he will resume his reading here.

With this statute in force the United States filed a libel of information in the district court for the District of Virginia, for the forfeiture of certain real and personal property of one William McVeigh, situated in Virginia. The information was in form against "all the right, title, and estate of William McVeigh in and to all that certain piece, parcel, or lot of land," &c., describing it particularly.

The libel alleged that subsequent to July 17, 1862, the said McVeigh held and exercised an office and agency of honor, and trust, and profit, under the government of the Confederate states, and under one of the states of said Confederacy, and that he accepted the appointment, and was elected to the office and agency after the date of the ordinance of secession of said state; and that he took an oath of allegiance to and to support the Constitution of the Confederate states; and that since July, 1862, he had assisted and given aid and comfort to the rebellion, and to those engaged in the rebellion, by acting on the 18th of July, 1862, and at various times subsequently as a soldier, and as an officer, and as a noncommissioned officer in the army and navy of the Confederate states; and by contributing money and property to the aid and encouragement of those engaged in the rebellion. The libel was afterwards amended so as

Page 78 U. S. 261

to charge, in addition to the above offenses, that McVeigh, on the 18th of July, 1862, was engaged in armed rebellion against the government of the United States, and notwithstanding the President, on the 25th of July, 1862, issued his proclamation warning all persons thus engaged to cease participating in aiding, countenancing, and abetting such rebellion, the said McVeigh did not within sixty days thereafter cease to aid, countenance, and abet such rebellion, and return to his allegiance to the United States.

McVeigh appeared by counsel, made a claim to the property, and filed an answer. This answer was not contained in the record, and nothing of its contents appeared except what was stated in the order of the court made on the motion of the attorney of the United States.

The attorney of the United States, however, moved that the claim, answer, and appearance be stricken from the files, as it appeared from the answer filed, that at the time of filing it the party was "a resident of the City of Richmond, within the Confederate lines, and a rebel." The court granted the motion. Subsequently the default of all persons was taken, and a decree was rendered for the condemnation and sale of the property. The case was carried to the circuit court, and there the decree was affirmed. It was now brought here on writ of error.

Page 78 U. S. 266

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