Haycraft v. United States
89 U.S. 81

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U.S. Supreme Court

Haycraft v. United States, 89 U.S. 22 Wall. 81 81 (1874)

Haycraft v. United States

89 U.S. (22 Wall.) 81

Syllabus

Under the Act of March 12th, 1863, relating to captured and abandoned property, and which enacted that any person claiming to be the owner of such property may,

"at any time within two years after the suppression of the rebellion, prefer his claim to the proceeds thereof in the Court of Claims, and, on proof . . . that he has never given any aid or comfort to the present rebellion,"

receive the proceeds of the sale of such property, the person who did give aid and comfort to the rebellion, and who has not been pardoned until after two years from the suppression of the rebellion, cannot, on then preferring his petition, obtain the benefit of the act, even though in cases generally the limitation of actions in the said court is one of six years. The question is not one of limitation, but of jurisdiction. And the inability of an unpardoned rebel to sue in the Court of Claims does not control the operation of the statute.

By an Act of March 3, 1863, [Footnote 1] relating to the Court of Claims, it was enacted that:

"The said court shall have and determine all claims founded upon . . . any contract, express or implied, with the government of the United States. "

Page 89 U. S. 82

It was further enacted:

"SECTION 10. That every claim against the United States cognizable by the said court shall be forever barred unless the petition setting forth a statement of the claim be filed in the court . . . within six years after the claim accrued."

This statute relating to the Court of Claims being in existence, the Act of March 12, 1863, relative to captured and abandoned property was passed. That act enacts:

"SECTION 1. That it shall be lawful for the Secretary of the Treasury . . . to appoint a special agent or agents to receive and collect all abandoned or captured property in any state or territory designated as in insurrection &c., provided that such property shall not include any kind or description which has been used or which was intended to be used for waging or carrying on war against the United States, such as arms, ordnance, ships, steamboats, or other watercraft, and the furniture, forage, military supplies, or munitions of war."

"SECTION 2. That any part of the goods or property received or collected . . . may be appropriated to public use on due appraisement and certificate thereof, or forwarded to any place of sale within the loyal states, as the public interests may require, and all sales of such property shall be at auction to the highest bidder, and the proceeds thereof shall be paid into the Treasury of the United States."

"SECTION 3. That the Secretary of the Treasury . . . shall also cause a book or books of account to be kept showing from whom such property was received, the cost of transportation, and proceeds of transportation."

"And any person claiming to have been the owner of any such abandoned or captured property may at any time within two years after the suppression of the rebellion prefer his claim to the proceeds thereof in the Court of Claims, and on proof to the satisfaction of the said court of his ownership of said property, of his right to the proceeds thereof, and that he has never given any aid or comfort to the present rebellion, receive the residue of such proceeds,"

&c.

All these provisions of the two statutes being in existence, one Haycraft, of Mississippi, a person who had given aid and comfort to the late rebellion, was the owner of a quantity of

Page 89 U. S. 83

cotton in the state just named, which in April, 1863, during the rebellion, the United States had seized as abandoned property, and sold, the proceeds ($27,000) being now in the Treasury.

Haycraft having been, as just above said, disloyal to the United States,\ and unable to give all the proofs which the Captured and Abandoned Property Act required, was precluded by the terms of the act, as things stood at the time of its passage, from suing under it.

However, on the 8th December, 1863 -- that is to say within less than nine months from the passage of the act -- the President issued a proclamation offering full pardon and restoration of property to all insurgents (certain classes excepted), provided they would take an oath to support, protect, and defend the Constitution and Union, abide by and support all acts of Congress and all proclamations of the President made during the rebellion,\ with reference to slaves.

Lee surrendered April 9, 1865; Joseph Johnston on the 26th. On the 10th of May, Jefferson Davis was captured, and on the 26th Kirby Smith gave up the remnant of the rebel army.

On the 29th of May, pardon and restoration was offered to all (certain classes excepted) who would simply take an oath of allegiance and keep it.

The war in Mississippi was, by proclamation, legally ended April 2, 1866. [Footnote 2]

On the 7th of September, 1867, another proclamation was made offering pardon and restoration of property to all (except certain classes more limited than before) who would take an oath of allegiance.

The latest of all these proclamations of pardon, it will be observed, was within two years after the war was legally ended.

On the 25th of December, 1868 -- this being, however, more than two years after the war was ended, even legally viewed -- a final proclamation was issued by President Johnson,

Page 89 U. S. 84

by which

"a full pardon and amnesty for the offense of treason against the United States, or of adhering to their enemies during the late civil war, with restoration of all rights, privileges, and immunities under the Constitution and the laws which have been made in pursuance thereof,"

was proclaimed and declared "unconditionally and without reservation to all, and to every person who directly or indirectly participated in the late insurrection or rebellion."

In United States v. Klein, [Footnote 3] this Court (December Term, 1874) decided that the restoration of captured and abandoned property became the absolute right of persons pardoned, as much as of loyal people, suit being brought for it in the Court of Claims within two years from the close of the war.

In this state of enactments and pardons, Haycraft, already mentioned, on the 30th of July, 1872, six years and more after the close of the war, filed his petition in the Court of Claims, and without so much as alleging that he had been within one of the classes excepted from the benefit of those different proclamations which preceded the last, sought to recover the proceeds of his cotton.

The petition was in the nature of an implied assumpsit for the value of the cotton. It alleged that during the rebellion the voluntary residence of the petitioner was in Mississippi, where, for some time during his said residence, the rebel force held sway; that he did give aid and comfort to persons engaged in the rebellion, and was therefore precluded from redress by suit in the federal courts, and especially from the remedy afforded to claimants under the provisions of the Act of Congress approved March 12, 1863, the Captured and Abandoned Property Act.

It further averred that he was entitled to and had received the benefit of the

"full pardon and amnesty, duly granted by the authority of the United States, on the 25th day of December, A.D. 1868, whereby his civil disabilities were removed, and his right of redress by suit in the United States courts was restored,"

together "with restoration of

Page 89 U. S. 85

all his rights, privileges, and immunities under the Constitution and laws of the United States."

The petition went on:

"Your petitioner further states that his property aforesaid having been taken possession of by the United States government and appropriated by it, and the money arising from the sale of said property being now held by the government, an implied contract has arisen on its behalf to make petitioner just compensation therefor according to what it was reasonably and fairly worth at the time and place at which it was so taken from him as aforesaid, and accordingly to pay over to him the net proceeds of the sale of said cotton."

Finally it alleged the cotton to have been at the time and place of its seizure as aforesaid, reasonably worth $27,000, being the amount of the net proceeds of the sale thereof, which amount under the implied contract aforesaid, the claimant alleged himself entitled to receive from the United States.

The United States demurred, and the Court of Claims dismissed the petition, placing the dismissal upon the grounds:

1st. That no action for proceeds of captured and abandoned property would lie except under the provisions of the Act of March 12, 1863.

2d. That such action, to be maintainable, must be brought within two years after the suppression of the rebellion.

From this ruling the claimant appealed, alleging that the Court of Claims erred:

1st. In holding that the only right of action for such proceeds was exclusively under the Act of March 12, 1863.

2d. In holding that it had not jurisdiction, because the suit had not been brought within two years after the suppression of the rebellion.

3d. In holding further that this limitation was available to defeat the claimant's action, though he was debarred by an act of Congress from bringing or maintaining such an action.

Page 89 U. S. 92

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