Cooke v. United States - 91 U.S. 389 (1875)


U.S. Supreme Court

Cooke v. United States, 91 U.S. 389 (1875)

Cooke v. United States

91 U.S. 389

Syllabus

1. Where notes purporting to be 7-30 Treasury notes, endorsed by the holders thereof "to the order of the Secretary of the Treasury for redemption," were purchased, before their maturity, under the authority of the Act of Aug. 12, 1866, 14 Stat. 31, by an assistant treasurer of the United States, held that the payment by him therefor did not, without the further order of the Secretary of the Treasury, retire them. Until such order be given, or until it ought to have been given, the government does not accept the notes as genuine.

2. Where such notes, endorsed as aforesaid, and sold and delivered at different times between Sept. 20 and Oct. 8 at the office of the sub-Treasury of the United States in New York, were returned Oct. 12 by the Treasury Department, as spurious, to the assistant treasurer in that city, who had purchased or redeemed them with the money of the United States, and due notice was given the following day to the party from whom he had received them, held that there was no such delay in returning the notes as would preclude the United States from recovering the money paid therefor.

3. The ruling of the district judge that though the notes may be printed in the department from the genuine plates, and may be all ready to issue, yet if they are not in fact issued by an officer thereunto authorized, they do not come within the statute of Aug. 12, 1866, and the United States are not bound to redeem them, held to be error.

The case was as follows:

On the 3d of March, 1865, Congress authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to borrow, on the credit of the United States, not exceeding six hundred millions of dollars, and to issue therefor bonds or Treasury notes of the United States, bearing interest not exceeding seven and three-tenths percentum per

Page 91 U. S. 390

annum, payable semiannually. 13 Stat. 468. Such notes were not made a legal tender. Under this act, Treasury notes to a large amount were issued by the Secretary of the Treasury, payable three years after date.

On the 12th of August, 1866, Congress, by another act, authorized the Secretary of the Treasury, at his discretion, to receive any Treasury notes or other obligations issued under any act of Congress, whether bearing interest or not, in exchange for any description of bonds authorized by the previous act of March 3, 1865, and also to dispose of any description of bonds authorized by such previous act . . . for lawful money of the United States, or for any Treasury notes . . . which had been, or which might be, issued under any act of Congress, the proceeds thereof to be used only for retiring Treasury notes or other obligations issued under any act of Congress; but nothing therein contained to be construed to authorize any increase of the public debt. 14 Stat. 31.

On each of several days, from and including Sept. 20 and Oct. 8, 1867, the defendants below (the plaintiffs in error) presented large amounts of Treasury notes purporting to be issued under the Act of 1865, dated June 15, 1865, and payable three years after date to the Assistant Treasurer of the United States at the City of New York, who purchased the amount and description of notes at the prices and premium mentioned in bills of sale made by the plaintiffs in error, and paid them therefor with the money of the United States. Such bills of sale were in the following form:

"Sold Hon. H. H. Van Dyck, of the United States, No. 700, by Jay Cooke & Co., corner of Wall and Nassau Streets, Sept. 20:"

$400,000, June 7 3/10, 107 . . . . . . . . . . $428,000

97 days. . . . . . . . 7,760

$100,000, July " 107 . . . . . . . . . . 107,000

67 days. . . . . . . . 1,340

--------

$544,100

Before the delivery of the notes, the plaintiffs in error, by a stamp, which, for their convenience, they were permitted to employ in lieu of their written signature, printed on the back

Page 91 U. S. 391

of each the words, "Pay to the Secretary of the Treasury for redemption -- Jay Cooke & Co."

The notes were forwarded to the Secretary of the Treasury at Washington, and on examination there, eighteen thereof, of one thousand dollars each, were pronounced not to be genuine Treasury notes issued by the government of the United States, and were thereupon returned to the assistant treasurer at New York, who, on the 13th of October, 1867, duly notified the plaintiffs in error, and required them to refund the money paid for the counterfeit notes, or substitute other notes for them. On the refusal of the plaintiffs in error to comply with this requirement, this suit was brought.

The declaration contained special counts describing the cause of action as an indebtedness by the defendants to the plaintiff for money had and received by the defendants to and for the use of the United States, and of their property, which money was obtained by the defendants upon occasion of their delivering to the plaintiff what purported to be obligations of the United States known as seven-thirty Treasury notes, which were by the defendants, when they delivered them to the officer of the sub-Treasury, professed to be, and by the plaintiffs and their officer aforesaid were then supposed to be, valid, genuine notes; and by the defendants' representations and inducements the same were received as valid, genuine notes by the plaintiffs and their officer aforesaid at the sub-Treasury of the United States aforesaid, at the City of New York.

That the said notes were in fact counterfeit, and had never been executed or issued by the United States, but had been forged and falsely made and uttered, and were no obligations of the United States, and were by their officers aforesaid received as aforesaid under the belief created by the representations and inducements aforesaid that the notes were good, and formed an adequate consideration for the money received by the defendants, which money was retained by them from the plaintiffs after discovery that the said notes were counterfeit, whereof prompt notice was given to the defendants, that, being so indebted, the defendants promised &c. There were also other counts in general indebitatus assumpsit for money had and received.

Page 91 U. S. 392

The defendants pleaded non-assumpsit.

Upon the trial, exceptions were taken by the defendants to the ruling of the district judge in the admission and exclusion of evidence, and also to certain portions of his charge to the jury.

A verdict was rendered in the district court in favor of the United States for the amount paid to the defendants, with interest thereon -- $23,630.88.

The judgment of the district court was affirmed by the circuit court: whereupon the defendants below sued out this writ of error.

The alleged errors on here were as follows:

First, that the district court erred in refusing to charge the jury in accordance with the prayer of the defendants below.

1. If the defendants honestly believed the notes in question to be genuine obligations issued by the United States, and, so believing, passed them in good faith to Mr. Van Dyck, the Assistant Treasurer of the United States, and the latter, under the like belief and in good faith, received the notes and paid for them, the plaintiffs are not entitled to recover, although the notes may not have been genuine obligations issued by the United States.

2. That in determining whether the eighteen notes in question are genuine obligations, the jury are entitled to take into consideration the fact that said notes were supposed to be genuine by the assistant treasurer in New York, and passed through his hands and the hands of other officials connected with the Treasury Department.

3. That the burden of proving that the eighteen notes in question, "C 1" to "C 18," are not genuine obligations of the United States, rests upon the plaintiffs, and if the evidence be insufficient to establish the fact that such notes are not genuine obligations as aforesaid, the defendants are entitled to a verdict.

Second, that the court erred in ruling, during the progress of the trial and in the charge, that defendants below were not entitled to a verdict unless the notes in question were actually issued under an act of Congress, and that the Act of issuing such notes was a physical act; and that although the notes were printed in the department from the genuine plates, and might

Page 91 U. S. 393

be all ready to issue, still, if they were not in fact so issued, the defendants below were not entitled to a verdict.

Third, that the court erred in admitting in evidence the "K" notes which were claimed by the government to be genuine, and in admitting in evidence the coupons alleged to have been attached to said notes, and to have been paid by the United States.

Fourth, the court erred in admitting the following evidence on the part of the United States:

Questions to Casilear. George W. Casilear, Superintendent of Engraving and Transferring in the Treasury Department, proved that the work on the genuine "7-30" notes was made up under his supervision, and that the plates were engraved in the Treasury building under his superintendence, and that he did some of the engraving of the plates, and he pointed out the particular portions of his work, but the plates were not produced.

He was asked these questions:

"1. Q. From your observation of these notes, and your knowledge of the genuine plates, were these notes, 'C 1' to 'C 18,' printed from those plates?"

Question objected to. Objection overruled.

"2. Q. Were those eighteen notes, 'C 1' to 'C 18,' printed or not from any plate referred to by you as having been got up by you under your supervision in the Treasury Department, from which 7-30 notes of the second series used by the government were printed, so far as you know?"

Same objection. Overruled.

"A. They were not."

Questions to Cooper. David M. Cooper, a witness for the plaintiffs, testified that he engraved the original die from which the seals used on the alleged genuine notes were produced by what is termed the transfer process, and was asked these questions:

"3. Q. Could that die, which you engraved, have produced that seal on the counterfeit?"

Objected to. Objection overruled.

"A. It could not. "

Page 91 U. S. 394

"4. Q. Did you ever know of a note, like those marked 'C,' to be printed from the plate from which the notes marked 'K' were taken?"

An exception was taken to this question, which was overruled, and the witness answered in the negative.

Fifth, That the court erred in overruling and excluding the following questions put by the defendants below:

Question to Holmes. Plaintiffs below read from the letter book of Jay Cooke & Co. twelve letters, copies of all of which, except one which was illegible, are inserted among the exhibits at the end of the case, which letters were received as admissions by Jay Cooke & Co. that these identical notes had been transferred by them to the assistant treasurer.

The defendants thereupon offered to prove, by Philip W. Holmes, that he wrote or drafted and sent all these letters, acting on the information derived from the sub-treasurer that the statement in reference to the notes being counterfeit was correct, and without knowing about the identity of them. This was objected to and the objection sustained.

The eighteen notes claimed to be counterfeit were introduced in evidence by the United States and marked "C 1" to "C 18."

Questions to Ryerson. U. C. Ryerson, called as a witness by defendants below, testified that he was in the transfer department of the "National Note Bureau," of which S. M. Clark was at the head for three years, from February, 1863, to 1866.

The witness was asked:

"Q. Do you discover any discrepancies or differences between these two notes, which, in your experience, may not have been caused by a defect in the transfer?"

The question was overruled.

"Q. Look at these two notes, 'C' and 'K.' Can you state from your experience in the department, and from your knowledge of the plates there used to print the second series of seven-thirty notes, whether or not these two classes of notes -- 'C' and 'K' -- were printed from the same plate in different conditions, occasioned by a reentry?"

Question excluded by the court.

Page 91 U. S. 395

Questions to Tichener, witness for defendants. He testified that he was a geometrical lathe operator, and familiar with other branches of engraving.

"Q. Does it not sometimes occur, that, in the process of burnishing a roll, a portion of the work on the roll becomes obliterated and erased, or in other respects changed?"

"Q. Can you, after an examination of these specimen notes 'C' (the notes alleged to be counterfeit) and 'K' (valid notes), and, if so, state whether they were printed from the same plate in different conditions, caused by reentering?"

Questions excluded by the court.

Page 91 U. S. 396



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