Conrad v. Waples
96 U.S. 279

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U.S. Supreme Court

Conrad v. Waples, 96 U.S. 279 (1877)

Conrad v. Waples

96 U.S. 279

Syllabus

1. The Act of July 17, 1862, 12 Stat. 589, so far as it related to the confiscation of property, applied only to the property of persons who thereafter might be guilty of acts of disloyalty and treason, and it reached only the estate of the party for whose offenses the property was seized.

2. Until some provision was made by law for the condemnation of property in land of persons engaged in the rebellion, the courts of the United States could not decree a confiscation of it and direct its sale.

3. Such persons were not denied the right of contracting with and selling to each other; as between themselves, all the ordinary business could be lawfully carried on except in cases where it was expressly forbidden by the United States or would have been inconsistent with or have tended to weaken its authority.

4. The purpose of the United States to seize and confiscate the property of certain classes of persons engaged in the rebellion having been declared by the Act of July 17, 1862, sales and conveyances of property subsequently made by them could only pass a title subject to be defeated if the government should afterwards proceed for its condemnation. The fact that the property sold and conveyed was at the time within the territory occupied by the federal troops created no other legal impediment to the transfer.

5. The provision in that act that "all sales, transfers, or conveyances" of property of persons therein designated shall be null and void only invalidates such transactions as against any proceedings taken by the United States for the condemnation of the property. They are not void as between the parties or against any other party than the United States. The case of Corbett v. Nutt, 10 Wall. 464, cited on this point and approved.

6. A sale by public act, before a notary within the insurrectionary territory, of land in the City of New Orleans by one enemy to another for a valuable consideration, previous to the passage of the Confiscation Act, passed the title to the purchaser, which was not affected by subsequent judicial proceedings for its condemnation for alleged offenses of the vendor. The case of Fairfax's Devisee v. Hunter's Lessee, 7 Cranch 603, cited and approved.

7. An actual delivery of immovables in Louisiana is not essential to the validity of a sale of them made by public act before a notary. The law of the state considers the tradition or delivery of the property as accompanying the act.

This was an action for the recovery of certain real property, described in the petition of the plaintiff, situated in the City of New Orleans, and of the rents and profits. The plaintiff claimed title to the premises by a conveyance from his father, Charles M. Conrad, made to himself and his brother on the 6th of May,

Page 96 U. S. 280

1862, and a subsequent conveyance to himself of his brother's interest. The conveyance of the father was made in settlement and discharge of certain obligations resting upon him under the laws of Louisiana by reason of his having received, as the natural tutor of his children, property belonging to them as minor heirs of their deceased mother. It appears from the record that she died intestate at New Orleans in 1839, leaving the plaintiff and his brother her only heirs, and an estate valued at a sum over $35,000. The estate consisted principally of her separate property; a small portion was her share of the real property belonging to the matrimonial community. The surviving husband qualified, and was confirmed as the natural tutor of the children, and took charge of their property. The law of Louisiana imposes a general mortgage upon all the property of a tutor to secure the interests of minors and his faithful execution of the trust, but gives him the right to substitute in place of it a special mortgage upon particular parcels of his property. The tutor here availed himself of this right at different times. The last special mortgage was executed in 1847, and, with other property, covered the premises in controversy. Previously to this and in 1845, his indebtedness to his sons had been ascertained and fixed by decree of the probate court at the sum of $36,757. This amount was subsequently increased.

No account of his administration was ever rendered by the tutor until May 6, 1862, when a settlement took place between him and his sons, and in discharge of his obligations to them, he executed, before the recorder and ex-officio notary public of the Parish of St. Helena a public act of sale by which he sold and conveyed to them several lots situated in New Orleans, and among them the one in controversy in this case. This act of sale, which purports to have been recorded in the City of New Orleans on the 31st of the same month, the court refused to admit in evidence.

The defendant, Waples, in his answer, asserted title to the premises in controversy under a deed to him by the marshal of the United States, executed in March, 1865, upon a sale under a decree of the district court rendered in February of that year, condemning and forfeiting the property to the United States, as that of Charles M. Conrad, in proceedings taken under

Page 96 U. S. 281

the Confiscation Act of July 17, 1862. The other defendants disclaimed title.

On the 1st of May, 1862, New Orleans passed into the possession of the Army of the United States, and on the 6th of the month, General Butler, commanding our forces there, issued a proclamation reestablishing the national authority in the city. The proclamation bears date on the 1st of May, but was not published until the 6th. The Conrads, father and sons, had left the city before it was captured. They had previously been engaged in the rebellion against the United States -- the father as a member of the Confederate Congress, and the sons as officers of the Confederate army -- and they continued in such rebellion until the close of the war. The Parish of St. Helena was within the Confederate lines when the Act of sale of May 6, 1862, was executed. When this act was offered in evidence by the plaintiff, objection was made to its introduction on substantially the following grounds:

1. That the act was not a sale, but a giving in payment, and that no delivery of the property was or could be made, as the same was situated within the federal lines, and the act was executed within the military lines of the Confederate states, where the parties were sojourning.

2. That it being admitted that the vendor and vendees had been before, and were at the date of the act, and afterwards, engaged in rebellion against the United States, and so continued until the end of the war, and that the act was passed within the Confederate lines, the property being situated within the federal lines, the act of transfer was inoperative and void.

3. That such evidence would tend to contradict the decree of condemnation previously entered in the district court, and set up by the defendant in his answer.

4. That it being admitted that the grantor and grantees were enemies of the United States at the time the act was passed, the grantor was incompetent to complete the transfer of the property, the same being within federal military lines.

5. That the copy of the act offered in evidence was not, by the statute of the state, admissible in evidence against any right set up by a third person, without being accompanied with proof that the same had been duly and legally registered in the proper office where the properties were situated.

6. That a state of war then existing, a deed executed

Page 96 U. S. 282

in the parish of St. Helena, within the Confederate lines, could not be legally recorded in the Parish of Orleans, which at that date was within federal military lines.

These several objections were sustained by the court, and the plaintiff excepted.

The plaintiff requested the court to instruct the jury substantially as follows:

1st, that even if the Confiscation Act contained a prohibition against sales, transfers, and conveyances, made in good faith prior to its passage, such prohibition did not apply to transfers and conveyances wherein all parties to the same, vendor and vendees, were equally engaged in rebellion against the United States, and consequently, where the property conveyed or transferred would be as liable to confiscation in the hands of the vendees as in the hands of the vendor.

2d, that all that was seized, and all that could be seized, condemned, and sold under the judgment or decree of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, in the proceedings against the property of Charles M. Conrad, on which judgment or decree, and the sale made in pursuance thereof, the defendant bases his claim to the premises in controversy in this cause, was the title, right, and estate of said Charles M. Conrad, whatever the same might have been, to endure only during his life, in and to the property libeled and condemned, and the right, property, and estate therein of no other person or persons whatsoever.

3d, that the United States, by the proceedings and decree of condemnation, succeeded only to the rights of said Charles M. Conrad to said property, whatever the same might be, to endure only during his life, and that the decree, and marshal's sale to defendant thereunder, had no other effect than to transfer such rights as the United States acquired by the decree, and did not disturb or affect the rights of any other person or persons to the property, or any part thereof, and that if, at the time of the seizure, proceedings, and decree, Charles M. Conrad had no rights and estate in the property involved, the United States acquired no rights and estate therein, and the marshal's sale of the property transferred no interest or estate therein to the defendant the purchaser at the sale.

Page 96 U. S. 283

But the court refused to give the instructions as prayed, or any of them, and the plaintiff excepted.

At the request of the defendants, the court instructed the jury that, the plaintiff having offered no evidence to show title in himself, it was their duty to return a verdict for the defendants; to which instruction the plaintiff excepted.

The jury found for the defendants, and, judgment having been entered on the verdict, the plaintiff brought the case here on writ of error.

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