United States v. Bromley
Annotate this Case
53 U.S. 88 (1851)
U.S. Supreme Court
United States v. Bromley, 53 U.S. 12 How. 88 88 (1851)
United States v. Bromley
53 U.S. (12 How.) 88
The Act of Congress passed on 3 March, 1845, 5 Stat. 736, forbids the transportation of letters, packages, or other mailable matter except such as may have relation to some part of the cargo or some article at the same time conveyed in a stage or other vehicle, when such transportation is over a mail route.
A letter or order, although unsealed, directing tobacco to be sent by the return boat as a commercial transaction was within the prohibition of the statute.
Under the act of Congress passed on 31 May, 1844, 5 Stat. 658, directing that final judgments in a circuit court in any civil action brought by the United States for the enforcement of the revenue laws may be reviewed in this Court without regard to the sum or value in controversy, this Court can exercise jurisdiction. The revenue of the Post Office Department is a part of the revenue of the government.
This was an action of debt on statute, commenced in the District Court of Northern New York, founded on the tenth section of the Act of 3 March, 1845:
"An act to reduce the rates of postage; to limit the use, and correct the abuse, of the franking privilege, and for the prevention of frauds on the revenue of the Post Office Department."
The section is as follows:
"That is shall not be lawful for any stage coach, railroad car, steamboat, packet boat, or other vehicle or vessel, nor any of the owners, managers, servants, or crews of either, which regularly performs trips at stated periods on a post route or between two or more cities, towns, or other places from one to the other of which the United States mail is regularly conveyed under the authority of the Post Office Department to transport or convey otherwise than in the mail any letter or letters, packet or packages of letters, or other mailable matter whatsoever except such as may have relation to some part of the cargo of such steamboat, packet boat, or other vessel or to some article at the same time conveyed by the same stage coach, railroad car, or other vehicle; and excepting also newspapers, pamphlets, magazines, and periodicals, and for every such offense the owner or owners of the stage coach, railroad car, steamboat, packet boat, or other vehicle or vessel shall forfeit and pay the sum of one hundred dollars, and the driver, captain, conductor, or person having charge of any such stage coach, railroad car, steamboat, packet boat, or other vehicle or vessel at the time of the commission of any such offense, and who shall not at that time be the owner thereof in whole or in part, shall in like manner forfeit and pay, in every such case of offense, the sum of fifty dollars."
5 Stat. 736.
What constitutes mailable matter is defined in the fifteenth section. id., 737.
The declaration contains ten counts, and in substance they all and each of them charge that Bromley, the defendant, was the captain of the packet boat Empire, which regularly performed trips at stated periods between two places from one to the other of which places the United States mail was regularly conveyed under the authority of the Post Office Department, to-wit, between Albion and Rochester, and that the said packet boat, and the said defendant so being such captain, and the managers, servants, and crews of the said packet boat, did, while the said defendant was such captain thereof and while the said packet boat did regularly perform trips at stated periods between the said places, the said United States mail being regularly conveyed, under the authority of the Post Office Department from one to the other of the said places, transport and convey otherwise than in the mail divers letters, packets, and packages of letters, to-wit, ten letters, ten packets, and ten packages of letters, then and there being mailable matter other than newspapers &c., and which said letters, packets, and packages of letters, did not, nor did any or either of them, have relation to any part of the cargo of the said packet boat, from one to the other of the said places, from one to the other of which said places the United States mail was then and there regularly conveyed as aforesaid, under the authority of the Post Office Department, contrary to the intent of the act, whereby the defendant did then and there forfeit and became liable to pay the plaintiffs the sum of fifty dollars, by means whereof an action hath accrued to the plaintiffs to demand and have of and from the defendant the sum of fifty dollars.
To this declaration the defendant pleaded nil debet, to which the plaintiffs joined issue.
The cause coming on to be tried, the plaintiffs offered certain evidence set forth in the bill of exceptions, as follows:
Wallace Sherman, to whom it was objected on behalf of the defendant, that he was informer in the case, but the court overruled the objection.
The said witness was therefore examined in chief by the said United States attorney, and testified that he was clerk in the post office at Albion, from about the middle of August, 1846, during all which time the mail was regularly carried under the authority of the Post Office Department between Albion and Rochester, New York, daily. H. I. Sickles was postmaster at Albion; that he had seen the defendant, and knew him by sight; that he believed he was captain of the packet boat Empire on the Erie Canal in 1845 and part of 1846; that the packet boat Empire,
during the season of navigation, performed regular trips between Rochester and Buffalo; that Albion was on the canal between Rochester and Buffalo; that he had seen Kelsey, the steward of the boat; that he was steward of the boat while the defendant was captain; that he saw a letter or letters given to Kelsey in 1846, he thought in May; that it was while the defendant was captain and while the boat was at Albion; Kelsey was the steward of the boat, which was going from Buffalo to Rochester; that he thought two letters were given to him, one by Brainard and one by Parmlee; that he did not know as anything else was given to the steward; that he, the witness, was not far off; that he did not know whether both the letters were given to the steward at the same instant of time.
On cross-examination by the counsel for the defendant, this witness testified that this was between 10 and 11 o'clock at night; the boat did not stop at Albion over fifteen minutes; that on the occasion spoken of, he and one White got on the boat; that he had seen the defendant on the boat Empire since that time; that he did not abandon the boat very early in 1846; that after the defendant quit, Kelsey run the boat as captain; that he, the witness, was not acquainted with Brainard, who was a tobacco peddler; Parmlee attended the bar at the Mansion House in Albion; the papers handed to the steward were folded in the shape and size of letters; he, the witness, did not know whether they were sealed or not; Kelsey got on the boat after he took the letters; they did not contain over one sheet of paper each.
On a reexamination by the said United States Attorney, the witness testified that he saw the report of the case by the postmaster to the United States attorney. It is shown to and identified by the witness, who stated the report to be dated May 7, 1846.
William V. White was then called as a witness for the said United States, and testified that he resided at Brockport, and was at Albion in the spring of 1846, he thought in May, and stayed at Albion from dark until 10 or 11 o'clock the same night, and then went from Albion to Rochester in the packet boat Empire, of which the defendant was the captain.
That the last witness, Sherman, came down to the wharf to see the witness off. That he, the witness, did not see anything handed to the steward, or any hand on the boat. That he arrived at Rochester about 7 o'clock the next morning, and saw Kelsey, the steward, have something of paper which he handed to a boy. That he did not see the size of the paper or whether sealed or open. That he did not see from what part of his person the steward took the paper. That the boy to whom the
paper was delivered belonged to the boat; he thought there was no more than one paper, and that he should think they were folded. That he did not notice any writing on the papers. That this was almost half an hour after the boat arrived at Rochester. The said United States Attorney thereupon asked the said witness whether the said steward, when he gave the said papers to the boy, gave any directions to the boy in respect to said papers. And the said counsel for the said defendant did then and there object and insist that the said question was improper and that the said witness ought not to answer the same. And the said court did thereupon then and there decide that the said question was incompetent and that the same should not be answered by the witness, to which opinion and decision the said United States attorney did then and there except.
On cross-examination, the said witness testified that he was with Sherman most of the time after nine o'clock of the evening of the transaction spoken of, until the packet boat left Albion. That it was between 1 and 15 May, 1846. That the defendant was on the boat as captain that night.
James Brainard was then called and sworn as a witness on behalf of the United States, and testified that in May, 1846, he was at work peddling tobacco for Mr. Palmer; that he was at Albion every two weeks, and thought he was there in May; that he was there the fore part of the week, but did not recollect the time of the month; that he recollected offering Kelsey a letter at Albion to carry to Mr. Palmer, his employer, at Rochester, and Kelsey would not carry it, and said he was not permitted to carry letters. That this was in front of the hotel at Albion, at 10 or 11 o'clock at night; that he (the witness) kept the letter and wrote an order on his employer for some tobacco and gave it to Kelsey to carry; that he wrote it on a half sheet of paper, and wrote it half over and tore off the residue. That he folded it over the width of the sheet, and then once at right angles with the first fold, and directed it on the outside to Mr. Palmer, at Rochester. That the order to Mr. Palmer was a request to send some tobacco to him the witness at Albion by the boat Empire or by the first boat, and the witness thinks the request was to send it by the first boat, and this was the substance of the paper. That he did not give the steward anything for carrying the letter. That he received the tobacco the next day. He found it at the hotel at Albion when he came back from Berne Center.
On cross-examination, this witness testified, that he supposed, when he wrote, that the Empire would be the first boat out of Rochester after the receipt of the order by Palmer. That he told Palmer to send the tobacco by the first boat; that he paid nothing for bringing the tobacco.
James H. Palmer was then called and sworn as a witness on behalf of the United States, and testified that he was the person of that name referred to in the testimony of the last witness, and had charge of the business of the firm at Rochester for whom Brainard was peddling tobacco in May, 1846. That he frequently received orders from Brainard by mail and otherwise; that the orders were all destroyed; that he never sent tobacco to peddlers except upon orders, unless they requested it before they left Rochester.
On cross-examination, he testified that he recollected sending tobacco by the defendant's boat in May, 1846, to Brainard.
William Parmlee was then sworn, and called as a witness on behalf of the United States and testified that in May, 1846, he attended bar for Mr. Hopkins, at Albion. That he did not recollect handing any paper or letter to Kelsey to be carried by him or for any other purpose; that he had offered letters to Kelsey to carry, and he refused to carry them; that he recollected seeing Brainard giving a note to Kelsey, written on two-thirds of a sheet of foolscap paper and folded in about the size of an ordinary letter, to be carried to Rochester.
On cross-examination, the witness testified that the boat Empire brought the tobacco from Rochester for Brainard, and he (the witness) paid the steward Kelsey half a dollar for bringing it, which Brainard afterwards repaid him.
Said Kelsey was then called as a witness for the said United States, and testified that in May, 1846, he was steward of the Empire. The defendant was captain of the said boat; that he recollected the circumstances spoken of by Brainard and Sherman, that Brainard came with a letter, and he the witness refused to take it, and that he soon afterwards brought the order spoken of, which he the witness took, and, when he arrived at Rochester, sent to Mr. Palmer, and received the tobacco and carried it to Albion, for which be received a half dollar, which was a perquisite of his own.
The said United States attorney thereupon rested the said cause, and the counsel for the defendant did then and there ask the said judge to direct the said jury that the said evidence did not establish a cause of action against the said defendant and that the said defendant, upon the said evidence, was entitled to a verdict, and the said judge did thereupon then and there declare and decide that the said evidence so as aforesaid given did not establish a cause of action against the said defendant and that the said paper, carried an conveyed by the steward of the said boat from Albion to Rochester as aforesaid described by the witnesses, was not a letter or mailable matter within the meaning of the act of Congress, but was a paper having a different
and distinct character of its own, and could be lawfully carried by the said steward of the packet boat aforesaid, and did then and there, for the reason aforesaid, direct the said jury to find a verdict for the said defendant. To which said opinion and decision the said United States attorney did then and there except, and the said jury did thereupon, in pursuance of the said opinion and decision, without leaving the box, find a verdict for the defendant.
The cause was afterwards removed by writ of error into the circuit court, when the judgment of the district court was affirmed.
The United States then sued out writ of error and brought the case up to this Court.