Decatur Bank v. St. Louis Bank,
88 U.S. 294 (1874)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Decatur Bank v. St. Louis Bank, 88 U.S. 21 Wall. 294 294 (1874)

Decatur Bank v. St. Louis Bank

88 U.S. (21 Wall.) 294


1. A bank at Decatur, Illinois, accredited B. with a bank at St. Louis, Missouri, saying that "his drafts against shipments of cattle to the extent of $10,000 are hereby guaranteed." Held that hogs were included within

the term cattle, and that B.'s drafts against shipments of hogs not having been paid, the Bank of Decatur was responsible on its letter of credit.

2. Though there may be plain error in a charge, yet if the record present to this Court the whole case, and it be plain from such whole case that if the court had charged rightly, the result of the trial would have been the same as it was, this Court will not reverse.

In the autumn and winter of 1869, P. E. Frederick -- who, according to his own account, was at that time "engaged in buying and shipping stock in St. Louis" -- intending to purchase cattle there and ship them to a business connection of his in Chicago, named J. S. Talmadge, who was to receive and sell them, and honor Frederick's drafts given in payment for the same -- applied to the First National Bank of Decatur, Illinois, for a letter of credit on some bank in St. Louis. The bank at Decatur accordingly gave him a letter on its correspondent, the Home Savings Bank of St. Louis.

The letter was in these words:


"DECATUR, ILL., September 13, 1869"


"Cashier, St. Louis, Mo."

"SIR: We beg herewith to accredit with you P. E. Frederick, Esq., whose drafts on shipments of cattle to J. S. Talmadge,

Page 88 U. S. 295

Chicago, are herewith guaranteed to the amount of ten thousand dollars for thirty days from date."

"Yours respectfully,"


Pierce answered thus:


"ST. LOUIS, September 18, 1869"



"DEAR SIR: Mr. Frederick has today presented your letter of credit for $10,000 of 13th at thirty days. Permit me to inquire, in case his drafts for $10,000 or less on Talmadge are paid, does your letter mean that we may take his draft again up to same amount, and so on for your limit, thirty days? That is to say, do you guarantee us for thirty days on Frederick's drafts on Talmadge for $10,000?"

"Yours respectfully,"



And on the 21st of September, 1869, the cashier of the Decatur bank replied as follows, viz.:


"DECATUR, ILL., September 21, 1869"

"H. C. PIERCE, ESQ., Cashier"

"St. Louis, Mo."

"DEAR SIR: Your favor of the 18th is received. Yes, we guarantee you on Frederick's drafts on Talmadge for $10,000 for thirty days from September 13, 1869."

"Yours respectfully,"


The thirty days limited in the last letter being on the eve of expiration, the Illinois bank renewed and extended its guarantee by the following communication, viz.:


"DECATUR, ILL., October 20, 1869"


"Cashier, St. Louis, Mo."

"DEAR SIR: The guarantee given for Mr. Frederick, please consider extended for thirty days from expiration."

"Yours &c.,"


Page 88 U. S. 296

And again, when the limit fixed by the last letter had expired:


"DECATUR, ILL., November 22, 1869"


"Cashier, St. Louis, Mo."

"SIR: The letter of credit given you for Mr. Frederick is hereby extended for thirty days from expiration last date."




Accredited with the letters thus given, Frederick went to St. Louis, and -- having just previously to the 10th of December, 1869 (that is to say, within the term embraced by the letter of November the 22d), shipped hogs to his correspondent at Chicago, Talmadge -- drew drafts to the amount of $8,000 against them. Talmadge failed before the drafts came due, and the bank at St. Louis now came upon the bank at Decatur for payment under the guarantee. This latter bank set up that its guarantee was of drafts drawn against shipments of cattle, and that the drafts sued on were against shipments of hogs, and that these were not cattle, which term, as understood in the transaction, was confined to animals of the bovine species. The Decatur bank did not allege that any injury had accrued to it by the fact that the shipment was of hogs, which would not have accrued if the shipment had been of animals of the bovine species, or that there was any want of good faith on the part of the St. Louis bank or of Frederick in the transaction.

There was also a plea:

"And for a further plea &c., the defendant says actio non, because, it says, that it is not true that the defendant, by its cashier, executed the alleged letters of credit, or written guarantee, or any of the same in said counts mentioned and described; and this the defendant prays may be inquired of by the country &c."

But this plea was apparently abandoned.

The court below charged

"that the contract of guarantee was contained in the letter of J. H. Livingston, dated September

Page 88 U. S. 297

21st, 1869, and the extension thereof, and that the defendant would be bound to pay drafts drawn by Frederick upon Talmadge within the limits of the said letter and the extensions thereof, as to time and amount, no matter whether such drafts were drawn upon shipments of cattle or not."

To this instruction the defendant excepted, and verdict and judgment having been given for the plaintiff, the defendant brought the case here. The bill of exceptions set out all the evidence in the case.

Page 88 U. S. 298

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