United States v. Insurance Companies,
89 U.S. 99 (1874)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Insurance Companies, 89 U.S. 22 Wall. 99 99 (1874)

United States v. Insurance Companies

89 U.S. (22 Wall.) 99


1. Corporations created by the legislature of a rebel state while the state was in armed rebellion against the government of the United States have power since the suppression of the rebellion to sue in the federal courts if the acts of incorporation had no relation to anything else than the domestic concerns of the state and they were neither in their apparent purpose nor in their operation hostile to the Union or in conflict with the Constitution, but were mere ordinary legislation, such as might have been had there been no war or no attempted secession, and such as is of yearly occurrence in all the states.

2. Such corporations may in proper cases sue under the Captured and Abandoned Property Act.

The Home Insurance Company and the Southern Insurance and Trust Company, both being corporations created by the Legislature of Georgia in 1861 and 1863, while the state was in armed rebellion against the government of the United States, brought suit in the court below against the United States under the Captured and Abandoned Property Act (an act which, by its terms, gives a right to sue only to persons who have borne true faith and allegiance to the government and have never voluntarily aided, abetted, or given encouragement to rebellion) to recover the proceeds of the sale of cotton captured at Savannah, in 1864, and now in the Treasury of the United States. The United States pleaded the general issue and statute of limitations, but no other plea.

On the argument, however, of the case, the counsel of the government set up that the courts of the United States would not recognize the competency of those bodies known as the legislatures of the insurgent states to create corporations, such as insurance, banking, and trust companies, and as the plaintiffs in the court below were incorporated under acts passed after the attempted secession of Georgia from the Union and before the close of the war, it was argued that they could have now no legal existence. The question thus raised, in the argument -- the grounds made

Page 89 U. S. 100

by the pleas not having been at all supported by the evidence, and, in fact, not pressed -- was accordingly whether such corporations as were now suing could be recognized as having a legal existence with capacity to own cotton and to sue in the Court of Claims.

That court thought that they had, and gave judgment against the government. The case, therefore, was now here on its appeal, the same question being now presented here in the argument, along with the further point that if these plaintiffs were competent to sue in the federal courts, they could not sue under the Captured and Abandoned Property Act, because as corporations, they could not bear true faith and allegiance, that capability, as well as the contrary one of voluntarily aiding, abetting or giving encouragement to rebellion being predicable of natural persons only, for whom and not for corporations the act must be meant. This point, however, was not made in the court below nor its decision thereon assigned for error. The errors assigned were that the court erred:

"1st. In holding that the claimants had a legal existence; and"

"2d. In holding that the rebel legislature of Georgia could create a corporation capable of suing the United States after the suppression of the rebellion."

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