The Post Office Department, by public notice, invited proposals
for conveying the mails on route No.
"43,132, from Portland, Oregon, by Port Townsend (W.T.) and San
Juan, to Sitka, Alaska, fourteen hundred miles and back, once a
month, in safe and suitable steamboats."
The notice, after fixing the time of departure and arrival from
the terminal ports, contained the following: "Proposals incited to
begin at Port Townsend (W.T.), five hundred miles less. Present
pay, $84,800 per annum."
1. That under sec. 243 of the Act of June 8, 1872, 17 Stat. 313,
this was a sufficient notice that proposals were desired for
carrying the mails between Port Townsend and Sitka.
2. That the acceptance by the Post Office Department of the
proposal of a bidder to so carry them created a contract of the
same force and effect as if a formal contract had been written out
and signed by the parties.
In addition to the facts set forth in the opinion of the Court,
the court below found that the appellant's proposal was as
"The undersigned, Selucius Garfielde, whose post office address
is Port Townsend, County of Jefferson, Territory of Washington,
proposes to convey the mails of the United States from July 1,
1874, to June 30, 1878, on route No. 43,132, between Port Townsend,
and Sitka, Alaska, under the advertisement of the Postmaster
General, dated Oct. 1, 1873, in safe and suitable steamboats, 'with
celerity, certainty, and security' (law of June 8, 1872), for the
annual sum of $26,000. "
Page 93 U. S. 243
"This proposal is made with full knowledge of the distance of
the route, the weight of the mail to be carried, and all other
particulars in reference to the route and service, and also after
careful examination of the laws and instructions attached to
advertisement of mail service."
"Dated, Port Townsend, W.T., Jan. 8, 1874."
"SELUCIUS GARFIELDE, Bidder
He made no proposal under the first part of the advertisement
for carrying the mail between Portland, Oregon, by Port Townsend,
W.T., and San Juan to Sitka, Alaska.
In March, 1874, the following notice of acceptance was sent to
"U.S. POST-OFFICE DEPARTMENT"
"OFFICE OF THE SECOND ASSISTANT POSTMASTER-GENERAL"
"WASHINGTON, D.C., March 2, 1874"
"SIR -- The Postmaster General has accepted your proposal, under
advertisement of Oct. 1, 1873, for conveying the United States
mail, from July 1, 1874, to June 30, 1878, on [Washington
Territory] route No. 43,132, between Port Townsend and Sitka,
Alaska, at $26,000 a year, 'with celerity, certainty, and
"Contracts will be sent in due time to the postmaster at your
place of residence, which you must execute and return to the
department by the first day of June; otherwise you will be
considered a failing bidder, and the service will be relet at your
"You will request the postmaster at the beginning and end of the
route to inform this office when you make the first trip."
"J. L. ROUTT"
"Second Assistant Postmaster General
"MR. SELUCIUS GARFIELDE"
"PORT TOWNSEND, JEFFERSON CO., W.T."
"Recorded and sent March __, 1874"
And on the eighteenth day of April, 1874, Garfield was informed
by telegram that his "proposal" was suspended; and on the 30th of
May, 1874, a contract was entered into between the Post Office
Department and one Otis for carrying the mails from Portland by
Port Townsend and San Juan, to Sitka and back, at $34,800 per
Page 93 U. S. 244
The Court of Claims dismissed the petition, whereupon Garfielde
MR. JUSTICE HUNT delivered the opinion of the Court.
The Court of Claims holds that the proposal on the part of
Garfielde, and the acceptance of the proposal by the department,
created a contract of the same force and effect as if a formal
contract had been written out and signed by the parties. Many
authorities are cited to sustain the proposition. We believe it to
be sound, and that it should be so held in the present case.
That court held that the contract alleged by the petitioner was
invalid, for the reason that the Postmaster General exceeded his
authority in making it without the previous publication required by
the Act of Congress of June 8, 1872. 17 Stat. 313, sec. 243.
That act required,
"That, before making any contract for carrying the mail, . . .
the Postmaster General shall give public notice . . . such notice
shall describe the route, the time at which the mail is to be made
up, the time at which it is to be delivered, and the frequency of
Among the instructions issued by the authority and official
sanction of the Postmaster General are the following, which were
referred to and proved or admitted by the parties at the trial:
"SPECIAL NOTICE -- All instructions and regulations promulgated
by the Postmaster General, conformably to law, for the guidance of
persons employed by the department, are entitled to the same
respect and obedience as acts of Congress. . . ."
"SEC. 263. The Postmaster General may order an increase or
extension of service on a route, by allowing therefor a pro
increase on the contract pay. He may change schedules of
departures and arrivals in all cases, and particularly to make them
conform to connections with railroads, without increase of pay,
provided the running time be not abridged. He may also order an
increase of speed, allowing, within the restrictions of the law, a
increase of pay for the additional stock or
carriers, if any. The contractor may, however, in case of increase
of speed, relinquish
Page 93 U. S. 245
the contract, by giving prompt notice to the department that he
prefers doing to carrying the order into effect. The Postmaster
General may also discontinue or curtail the service, in whole or in
part, in order to place on the route a greater degree of service,
or whenever the public interests, in his judgment, shall require
such discontinuance or curtailment for any other cause; he
allowing, as a full indemnity to the contractor, one month's extra
pay on the amount of service dispensed with, and a pro
compensation for the amount of service retained and
"SEC. 267. Bidders should first propose for service strictly
according to the advertisement, and then, if they desire,
separately for different service, and, if the regular bid be the
lowest offered for the advertised service, the other proposition
may be considered."
"SEC. 275. The law provides that contracts for the
transportation of the mail shall be awarded to the lowest bidder
tendering sufficient guaranties for faithful performance, without
other reference to the mode of such transportation than may be
necessary to provide for the due celerity, certainty, and security
The notice in the present case called for proposals for carrying
the mails on route No. 43,132, from Portland, Oregon, to Sitka,
Alaska. The distance was stated to be fourteen hundred miles. The
duty was required to be performed each way once in each month, in
safe and suitable steamboats, by the way of Port Townsend and San
Juan. The time of departure and arrival at each terminus was
specified, and ten days was allowed for the passage. It was then
added, "Proposals invited to begin at Port Townsend (W.T.), five
hundred miles less."
We are of the opinion that this was a sufficient notice, under
sec. 243, supra,
that proposals were desired for carrying
the mail from Port Townsend to Sitka. The rigorous and strained
construction which would defeat it would defeat the reasonable
intent of the statute. Each terminus was given -- to-wit, Port
Townsend and Sitka -- as was the route to be followed -- to wit, by
way of San Juan -- and the length of time to be occupied -- to-wit,
ten days for the whole distance, of which this distance bore the
proportion of nine to fourteen -- and the time of making up and
delivery, upon the same principle. The steamer should leave
Portland on the first day of every month; of the ten days allowed
for the passage to Sitka, five-fourteenths would be
Page 93 U. S. 246
occupied in reaching Port Townsend, and nine-fourteenths would
be allowed for the residue. The whole time and the whole number of
miles being given, it was a simple arithmetical question of when
the steamer would leave Port Townsend, and when, on its return, it
would reach that port.
The object of the statute was to secure notice of the intended
post routes, of the service required, and the manner of its
performance, that bidders might compete, that favoritism should be
prevented, that efficiency and economy in the service should be
obtained. It was not required that papers of this character should
be drawn, as if they were subject to the criticism or dissection of
a demurrer in a court of law.
Accordingly it appears that this notice for the abridged
distance is in conformity to the usages of the Post Office
Department for many years past, proof having been made of nine
hundred similar advertisements published by the Postmaster General.
Long practice and constant usage favor the construction we have
given to these proposals.
Great aid is also given by the two hundred and sixty-third
regulation, above recited. It is there provided, that the
Postmaster General may, in his discretion, change the schedule of
departures and arrivals, without increase of pay, if the running
time be not abridged. Under this authority, he had the power to
name the precise days of the month on which the steamer of
Garfielde, the claimant, should leave Port Townsend or Sitka, or
both of these places. The supposed defects in the advertisement are
capable of a remedy, if needed, under this authority.
The damages are regulated by the same section. The claimant
states in his proposal that he has full knowledge of the laws and
regulations of the department on the subject of mail
transportation. He no doubt knew that this regulation provided that
the Postmaster General could discontinue entirely the service for
which he proposed, whenever in his judgment the public interests
required it, and that for such discontinuance one month's pay was
to be deemed a full indemnity to the contractor. There was reserved
to the Postmaster General the power to annul the contract when his
judgment advised that it should be done, and the compensation to
the contractor was specified. An indemnity agreed upon as the
amount to be
Page 93 U. S. 247
paid for cancelling a contract, must, we think, afford the
measure of damages for illegally refusing to award it.
Judgment reversed and cause remitted that a judgment may be
rendered in favor of the appellant for a sum equal to one month's
compensation under the proposal made by him and accepted by the