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HAMILTON v. DILLIN.

October 1, 1874

HAMILTON
v.
DILLIN.



ERROR to the Circuit Court for the Middle District of Tennessee.

Hamilton and others brought assumpsit in the court below against Dillin, surveyor of the port at Nashville, Tennessee, to recover a charge of four cents per pound paid by them to the said defendant, from August, 1863, to July, 1864, for permits to purchase and ship to the loyal States large quantities of cotton, amounting to over seven millions of pounds. This payment was one of the fees or charges required by the regulations of the Treasury Department to be made as a condition of carrying on the said trade between those portions of the insurrectionary States within the lines of occupation of the Union forces and the loyal States.

The case was thus:

The Constitution ordains as follows:

'The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises.'*fn1

'The President shall be commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several States, when called into actual service of the United States.'*fn2

On the 13th of July, 1861, Congress passed an act*fn3 by which the President was authorized, after certain preliminary measures for suppressing the insurrection, to declare by proclamation what States and parts of States were in a state of insurrection against the United States. The act proceeds:

'And thereupon, all commercial intercourse by and between the same and the citizens thereof and the citizens of the rest of the United States shall cease and be unlawful so long as such condition of hostility shall continue; and all goods, &c., coming from said State or section into the other parts of the United States, and all proceeding to such State or section by land or water, shall, together with the vessel or vehicle, &c., be forfeited to the United States: Provided, however, that the President may, in his discretion, license and permit commercial intercourse with any such part of said State or section, the inhabitants of which are so declared in a state of insurrection, in such articles, and for such time, and by such persons, as he, in his discretion, may think most conducive to the public interest; and such intercourse, so far as by him licensed, shall be conducted and carried on only in pursuance of rules and regulations prescribed by the Secretary of the Treasury.'

In pursuance of this act the President, on the 16th of August, 1861, issued a proclamation*fn4 declaring that the inhabitants of certain States, including Tennessee, were in a state of insurrection against the United States, and that all commercial intercourse between them and the citizens of other States was unlawful, and that all goods, &c., coming from said States without the special license and permission of the President, through the Secretary of the Treasury, or proceeding to any of said States, &c., would be forfeited, &c. This proclamation excepted from its operation, amongst other things, such parts of the enumerated States as might maintain a loyal adhesion to the Union and Constitution, or might be from time to time occupied and controlled by forces of the United States. A subsequent proclamation, issued April 2d, 1863,*fn5 abrogated the exception as embarrassing 'to the due enforcement of said act of July 13th, 1861, and the proper regulation of the commercial intercourse authorized by said act;' such abrogation, however, not extending to West Virginia or the ports of New Orleans, Key West, Port Royal, or Beaufort, in South Carolina.

On the 28th of February, 1862, the insurrection not making at this time further headway, the President issued an executive order thus:

'Considering that the existing circumstances of the country allow a partial restoration of commercial intercourse between the inhabitants of those parts of the United States heretofore declared to be in insurrection and the citizens of the loyal States of the Union, and exercising the authority and discretion confided to me by the act of Congress, approved July 13th, 1861, &c., I hereby license and permit such commercial intercourse, in all cases within the rules and regulations which have been or may be prescribed by the Secretary of the Treasury for the conducting and carrying on of the same on the inland waters and ways of the United States.'Under the authority of this and subsequent executive orders, the Secretary of the Treasury from time to time–that is to say on the said 28th of February, 1862, on the 28th of August, 1862, on the 31st of March, 1863, and finally on the 11th of September, 1863,–prescribed rules and regulations for carrying on the trade licensed by the President. Those last mentioned, and dated the 11th of September, 1863, being revised rules and regulations.

These last-dated regulations prohibited the transportation of goods or merchandise to or from any State or part of a State in insurrection, except under permits, certificates, and clearances, as provided therein; and the surveyors of the customs at Nashville and other places were designated as the officers to grant such permits. Authority to purchase and transport goods was to be granted only to those who should make the prescribed affidavit, and enter into bond to pay all fees required by the regulations; and no permit was to be granted for such purchase and transportation except upon the payment of such fees, or the giving of a bond to secure the same. The fees referred to, and appended to the regulations and making part thereof, consisted of various items and charges to be paid, and, amongst others,

'For each permit to purchase cotton in any insurrectionary district, and to transport the same to a loyal State, per pound . . . four cents.'

Accompanying the rules and regulations, dated March 31st, 1863, was the following contemporary:

'LICENSE OF TRADE BY THE PRESIDENT.

'WASHINGTON, EXECUTIVE MANSION, March 31st, 1863.

'Whereas, by the act of Congress approved July 13th, 1861, entitled, &c., all commercial intercourse between the inhabitants of such States as should by proclamation be declared in insurrection against the United States and the citizens of the rest of the United States was prohibited so long as such condition of hostility should continue, except as the same shall be licensed and permitted by the President, to be conducted and carried on only in pursuance of rules and regulations prescribed by the Secretary of the Treasury; and whereas it appears that a partial restoration of such intercourse between the inhabitants of sundry places and sections heretofore declared in insurrection in pursuance of said act and the citizens of the rest of the United States will favorably affect the public interests:

'Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, exercising the authority and discretion confided to me by the said act of Congress, do hereby license and permit such commercial intercourse between the citizens of the loyal States and the inhabitants of such insurrectionary States, in the cases and under the restrictions described and expressed in the regulations prescribed by the Secretary of the Treasury, bearing even date with these presents, or in such other regulations as he may hereafter, with my approval, prescribe.

'ABRAHAM LINCOLN.'

These revised rules and regulations of September 11th, 1863, were also approved in form by the President.

It was under the authority of these licenses and regulations that the four cents per pound, now sought by the plaintiffs to be got back, was levied and collected.

This license (a public document, perhaps), was not put in evidence.

By the bill of exceptions, it appeared that it was admitted on the trial that the defendant was acting surveyor of customs at Nashville during the period in question, and the only person that could grant the necessary permits; that the plaintiffs had in their possession, as owners or factors, various lots of cotton, specified in the bill, which had been purchased in pursuance of the license of the President and the regulations of the Secretary of the Treasury in that regard; that they applied to the defendant for permits to ship and transport said cotton from Nashville to a loyal State, and that the defendant, in obedience to said regulations and instructions, refused to grant such permits except on payment of the four cents per pound. It was also admitted that the regulations were well and publicly known at Nashville, and that they directed seizure and confiscation of all cotton shipped without such payment and permit, and that the plaintiffs made no formal protest against the payment of the tax, but paid the same, and that the same was paid by the defendant into the Treasury of the United States before the commencement of this action. It was also admitted that during said term of time Nashville was within the lines of military occupation of the United States.

The plaintiffs then put in evidence the Treasury Regulations in force at the time of the shipment of the cotton in question.

So far as to the main case. In order, however, fully to understand things, it is necessary to advert to certain statutes passed by Congress at different times, and which the plaintiffs and defendants supposed bore much upon their respective positions.

On the plaintiffs' side of the case, as they argued, it appeared that by a general internal revenue act of July 1st, 1862, an act of one hundred and nineteen sections, covering fifty-seven pages of the statute-book, and comprehending an immense list of articles taxed, Congress levied a tax of one-half cent per pound on all cotton, to be paid before its removal from the place of production.*fn6 And again, that by an act of March 7th, 1864, it raised the tax to two cents per pound in lieu of the one-half cent, where no duty had already been paid, levied, or collected on the cotton.*fn7

On the defendant's side, as he conceived, the President having, on the 1st July, 1862, issued a proclamation declaring what States and parts of States were in insurrection, with a view to the provisions of an act imposing a land tax, and made no exception of any fractions of States, except the counties constituting West Virginia, Congress, on the 12th of March, 1863, passed what is known as the Captured and Abandoned Property Act; an act 'to provide for the collection of abandoned property and for the prevention of frauds in insurrectionary districts within the United States.'

The first section enacts––

'That it shall be lawful for the Secretary of the Treasury, from and after the passage of this act, . . . to appoint a special agent or agents to receive and collect all abandoned property in any State or Territory, or any portion of any State of Territory of the United States, designated as in ...


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