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decided: May 16, 1892.



Author: Field

[ 145 U.S. Page 552]

 MR. JUSTICE FIELD, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

The important questions presented in this case relate to the nature and duration of the estate condemned and sold by the decree of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio in the proceedings taken for the confiscation of the property of Thomas J. Jenkins, under the act of Congress of July 17, 1862, 12 Stat. 589, and to the power of disposition possessed by him over the naked fee or property in reversion, after the termination of the confiscated estate. The questions must find their solution in the interpretation given to the provisions of that act and to the terms of the decree. The act is entitled "An act to suppress insurrection, to punish treason and rebellion, to seize and confiscate the property of rebels and for other purposes."

In one of the earlier cases in this court under this act, it was earnestly contended that the act was not passed in the exercise of the war powers of the government, but in the execution of the municipal power of the government to legislate for the punishment of offences against the United States. Such was the contention in Miller v. United States, 11 Wall. 268, 308, 369. The court, however, was of opinion that only the first four sections, which were aimed at individual offenders, were open to that objection; and admitted that they were passed in the exercise of the sovereign, and not the belligerent, rights of the government; but held that in the 5th and following sections another purpose was avowed, not that of punishing treason and rebellion, as described in the title, but the other purpose there described, that of seizing and confiscating the property of rebels. The language of the 5th section is that "to insure the speedy termination of the present rebellion it shall be the duty of the President of the United States to cause the seizure of all the estate and property, money, stocks, credits and effects of the persons hereinafter named in this section, and to apply and use the same, and the proceeds thereof, for the support of the army of the United States." And the court, stating that the avowed purpose of the act was not to reach any criminal

[ 145 U.S. Page 553]

     personally, but to insure the speedy termination of the rebellion, which the court had recognized as a civil war, held that this purpose was such as Congress in the situation of the country might constitutionally entertain, and that the provisions made to carry it out, namely, confiscation, were legitimate, unless applied to others than enemies. The act, therefore, in execution of this purpose, provided for judicial proceedings in rem, for the condemnation and sale of the property mentioned, after its seizure, to be brought in any District or Territorial Court of the United States, which should conform as nearly as possible to proceedings in admiralty and revenue cases; and it declared that if the property should be found to have belonged to a person engaged in rebellion, or who had given aid or comfort thereto, the same should be condemned as enemies' property, and become the property of the United States, and might be disposed of as the court should decree, and the proceeds thereof paid into the Treasury of the United States for the purposes stated. After the act embodying this and other provisions had passed both houses of Congress and been presented to President Lincoln for approval, it was ascertained that he was of opinion that in some of its features it was unconstitutional, and that he intended to veto it. His objections were that in several of its clauses the provision of the Constitution concerning forfeitures not extending beyond the life of the offender was disregarded.Art. III, sec. 3. To meet this objection, which had been communicated to members of the House of Representatives, where the bill originated, a joint resolution, explanatory, as ti was termed, of the act -- but which might more properly be designated amendatory of the act and restrictive of its operation -- was passed by the House and sent to the Senate. That body, being informed of the objections of the President, concurred in the joint resolution. It was then sent to the President, and was received by him before the expiration of the ten days allowed him for the consideration of the original bill. He returned the bill and resolution together to the house where they originated, with a message, in which he stated that, considering the act and the resolution explanatory of the act as being substantially one, he approved and signed both. 12 Stat. 589 and 627.

[ 145 U.S. Page 554]

     The joint resolution declares that the provisions of the third clause of the 5th section of the act shall be so construed as not to apply to any act or acts done prior to its passage, "nor shall any punishment or proceedings under said act be so construed as to work a forfeiture of the real estate of the offender beyond his natural life." No decree condemning real property of persons seized under the act, could therefore extend the forfeiture adjudged beyond the life of the offending owner. During his life only could the control, possession, and enjoyment of the real property seized and condemned be appropriated. To that extent the property vested in the United States upon its condemnation and passed to the purchaser to whom the government might afterwards sell it.

What then was the situation of the remainder of the estate of the offending party after the condemnation and sale? The proceedings did not purport to touch any interest in the property or control of it beyond his life. When that ceased, his heirs took the property from him. They could not take anything from the government, for it had nothing; the interest it acquired by the condemnation passed by the sale to the purchaser. The reversionary interest or remainder of the estate must have rested somewhere. It could not have been floating in space without relationship to any one. The logical conclusion would seem to be that it continued in the offending owner. This, we think, follows, not only from the language of the act, but from decisions of this court construing its provisions, though some of the latter contain declarations that its possession is unaccompanied with any power of disposition over the future estate during his life.

In Bigelow v. Forrest, 9 Wall. 339, which came before this court at December term, 1869, it was held that the act of July 17, 1862, and the explanatory resolution of the same date, were to be construed together, and that thus construed all that could be sold by virtue of a decree of condemnation and order of sale under the act was a right to the property seized terminating with the life of the offending person, and that the fact that he owned the estate in fee simple, that the libel was against all his right, title, interest and estate, and

[ 145 U.S. Page 555]

     that the sale and marshal's deed professed to convey as much did not change the result. The District Court, said this court, under the act of Congress, had no power to order a sale which would confer upon the purchaser rights outlasting the life of the party, and had it done so it would have transcended its jurisdiction. This was the unanimous decision of the court.

In Day v. Micou, 18 Wall. 156, before this court at October term, 1873, it was held also by the court unanimously that, under the confiscation act and joint resolution explanatory of it, only the life estate of the person for whose offence the land had been seized was subject to condemnation and sale, and ...

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