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United States, Lyon v. Huckabee, 83 U.S. 16 Wall. 414 414 (1872)

United States, Lyon v. Huckabee

83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 414


1. Where, under the Confiscation Act of August 6, 1861, after a libel showing a case within the act, an amended libel sets out a case which shows that there can be no confiscation under the act, both libel and amended libel should be dismissed.

2. The process prescribed by the Confiscation Acts cannot, by the union of certain claimants of land proceeded against with the United States otherwise than as informers, be made the means by which the conflicting titles to the land between such person and other claimants shall be settled.

3. Where land was sold to the so-called "Confederate States" during the rebellion, and was captured by the United States, it became on the extinction of the Confederacy and without further proceeding, the property of the United States, and could be properly sold by them.

4. Such sale rendered any proceeding against the persons who owned the land prior to sale to the "Confederate States," wholly improper.

5. Where the agents of the said Confederacy came to persons owning iron works and informed them that they must either contract to furnish iron at a uniform price or lease or sell the works to the Confederacy or that they would be impressed, and the owners -- then much in debt -- after consultation -- the works being already in charge of a guard from the Confederacy, which possessed despotic power over skillful laborers -- considering that to "contract" would cause a failure of their scheme and to lease would be ruinous, resolved to sell. held that such a sale was not made under duress.

6. Where a subordinate court which had no jurisdiction in the case has given judgment for the plaintiff or defendant or improperly decreed affirmative relief to a claimant, an appellate court must reverse. It is not enough to dismiss the suit.

In the year 1862, soon after the outbreak of the late rebellion, one C. C. Huckabee and three other persons formed under the general laws of Alabama a corporation called "The Bibb County Iron Company," Huckabee being president and the other corporators directors and, with him, the only stockholders. As the name of the corporation indicates, its object was the working in iron, its particular machinery being such as made it capable of manufacturing cannon and other munitions of war. Rolling mills were erected and lands, slaves, and mules bought.

Page 83 U. S. 415

When the company had thus got fairly going, the rebel government sent one of its officers to Huckabee, the president, requiring him and the corporation to make a contract with the Confederacy to deliver iron to it at a uniform price named. [The iron had been furnished at the price named, for some time before this, but no formal contract to furnish it uniformly at that price existed.] Huckabee refused to make any such contract. Finally, being sent for again by the agents of the rebel government, he was told that the agreement under which the iron was then furnished was not a contract, and that he must make a contract. He then consulted with his stockholders, and the result was that the company refused to make any contract. He was then sent for a third time, and told that the company must either contract on government terms, or lease the works, or sell them to the Confederate States, and that otherwise the works would be impressed. The company resolved, after some weeks consideration, to sell. The influences which operated on the owners, according to the statement of Huckabee, the president, were these:

"We owed a large amount of money, about $300,000, and our debts were increasing. We knew that if we contracted, we could not pay our debts and get back our capital. To lease would have been ruinous; and as we had been informed that if we did not either contract, lease, or sell, the works would be impressed, we regarded it best to sell. I cannot say that there could not have been other reasons influencing the minds of other corporators than myself to join in the resolution authorizing the sale."

It appeared that during most of the time that the iron company had been in operation, a guard from the rebel army had been in control of it, so far as to see that it sent no iron away except to the rebel authorities. And moreover that the rebel powers possessed an almost despotic power over the whole body of skillful laborers in the region.

The sale was made, and a deed executed under the corporate seal and the hands of the president and all the other corporators, three in number, September 13th, 1863. The

Page 83 U. S. 416

consideration was $600,000, Confederate money, which was duly paid, and after a discharge of the corporate debts, divided among the stockholders; the persons who had executed the deed. Confederate money was at this time worth one-fourteenth of the same amount in federal money.

The deed recited that at a meeting of all the stockholders held on September 9, 1863, it was resolved unanimously that the president be authorized, for the sum of $600,000, to sell to the Confederate States all lands, negroes, mules &c., and to execute deeds of warranty, and that the party of the second part agreed to pay the said sum for the said property, provided the said stockholders united in the conveyance. The deed contained full covenants of warranty. More than a month subsequently to its date, to-wit, on the 25th November, 1863, it was acknowledged before the probate judge, as having been "executed voluntarily on the day of its date."

The Confederate government from that time managed the works, casting great quantities of cannon, shell, shot, and other implements of war, which were used to maintain the rebellion.

In March, 1865, the property was captured by the government army. It remained for a short time under the military forces, and was then taken possession of by the Treasury Department as captured and abandoned property, and the rebel confederacy having become now extinct, on the 3d of February, 1866, after public notice, was sold for $45,000 to Francis Lyon, for himself and others, by the Commissioner of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, under the authority of the President and Secretary of the Treasury. Prior to the sale, Lyon went to Huckabee and asked him if the title was good. He said he believed it was, and declined a suggestion of Lyon to take part in the contemplated purchase (which he said he would like to do), because he had not the money at the time. The sale having been made, the money was paid and a deed executed. The sale was confirmed by act of Congress, approved December 15, 1866, which "released and confirmed to the

Page 83 U. S. 417

said Lyon any interest which the United States had in the land described."

Prior to all this -- that is to say, on the 1st of October, 1865, the District Attorney of the United States, describing himself as "prosecuting for the United States and an informer," had exhibited an information in the District Court for the Middle District of Alabama (in which the property was), against it (describing it), "said to belong to the late so-called Confederate States of America," and praying process to enforce the seizure, condemnation, and confiscation of the same.

This proceeding was made under the Act of August 6, 1861, which enacts that if, during the then existing rebellion,

"Any person or persons . . . shall purchase, or acquire, sell, or give any property . . . with intent to use or employ the same, or suffer the same to be used and employed in aiding, abetting, or promoting such insurrection or resistance to the laws, or any person or persons engaged therein, or if any person or persons being the owner or owners of any such property, shall knowingly use or employ, or consent to the use or employment of the same as aforesaid, all such property is hereby declared to be lawful subject of prize and capture wherever found, and it shall be the duty of the President of the United States to cause the same to be seized, confiscated, and condemned."

"The Attorney General or any district attorney of the United States in which said property may at the time be, may institute the proceedings of condemnation, and in such case they shall be wholly for the benefit of the United States; or any person may file an information with such attorney, in which case the proceedings shall be for the use of such informer and the United States in equal parts."

Things stood in this way from October 1, 1865, when this information was filed, till the 30th of May, 1866, when Lyon and his co-purchasers were in possession. On that day, Huckabee and his co-corporators in the old Bibb County Iron Company appeared as claimants of the property against which the information had been filed, asserting that they and no other persons were "the true and legal

Page 83 U. S. 418

owners" of it, and that the property had not been knowingly used and employed with the consent of the owners in aiding, abetting, and promoting the rebellion, but, on the contrary thereof, that the said property was built with the money and labor of them, the said respondents, and for their sole use, and was never voluntarily employed in the way alleged. They set up also that they had all been pardoned for all participation in the rebellion.

On the 24th of October, 1866, the Assistant Attorney General of the United States wrote from Washington to the District Attorney in Alabama to dismiss the proceedings in confiscation instituted by him, the property having been sold to Mr. Lyon by the Commissioner of the Freedman's Bureau,

"unless Mr. Lyon should prefer that, for the purpose of securing and perfecting the title, be should desire them to be continued for his own use and benefit; and in that case the proceedings will be carried on in the name of the United States, at the cost and charges of Mr. Lyon."

Soon after this -- that is to say on the 26th of November, 1866, and obviously with a view of carrying out the suggestion of securing and perfecting the title in Lyon, Lyon and his co-purchasers came forward, and were made defendants. They set out the original ownership of "The Bibb County Iron Company," the sale by it to the Confederate States, with the full knowledge of the purpose to which the property was to be applied, the capture, in March, 1865, of the property by the federal army, and the subsequent sale and conveyance, by authority of the United States, to them.

An amended information was also filed, setting out pretty much what was in the original one, but setting out in addition the capture of the property by the forces of the United States and the sale and conveyance by the government to Lyon and his co-purchasers, the Act of Congress confirming it, all fully and in form, but still asking process of seizure, condemnation, and confiscation as before. [Footnote 1]

Lyon answered this amended information, setting out the

Page 83 U. S. 419

history down to his deed, a copy of the deed, and a copy of the Act of Congress confirming his title.

Huckabee and his co-corporators also answered this amended libel, setting up that

"the so-called Confederate States were not a legal government, but existed by mere force and compulsion, and that it therefore never had any capacity under the laws of the United States or under the law of nations to acquire the title to lands;"

setting up also that the deed given was executed under duress.

In this state of things, the case came on for hearing, when the district court dismissed the libel and amended libel and made a decree vesting the property in Huckabee and his ancient co-corporators or their assigns. From that decree the United States and Lyon and his co-purchasers appealed.

Page 83 U. S. 424

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