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LAMAR V. BROWNE, 92 U. S. 187 (1875)

U.S. Supreme Court

Lamar v. Browne, 92 U.S. 187 (1875)

Lamar v. Browne

92 U.S. 187


1. The United States, in the enforcement of their constitutional rights against armed insurrection, have all the powers not only of a sovereign, but also of the most favored belligerent. As belligerent, they may by capture enforce their authority and, as sovereign, by pardon and restoration to all rights, civil as well as political, recall their revolted citizens to allegiance.

2. Notwithstanding active hostilities had ceased in Georgia, cotton, although private property, seized there by the military forces of the United States in obedience to an order of the commanding general during their occupation and actual government of that state, was taken from hostile possession within the meaning of that term and was, without regard to the status of the owner, a legitimate subject of capture.

3. What shall be the subject of capture, as against his enemy, is always within the control of every belligerent. It is the duty of his military forces in the field to seize and hold that which is apparently so subject, leaving the owner to make good his claim as against the capture in the appropriate tribunal established for that purpose. In that regard, they occupy on land the same position that naval forces do at sea.

4. Unless restrained by governmental regulations, the capture of movable property on land changes the ownership of it without adjudication. It was authorized by law, in any state or territory in rebellion against the government of the United States. They (12 Stat. 820) provided as well for the collection of captured or abandoned property as for its conversion into money to be deposited in the national treasury, and allowed the claimant within a prescribed time to sue in the Court of Claims, and to receive the net proceeds on proof to its satisfaction, of his loyalty, and of his right to them.

5. Neither the captors nor the special agents of the treasury to whom they delivered the captured property are liable to the owner thereof in an action at law for anything by them done within the scope of their delegated powers. Acting for the government, they are protected by its authority, and he must look to it, and not to them, for indemnity.

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