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AMOS J. BRUCE AND FRANKLIN STEELE, PLAINTIFFS IN ERROR, v. THE UNITED STATES.

December 1, 1854

AMOS J. BRUCE AND FRANKLIN STEELE, PLAINTIFFS IN ERROR,
v.
THE UNITED STATES.



THIS case was brought up, by writ of error, from the circuit court of the United States for the district of Missouri. The facts in the case are stated in the opinion of the court. It was argued by Mr. Vinton, for the plaintiffs in error, and by Mr. Cushing, (attorney-general,) for the United States.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mr. Chief Justice Taney delivered the opinion of the court.

The writ of error, in this case, is brought upon a judgment obtained by the United States in the circuit court for the district of Missouri.

It appears that Bruce, one of the plaintiffs in error, was appointed agent for the Sioux tribe of Indians, in 1844, and gave the bond on which this suit is brought, for the faithful performance of his official duty. Franklin Steele, the other plaintiff in error, and John Atchison, were sureties in the bond; and Atchison having died, pending the suit in the circuit court, it abated as to him, and the judgment in favor of the United States was rendered against the plaintiffs in error. The breach assigned is, that there was a balance in Bruce's hands, on the 1st of July, 1848, of $10,191.69, which he refused to turn over and pay to the United States, when required to do so.

Bruce had held the same appointment for four years, before he received the one of which we are now speaking, and his account with government begins in May, 1840.

At the trial, the United States offered in evidence a transcript from the books of the treasury department, stating the account of Bruce from the time of his first appointment. According to this account, the balance above mentioned was due to the United States, but Bruce claimed various additional credits, amounting altogether to $6,931.68, which had been disallowed or suspended by the accounting officers, as appears by the closing account, usually called the statement of differences.

The United States further offered the transcript of a letter from the second auditor, whose duty it was to settle this account, addressed to Bruce, stating the balance due from him, according to the settlement in the auditor's office, and inclosing him the statement of differences above mentioned, and directing him to turn over to his successor in office the balance of the public money in his hands; and also offered the deposition of his successor, stating that he had made the demand, but that Bruce had failed to comply with it.

The defendants, therefore, objected to the admissibility of this evidence, but the court overruled the objection, and this constitutes the first exception in the case.

The objection is stated in general terms, and applies to the whole evidence offered by the United States, without pointing out the particular ground of the objection. But we understand from the argument here, that the defendants in the court below supposed that the transcript from the books of the treasury was not, of itself, evidence that he received the several sums of money charged against him, and that authenticated copies of his receipts ought to have accompanied the transcript.

But this objection cannot be maintained. The act of 1797 provides, that a transcript from the books and proceedings of the treasury, certified by the register, and authenticated under the seal of the department, shall be admitted in evidence. And the act of March 3, 1817, directs that all accounts whatever in which the United States are concerned, either as debtors or creditors, shall be settled and adjusted in the treasury department. The act makes the auditors and comptrollers, by whom the accounts in the war and navy departments are settled, officers of the treasury department. And the provision above mentioned in the act of 1797, in relation to transcripts from the books and proceedings in the treasury, is extended to the accounts of the war and navy departments; and the certificates of the auditors respectively charged with the settlement of these accounts, are to have the same effect as that directed in the former act of congress to be signed by the register.

The accounts in question belonged to the war department, during the period of Bruce's agency, and were adjusted and certified by the proper officers. There could, therefore, be no objection to the evidence on that score.

Nor do we see how any valid objection can be made to the items charged against Bruce in the transcript. The books of the accounting officer necessarily contain the charges against, as well as the credits of, the disbursing officer. The accounts could not be adjusted on the books in any other manner; and the transcript, or, in other words, the copy of the entire account as it stands on the books, (which must include debits as well as credits,) are made evidence by the law. Nor do we see any reason for restricting the words of the acts of congress within narrower limits than the words plainly imply. The accounts are adjusted by public sworn officers, bound to do equal justice to the government and the individual. They are records of the proper departments, and always open to the inspection of the party interested. And, after all, the transcript is only prim a facie evidence; and, if the party disputes any of the charges against him, it is in his power, by a proper application to the court, supported by sufficient evidence, to obtain the original vouchers on which he was charged, if necessary to his defence, and to show that the debit against him is erroneous.

If, indeed, it appeared on the face of the account that an item was charged against him which had not come to his hands in the regular and ordinary operations of the government, and of which, therefore, the accounting officers could have no official knowledge, the transcript would not be evidence to support that charge. But no such debit is found in this transcript; for, according to the regular and ordinary practice of the government, in cases of this description, the agent receives from his predecessor in the office the money and property remaining in his hands; and other funds, which it may be his duty to disburse, are sometimes sent through the general superintendent at St. Louis, sometimes by a treasury deaft, forwarded directly to himself, and sometimes through the agency of a military or other officer of the government. And these advances pass through the proper offices of the treasury and war departments, (now through the department of the interior,) and the agent is charged upon his own receipts and warrants, issued in his favor.

This appears to have been done in the case before us. Every payment or advance to him is separately charged, and the time when it came to his hands, as well as the name of the person from whom he received it. The copies of his receipts, or of the vouchers for the charge, would have given him no further information; and the acts of congress above referred to do not require them to be annexed to or accompany the account, but, in plain and unambiguous terms, makes the transcript itself evidence.

Cases analogous to this have, on several occasions, come before the court, and have all been decided upon the construction of the acts of congress above stated. Smith v. United States, 5 Pet. 292; Coxe and Dick v. United States, 6 Ib. 202; and Hoyt v. United States, 10 How. 109, are all in point. And the cases of the United States v. Buford, 3 Pet. 29, and United States v. Jones, 8 Ib. 376, which are sometimes supposed to ...


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