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Revision of the act for the relief of Persons imprisoned for Debt. the act of 28th May, 1796, as containing some ob- trajudicial transaction, it is doubtful whether perservations connected with the subject now under sons, other than the debtor, taking false oaths, beconsideration. I have the honor to be, sir, your fore either the judge or commissioners, can be most obedient, humble servant,
punished for perjury. These are not all the deCHARLES LEE. fects of this law, but they are sufficient to show To Edward Livingston, Esq.,
that it wants revision and correction. Chairman Com. of Com. f. Man. There are some persons in the debtors' apartP.S. The foregoing I submitted to the Dis- ment of the city and county of Philadelphia contrict Attorney for Pennsylvania, whose opinion fined under process of the District Court for debts deserves much respect; and it becomes my duty to the United States. I have been (after due into mention that we do not concur. By mandamus vestigation at the time, as the liberty of a citizen the law may be settled in February.
was in question) and am now of 'opinion, that debtors to the United States are not relievable
under the act before mentioned. These debtors REVISION OF THE ACT FOR THE RELIEF before the last Winter session of Congress. A
have been a long time confined. One of them OF PERSONS IMPRISONED FOR DEBT.
learned law officer conceives that I ought to con
sider them as objects of the law; but another, [Communicated to Congress, January 18, 1798.] whose opinion he is reminded by his duty to menGentlemen of the Senate, and
tion as deserving respect, does not concur with Gentlemen of the House of Representatives : him. He proposes, instead of legislative explanaA representation has been made to me by the tioos, that the question should be examined by Judge of the Pennsylvania District of the United mandamus. In the meantime these unhappy priStates, of certain inconveniences and disagreeable soners are the victims to a delay, which a few circumstances which have occurred in the execu- words in law would long ago have remedied, and tion of the law passed on the twenty-eighth day will now further prevent. I mention this barely of May, one thousand seven hundred and ninety- to show that the law is at least doubtful on this six, entitled " An act for the relief of persons im- point. In my mnotives for executing this law, I prisoned for debt,” as well as of certain doubts choose to forget all questions about Constitutional which have been raised concerning its construc- authority to compel a judge to perform extrajudition. This representation, together with the re
cial authority. port of the Attorney General on the same subject,
The marshal of the district represents to me I now transmit to Congress for their considera- that there is no provision made for fuel and other tion, that, if any amendments or explanations of necessaries for poor debtors confined by process that law should be thought advisable, they may of the courts of the United States. Witnesses are be adopted.
also confined in jail, to insure their appearance to
JOHN ADAMS. give testimony, and suffer for want of provision UNITED STATES, January 18, 1798.
adequate to their support.
I have deemed myself bound to make this rep
resentation to you, that no imputation may lie on PHILADELPHIA, January 8, 1798.
me, if persons confined under the process of the Sir: From motives of humanity towards the courts of the United States suffer and continue objects of the act of Congress, entitled “ An act in prison for want of provision for their release or for the relief of persons imprisoned for debt,” I support. I have the honor to be, with sincere rehave, under several disagreeable circumstances, spect, your obedient servant, endeavored to carry that law into effect; but I
RICHARD PETERS, find it deficient in many essential provisions. It
Judge Penn. District of U.S. is doubtful whether the district judge is vested
The PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED States. with judicial powers, or those of a bankrupt commissioner. It should seem that judicial authority was not intended, as I can hardly suppose Con
PHILADELPHIA, January 10, 1798. gress meant to commit any part of the judiciary Sir: I have attentively considered the letter of authority of the United States into a situation so the Judge of the United States for the District of inefficient and degrading. The proceedings are Pennsylvania, dated the 8th instant, relative to to be had within the walls of a prison, and the the aci of Congress, entitled "An act for the rejudge is to certify them to the jailer. In this dis- lief of persons imprisoned for debt,” which he trict, where contracts are numerous, complicated, thinks deficient in many particulars. and extensive, it is impracticable to do business 1. He states it as doubtful whether the act vestwith propriety and effect in a jail. No record of ed judicial power in the judge relative to the disthe transactions is directed when the judge him- charge of insolvents, and assigns for the reason of self acts, though the law requires the commission- | the doubt that the law requires the proceedings ers appointed by him to return their doings to the to be had in the jail, and certified to the jailer. District Court.' The judge has no authority to This reason creates no doubt in my mind, for juorder the prisoner 10 be brought into a more fit dicial authority may be exercised in any place and convenient place, nor to punish contempts or appointed by law, and the certificate to the jailer enforce orders; and if it be, as it appears, an ex-l is requisite to inform him whether the prisoner
Relief of Imprisoned Debtors-Revision of certain Acts. may be discharged as an insolvent, or is to remain RELIEF OF IMPRISONED DEBTORS. in custody.
2d. The complaint against the law in requiring (Communicated to the House of Representatives, Februthe judge to go to the jail , and there to execute
ary 26, 1798.] the business, is well founded. It is unnecessarily Mr. N. Smith, from the committee appointed to inquire degrading and troublesome, and must be very dis
into the expediency of making alterations in the act agreeable. The act should be amended, by au
for the relief of persons imprisoned for debt, made the thorizing the judge to issue his warrant command
following report : ing the jailer to bring the prisoner before him, at That, in their opinion, the said act ought to be so some certain time and place to be named in the amended as to extend its provisions in express terms warrant, and authorizing any parties interested to to persons imprisoned in civil causes at the suit obtain subpænas for witnesses from the clerk of of the United States; also, that the several District the court, requiring their attendance to give testi- Judges ought to be authorized to issue their warmony then and there. Also in the great cities of rants, commanding the jailors to bring the prisonPhiladelphia, New York, Boston, Baltimore, and ers before them at such time and place as they shall Charleston. the judge of the district should have think proper to appoint, for the purpose of executing power to appoint two commissioners to do this the business assigned them by the said act; aod in kind of business, when it shall be inconvenient to case of prisoners confined in the cities of Philadelthe district judge, by reason of other judicial oc-phia, New York, Boston, Baltimore, and Charlescupations, absence, sickness, or other inability, ion, the judges ought to be empowered to appoint to act.
two commissioners to do the business under the 3d. It is objected that the act does not require said act, when it shall be inconvenient for the a record of the transactions when the judge him- judges to attend on the said business by reason self acts. Certainly the proceedings ought to be of other judicial duties, absence, sickness, or inabili recorded in the district court by the clerk of that ty.. Your committee are also of opinion that procourt, whether done before the judge of the dis- vision ought to be made by law
for the support of irict court or commissioners, and so I understand poor prisoners during their confinement, previous the law as it now is; for though it does not ex
to taking the oath provided for them by the said pressly direct the judge, when he acts, to return his doings to the district court, yet it is implied,
REVISION OF CERTAIN ACTS. from the nature of a court of record, that whatever is judicially done by the court shall be recorded. However, this may be made plainer by [Communicated to the House of Representatives, an amendment.
April 25, 1798.)
Mr. Otis, from the committee to whom were referred 4th. It is doubted whether witnesses taking false
two resolutions of the 27th of March last, to consider if oaths before the commissioners are punishable for
any, and what, alterations ought to be made in an act perjury; and considering the expressions of the entitled " An act for the relief of persons imprisoned act of Congress respecting perjury, there seems for debt ;" and also in an act entitled “ An act to pro. good cause for this doubt.
vide for mitigating or remitting the forfeitures, pena 5th. It is represented that no provision is made ties, and disabilities, accruing in certain cases therein for supplying necessaries to poor persons confined
mentioned," made the following report : under execution as debtors, or confined as wit- That, in the opinion of the committee, the relief nesses, to insure their appearance to testify. This afforded by law io persons imprisoned for debt, at defect should be supplied.
the suit of individuals, should be extended to 6th. A difference of opinion is entertained whe- those who may be imprisoned for debts due to the ther the act before mentioned comprehends debt- United States; and, accordingly, submit the bill ors to the United States or not. On this question, accompanying this report. and on this alone, a committee of Congress applied
Upon the second resolution the committee are lately to me for my opinion, which I sent, and of of opinion that no debtor to the United States which I take the liberty to transmit the enclosed should be discharged from imprisonment upon copy. As I think the fewer the laws the better, any judgment but with the approbation of the Seif competent to the purpose of society, I deem it cretary of the Treasury; and they have inserted advisable to avoid every unnecessary multiplica- in the aforesaid bill a provision for this object. tion of legislative acts. If this was the only ob- This bill, if adopted, will embrace all the prijection or doubt in the law now under considera- vate petitions that were submitted to the committion, it might wait for a judicial decision in the tes, except that of James Greenleaf. This petiSupreme Court; but, as in other respects the law tioner is confined upon mesne process, and prays is capable of essential amendments, it will be that the benefit of the act for the relief of persons best that the attention of Congress be called to the imprisoned for debt may be extended to such perwhole subject. With perfect respect, I have the sons prior to the recovery of final judgment; but honor to remain, sir, your most obedient, humble the committee are of opinion that an innovation servant,
of this nature cannot be made with propriety or CHARLES LEE.
convenience, unless by means of a uniform system The PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.
of bankruptcy; they therefore recommend that said Greenleaf have leave to withdraw his petition.
Indemnity to the Estate of General Greene. INDEMNITY TO ESTATE OF GEN. GREENE. for completing the contract were purchased on
credit by the contractors froin certain British (Communicated to the House of Representatives, Feb
merchants in Charleston.
Soon afterwards proposals were made by John ruary 14, 1798.]
Banks, on behalf of the same house, for the supply The Committee of Claims, to whom were recommitted of provisions for the Southern Army, for which
the petition of Henry Hill, and the several reports General Greene had also been authorized by the thereon, “ with instructions to report a statement of Superintendent of Finance to contract. These the facts relative to the demands against which the proposals, the urgent necessities of the service United States have indemnified General Greene, as surety for John Banks,” having investigated and had compelled General Greene to accept, and the new the same under consideration, now present, as the contract for this object was concluded on the 15th result of their inquiries, the following report:
of February, 1783. In this contract Banks alone
appeared, and the accounts at the Treasury were The transaction in which the claim in question opened in his name, but it is fully understood that originated took place as long ago as the month of he acted on behalf of the house of Hunter, Banks, December, 1780; at which time Joseph Clay, then and Co. paymaster for the Southern Army, paid to Major It soon appeared that the engagements of the Burnett, aid-de-camp to General Greene. and by house, under this last contract, were beyond their his orders, the sum of $37.200 in bills of exchange, means. They were pressed for payment by the for specie.
merchants from whom the goods for completing Pursuant to General Greene's direction. Major their first contract had been purchased, and who Burnett lodged those bills in the bands of Charles insisted that the funds of the house should be apPetrit
, Esq, of Philadelphia, who was then assis- plied solely to the discharge of their demands, untant Quartermaster General under Gen. Greene. less new and satisfactory security should be given,
A part of the bills, amounting to $9,800, Mr. This security the house was unable to find, and Pettit delivered to Mr. Morris, then Superinten- the funds in question, the only means whereby dent of Finance, who accounted for that sum; the they had the least chance of completing their secremaining $27,400 were sold by Mr. Pertit. They ond contract. were thus locked up. produced $19,516 18-90ths in money, of which he In the dilemma, they had recourse to General paid $10,903 84-90ths to Major Burnett for the Greene, who, in order to set free their funds, and use of General Greene, by whom it has been ac- enable them to furnish the Army with provisions, counted for. The balance, amounting to $8.612 became surely for them to sundry persons, and in 21-90ths remained in the hands of Mr. Pettit, who a large amount. The bonds whereby this security retained it as public money, in payment of a bal- was given were executed about the 8th of April, ance which he alleged to be due to him from the 1783. public in the Quartermaster's department. In As a counter security for himself, General ihis manner he has always declared himself ready Greene exacted from Banks, who represented to account for it, and the committee find it actually the house throughout the whole transaction, an charged to the Quartermaster General, in an ac- engagement that the moneys to become due from count between that department and the United the United States, under the contract, should be States, which was stated by Mr. Burrall, the late applied solely and exclusively to the discharge of Commissioner, on the 1st of May, 1789, but has those debts for which he had thus become responnot yet been finally closed.
sible; and the more effectually to insure the perThe Treasury Department, at that time under formance of this engagement, authority was given the direction of Mr. Morris, viewed this transac- by Banks to James Warrington, one of those cretion in a different light from Mr. Pettit; regard- ditors, and agent for the others, to receive chose ing Major Burnett as a principal in the business, moneys in Philadelphia, as they should become they opened an account against him. in which he due. He accordingly did receive $27,000 under was charged with the whole amount of bills re- this authority from Mr. Pettit, in Philadelphia, ceived from Mr. Clay, and credited, not for the who was the agent of Banks, and drew the money whole amount as delivered by him to Mr. Pettit, from the Treasury as it became due under the but for the sum paid by Mr. Pettit to the Superin- contract. Some payments, but to a much smaller tendent of Finance, and to General Greene; thus amount, were likewise made in the same manner the balance of $8,612 24-90ths, retained by Mr. to other creditors of this description. It does not Pettit, stood on the books of the Treasury as a appear that the above-mentioned engagement was charge against Major Burnett.
ever reduced to writing, or assumed the shape of Not long afterwards Major Burnett formed a a formal contract; nor is it known to have been co-partnership in trade with John Banks, and sun- made at the time when General Greene became dry other persons, under the firm of Hunter, Banks, security ; but there is no doubt of its having been and Co.
considered and represented by the house as a stipIt was with John Banks, a partner in this house, ulation, not only with General Greene, but also with that General Greene, in the fall of the year 1782, their crcditors; and that they gave their agent, and in pursuance of authority from the Depart- Mr. Pettit, instructions to conform to it by paying ment of War, concluded a contract for supplies of the contract money in discharge of those debts, clothing for the troops under his command. Banks with a statement of which they also furnished contracted on behalf of the house, and the supplies him. Banks, however, was far from observing Indemnity to the Estate of General Greene. this engagement; for a considerable part of the ment, and after charging Banks with the balance funds in question were diverted by him into other in question, there was a balance against him of channels.
$2,715 88. From this statement it appears, in a When the account of Banks under this contract manner satisfactory to the committee, that the for the supply of provisions came to be settled United States have been twice credited with this with his agent, Mr. Pettit, at the Treasury of the sum of $8.768 81 ; first in the Quartermaster United States, the Superintendent of Finance, General's Department, and secondly in the conMr. Morris, considered Major Burnett as one of tract account of John Banks, to whom, they are the contractors; and finding him charged in the of opinion, it was improperly charged in the setbooks of the Treasury with the balance of $8,612 24, tlement of December, 1783. This error, they conwhich Mr. Pettit had formerly retained out of the ceive, ought to be corrected by placing the sum proceeds of the bills brought from the Southward in question to his credit on that day; so that, inby Burnett, in 1780, he insisted on placing that stead of a balance against him of $2,715 88, there sum to the debit of the contract account. This he would be a balance in his favor of $7,052 83, for did upon the principle that this money was due which sum the United States must, of course, be to the United States by Burneti, one of the con- considered as indebted to him on the 31st of Detractors, and ought, therefore, to be deducted out cember, 1783. But, as the account was closed at of the sums due from the United States under the Treasury under the former Government, and the contract of the house whereof Burnett was a as the present Treasury Deparıment have adopted partner.
a rule that no such accounis shall now be opened, Mr. Pettit, on the other hand, contended that this error cannot be corrected without the aid of the bills placed in his hands by Major Burnett, in Congress. pursuance of General Greene's orders, were pub
It is this sum of $7,052 83, contended to have fic property, in the transmission of which from thus become due from the United States to John Mr. Clay to him, Burnett ought to be regarded Banks on the 31st of December, 1783, that is now merely as the messenger of General Greene, and claimed by Henry Hill, as the attorney in fact of that the money arising from these bills being pub- James Miller, who rests bis claim on an assignlic money, he, as Assistant Quartermaster Gen- ment from Banks. The assignment, a copy of eral, had a right to retain and account for them which is subjoined to this report, bears date on in that department; so that no charge could justly the 7th day of April, 1784. From the paper itself, be made on this account against Major Burnett'; as well as from an explanatory letter from Charles nor did he admit that if the charge against Burneti Pettit, Esq. to Mr. Hill, which is also subjoined, it was just, his private debts to the public could be appears clearly to include the above-mentioned set off against the claims of Banks, who alone ap- suin. By a certificate from the late Auditor of peared in the contract, and in whose name, indi- the Treasury, which is also annexed, it appears vidually, the contract account had been opened that, in the Winter of 1789–90, this assignment and kept at the Treasury:
was produced to him by Mr. Hill, in support of However doubtful the last of these points may his claim against the United States for the bal. be, the committee, upon full consideration, are ance in question. The reasons why the claim clearly of opinion that Mr. Pettit was right as to could no be admitted at the Treasury have althe first, and that the balance in question ought ready been stated. never to have been charged to Major Burnett. He About the time of this assignment, the house of manifestly acted as the mere agent of General Hunter, Banks, & Co. failed, and Banks soon after Greene in transmitting those bills of exchange died insolvent. Those creditors of the house to from the hands of Mr. Clay to Mr. Pettit ; and if whom General Greene had given security brought it was proper to open any account against him at suits against his estate, and his legal representathe Treasury for this transaction, he ought to have tives applied to Congress for relief and indemnibeen charged with the bills as received from Mr. ty. This application was made by the petition of Clay, and credited with them as delivered to Mr. General Greene's widow, on the 4th of March, Pettit, and then the account would have been bal. 1790. A bill granting the indemnity was introanced and closed.
duced and read a first time on the 5th day of If the committee are right in supposing that April, 1792. Major Burnett ought not to have been charged On the 4th of April, 1792, while this measure with this balance, which Mr. Pettit had retained, was still depending, Mr. Hill presented a petition and was willing to account for, it follows that no to Congress, stating his claim against the United foundation existed for the charge against Banks States under John Banks, and praying that no act in the contract account. The Superintendent of which might be passed for the relief of General Finance, however, settled the account in his own Greene's estate might be so framed as to impair way; and this balance. with interest, amounting his claim. This petition was referred to a comin the whole to $9,786 81, was charged to Banks; mittee, who reported favorably on the 10th of but the propriety of this decision was never ad- April, 1792, and their report was referred to the mitted, either by the latter or by his agent. The Committee of the Whole House, who then had settlement took place, partially, on the 31st of De- under consideration the bill above mentioned. cember, 1783, and the above-mentioned charge With this matter thus before it, the House prowas made; on the 30th of March following, the ceeded, on the same day, to pass
the bill. account was finally closed. Upon this settle- This bill, which passed into a law on the 27th
Indemnity to the Estate of General Greene. of the same month,contained the following clause: entitled to this balance under Banks might then "Provided, also, that the said executors shall make obrain it, either by application at the Treasury, or over and assign to the Comptroller of the Treas- by judicial decision, in case of controversy. ury and his successors, for the use of the United On the 14th of March, 1796, while these proStates, all mortgages, bonds, covenants, or other ceedings on Mr. Hill's application were had, a counter securities whatsoever, now due, which second petition was presented to Congress, by the were obtained by the said General Greene, in his representatives of General Greene, praying for relifetime, from the said Banks & Co., on account lief and indemnification against others of Banks's of bis being surety for them as aforesaid, to be paid creditors, to whom he had become surety in the for in the name of the said executors, for the use manner and for the purposes already stated. In of the United States.”
cousequence of this petition, an act was passed on On the 8th of November, 1792, James Warring- the 1st of June following, granting the relief ton, as attorney in fact for Joseph Blachford, one prayed for, and containing the following proviso: of the creditors of John Banks, presented a peti
The said executors shall make over to the tion to Congress, stating the balance due, as above Comptroller of the Treasury and his successors, mentioned, from the United States to Banks, and for the United States, all property, mortgages, praying that it might be paid to him in satisfac- bonds, covenants, and other counter securities tion of the debt of his principal. This petition whatsoever, if such there are, which were obtainwas referred to a committee, who reported on the ed by General Greene, in his life-time, from the 1st of February following. After reciting the cir- said John Banks and partners, or either of them, cumstances of the case, they recommend the fol- and causes of action on account of his being surety lowing resolution : “ Resolved, That the account for them as aforesaid ; to be paid for in the name ing officers of the Treasury cause the sum of of the said executors, for the use of the United $9,768 81, charged to John Banks on the 31st day States.” of December, 1783, to be credited to the said John It appears that, under these two acts, the followBanks; and ihat the sum so credited be charged ing sums have been paid out of the Treasury of to such other person as, in their opinion, shall be the United States, in discharge of debts originally justly chargeable therewith.” This resolution was contracted by Hunter, Banks, & Co., for which adopted on the 20th of February, 1793. A bill General Greene became surety: was brought in and passed, and sent to the Sen- Under the first act,
$27,504 15 ate, at the same session; but the Senate adjourned Under the second,
20,000 00 without acting upon it, and, of course, it was lost. James Warrington took no further steps in the Total,
$47,504 15 business; but, on the 16th of December, 1793, Henry Hill, in behalf of himself and other credit- for which sum the committee apprehend there ors of John Banks, presented a petition to the can be no doubt that the United States may justly House, stating that such a bill had passed the consider themselves as the creditors of Hunter, House at a former session, and praying that a simi- Banks, & Co. lar bill might be passed for the benefit of those en- The debt of Harris and Blachford having been titled under Banks. This petition was referred to one of those for which General Greene was bound, a committee, who reported favorably on the 7th of and against which his estate has been indemnified, January, 1794. No proceedings, however, appear it is to be remarked that, had the bill which was to have been had on the report till the 22d of Jan-founded on the petition of James Warrington been uary, 1795, when it was referred to the Commit- enacted and the money contemplated by it been tee of Claims. That committee made a favorable paid to Warrington, that money would have gone report on the 26th of May, 1796, which was re- in discharge of so much of the debt due from ferred to the Committee of the Whole House, but Hunter, Banks, & Co. to Harris and Blachford, not further acted upon during that session. and, of course, would have reduced by so much
On the 9th of December, 1796, the report last the sum for which the United States became rementioned was again referred to a Committee of sponsible by virtue of the second act of indemnity the Whole House, who, on the 14th of the same for General Greene's estate ; but whether, in case month, were discharged from the further consid- that bill had passed into a law, the said money eration thereof, and it was recommitted to the would have been paid to Warrington or to Henry Committee of Claims. On the 13th of January, Hill, by virtue of his assignment, the committee 1797, that committee again made a favorable re- cannot decide. port, which was again the subject of the last re- The facts here stated appear in the various recommitment.
ports and other documents, respecting this busiThese various reports, which are to be found on ness, which are now on the files of the House ; but the files of the House, uniformly recommend the as the papers are numerous and detached, the passing of a law similar to the bill actually passed commitiee, instead of merely referring to them, by the House on the petition of James Warring- have thought best to form a connected statement ton, and the effect of which would be to correct of those facts which appear to be material. the error conmitted by the Treasury in the set- This they now present, and hope it is so full as tlement of Banks's contract account on the 31st of to avoid the necessity of any further research, and December, 1783, by placing the aforementioned that it may furnish all the information requisite balance to his credit' on that day; those legally or guiding the House in its decision.