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BUREAU OF YARDS AND DOCKS,
January 25, 1854. SIR: I have the honor to acknowledge the reference to this bureau of a communication from the honorable F. P. Stanton, chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives, dated the 20th instant, enclosing the memorial to Congress of Frederick Griffing, esq., praying for relief by payment of money reserved by the United States to remove certain incumbrances upon land conveyed to the United States by said Griffing, which reservation the said Griffing avers should not in law or justice have been withheld from him; and requesting to know from the Navy Department whether the facts stated in said memorial are accurate and true; and desiring to know if a contract was concluded on the basis of the letter of the Secretary of the Navy, dated the 11th of December, 1847; and, if such contract was made conditioned upon the appropriation, at what precise date it was concluded.
In reply, I have the honor to state succinctly, that, so far as is known to me, there was no other contract or bargain entered into or made between the Secretary of the Navy and Mr. Griffing than is contained in the said letter from the Secretary of the Navy to him, dated December 11, 1847, which is correctly recited in said memorial, and his acceptance of the terms therein proposed.
In pursuance of this arrangement the Secretary of the Navy asked of Congress authority to make the purchase as proposed, and an appropriation of $285,000 to enable the department to consummate it. The act of Congress of August 3, 1848, making appropriation for the year ending 30th June, 1849, contains the following clause: “For the purchase by the Secretary of the Navy of the land,
above and under water, bounded by Flusing avenue, in the city of Brooklyn, in the State of New York, the United States navy-yard, hospital grounds, and the Wallabout bay to the channel, two hundred and eighty-five thousand dollars: Provided, That no part of said sum of money shall be applied to the payment of the purchase money until a good and perfect title is secured to the United States for the said land and its appurtenances.”
After the passage of the above act the Secretary of the Navy, on the 9th of August, informed Mr. Griffing that he was ready to consummate the said purchase on the part of the United States, when it appeared there were yet incumbrances upon the land which Mr. Griffing had not removed; and among others one for improvements made by the city of Brooklyn, in the construction of streets or avenues, amounting to some $28,000. These assessments by the city had been levied between the dates of Mr. Griffing's acceptance of the Secretary's proposition of December 11, 1847, and the passage of the
On the Secretary's demurring to make payment until all the incumbrances should be removed, the Attorney General, as I understood, decided it to be safe for the department to make payment in part on receiving a deed of warranty from Mr. Griffing and wife, retaining sufficient to indemnify the government against loss, and enable it to remove all legal liens upon the land should Mr. Griffing
fail to do so. Accordingly, under this arrangement, Mr. Griffin g delivered a deed of warranty, and on the 15th of August, 1848, he received $150,000 in part payment, and various sums thereafter as incumbrances were removed, as certified by the district attorney, until, on the 10th of October, 1848, the last incumbrance (except that assessed by the city of Brooklyn) was removed, and the final payment, (except the $30,000 reserved,) amounting to $17,417 53, was made to Mr. Griffing.
The department retained the $30,000 of the purchase money in its hands until Mr. Griffing could have an opportunity of testing the legality of the said assessment made by the city of Brooklyn by a suit at law, provided it should be tried as soon as practicable, the Secretary requiring a bond in the penal sum of $5,000 to indemnify the United States against any liability or loss beyond the $30,000 retained, should the case be decided against Mr. Griffing and the sum retained be insufficient to meet the demands, including
costs, &c. A bond was accordingly given, and a suit commenced and carried to the court of appeals, where it was decided against Mr. Griffing, when the Secretary, upon the demand of the city authorities of Brooklyn, paid over the $30,000 to them ; which sum, however, was not sufficient to pay the debt and cost, and the balance, so far as I know, yet remains unpaid.
The claim of Mr. Griffing is predicated upon the contingent bargain as set forth in the said letter of the Secretary of the Navy to him, dated December 11, 1847, and accepted by him. The question which seems to present itself is, whether the assessments by the city of Brooklyn were laid upon the property of the United States by virtue of the contingent proposition of the Secretary and the acceptance of of it by Mr. Griffing, having been levied after the acceptance of the Secretary's proposition, or, upon Griffing's property, before the conveyance was actually executed.
The papers are herewith returned.
JOS. SMITH. Hon. JAMES C. DOBBIN,
Secretary of the Navy.
To the honorable the Senate and House of Representatives of the United
States in Congress assembled:
The petition of Frederick Griffing, of Brooklyn, in the county of Kings, and State of New York, respectfully represents:
That on the 19th of September, A. D. 1846, your petitioner stated, by letter to the Secretary of the Navy, that “having been for some time in treaty with the owners for the purchase of the property lying between the naval hospital and navy yard, in the city of Brooklyn, with a view of selling it to the government; and not wishing to incur so heavy a responsibility without having some guarantee that they would take it at a given sum,” he desired the views of the Secretary
on the subject. That after some further negotiations with the Secretary of the Navy, your petitioner again wrote him, under date of November 16, 1847, that he had entered into written contracts for the purchase of said lands, and was then prepared to make a sale of the same to the government, although, as he therein stated, he had not yet received of the owners their deeds of the land. That on the 11th of December, 1847, the said Secretary addressed to your petitioner the following letter:
“Washington, December 11, 1847. “SIR: Referring to your letter of the 16th November last, and to the plan which accompanied it, and by the recommendation of the chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks, I am willing to recommend to Congress an appropriation of two hundred and eighty-five thousand dollars, for the purchase of the land described in that letter and plan, situated in Brooklyn, New York, bounded north by the Wallabout channel, south by Flushing avenue, east by the grounds of the United States naval hospital, and west by the grounds of the United States navy yard, understanding that for this sum you will make a perfect title, satisfactory to the United States district attorney, New York, to the whole of the premises thus described, including the rights of the riparian owners to the flats in the bay; and that no right is to be reserved to you, except that of taking off the buildings which are now on the property and constructing a sewer under ground through the western lot of said land, from Flushing avenue to the channel. "Upon these terms, if you assent to them, I will complete the purchase as soon as the necessary appropriation shall be made by Congress; and that no time may be lost in bringing the subject to the attention of the proper committees, I will thank you to inform me, without delay, whether you will accede to this proposal. Should you do so, and Congress should neglect or fail to make the appropriation for the purpose at its present session, it is not expected that you will be further bound by your agreement. “Very respectfully yours,
“J. Y. MASON. * FREDERICK GRIFFING, Esq., Washington.''
That on receipt of the letter above set forth, your petitioner forthwith came to Washington, and, at the Navy Department, accepted, in writing, the proposition contained in said letter, and so bound himself to convey said land to the government, at the price stipulated therein. That Congress did make the appropriation asked for by the Secretary for the purchase of said land, by act of August 3, 1848. That your petitioner, relying on said contract with the government, closed his negotiations with the owners of said land, and received deeds of all the numerous titles, and was ready to convey to the government "a perfect title, satisfactory to the United States district attorney,” as the title stood at the execution of said contract, in December, 1847. That after said contract was executed as aforesaid, an assessment
was made by the city of Brooklyn upon said land, for building a street, to the amount of thirty thousand dollars. That this assessment was not in contemplation at the time of said contract, and was wholly for the benefit of the purchaser. That the Secretary of the Navy declined to receive a conveyance of said land, and pay the stipulated consideration, unless your petitioner would pay said assessment.
That having purchased said land solely for the use of the government, and personally bound himself for the payment therefor, and being held to convey the same to the government, provided said appropriation should be made, your petitioner had made no arrangement for the disposal of said land, or to meet his contracts of payment therefor to the owners; and so was compelled to convey said land to the government without full payment, and to receive only two hundred and fifty-five thousand dollars—the Navy Department retaining thirty thousand dollars, wherewith to pay said assessment; your petitioner then, and always, protesting that he was, on every principle of law and equity, entitled to receive the full consideration of said purchase, upon conveyance to the government of a perfect title. as of the date of said contract with said department; and that assessments subsequently made on said land for its improvement, were not incumbrances which he was bound to remove. That in his contracts for said land he paid interest to the owners from the date of his contracts, bearing date in December, 1847, and in justice should receive the same.
That he is informed that no further appropriation having been made for said purchase, it is not in the power of said department to pay said balance—wherefore he prays that such relief may be granted him as may seem just and proper; and, as in duty bound, will ever prav.