Imatges de pÓgina

terest, at the rate of 5 per cent., being the legal rate of interest in Florida under the Spanish government, from the time of the injury received until the application of the law which authorized reparation to be made, but no longer. And, although the term interest is used, and the calculation of loss made upon that basis, it is apparent from the face of the decree that the allowance is not properly in the nature of interest, but is really a part of the damage, measured only by the rate of interest, as the usual and easiest mode of estimating its value. It is upon this part of the decrees that the whole difficulty, in the present case, arises. The Secretary of the Treasury, believing himself authorized to revise the decrees of the Florida judges, refused to: pay that part of them which is measured by the rate of interest, upon the ground that the usages of the Treasury Department do not authorize the payment of interest upon claims against the government. The present claimants, therefore, having from the beginning protested against the decision of the Secretary, and from time to time presented their demand to the several successive Secretaries of the Treasury, who have all felt themselves bound by the decision of their predecessor, now ask of Congress the payment of that part of the awards which has been withheld from them as being in the nature of interest.

In the various stages of this proceeding before the Executive department of the government, some questions of great interest and importance have been presented and discussed. It has been questioned whether the Florida judges, acting under the laws above quoted, were clothed with judicial authority, and acted in their official capacity as courts, so as to satisfy the terms of the treaty requiring these injuries to be determined "by process of law,” or whether they acted extra-judicially and in the capacity of mere commissioners. Out of these questions arise others of equal magnitude. Are not commissioners officers of the government, and can they be designated by act of Congress, without appointment in the constitutional mode, by the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate? If the judges acted officially as courts, could an appeal be given to the Secretary of the Treasury, thus clothing an executive officer with judicial functions? Again: it has been denied, on the one hand, and insisted on the other, that the injuries done by the army in Florida, in the years 1812 and 1813, are embraced in the ninth article of the treaty of 1819; and, upon the determination of this question, it has been supposed the duty of paying interest, or the right to refuse it, will be settled. So, also, it has been a subject of dispute whether, under the laws of 1823 and 1834, the Secretary of the Treasury had authority to pay a part of the awards of the judges, rejecting another part; or whether he was not bound to pay the whole or reject the whole, according to his conviction that the awards were, or were not, respectively, “just and equitable within the provisions of the treaty.

The committee, however, in their investigation of this subject as now presented to Congress, do not deem it important to enter into the discussion of the various questions which arose in the course of its examination by the Treasury Department. It is of little consequence whether the claimants may have had the benefit of the exact tribunal intended by the treaty, provided they receive substantial jus

Under this act, Secretary Crawford held that the losses occasioned by General Jackson's entrance into West Florida, in 1814, to expel the British and Indians, being justified by the law of nations, were not within the treaty of 1819; and Secretary Rush, having applied this decision to the losses of 1812 and 1813 in East Florida, Congress, after full deliberation, on the 26th June, 1834, passed the following explanatory act:

“AN ACT for the relief of certain inhabitants of East Florida. Be it enacted, dc., That the Secretary of the Treasury be, and he hereby is, authorized and directed to pay, out of any money in the treasury not otherwise appropriated, the amount awarded by the judge of the superior court at St. Augustine, in the Territory of Florida, under the authority of the 161st chapter of the acts of the 17th Congress, approved March 3, 1823, for losses occasioned in East Florida by the troops in the service of the United States, in the years 1812 and 1813, in all cases where the decision of the said judge shall be deemed by the Secretary of the Treasury to be just: Provided, That no award be paid except in the case of those who, at the time of suffering the loss, were actual subjects of the Spanish government: And provideıl ulso, That no award be paid for depredations committed in East Florida previous to the entrance into that province of the agent or troops of the United States."

“SECTION 2. And be it further enacted, That the judge of the superior court of St. Augustine be, and he hereby is, authorized to receive, examine, and adjudge all cases of claims for losses occasioned by the troops aforesaid, in 1812 and 1813, not heretofore presented to the said judge, or in which the evidence was withheld, in consequence of the decision of the Secretary of the Treasury, that such claims were not provided for by the treaty of February 22d, 1819, between the governments of the United States and Spain: Provided, That such claims be presented to the said judge in the space of one year from the passage of this act: And provided, also, that the authority herein given shall be subject to the restrictions created by the provisos to the preceding section.”

It was under this latter act of Congress that the claims now presented were adjudicated by the judge of the Florida court; and among the many cases standing in the same predicament, the committee deem it proper to present one of the awards or decrees as a type of the whole. The following was certified to the Secretary of the Treasury on the 28th November, 1848, by the judge of the court of the United States for the northern district of Florida:

“I do therefore award and adjudge, that the United States pay to the administrator of Reddin Blunt, deceased, the sum of $1,670, together with interest thereon, at the rate of 5 per cent. per annun, from the 10th of May, 1813, to the 26th of June, 1835, in satisfaction of the losses and injuries suffered by the said Reddin Blunt in his lifetime, and in the years 1812 and 1813, by means of the operations of the American troops in those years in East Florida.”

It will be seen, by this example, that in all the cases of injury suffered in 1812 and 1813, the judges deemed it their duty to allow in

« AnteriorContinua »