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From Joseph Story

My dear Sir

I should have written you a long time ago, if I had completed the duties of my last circuit, so as to give you all the results. But I am as yet scarcely free from all the cases, which have been under advisement.

I received your Letter, containing an account of your last circuit Decisions. There is not one of them, about which I have any doubt, & I cordially agree to them— I except however the case of Davis & Brooks v. the Brig Seneca,1 the final opinion upon the merits of which, though in print, I have never been able to see. I am very solicitous to read it, as it is of great practical importance, & to me in its actual presentation new. Can you furnish me a copy? I daresay, we shall not differ.

My last Circuit was not very laborious, though the causes were somewhat difficult from the complicated state of the facts— I will give a brief Sketch, hoping by next winter to hand you them in print.

(1) U. States v. Grush. Points decided. (1). The words "high seas" in the Crimes Act of 1825. ch. 276. sect. 22 mean the unenclosed waters of the ocean on the sea coast, outside of the fauces terræ. (2). The State Courts have juris diction of offences committed on arms of the sea, creeks, havens, basins, & bays within the ebb & flow of the tide, when those places are within the body of a County; & in such cases the Circuit Courts of the U. States have no jurisdiction under the Act of 1825, (ubi supra)— (3) Where an arm of the sea or creek &c. &c. is so narrow, that a person standing on one shore can reasonably discern & distinctly see by the naked eye what is doing on the opposite shore; the waters are, within the body of the County. (4) In such waters it seems that the Common Law Courts & the Admiralty have concurrent jurisdiction.

(2) U. States v. An Open Boat— Points decided. (1) Under the Act of Congress of 1820. ch. 122 prohibiting commercial intercourse from the British Colonies in British Ships, British owned vessels are included in the prohibition; although not registered or navigated according to the British Navigation or Registry Acts. (2) But open boats without decks are not included in the prohibition, not being ships in a nautical sense— (3). The forfeiture under the Act attaches upon the cargo on board at the time of the offence, & not at the time of seizure— (4) where goods are seized & claimed as forfeited, as part of the Cargo, the onus probandi is their being part of the Cargo at the time of the offence is on the U. States. (5). The Claimant may file a special defence on that point, if he pleads, but it is also in issue upon the general denials in the Answer.

(3) Lowber v. Shaw— Assumpsist— Certain merchants in Portsmouth (N.H.) entered into a written contract to subscribe certain sums for a voyage to Africa & back, & by that writing authorized their Agent to draw bills for the amount, if he fitted out the expedition— He fitted out the expedition & drew a bill in one of the Subscribers for the amount subscribed for by him to pay for goods purchased in the credit of the written authority to the agent; which was shewn to the Creditor, who was the payee of the Bill. The bill was Dishonoured. It was held by the Court, that the agent, though Drawer, was a competent Witness to prove the facts in a suit brought by the Payee against the Drawee, upon a constructive acceptance of the bill.

(4) U. States v. Langton & Trustees— Suit under the Trustee or foreign attachment act of Massachusetts. The U. States fought to charge the Trustees, who were assignees under an assignment of the Debtor upon his failure. Besides some points of local law, the following were decided. (1) Where an assignment does not purport upon its face to be of all the Debtor's property, it is incumbent on the U. States, if they insist on a priority of payment under the act of 1799. ch. 128. §. 65 to establish that it does in fact contain all the Debtor's property (2.) A small portion omitted by mistake or by fraud will not defeat the priority. (3). An assignment of "all the Debtor's property contained in a schedule annexed," which schedule is of specific property only, & does not purport to contain all, is not a general assignment— (4). One of the Trusts in the Assignment was to pay "8400 dolls. on Custom house bonds, on which "M. (one of the assignees) is a surety"—2 M. was surety on bonds to a less amount; but the whole sum due by the Debtor at the Custom House in bonds was 8257 dolls.: Held, that no bonds were included, but those, on which M. was surety (5) Quere whether parol evidence is admissible in such a case to explain the intent? (6) where one of the Trusts is to pay Debts to the U. States, the U. States may attach such amount in the hands of the assignees as property of the Debtor appropriated to their use, & need not file a bill in Equity.

(4). Nightengale v. Shelden— Ejectment. The Testator devised his estate to his wife for life; if she died before his son J. arrived of age, then to his daughter A. until J. came of age; at that time the estate to be divided among his three children equally in fee, or to the survivors of them, if either should die, leaving no issue. If all his children should die, & leave no issue, & his wife should survive them, then to her in fee— Held, that the devise might be construed (subject to the life estate to the wife) either as a devise to all the Children in fee absolutely on J.'s arrival at age, even though the wife was then living; & if they all died before that period without issue to the wife in fee; or as a devise of the Estate to the children in fee determinable on their dying in her lifetime without leaving issue; & in that event there was an executory devise over to her in fee— But if neither construction could be sustained, still, as all the Children died in the life time of the Wife, but two of them left issue, who survived the wife, the Estate in that Event must be considered as intestate & undevised Estate, inasmuch as the devise over to the wife could not take effect, if any issue of the Children survived— So that the Plfs., quacunque via data, (they being the Testators heirs, & the issue of the Children) were entitled to recover. It was one of the most difficult wills to construe, that I ever examined, without violating some express or implied intention.

5. McNeil v. Magee. Bill in Equity bought for the reconveyance of an Estate conveyed under a special agreement, & subsequently an award made between the parties touching the agreement, The Bill was dismissed under the circumstances, it being brought against purchasers after a considerable lapse of time, the original vendor being insolventdead. The points decided were as follows. (1.) Where an Award directed each party to release to the other certain Estate, & the term of twenty days was allowed, within which the Acts were to be done; the Acts are to be deemed concurrent Acts, so that neither party can insist upon a sale are without offering to execute a release on his own part to the other. (2) Courts of Equity serve jurisdiction to enforce a specific performance of an award respecting real Estate. But he, who seeks performance must shew a readiness to perform all the award on his own part. (3) After long delay & laches a Court of Equity will not decree a specific performance of an Award, especially where there has been a material change of circumstances, & injury to the other party. (4) A fortiori, it will not decree it against purchasers with notice, if their vendor is dead & insolvent, so that they can have no remedy over. (5) The registry of a Deed or paper, not only registered, or entitled to registry, is not constructive notice of the Deed. (6). Notice, if denied by the Answer must be proved by two Witnesses, or by one, & circumstances. (7) If a Bill admits the Deft to be a purchaser of the legal title, & the Plf. sets up an equitable title, & demands a conveyance of the legal title, he must aver notice in the bill, & prove the material facts, of notice, if the Answer does not admit notice. (8). A purchaser, who chooses to answer the bill generally, need not aver, that he is a purchaser without notice. The Plf. must prove notice— This last point will surprise you— we talked it over last winter at Washington. I have since my return examined it carefully, & think my decision correct upon principle & authority.

6. Dexter v. Arnold. Petition for leave to file a Bill of Review for errors in law in the original decree, & also for newly discovered Evidence— I delivered a very elaborate opinion, & went at large into the whole doctrine of bills of review— So that the case properly forms a little by itself— The following are some of the points decided. (1). A bill of Review lies for matter of error apparent in the Record— But the error must appear on the face of the Pleadings or Decree; for the evidence at large is not examinable for the purpose of ascertaining, whether the Court misunderstood or misstated it— (2) A bill of review lies for newly discovered Evidence, material to the issue, if such evidence was not known until after the period, in which it could be used in the cause. (3). But it will not lie for newly discovered Evidence, which might by reasonable inquiry have been obtained before the original hearing. (4) Nor does it lie, where the party seeks to set up a new title, & not to support the title made by the original bill. (5). It lies by the party, in whose favour the original decree was made, if it be injurious to him. (Some old authorities seem to the contrary)— (6) A bill of review lies for errors of law, only when the original decree has been enrolled— If not enrolled, the remedy is by a pe[ti]tion for a rehearing. If the decree be not enrolled, & the bill is for newly discovered evidence, it should not be a bill of Review, but a Bill in the nature of a bill of Review. (7) In the Courts of the U. States all decrees are deemed to be enrolled as of the Term, in which they are passed— (8). The granting a bill of review in case of newly discovered Evidence is a matter of discretion & not of right. (9). The Petition to file such a Bill must describe the very evidence distinctly & specifically, on which it relies, & state when discovered, & shew its bearing on the decree. (10). It is not sufficient to state, that the Petitioner expects to prove certain facts, but he must state the exact evidence of the facts for the consideration of the Court. (11). On the hearing of such a petition affidavits may be admitted on each side, if necessary to explain the nature of the Evidence. (12.) Upon a bill of review for newly discovered evidence, the Deft may controvert by plea or answer, that it is newly discovered.

These are not all the points discussed; but they are enough in all conscience for this Letter.

I should have long since sent you a Copy of 4th Mason, but owing to the absence of Mr Mason at my last term at Boston, I did not until recently receive my Copies— I shall put up one, & send it to Mesr Cazenove at Boston for you, directed to Alexandria.

I have accepted the Dane Professorship of Law in Harvard College, & shall remove to Cambridge in September. I am now preparing an Inaugural Discourse, which I find a work of great labour— Mr Dane expects my Commentaries on Public, maritime & commercial Law to fill, when published, four goodly volumes. What think you of my Courage to undertake such a task? I shall send you a copy of my Inaugural Discourse, as soon as it is in print— Pray let me hear from you in Philadelphia.

I hope, my dear Sir, your life may be long spared— Never was it more important to the law, or to our Country, than in these times— Indeed, I look with great anxiety to the future; & hope & pray that our good Chief, & our Brothers may long be spared— Of the times I say nothing, because you know, what I must think— God bless you & believe me most affectionately yours

Joseph Story

Source Note

ALS, MHI: Joseph Story Papers. This letter was sent to "The Honorable Mr Justice Washington Now near Charlestown Jefferson County Virginia." The docket contains the note "Justice Story Spring decisions" in Bushrod's hand.

1. Joseph Hopkinson presided over the case "Davis & Brooks v. the Brig Seneca" twice by the time of this letter, first during the November term of 1828 and again later in that November term.

2. Story at first wrote "was a surety" instead of "is a surety" but crossed out the word "was."