The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States, Seventeenth Congress, Second Session Page: 69
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HISTORY OF CONGRESS.
■was wpII known, Mr. H. paid, thai in the Northern
States, during the late war, there was a good deal
of excitement, and considerable jealousy and ill
will towards military officers ; and it was hard for
them to get justice ; they were obliged to appeal to
Congress for relief, and where they were thought
to have acted for the best interests of the United
States they had been usually relieved ; for, though
the officcr might seek relief in the Supreme Court,
. and should gain his suit, it would often be a remedy !
without relief, for the expenses of such an appeal !
would frequently amount to as much as the whole
sum involved in some of the cases.
Mr. Van Bure.n observed that the Constitution
had very wisely divided the judicial power in the
manner described by Mr. Tayloh, between the
■State and. the Federal courts; and, in reply to .that
gentleman, said he had yet to learn that relief had
ever been granted by Congress to any applicant on
the avowed ground of error in the decision of the
court, if the court was one of competent power.
But, although it was not competent for Congress
to give relief on this ground, it was right to do so
on a variety of other grounds. There might be
cases in which an officer acts contrary, and know-
ingly contrary, to law, but where the exigency of
the case secures to the United States a good by
the illegal act; yet, in such cases as these, the Le-
gislature will relieve the officer from the conse-
quences which may follow his act. Such cases
had been relieved—one even at the last session—
the bill for the relief of Matthew McNair. Mr.
Van Ruren cited also other eases, amongst them,
that of Mr. Gelston, the former collector of the |
port of New York, in which the damages amount-1
ed to $130,000, and in which, although there was |
no question that the court decided right, yet, as the
officer acted for the good of the United States,
Congress relieved him from the damages, great as
they were. The officer acted on his own risk, and,
as all of them must proceed on the same principle,
they would be liable to be ruined by the perfor-
mance of what they might, though erroneously,
deem to be their duty, unless Congress were to
grant relief, for all were fallible, and liable to err.
Mr. Van Buren applied his argument to the pres-
ent case, in which the officer had done nothing
more than was right and proper, but had suffered
damages for it; such an officer, so acting, ought
certainly to be relieved, as an intelligent commit-
tee of the Senate had decided, and the bill ought j
to pass on the principles both of consistency and I
Mr. VVilliams, of Tennessee, again rose to make
a few remarks in reply to Mr. Taylor. The gen-
tleman had said that Colonel Purdy could have
sought redress in the Federal court, and had llie
error of the State court corrected ; but Mr. VV.
doubted, indeed he denied, the practicability of
that course. It was an action for false imprison-
ment, and lie did not see how a Federal court could
order the State court to stay proceedings in such
a case. He believed it had been contended by the
Court of Appeals in Virginia, that the Supreme
Court of the United States had no jurisdiction
oyer the State courts, in cases not of a stronger
character than the one under consideration; and
there was nothing in the Constitution or laws of
the Union which would justify Colonel Purdy in
removing his case to the Federal court. But even
if he had possessed that right, he would have had to
go a thousand miles to reach the Federal court; and
would it have been just to require that sacrifice of
an officer for executing his duty and the orders of
the President? What, Mr. W* asked, was to be-
come of public agents, under the circumstances of
the petitioner, before the gentleman's court of ex-
chequer could hear and determine their case??
They would suffer ruin, before relief could be af-
forded to them. Congress had always acted'on
such cases, he said, and had granted relief where
the party applying appeared to be entitled'to it.
Nor had it been confined to officers of the'Army,
as he showed by adducing several examples of^a
different character. Colonel P. he said had 'incur-
red these damages for enforcing the laws'of. the
United States and doing his duty, as he conceived,
and it was one of that class of cases which, if any,
was entitled to relief. It was the performance of
the very duty for which he was placed in the In-
dian territory; and if he had neglected to act as
he did, he would have made himself liable'to be.
arraigned and disgraced for a neglect of duty. Mr.
W. particularized a number of cases growing out
of the late war, in which damages recovered
against officers for false imprisonment, would have
ruined them, but for the interposition of Congress.
An expedition Mr. W. said, had recently been or-
dered to sea against the pirates; it might happen
that some persons might be taken under circum-
stances so suspicious and strong as to justify their
seizure and imprisonment, yet appear in the end to
be pirates; yet would any one say that Commo-
dore Porter ought to be suffered to be ruined by ac-
tions for false imprisonment, for making such ar-
rests? No, certainly—Congress would not hesi-
tate to indemnify him.
Mr. Brown, of Ohio, made a few remarks, in-
distinctly heard. The tenor of his observations
was, that where an officer had suffered damages
for his fidelity to the United States, he ought not
to be turned away from Congress without redress,
because it might he said there was another tribu-
nal to which he might resort; and that where; an
officer had done, his duty by preventing a mis-
chief, yet incurred a responsibility for so doing,,
he was equally entitled to relief, as though he had
waited till the evil was perpetrated, and then pun-
ished it. Mr. B. spoke at some length in reply,
(the Reporter understood.) to Mr. Tayi.oh as to
the cases properly referrihle. to the Supreme Court..
Mr. Tayi.oRjOC Virginia, again rose. The-gpn--
tlemen opposed to him, be said, had yielded the
question. The petitioner, it was stated, was fined
for executing the laws, and yet he was punished
by law for executing the law. Was th>s correct?
Ciught the party not to apply to those laws for re-
dress, which he suffered for executing? and were
the courts not the proper tribunal for him to ap
peal to? Was the Treasury, Mr. T. demanded,
to underwrite every officer who is cast in the la w ?
and yet it would come to this by the estabUsh--
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Gales and Seaton. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States, Seventeenth Congress, Second Session, book, 1855; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc30367/m1/33/: accessed September 22, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.