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Entered according to act of Congress, in the year 1852, by
In the Clerk's office of the District Court of the District of Columbia.
WHOSE OPINIONS ARE REPORTED IN THIS VOLUME.
Hon. BENJAMIN F. BUTLER, OF NEW YORK,
APPOINTED NOVEMBER 15, 1833.
Hon. FELIX GRUNDY, OF TENNESSEE,
APPOINTED SEPTEMBER 1, 1838.
Hon. HENRY D. GILPIN, OF PENNSYLVANIA,
APPOINTED JANUARY 11, 1840.
Hon. JOHN J. CRITTENDEN, OF KENTUCKY,
APPOINTED MARCH 5, 1841.
Hon. HUGH S. LEGARE, OF SOUTH CAROLINA,
APPOINTED SEPTEMBER 13, 1841.
HON. BENJAMIN F. BUTLER, OF NEW YORK:
APPOINTED NOVEMBER 15, 1833.
ACTS OF POSTMASTERS GENERAL-HOW FAR CONCLUSIVE.
The act of a Postmaster General in making extra allowances to mail contractors
in consequence of alterations made, after the execution of the contract, in the frequency and speed of the conveyances used for transportation, and on account of the increased weight of the mailed matter, are not, where the account is still open, conclusive upon his successor; on the contrary, the latter possesses competent authority to look into such allowances, and where he finds them to have been founded on material errors of law or fact, to correct them as justice
shall appear to require. Postmasters General are merely agents of government, with limited authority;
and none of their acts, except those which are found to be within the scope of their authority and conformable to law, are obligatory upon the government. Contractors with them are chargeable with knowledge of the law, and must be presumed to be acquainted with the extent of their powers, and consequently with any departure from them in respect to contracts for transportation of the mails; and cannot, therefore, legally claim any benefit under acts done in contravention of law; for such are void from the beginning, and no legal right can
be founded upon them. But, although Postmasters General have no authority to bind their successors in
matters of purely public concernment, the case is different in respect to transactions with individuals. Their authorized contracts with individuals, when not affected by fraud or material error, are obligatory upon successors—the change of incumbents not in anywise affecting nor impairing the rights of the contractors. But the incapacity to vary the contracts of predecessors in office is occasioned by the obligatory force of the contracts themselves--a force as operative, however, upon the officer who made them, as upon his successorsand not because they were made by predecessors. Frauds and material errors, however, may as lawfully be inquired into by successors as by him or them
who shall have made the contracts. Contracts to carry the mail of the United States, without stipulation as to its
weight, include the whole mail accruing between the termini named therein, or coming into it from other routes, according to the arrangements contemplated when they are made; and, if justice shall demand extra allowance on account of the increased weight, it must be sought of Congress, not of the Postmaster General.
Acts of Postmasters General-How far Conclusive.
If extra compensation to contractors shall have been paid by one Postmaster
General, without the sanction of an act of Congress, the money so paid may be recovered back.
ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE;
October 10, 1835. Sır: I have the honor to acknowlege the receipt of the additional observations of Mr. Key, and the opinion of Mr. Glenn, in the case of Messrs. Stockton & Stokes and L. W. Stockton, referred to me by your communications of the 30th of June and the 6th of July; and as I am now in possession of all the arguments intended to be submitted for my consideration on the part of the contractors, I will proceed to state my views on such parts of the case as are proper to be examined in this office.
Your communication of the 30th ultimo, after stating the condition of the Post Office Department at the time you took charge of it, proceeds to inform me that you had deemed it proper to suspend from the credit of the above named contractors certain special allowances recently made to them by your predecessor in office, for the transportation of the mail on routes from Washington to Philadelphia, and from Washington to Baltimore and Wheeling; that the contractors object to the procedure, on the ground, among others, that the greatest of those allowances (being those on the Washington, Baltimore, and Wheeling routes, and amounting to $84,278) were definitively made by the Postmaster General in June, 1833, and have constituted a portion of their regular pay ever since; that, for the purpose of ascertaining whether there might not be a partial relaxation of this suspension, you have examined the merits of those particular claims, and, having come to the conclusion that the allowances therefor were based on misinformation as to the facts, and on an erroneous view of the law, have decided that they ought not to be consummated; and that the contractors, being dissatisfied with your decision, have requested that the law points might be submitted to the Attorney General for his opinion.
It further appears, from the documents before me, that discrepances exist in regard to several important facts between the statements made by the contractors and their counsel, and the