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Acts of Postmasters General - How far Conclusive.
narrative submitted to me in your official communication; and, also, that in respect to various points depending on circumstantial evidence, the contractors and yourself have come to entirely opposite conclusions. On this part of the case you are doubtless aware that the Attorney General has no authority to give an official opinion. The act of 1789, which, so far as this point is concerned, contains the measure of his powers, merely authorizes him “ to give his advice and opinion upon questions of law, when required by the President of the United States, or when requested by the heads of any of the departments, touching any matters that may concern their departments.” In conformity to this law, and to the usage uniformly adopted by my predecessors in office and myself, I shall abstain from any investigation of disputed facts. Without attempting to reconcile any of the conflicting statements, or to ascertain the accuracy of either of the opposing inferences which appear in the papers before me, I shall take it for granted, for the purpose of this opinion, that the statements and conclusions presented to me in your official communication are the real facts of the case.
It is obvious that, when the Attorney General proceeds to give his opinion and advice on any question of law, the facts giving rise to such question must be either stated to, or assumed by him; and when the head of the department calling for his opinion gives him those facts, he must necessarily adopt them as the bases of his reflection and judgment. Whether they are presented in the form of a direct statement, or of an argumentative examination of the circumstances, can make no difference. In either case, it would be manifestly improper to receive from any other source statements or infer. ences conflicting with those which are put before him by the only authority legally known to him in the premises. Its departure from official comity would not constitute the only objection to such a course; it would involve a usurpation of power; for it would convert an office created for the sole purpose of assisting and advising the executive department on questions of law, into an appellate tribunal for the re.exami. nation of their decisions on matters of fact.
Guided by the foregoing considerations, I have only to ab.
Acts of Postmasters General-How far Conclusive.
stract from your official communications of the 30th ultimo and the 6th instant such facts as are pertinent to the questions propounded to me, or as may be necessary to a correct understanding of my opinion.
The material circumstances are as follows:
Messrs. James Reeside, Richard C. Stockton, and L. W. Stockton, under the advertisement for mail contracts in 1831, offered to carry a daily mail from Baltimore and Washington to Wheeling in three days and four hours, for the annual pay of $4,550. This offer, however, contained a proposition for an improvement–i. e. to run through in two and a half days; and to run also a tri-weekly line to carry the way.mails. This was agreed to by the department, and the service directed from the beginning of the contract, at an additional compensation of $8,950. They were also directed to increase the speed, so as to run through in two days, at an increased compensation of $6,750: thus making their annual compensation, when they entered upon the service, $20,250.
They were afterwards authorized to transport the mail from Baltimore to Frederick upon the railroad, and an allowance (taking effect on the 1st of February, 1832) was made therefor, at the rate per year of $2,046.
During the year 1832, the contractors charged and were paid according to the foregoing rates. In the winter of 1832–33 it was alleged by them that, in consequence of the increased weight of the mail and the badness of the roads, they had been obliged, in order to get through in time, to employ extra horses and postillions, for which they claimed, and were allowed from the 1st of January, 1832, the annual sum of $9,812; and at or about the same time they claimed, and were allowed, for raising the tri-weekly mail into a second daily mail, (the allowance to take effect from the 1st of January, 1832,) the further sum of $6,400: thus making the annual pay of the contractors $38,508.
At the end of the first quarter of the year 1833, the contract. ors for the first time charged and were allowed for extra horses and postillions, and for the second daily line, introducing an item for $16,212 for the same services during the year 1832, which was passed to their credit; but the annual compensation
Acts of Postmasters General-How far Conclusive.
to which they considered themselves entitled at the close of the first quarter of 1833 is stated to have been $38,508. The lead. ing item now in controversy, as I understand, is an additional allowance of 50 per cent. on that sum, to take effect from the 1st of January, 1832—making an annual amount since that time of $19,254. The history of this special allowance, as presented in your communication, is briefly this:
On the 27th of March, 1833, a letter was addressed by R. C. Stockton to the Postmaster General, stating that, in consequence of the increased speed on the Cumberland road, the great eastern mails, which had previously gone by other routes, had been thrown upon their route, and had so increased the weight and bulk of their mail as to render it impossible to carry it with the rapidity required, without making special extra provision therefor. He therefore prayed the Postmaster General to make them a special allowance, and said that, if an addition of 25
per cent. could be made to their compensation, they would instantly prepare for any emergency, either by running double lines, or increasing their stock, or by running separate vehicles. This compensation, he suggested, would hut partially remunerate them for their necessary increase of expense, and they “trusted the department would conceive it but reasonable to grant it from the 1st of January;" by which date, as Mr. Stockton subsequently alleged, was intended the 1st of January, 1832.
The Postmaster General, by memoranduin in writing at the foot of this letter, directed that the services should be required “the question of compensation, and the amount of it, to be reserved for future consideration.” This decision was com. municated to the contractors, by letter dated the 28th of March, 1833. In this letter the contractors were informed that the Postmaster General required that a full daily line of four-horse post coaches should be substituted for the tri-weekly line of post-coaches which they were then running: “that is, that you run two full lines-the fast and the ordinary one,”' &c. A second daily line was afterwards run by them on the route.
On the 2d of June, 1833, another letter was addressed by R. C. Stockton to the department, adverting to the former letter, and the order taken thereon, and adding that they had
Acts of Postmasters General-How far Conclusive.
since found that the increased weight of the mails so far exceeded what was supposed, that less than an allowance of 50 per cent. would be altogether insufficient to sustain them in the additional expenditure, and, therefore, praying an allowance of 50 per cent., and requesting that this letter might be attached to their former application.
It is alleged by the contractors that the then Postmaster General did at that time definitively allow this claim of 50 per cent. to take effect from the 1st of January, 1832, and did then also authorize its payment; and that it has constituted a portion of their regular receipts from the department ever since. But, after reviewing the evidence on this point, you have come to the conclusion that the allowances were kept under considera. tion, and were not actually made by your predecessor until the months of February and March, 1835, when he directed them to be passed to the credit of the contractors. And although certain advances were made by the department to the contractors, which may have been intended to be covered by these allowances when finally confirmed, yet you have also come to the conclusion that these advances must be officially considered as having been made on general account. Your decision, therefore, in respect to this disputed fact, is, that nothing has been paid on account of the allowances in question, either before or after they were ordered to be made. It also appears that the general account of the contractors in this case is still open, not having been settled in the Post Office Department since October, 1829.
Under these circumstances, you request my opinion on the two following questions:
1. How far the acts of your predecessor, in directing the allowances above mentioned, and in partially carrying them into effect, are conclusive on you? and,
Il. If they are not conclusive, then whether any allowance whatever can be made under these contracts, for any increase in the weight of the mails?
1. In answer to the first of these questions, I have the honor to state that, in my opinion, the acts of your predecessor, direct. ing the allowances above mentioned, are not conclusive upon you; that you have competent authority to look into those
Acts of Postmasters General How far Conclusive.
allowances, and, in case you shall find them to have been founded on material errors of fact or of law, that you have not only the power, but that it will become your duty, to correct such errors, by reversing, either in whole or in part, as justice shall require, the proceedings in question.
I place this opinion on two grounds:
1. On the general principles of law applicable to the office and powers of the Postmaster General in all cases, and especially in cases like that now before me. And,
2. On the peculiar posture in which the acts in question were found by yourself when you entered on the duties of your office.
1st. By the 1st section of the post office law of 1825, it is made the duty of the Postmaster General, among other things, " to provide for the carriage of the mail on all post-roads that are or may be established by law, and as often as he, having a regard to the productiveness thereof, shall think proper;" and, also, “to pay all expenses which may arise in conducting the post office and the conveyance of the mail, and all other necessary expenses arising in the collection of the revenue and management of the General Post Office.”
The 4th section authorizes him to enter into contracts, for a term not exceeding four years, for extending the line of posts; and the 10th section imposes the same limitations as to time on all other contracts for the conveyance of the mail.
The 43d section, by necessary implication, authorizes him to make additional allowances to contractors or carriers of the mail, over and above the amount stipulated in the contract, provided additional services shall have been required; and with the further restriction, that no additional compensation shall be allowed to exceed the exact proportion of the original amount to the additional duties required.”
The provisions which I have quoted impose on the Postmaster General duties of a very onerous nature; and the powers which are necessary to their faithful execution are either expressly, or by necessary implication, conferred upon him. These powers include a very liberal discretion in regard to the frequency of the mails, agd the manner in which they are to be carried; and also as to the terms, in regard to compensation