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THE “ALABAMA" CLAIMS COURTS.
I. THE FIRST COURT.
Constitution of the
For the “ adjudication and disposition" of the moneys received under the Geneva award Congress, by an
act approved June 23, 1874,' authorized the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to appoint "five suitable persons" who should constitute a court to be known as the “Court of Commissioners of Alabama Claims.” It was provided that the President should designate, by appointment, one of these judges to be presiding judge of the court; that each of the judges and other officers of the court should take the oath of office prescribed by law to be taken by all officers of the United States; and that all vacancies which might occur in the court by reason of death, resignation, or inability or refusal or neglect of any of the judges to discharge the duties of his position, should be filled in the same manner as vacancies occurring in offices under the Constitution of the United States. It was further provided that the judges should meet and organize the court in the city of Washington, where its sessions should be held; that three of the judges should constitute a qnorum for the transaction of business; and that the agreement of three should be necessary to decide any question arising before the court.
In addition to the judges the act provided for the appointment by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, of a clerk. And in order that the interests of the government might be protected, the President was authorized to designate a counselor at law admitted to practice in the Supreme Court of the United States, to appear as counsel on behalf of the United States and represent it in all claims filed for indemnity, subject to the supervision and control of the Attorney-General. The court was authorized to appoint one shorthanıl reporter. The duty of serving the process of the court, executing its orders, and preserving order in the place of its sittings, was imposed on the marshal of the United States for the District of Columbia and his deputies.
The judges were required to meet in Washington as soon as might be convenient after their appointment, and the existence of the court was limited to one year from the date of its first convening and organizing. In case it should be found impracticable to complete the work within that period, the President was authorized by proclamation to extend the duration of the court for not more than six months.
118 Stats, at L. 245.
All claims were required to be verified by the oath Presentation and Dis.
of the claimant, and to be filed in the court within six position of Claims.
months after its organization; and it was provided that all claims that should not be so filed shonld be held “to be finally and conclusively waived and barred.” Immediately after its first meeting in Washington, the court was directed with all convenient dispatch to arrange and docket the several claims admissible under the act; to consider the evidence offered in support of and in opposition to such claims; and after allowing such time as might seem reasonable and just for the production of further evidence, to proceed to determine and render an award on each claim in accordance with the provisions of the act.
The powers of the court were dnly detined. It was Powers of the Court. authorized to give public notice of its sessions and to
make all needful rules and regulations for the government of its forms and mode of procedure, such rules to conform as far as practicable with the mode of procedure and practice of the circuit courts of the United States. It was invested with the same powers as the circuit and district courts of the United States to compel the attendance and testimony of parties, claimants and witnesses, to preserve order, to punish for contempts, and to compel the production of any books or papers deemed material to the consideration of any pending claim or matter. It was authorized to make orders or requisitions for the delivery to it of all records, documents, or other papers in the Department of State relating to the claims and necessary to their examination and adjudication. Each of the judges was authorized to administer oaths and affirmations, and to take the depositions of claimants, parties, and witnesses, in all matters pertaining to the presentation or examination of claims.
False swearing as to matters or facts material in the examination of claims was made punishable with the penalties of perjury.
By section 11 of the act it was made the duty of the Jurisdiction of the
court to receive and examine all claims “directly Court.
resulting from damage caused by the so-called insurgent cruisers Alabama and Florida and their tenders, and also all claims directly resulting from damage caused by the so-called insurgent cruiser Shenandoah after her departure from Melbourne on the 18th day of February 1865, and to decide upon the amount and validity of such claims, in conformity with the provisions hereinafter contained, and according to the principles of law and the merits of the several cases."
By section 12 this grant of jurisdiction was materially qualified by the following provisions:
1. That no claim should be allowed "for any loss or damage for or in respect to which the party injured, his assignees or legal representatives, shall have received compensation or indemuity from any insurance company, insurer, or otherwise;" but that, if such compensation or indemnity was not “ equal to the loss or damage so actually suffered, allowance may bo made for the difference."
2. That no claim should be allowed “for or in respect to unearned freights, gross freights, prospective profits, freights, gains, or advantages, or for wages of officers or seamen for a longer time than one year next after the breaking up of a voyage by the acts aforesaid."
3. That no claim should be allowed “by or in behalf of any insurance company or insurer, either in its or his own right, or as assignee or other
wise, in the right of a person or party insured as aforesaid, unless such claimant shall show to the satisfaction of the said court that during the late rebellion the sum of its or his losses, in respect to its or his war risks, exceeded the sum of its or his premiums or other gains upon or in respect to such war risks; and in case of any such allowance, the same shall not be greater than such excess of loss.”
4. That no claim should be allowed “arising in favor of any insurance company not lawfully existing at the time of the loss under the laws of some one of the United States."
5. That no claim should be allowed “ arising in favor of any person not entitled, at the time of his loss, to the protection of the United States in the premises.”
6. That no claim should be allowed "arising in favor of any person who did not at all times during the late rebellion bear true allegiance to the United States."
By section 13 of the act it was provided that, in estiAllowance of Interest. mating the compensation to be paid, interest at the
rate of 4 per cent should in each case be allowed on "the amount of actual loss or damage" from such date as the court should decide that such loss or damage was sustained by the claimant; but it was also provided that the amount of such interest should not be included in or added to the amount for which judgment might be rendered on the claim, but that a report of the amount of such interest, certified under the seal of the court, should in each case accompany the report of judgment on the claim to the Secretary of State.
As it was known by the dissenting opinion of Sir Alexander Cockburn that the tribunal of arbitration allowed 6 per cent in gold on the amount which it found to be due, the provision that the court should allow interest only at the rate of 4 per cent indicates on the part of Congress an expectation that the payment of the “ direct claims” would consume the whole fund. In its general provisions the act kept well within the lines of the award. Claims were restricted to the cruisers inculpated by the award, and the exclusion of claims for unearned freights, gross freights, and certain other matters was based upon its provisions.
In rendering its judgment it was provided that the Counsel Fees. court should, on motion of the attorney or counsel for
the claimant, allow, out of the amount awarded, such fees as it should determine to be just and reasonable as compensation for the services rendered in prosecuting the claim, which allowance should be entered as part of the judgment in the case, and should be made specifically payable as part of the judgment; and for the sum so allowed the Secretary of the Treasury was directed to issue a warrant in favor of the person to whom the allowance was made. All other liens upon, or assignments, sales, or transfers in respect of any claim for services rendered before the judgment was awarded and the warrant issueil, were declared to be null and void.
The court was required to report a list of its several Certification and Pay- judgments and decisions to the Secretary of State, and ment of Judgments.
it was provided that the Secretary of State should, upon the conclusion of the business of the court, transmit a copy of such list to the Secretary of the Treasury, who should pay the judgments, together with interest at 4 per cent from the date certified, to the persons in
whose favor they were rendered, or to their legal representatives. But in case the sum of all the judgments, together with interest, should exceed the amount received into the Treasury as proceeds of the sum paid by Great Britain, it was made the duty of the Secretary of the Treasury to distribute the money among the claimants according to the proportions which their respective judgments should bear to the whole fund. The Secretary of the Treasury was directed to pay the judgment "out of any such money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated,” and for that purpose he was authorized to sell at public sale, at not less than par in coin, a sufficient amount of 5 per cent coupon or registered bonds, and from time to time. as the judgments were paid, to cancel the bonds mentioned in the act of March 3, 1873, to the amount of such payments. When all the payments were made, he was directed to cancel any such bonds as should remain; and if after the payment of the judgments and the reimbursement of the expenses of the court, any part of the money remained, it was provided that it should constitute a fund from which Congress might authorize the payment of other claims upon it.
The salary of each of the judges was fixed at the rate Salaries of Officials. of $6,000 per annum; that of the clerk at the rate of
$3,000, and that of the shorthand reporter at the rate of $2,500; and it was provided that the court should "bo further allowed the necessary actual expenses of office ront, furniture, fuel, stationery, and printing, and other necessary incidental expenses, to be certified by the presiding judge of said court, and to be audited and paid on vouchers under the direction of the Secretary of State.” The counsel on behalf of the United States was allowed "for his services and expenses such reasonable allowance in each claim as may be approved by the court, to be apportioned in each claim adjudicated, and paid from said award upon the certificate of one of the judges."
June 24, 1874, the President nominated Hezekiah G. Personnel of the Court. Wells, of Michigan, as presiding judge, and Martin
H. Ryerson, of New Jersey; Kenneth Rayner, of Missis. sippi; William A. Porter, of Pennsylvania, and Caleb Baldwin, of lowa, as judges. These nominations were duly confirmed by the Senate. In the winter of 1871-75 Judge Ryerson resigned and soon afterward died. He was succeeded by Harvey Jewell, of Massachusetts, who was appointed February 26, 1875. Judge Baldwin died on the 15th of December 1876, but the vacancy created by his death was not filled.
June 24, 1874, the President appointed John Davis, of Massachusetts, as clerk of the court, and the nomination was confirmed by the Senate.
As counsel for the United States, the President, on the 22d of July 1874 designated John A. J. Creswell, of Maryland, formerly Postmaster-General of the United States.
Alexander Sharp, marshal of the United States for the District of Columbia, discharged the duties of marshal of the court.
R. W. C. Mitchell acted as shorthand reporter of the court from the time of its organization till its termination.
In accordance with the provisions of the act of ConOrganization and Rules. gress, the judges met and organized the court at Wash
ington on the 22d day of July 1874, and as there was no suitable place in the government buildings they held their sessions at