The citation for this case is 26 Fed. Cas. 412, Case No. 15,415. It’s from the May 1868 term of the Circuit Court for the District of South Carolina with Federal Judge George Seabrook Bryan presiding.
Alfred Huger was the postmaster for the city of Charleston, appointed by President Andrew Jackson in 1832 until South Carolina’s secession. By all evidence he had tried to return all the government property to the United States, but was prevented from doing so except for a small amount, and after being told to surrender the remaining to the postmaster general of the confederacy he did so. He was being sued for $5,576.41, which represented what was due to the US Government plus interest.
In his charge to the jury, Judge Bryan wrote, “I hold that the rulings of the supreme court can have no proper application to a class of cases wholly different, and that the party cannot be held to an engagement, not in the mind of either party, and in a condition of things not possibly anticipated by either party, in which one party could not possibly fulfil [sic] such engagement, and the other party could not give him any proper help to fulfil [sic] it, that is, that without any default on his part, and in the absence of a condition of things which rendered it possible for him to execute the bond, he shall be compelled to executed the bond. That condition of things was presented in a state of civil war, where the territory of which the defendant was a resident was held under the domination of a belligerent–the absolute domination of a revolutionary government struggling for its life, compelled to put forth every possible exertion of power. Inevitably, arbitrary, and unscrupulous from the very fact of its necessities, and alike unable and unwilling to brook opposition. It was in the very nature of things a military despotism, whose commands must unhesitatingly be obeyed, and in the light of the past. It is but truth to say, whose commands were so obeyed. The great Civil War from which we have emerged not only demanded despotic powers in the South, but almost equally despotic power in the United States. The great government which succeeded in this contest, that great government itself, with all its mighty resources, was compelled to resort to arbitrary power. Civil liberty was scarcely consistent with the struggle between the two governments. Both were essentially military at the time, drawing all powers to themselves, and compelled of necessity to act in an arbitrary manner, liberty itself being the inevitable sacrifice. It was in such a condition of military domination that the defendant in this case was called upon, as the only act which implicates him in this matter–which I conceive could implicate him–was called upon some time after its domination, and after the United States postal service had ceased, to report the amount of property of the United States in his possession. In my esteem, that demand was peremptory. It was a command to be instantly complied with, not a matter of parley. That command carried with it an expression of force which could not be resisted, could not be resisted any more than its cannon or bayonets, which left the party upon whom the demand was made no alternative but to yield. There was no refuge from the wrath of that government, there was no defence against its power.” [26 Fed. Cas. 412, 412-413]
Judge Bryan also wrote, “I am asked to rule thirdly that said Confederate States or government of which John A. Reagan was an officer or agent, was an unlawful combination of divers persons, citizens of the United States, engaged in unlawful insurrection and rebellion against the government of the same, and within the territory thereof, unlawfully usurping the powers of government, and as such it continued to be unrecognized as having any lawful existence till suppressed by the military power of the United States, hence neither said Confederate government nor its officers or agents could originate any legal action or issue any order which the defendant, Alfred Huger, was bound to obey. I instruct you that, in so far as that said Confederate States was an unlawful combination of divers persons, citizens of the United States, engaged in an unlawful insurrection and rebellion against the government of the same, and within the territory thereof unlawfully usurping the powers of government, and as such, it continued to be unrecognized as having any lawful existence, till suppressed by the military power of the United States, etc., I give the instruction but do not give the conclusion, that is, that the officers or agents of the Confederate government could not issue any order which the defendant, Alfred Huger, was bound to respect. I instruct you, the United States having conceded to the Confederate States (so-called) the authority of a belligerent, the power incident to the authority of a belligerent, the power incident to the authority of a belligerent was conceded to the Confederate States, and they had such right to give an order, which it was not possible for the postmaster or assistant postmaster here to dispute. They had the authority of a belligerent, and it was not within the competency of the postmaster to dispute the regular exercise of that authority.” [26 Fed. Cas. 412, 413]
So once again we see a ruling that the confederacy was an illegal organization, that the rebellion had no legality, and the members of the confederacy continued to be US citizens in rebellion, thus because of that unilateral secession was an illegal action.
The jury found for Huger and he was not liable to pay the money the United States desired.