The citation for this 1869 Supreme Court case is 76 US [9 Wallace] 339.
French Forrest was a confederate naval officer who lived in Virginia. Under the Confiscation Act his property was confiscated by the US Government. The property was sold to a man named Buntley, and his rights eventually became vested in a man named Bigelow. Forrest died and his heir, Douglass Forrest, sued for the property because the Constitution prohibits forfeiture after the life of the guilty party. Justice William Strong delivered the opinion of the Court. He wrote, “The Act of Congress of March 3, 1863, under which the right to remove the cause was claimed and under which the right existed if it existed at all, enacted in its fifth section that if any suit or prosecution, civil or criminal, had been or should be commenced in any state court against any officer, civil or military or against any other person for any arrest or imprisonment made, or other trespasses or wrongs done or committed, or any act omitted to be done at any time during the then existing rebellion by virtue or under color of any authority derived from or exercised by or under the President of the United States or any act of Congress, the defendant might effect the removal of the cause into the circuit court of the United States holden in the district where the suit might be pending. The act prescribed the course to be pursued in order to stay the proceedings in the state court and transfer the cause into the federal tribunal. It must be conceded that the plaintiff in error complied with the requisitions of the statute and its supplements respecting the form of procedure for a removal of his cause. It remains, therefore, only to inquire whether the action was one which, under the act of Congress, could be removed.” [76 US 339, 347-348]
Justice Strong continues, ” In our opinion, the statute was not intended to apply to actions of ejectment. It is manifest to us that Congress had in view only personal actions for wrongs done under authority or color of authority of the President of the United States or of some act of Congress. The fourth section made any order of the President or under his authority a defense in all courts to any action, civil or criminal, pending or to be commenced for any search, seizure, arrest, or imprisonment made, done, or committed, or acts omitted to be done under and by virtue of such order or under color of any law of Congress. The description of the causes of action mentioned in the fifth section is slightly different, not quite so detailed and specific, but it is evident that they were intended to be the same in both sections, as well as in the seventh, which prescribed a statutory limitation to suits and prosecutions. The specification, which all of these sections contain, of arrests and imprisonments, or, as in the fourth section, of searches, seizures, arrests, and imprisonments, followed by more general words, justifies the inference that the other trespasses and wrongs mentioned are trespasses and wrongs ejusdem generis, or of the same nature as those which had been previously specified. This construction is fortified by the consideration that the mischief against which the statute was intended to guard was manifestly the excitement and prejudice so likely, in times of intense popular feeling, to attend suits in local courts for personal wrongs — excitement and prejudice which might render a fair trial difficult and which might indeed greatly embarrass the government. The same mischiefs, in the same degree, could hardly have been expected to attend the trial of possessory actions for real estate. The action of ejectment is not a personal action, and it appears to us not to be embraced in any of the classes mentioned in the fourth, fifth, and seventh sections of the act. It follows that there was no error in disallowing the removal of this case into the circuit court of the United States.” [76 US 339, 348-349]
He next considered the merits of the case: “The plaintiff below claimed the land as the sole heir of his father, French Forrest, who had been the owner down to September 1, 1863, and who died intestate on the 24th day of November, 1866. The defendant claimed as a purchaser under a decree of confiscation made by the District Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Virginia, on the 9th day of November, 1863. French Forrest, the father of the plaintiff, was an officer in the navy of the Confederate States from July 1, 1862, until April, 1865. In September, 1863, under the Act of Congress of July 17, 1862, known as the Confiscation Act, the land in controversy was seized as his property, libeled in the district court of the United States, and, on the 9th of November next following a decree of condemnation was entered and the land was ordered to be sold by the marshal. Whether there was a venditioni exponas issued, as was ordered by the court, does not appear from the case stated (to which alone we can look for the acts), except that the marshal’s deed recites its issue. We may assume that there was. The property was sold at the marshal’s sale, and a deed was made to the purchasers. Subsequently and before the institution of this suit, the entire interest acquired by the purchase became vested in Bigelow, the defendant. But what was that interest? The fifth section of the Confiscation Act of July 17, 1862, enacted that it should be the duty of the President of the United States to cause the seizure of all the estate and property, moneys, stocks, credit, and effects, of certain persons described in six classes, and to apply and use the same and the proceeds thereof for the support of the army. To one or more of these classes French Forrest belonged. That it was not intended the mere act of seizure should vest the property seized in the United States is plain from the provisions of the seventh section, which enacted that to secure the condemnation and sale of any such property, after the same shall have been seized, proceedings in rem should be instituted in a district court, and that if it should be found to have belonged to a person engaged in rebellion, or who had given aid or comfort thereto, it should be condemned as enemy’s property and become the property of the United States, and that it might be disposed of as the court might decree. Concurrently with the passage of this act, Congress also adopted a joint resolution explanatory of it whereby it was resolved that no punishment or proceedings under the act should be so construed as to work a forfeiture of the real estate of the offender beyond his natural life. It is a well known fact in our political history that this resolution was adopted in consequence of doubts which the President entertained respecting the power of Congress to prescribe a forfeiture of longer duration than the life of the offender. Be this as it may, the act and the resolution are to be construed together, and they admit of no doubt that all which could, under the law, become the property of the United States or could be sold by virtue of a decree of condemnation and order of sale was a right to the property seized terminating with the life of the person for whose act it had been seized. It follows, then, that the estate acquired by the purchaser at the marshal’s sale expired on the 24th day of November, 1866, when French Forrest died.” [76 US 339, 349-351]
In upholding the Confiscation Act and the decision of the lower court denying Bigelow’s appeal, Justice Strong concluded, “This is all that need be said of the case. It is enough to show that in our opinion none of the errors assigned have any real existence. We do not care to speculate upon the anomalies presented by the forfeiture of lands of which the offender was seized in fee, during his life and no longer, without any corruption of his heritable blood, or to inquire how in such a case descent can be cast upon his heir notwithstanding he had no seizin at his death. Such speculations may be curious, but they are not practical, and they can give no aid in ascertaining the meaning of the statute.” [76 US 339, 353]
This case is interesting for its view of how the confiscation acts worked and how some of those confederates whose treason in fighting for the confederacy were punished.