Hanauer v. Doane

The citation for this case is 79 US [12 Wall.] 342.

L. and J. Hanauer gave Hunter & Oakes a promissory note. Some of the note was for private use and the rest was used to purchase supplies for the confederate army, which Louis Hanauer was contracted to supply to the confederates. Samuel Doane, the plaintiff, brought action against L. Hanauer & Co. for payment of the note. Justice Joseph Bradley delivered the Court’s opinion.

In that opinion, Justice Bradley wrote, “We have already decided in the case of Texas v. White that a contract made in aid of the late rebellion or in furtherance and support thereof is void. The same doctrine has been laid down in most of the circuits and in many of the state courts, and must be regarded as the settled law of the land. Any contract tinctured with the vice of giving aid and support to the rebellion can receive no countenance or sanction from the courts of the country. Are the notes in suit of this kind? A portion of their consideration was stores and supplies furnished to the army contractor of the Confederate government, and another portion was duebills issued for the same consideration and received by Hunter & Oakes with full notice of their character. If either of these portions of the consideration on which the notes were given was illegal, the notes are void in toto. Such is the elementary rule, for which it is unnecessary to cite authorities.” [79 US 342, 345]

In the original trial, the judge had told the jury, essentially, the promissory note should have been paid. He said, “Bare knowledge on the part of Hunter & Oakes that Hanauer intended or expected to turn the goods and property purchased from them over to the rebel army as supplies for said army would not make such sale of goods and property illegal and void. To make the sale of goods from Hunter & Oakes to Hanauer illegal and void, it must appear that Hunter & Oakes had some concern in furnishing the supplies to the rebel army, or that it was part of the contract between Hunter & Oakes and Hanauer that such goods should go to the support of the rebel army, or that the design of Hunter & Oakes in making such sale was to aid in furnishing supplies to the rebel army or otherwise give aid and comfort to the rebellion. But if the goods were sold by Hunter & Oakes in the common and ordinary course of trade, and the only inducement to the sale of the goods on the part of Hunter & Oakes was the price agreed to be paid by Hanauer for the same, then the sale was a legal and valid sale, although Hunter & Oakes knew that Hanauer intended or expected to turn such goods over to the rebel army.” [79 US 342, 344] Justice Bradley, and the Supreme Court, disagreed. “With regard to that portion of the consideration of the notes which consisted of supplies sold by Hunter & Oakes to Hanauer for the Confederate army, the judge instructed the jury that bare knowledge on the part of Hunter & Oakes that Hanauer intended or expected to turn the goods over to the rebel army would not make the sale illegal and void, but that to make it so it must appear that Hunter & Oakes had some concern in furnishing the supplies to the rebel army or intended to aid therein. In this instruction we think the judge erred. With whatever impunity a man may lend money or sell goods to another who he knows intends to devote them to a use that is only malum prohibitum, or of inferior criminality, he cannot do it without turpitude when he knows or has every reason to believe that such money or goods are to be used for the perpetration of a heinous crime and that they were procured for that purpose. In the words of Chief Justice Eyre in Lightfoot v. Tenant, ‘the man who sells arsenic to one who, he knows, intends to poison his wife with it will not be allowed to maintain an action on his contract. The consideration of the contract, in itself good, is there tainted with turpitude which destroys the whole merit of it. . . . No man ought to furnish another with the means of transgressing the law knowing that he intended to make that use of them.‘ On this declaration Judge Story remarks: ‘The wholesome morality and enlarged policy of this passage make it almost irresistible to the judgment, and indeed the reasoning seems positively unanswerable.’ Can a man furnish another with the means of committing murder or any abominable crime knowing that the purchaser procures them, and intends to use them, for that purpose, and then pretend that he is not a participator in the guilt? Can he wrap himself up in his own selfishness and heartless indifference and say, ‘What business is that of mine? Am I the keeper of another man’s conscience?’ No one can hesitate to say that such a man voluntarily aids in the perpetration of the offense, and, morally speaking, is almost, if not quite, as guilty as the principal offender. No crime is greater than treason. He who, being bound by his allegiance to a government, sells goods to the agent of an armed combination to overthrow that government, knowing that the purchaser buys them for that treasonable purpose, is himself guilty of treason or a misprision thereof. He voluntarily aids the treason. He cannot be permitted to stand on the nice metaphysical distinction that, although he knows that the purchaser buys the goods for the purpose of aiding the rebellion, he does not sell them for that purpose. The consequences of his acts are too serious and enormous to admit of such a plea. He must be taken to intend the consequences of his own voluntary act.” [79 US 342, 346-347]

In the original trial, the finding was for the plaintiff, ordering the defendants to pay the note; however, in this ruling, Justice Bradley wrote, “The whole doctrine of avoiding contracts for illegality and immorality is founded on public policy. It is certainly contrary to public policy to give the aid of the courts to a vendor who knew that his goods were purchased, or to a lender who knew that his money was borrowed, for the purpose of being employed in the commission of a criminal act injurious to society or to any of its members. This is all that we mean to decide in this case.” [79 US 342, 349] The Court reversed the ruling, finding for the defendants, and ordered a new trial.

This case is important because the Supreme Court recognized confederates as traitors against the United States, and supporting them also as treason against the United States. Supporting the confederacy by providing supplies is determined to be a crime and treated as such in the law.


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