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decided: April 30, 1906.





Author: Fuller

[ 202 U.S. Page 120]

 MR. CHIEF JUSTICE FULLER, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

Of the four items of the amounts allowed, only one, that for $1,111,284.70, need be considered here.

1. The correctness of the account is conceded, and the question is whether the United States were properly held liable therefor. The Court of Claims ruled that the account rendered by Slade and Bender under the agreement between the United States and the Cherokee Nation, ratified by Congress, was neither an award nor an account stated, but that the United States were nevertheless liable in the circumstances for the balance found.

The case is thus put by Chief Justice Nott:

"But while the account was neither an award nor an account stated, it must be conceded that the scope of the accounting was intended to be as broad as the causes of action secured by the agreement to the Cherokee Nation 'the right within twelve months to enter suit against the United States in the Court of Claims for any alleged or declared amount of money promised but withheld by the United States from the

[ 202 U.S. Page 121]

     Cherokee Nation, under any of said treaties or laws, which may be claimed to be omitted from or improperly or unjustly or illegally adjusted in said accounting.' That is to say, the court, or the accountants, were to go behind statutory and treaty bars and receipts in full and were to consider 'any alleged or declared amount of money promised but withheld' 'under any of said treaties or laws.' This meant that there were to be no technical defenses set up, no pleas of res judicata, no releases or relinquishments, compromises or settlements; or it meant nothing. . . .

"Interpreted in the light of the long, sore controversy which had existed between the parties, it is plain that the Cherokees believed the agreement to mean (and the United States allowed them so to believe) that all of their claims and rights and equities were to be reopened and reexamined de novo; and that upon the faith of that belief they made a cession of the Outlet.

"In the opinion of the court this case is simply one to recover purchase money upon a contract of sale. Ordinarily, in such a case, the cession would not be made, the deed would not be delivered until the purchase money is paid or secured or, at least, the amount be ascertained and liquidated. In this case both parties wanted to expedite the transaction. It was important for the United States that the cession of the territory should be made immediately; it was desirable for the Cherokee Nation that the purchase money should be paid soon. But, nevertheless, the Cherokee Nation had the right to immediate payment, and the agreement intended to secure to them the next thing to it -- the right to an early payment. The accounting was merely a means to an end. The end was the immediate payment, as near as might be, of the whole consideration to be given for the cession of the Outlet. When the cession was made the purchase money was due; the only thing remaining, which was the object of the accounting, was to ascertain the exact amount. This is not the case of a party prosecuting an unliquidated debt, but a case of sale

[ 202 U.S. Page 122]

     and delivery and non-payment of the purchase money for the thing sold and delivered. The United States were willing to pay; the Cherokee Nation wanted the payment made at the earliest possible day; both parties agreed upon a method by which it should be paid as nearly immediately as was possible. The United States were to render their account 'without delay;' if the Cherokee Nation accepted it, the amount was to be appropriated by Congress; such 'appropriation to be made by Congress, if then in session, and if not, then at the session immediately following such accounting.' If the Cherokee Nation did not accept the accounting, or regarded it as incorrect or unjust, and carried it into the courts and recovered a judgment, Congress was to appropriate 'at the its next session after such case shall be finally decided.' Nothing was left to the ordinary uncertainties and procrastinations of legislation, and no agreement could have made the obligation to pay promptly more unequivocal and specific. Time was of the essence of the contract, so far as the words of the parties could make it. "The court does not intend to imply that when the account of Slade and Bender came into the hands of the Secretary of the Interior he was bound to transmit it to the Cherokee Nation. On the contrary, the Cherokee Nation had not agreed to be bound by the report of the accountants and could not claim that the United States should be. The accountants were but the instrumentality of the United States in making out an account. When it was placed in the Interior Department it was as much within the discretion of the Secretary to accept and adopt it or to remand it for alterations and corrections as a thing could be. He was the representative of the United States under whom the agreement had been made, and he was the authority under which the account had been made out, and when he transmitted it to the Cherokee Nation his transmission was the transmission of the United States. When the account was thus received by the Cherokee Nation (May 21, 1894), the 'twelve months' of the agreement, within which

[ 202 U.S. Page 123]

     the Nation must consider it and enter suit against the other party in the Court of Claims, began to run, and with the Nation's acceptance of the account (December 1, 1984) the session of Congress at which an appropriation should be made became fixed and certain. The Secretary did not recall the account; the United States never rendered another, and the utmost authority which Congress could have exercised, if any, was, at the same session, or certainly within the prescribed 'twelve months,' to have directed the Secretary to withdraw the account and notify the Cherokee Nation that another would be rendered. The action of the Secretary of the Interior, combined with the inaction of Congress to direct anything to the contrary, makes this provision of the agreement final and conclusive. The Cherokee Nation has parted with the land, has lost the time within which it might have appealed to the courts, and has lost the right to bring the items which it regards as incorrectly or unjustly disallowed to judicial arbitrament, and the United States are placed in the position of having broken and evaded the letter and spirit of their agreement."

Weldon, J., concurred with the Chief Justice in a separate opinion. Peelle, J., concurred in the judgment, but rested his conclusion on the ground that the United States were liable "to pay the expense of removal" of te Eastern Cherokees from their eastern home to the Indian Territory, under the treaties of 1835-36 and 1846, 7 Stat. 478; 9 Stat. 871, and therefore to pay this conceded balance. The various treaties from 1817 down, the legislation, accountings, and proceedings were duly considered in arriving at the result reached. Wright, J., dissented.

We agree that the United States were liable, and think the liability might well be rested on both grounds, that is, that failing one it could be sustained on the other, but we do not deem it necessary to set forth in our own language what has already been so well stated by Chief Justice Nott and Judges Weldon and Peelle.

2. Recovery of the item of $1,111,284.70 was adjudged

[ 202 U.S. Page 124]

     "with interest thereon at the rate of five per cent from June 12, 1838, to date of payment," and it is contended that the Court of Claims erred in this allowance of interest.

Under the eleventh article of the treaty of 1846 the Cherokees agreed to submit to the Senate of the United States, as umpire, the question whether interest should be allowed on the sums found due them. The Senate of the United States, as umpire, on September 5, 1850, found that interest should be allowed, in the following resolution: "Resolved, That it is the sense of the Senate that interest at the rate of five per cent per annum should be allowed upon the sums found due to the Eastern and Western Cherokees, respectively, from the twelfth day of June, 1838, until paid."

The Cherokees who had emigrated prior to 1835, with accessions to that date, were known as te "Old Settlers," or "Western Cherokees," and in the case of the United States v. Old Settlers, 148 U.S. 427, this court said in respect of the claim for interest:

"By the second resolution adopted by the Senate, as umpire September 5, 1850, it was decided that interest should be allowed, at the rate of five per centum per annum, upon the sum found due the Western Cherokees, from June 12, 1838, until paid. As before stated, our conclusion is that the sum then ...

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