Article 1, Section 8, Clause 15

Document 22

Martin v. Mott

12 Wheat. 19 1827

February 2d. Story, Justice, delivered the opinion of the court.--This is a writ of error to the judgment of the court for the trial of impeachments and the correction of errors of the state of New York, being the highest court of that state, and is brought here in virtue of the 25th section of the judiciary act of 1789, ch. 20. The original action was a replevin for certain goods and chattels, to which the original defendant put in an avowry, and to that avowry there was a demurrer, assigning nineteen distinct and special causes of demurrer. Upon a joinder in demurrer, the supreme court of the state gave judgment against the avowant; and that judgment was affirmed by the high court to which the present writ of error is addressed.

The avowry, in substance, asserts a justification of the taking of the goods and chattels, to satisfy a fine and forfeiture imposed upon the original plaintiff, by a court-martial, for a failure to enter the service of the United States as a militia-man, when thereto required by the president of the United States, in pursuance of the act of the 28th of February 1795, c. 101. It is argued, that this avowry is defective, both in substance and form; and it will be our business to discuss the most material of these objections: and as to others, of which no particular notice is taken, it is to be understood that the court are of opinion, that they are either unfounded in fact or in law, and do not require any separate examination.

For the more clear and exact consideration of the subject, it may be necessary to refer to the constitution of the United States, and some of the provisions of the act of 1795. The constitution declares, that congress shall have power "to provide for calling forth the militia, to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions:" and also "to provide for organizing, arming and disciplining the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States." In pursuance of this authority, the act of 1795 has provided, "that whenever the United States shall be invaded, or be in imminent danger of invasion from any foreign nation or Indian tribe, it shall be lawful for the president of the United States to call forth such number of the militia of the state or states most convenient to the place of danger, or scene of action, as he may judge necessary to repel such invasion, and to issue his order for that purpose to such officer or officers of the militia as he shall think proper." And like provisions are made for the other cases stated in the constitution. It has not been denied here, that the act of 1795 is within the constitutional authority of congress, or that congress may not lawfully provide for cases of imminent danger of invasion, as well as for cases where an invasion has actually taken place. In our opinion, there is no ground for a doubt on this point, even if it had been relied on, for the power to provide for repelling invasions includes the power to provide against the attempt and danger of invasion, as the necessary and proper means to effectuate the object. One of the best means to repel invasions is to provide the requisite force for action, before the invader himself has reached the soil.

The power thus confided by congress to the president, is, doubtless, of a very high and delicate nature. A free people are naturally jealous of the exercise of military power; and the power to call the militia into actual service, is certainly felt to be one of no ordinary magnitude. But it is not a power which can be executed without a correspondent responsibility. It is, in its terms, a limited power, confined to cases of actual invasion, or of imminent danger of invasion. If it be a limited power, the question arises, by whom is the exigency to be judged of and decided? Is the president the sole and exclusive judge whether the exigency has arisen, or is it to be considered as an open question, upon which every officer to whom the orders of the president are addressed, may decide for himself, and equally open to be contested by every militia-man who shall refuse to obey the orders of the president? We are all of opinion, that the authority to decide whether the exigency has arisen, belongs exclusively to the president, and that his decision is conclusive upon all other persons. We think that this construction necessarily results from the nature of the power itself, and from the manifest object contemplated by the act of congress. The power itself is to be exercised upon sudden emergencies, upon great occasions of state, and under circumstances which may be vital to the existence of the Union. A prompt and unhesitating obedience to orders is indispensable to the complete attainment of the object. The service is a military service, and the command, of a military nature; and in such cases, every delay, and every obstacle to an efficient and immediate compliance, necessarily tend to jeopard the public interests. While subordinate officers or soldiers are pausing to consider whether they ought to obey, or are scrupulously weighing the evidence of the facts upon which the commander-in-chief exercises the right to demand their services, the hostile enterprise may be accomplished, without the means of resistance. If "the power of regulating the militia, and of commanding its services in times of insurrection and invasion, are (as it has been emphatically said they are) natural incidents to the duties of superintending the common defence, and watching over the internal peace of the confederacy" (Federalist, No. 29), these powers must be so construed as to the modes of their exercise, as not to defeat the great end in view. If a superior officer has a right to contest the orders of the president, upon his own doubts as to the exigency having arisen, it must be equally the right of every inferior officer and soldier; and any act done by any person in furtherance of such orders, would subject him to responsibility in a civil suit, in which his defence must finally rest upon his ability to establish the facts by competent proofs. Such a course would be subversive of all discipline, and expose the best-disposed officers to the chances of ruinous litigation. Besides, in many instances, the evidence upon which the president might decide that there is imminent danger of invasion, might be of a nature not constituting strict technical proof, or the disclosure of the evidence might reveal important secrets of state, which the public interest, and even safety, might imperiously demand to be kept in concealment.

If we look at the language of the act of 1795, every conclusion drawn from the nature of the power itself, is strongly fortified. The words are, "whenever the United States shall be invaded, or be in imminent danger of invasion, &c., it shall be lawful for the president, &c., to call forth such number of the militia, &c., as he may judge necessary to repel such invasion." The power itself is confided to the executive of the Union, to him who is, by the constitution, "the commander-in-chief of the militia, when called into the actual service of the United States," whose duty it is to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed," and whose responsibility for an honest discharge of his official obligations is secured by the highest sanctions. He is necessarily constituted the judge of the existence of the exigency, in the first instance, and is bound to act according to his belief of the facts. If he does so act, and decides to call forth the militia, his orders for this purpose are in strict conformity with the provisions of the law; and it would seem to follow as a necessary consequence, that every act done by a subordinate officer, in obedience to such orders, is equally justifiable. The law contemplates that, under such circumstances, orders shall be given to carry the power into effect; and it cannot, therefore, be a correct inference, that any other person has a just right to disobey them. The law does not provide for any appeal from the judgment of the president, or for any right in subordinate officers to review his decision, and in effect defeat it. Whenever a statute gives a discretionary power to any person, to be exercised by him, upon his own opinion of certain facts, it is a sound rule of construction, that the statute constitutes him the sole and exclusive judge of the existence of those facts. And in the present case, we are all of opinion, that such is the true construction of the act of 1795. It is no answer, that such a power may be abused, for there is no power which is not susceptible of abuse. The remedy for this, as well as for all other official misconduct, if it should occur, is to be found in the constitution itself. In a free government, the danger must be remote, since, in addition to the high qualities which the executive must be presumed to possess, of public virtue, and honest devotion to the public interests, the frequency of elections, and the watchfulness of the representatives of the nation, carry with them all the checks which can be useful to guard against usurpation or wanton tyranny.

This doctrine has not been seriously contested upon the present occasion. It was, indeed, maintained and approved by the supreme court of New York, in the case of Vanderheyden v. Young, 11 Johns. 150, where the reasons in support of it were most ably expounded by Mr. Justice Spencer, in delivering the opinion of the court. But it is now contended, as it was contended in that case, that notwithstanding the judgment of the president is conclusive as to the existence of the exigency, and may be given in evidence as conclusive proof thereof, yet that the avowry is fatally defective, because it omits to aver that the fact did exist. The argument is, that the power confided to the president is a limited power, and can be exercised only in the cases pointed out in the statute, and therefore, it is necessary to aver the facts which bring the exercise within the purview of the statute. In short, the same principles are sought to be applied to the delegation and exercise of this power intrusted to the executive of the nation for great political purposes, as might be applied to the humblest officer in the government, acting upon the most narrow and special authority. It is the opinion of the court, that this objection cannot be maintained. When the president exercises an authority confided to him by law, the presumption is, that it is exercised in pursuance of law. Every public officer is presumed to act in obedience to his duty, until the contrary is shown; and, a fortiori, this presumption ought to be favorably applied to the chief magistrate of the Union. It is not necessary to aver, that the act which he might rightfully do, was so done. If the fact of the existence of the exigency were averred, it would be traversable, and, of course, might be passed upon by a jury; and thus the legality of the orders of the president would depend, not on his own judgment of the facts, but upon the finding of those facts, upon the proofs submitted to a jury. This view of the objection is precisely the same which was acted upon by the supreme court of New York, in the case already referred to, and, in the opinion of this court, with entire legal correctness.

Another objection is, that the orders of the president are not set forth; nor is it averred, that he issued any orders, but only that the governor of New York called out the militia, upon the requisition of the president. The objection, so far as it proceeds upon a supposed difference between a requisition and an order, is untenable; for a requisition calling forth the militia is, in legal intendment, an order, and must be so interpreted in this avowry. The majority of the court understood and acted upon this sense, which is one of the acknowledged senses of the word, in Houston v. Moore, 5 Wheat. 1. It was unnecessary to set forth the orders of the president at large; it was quite sufficient to state that the call was in obedience to them. No private citizen is presumed to be conversant of the particulars of those orders; and if he were, he is not bound to set them forth in haec verba.

The next objection is, that it does not sufficiently appear in the avowry, that the court-martial was a lawfully constituted court-martial, having jurisdiction of the offence, at the time of passing its sentence against the original plaintiff. Various grounds have been assigned in support of this objection. In the first place, it is said, that the original plaintiff was never employed in the service of the United States, but refused to enter that service, and that, consequently, he was not liable to the rules and articles of war, or to be tried for the offence by any court-martial organized under the authority of the United States. The case of Houston v. Moore, 5 Wheat. 1, affords a conclusive answer to this suggestion. It was decided in that case, that although a militia-man, who refused to obey the orders of the president, calling him into the public service, was not, in the sense of the act of 1795, "employed in the service of the United States," so as to be subject to the rules and articles of war; yet that he was liable to be tried for the offence, under the 5th section of the same act, by a court martial called under the authority of the United States. The great doubt in that case was, whether the delinquent was liable to be tried for the offence, by a court-martial organized under state authority.

In the next place, it is said, the court-martial was not composed of the proper number of officers required by law. In order to understand the force of this objection, it is necessary to advert to the terms of the act of 1795, and the rules and articles of war. The act of 1795, § 5, provides, "that every officer, non-commissioned officer, or private of the militia, who shall fail to obey the orders of the president of the United States," &c., "shall forfeit a sum not exceeding one year's pay, and not less than one month's pay, to be determined and adjudged by a court martial." And it further provides (§ 6), "that courts-martial for the trial of militia shall be composed of militia officers only." These are the only provisions in the act on this subject. It is not stated by whom the courts-martial shall be called, nor in what manner, nor of what number, they shall be composed. But the court is referred to the 64th and 65th of the rules and articles of war, enacted by the act of 10th of April 1806, ch. 20, which provide, "that general courts-martial may consist of any number of commissioned officers from five to thirteen inclusively; but they shall not consist of less than thirteen, where that number can be convened without manifest injury to the service:" and that "any general officer commanding an army, or colonel commanding a separate department, may appoint general courts-martial when necessary." Supposing these clauses applicable to the court-martial in question, it is very clear, that the act is merely directory to the officer appointing the court, and that his decision as to the number which can be convened without manifest injury to the service, being in a matter submitted to his sound discretion, must be conclusive. But the present avowry goes further, and alleges, not only that the court-martial was appointed by a general officer commanding an army, that it was composed of militia officers, naming them, but it goes on to assign the reason why a number short of thirteen composed the court, in the very terms of the 64th article; and the truth of this allegation is admitted by the demurrer. Tried, therefore, by the very test which has been resorted to in support of the objection, it utterly fails.

But, in strictness of law, the propriety of this resort may admit of question. The rules and articles of war, by the very terms of the statute of 1806, are those "by which the armies of the United States shall be governed;" and the act of 1795 has only provided, "that the militia employed in the service of the United States (not the militia ordered into the service of the United States) shall be subject to the same rules and articles of war as the troops of the United States;" and this is, in substance, re-enacted by the 97th of the rules and articles of war. It is not, therefore, admitted, that any express authority is given by either statute, that such a court-martial as is contemplated for the trial of delinquents, under the 5th section of the act of 1795, is to be composed of the same number of officers, organized in the same manner, as these rules and articles contemplate for persons in actual service. If any resort is to be had to them, it can only be to guide the discretion of the officer ordering the court, as matter of usage, and not as matter of positive institution. If, then, there be no mode pointed out for the formation of the court-martial in these cases, it may be asked, in what manner is such court to be appointed? The answer is, according to the general usage of the military service, or what may not unfitly be called the customary military law. It is by the same law, that courts-martial, when duly organized, are bound to execute their duties, and regulate their modes of proceeding, in the absence of positive enactments. Upon any other principle, courts-martial would be left without any adequate means to exercise the authority confided to them; for there could scarcely be framed a positive code to provide for the infinite variety of incidents applicable to them.

The act of the 18th of April 1814, ch. 141, which expired at the end of the late war, was, in a great measure, intended to obviate difficulties arising from the imperfection of the provisions of the act of 1795, and especially to aid courts-martial in exercising jurisdiction over cases like the present. But whatever may have been the legislative intention, its terms do not extend to the declaration of the number of which such courts-martial shall be composed. The first section provides, "that courts-martial, to be composed of militia officers alone, for the trial of militia drafted, detached, and called forth (not or called forth) for the service of the United States, whether acting in conjunction with the regular forces or otherwise, shall, when necessary, be appointed, held and conducted, in the manner prescribed by the rules and articles of war, for appointing, holding and conducting courts-martial for the trial of delinquents in the army of the United States." This language is obviously confined to the militia in the actual service of the United States, and does not extend to such as are drafted and refuse to obey the call. So that the court are driven back to the act of 1795 as the legitimate source for the ascertainment of the organization and jurisdiction of the court-martial in the present case. And we are of opinion, that nothing appears on the face of the avowry, to lead to any doubt that it was a legal court-martial, organized according to military usage, and entitled to take cognisance of the delinquencies stated in the avowry.

This view of the case affords an answer to another objection which has been urged at the bar, viz., that the sentence has not been approved by the commanding officer, in the manner pointed out in the 65th of the rules and articles of war. That article cannot, for the reasons already stated, be drawn in aid of the argument; and the avowry itself shows that the sentence has been approved by the president of the United States, who is the commander-in-chief, and that there was not any other officer of equal grade with the major-generals by whom the court-martial had been organized and continued, within the military district, by whom the same could be approved. If, therefore, an approval of the sentence were necessary, that approval has been given by the highest, and indeed only, military authority competent to give it. But it is by no means clear, that the act of 1795 meant to require any approval of the sentences imposing fines for delinquencies of this nature. The act does not require it, either expressly or by necessary implication. It directs (§ 7) that the fines assessed shall be certified by the presiding officer of the court-martial to the marshal, for him to levy the same, without referring to any prior act to be done, to give validity to the sentences. The natural inference from such an omission is, that the legislature did not intend, in cases of this subordinate nature, to require any further sanction of the sentences. And if such an approval is to be deemed essential, it must be upon the general military usage, and not from positive institution. Either way, we think, that all has been done, which the act required.

Another objection to the proceedings of the court-martial is, that they took place, and the sentence was given, three years and more after the war was concluded, and in a time of profound peace. But the opinion of this court is, that a court-martial, regularly called under the act of 1795, does not expire with the end of a war then existing, nor is its jurisdiction to try these offences in any shape dependent upon the fact of war or peace. The act of 1795 is not confined in its operation to cases of refusal to obey the orders of the president, in times of public war. On the contrary, that act authorizes the president to call forth the militia to suppress insurrections, and to enforce the laws of the United States, in times of peace. And courts-martial are, under the 5th section of the act, entitled to take cognisance of, and to punish delinquencies, in such cases, as well as in cases where the object is to repel invasion in times of war. It would be a strained construction of the act, to limit the authority of the court to the mere time of the existence of the particular exigency, when it might be thereby unable to take cognisance of, and decide upon a single offence. It is sufficient for us to say, that there is no such limitation in the act itself.

The next objection to the avowry is, that the certificate of the president of the court-martial is materially variant from the sentence itself, as set forth in a prior allegation. The sentence as there set forth is, "and thereupon, the said general court-martial imposed the sum of $96 as a fine, on the said Jacob, for having thus failed, neglected and refused to rendezvous and enter in the service of the United States of America, when thereto required as afore-said." The certificate adds, "and that the said Jacob E. Mott was sentenced by the said general court-martial, on failure of the payment of said fine imposed on him, to twelve months' imprisonment." It is material to state, that the averment does not purport to set forth the sentence in haec verba; nor was it necessary in this avowry to allege anything more than that part of the sentence which imposed the fine, since that was the sole ground of the justification of taking the goods and chattels in controversy. But there is nothing repugnant in this averment to that which relates to the certificate. The latter properly adds the fact which respects the imprisonment, because the certificate constitutes the warrant to the marshal for his proceedings. The act of 1795 expressly declares, that the delinquents "shall be liable to be imprisoned by a like sentence, on failure of payment of the fines adjudged against them, for one calendar month for every five dollars of such fine." If, indeed, it had been necessary to set forth the whole sentence at large, the first omission would be helped by the certainty of the subsequent averment. There is, then, no variance or repugnance in these allegations; but they may well stand together.

Of the remaining causes of special demurrer, some are properly matters of defence before the court-martial, and its sentence being upon a subject within its jurisdiction, is conclusive; and others turn upon niceties of pleading, to which no separate answers are deemed necessary. In general, it may be said of them, that the court do not deem them well-founded objections to the avowry.

Upon the whole, it is the opinion of the court, that the judgment of the court for the trial of impeachments and the correction of errors ought to be reversed, and that the cause be remanded to the same court, with directions to cause a judgment to be entered upon the pleadings in favor of the avowant.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 3, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 15, Document 22
The University of Chicago Press

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