U.S. Supreme Court Young v. Bank of Alexandria, 8 U.S. 4 Cranch 384 384 (1808)
Young v. Bank of Alexandria
8 U.S. (4 Cranch) 384
ERROR TO THE CIRCUIT COURT FOR THE
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA SITTING AT ALEXANDRIA
An appeal or writ of error lies from the judgments of the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia to this Court in cases where the Bank of Alexandria is plaintiff and the judgments below are in its favor, notwithstanding the clause in its charter to the contrary.
The right of Virginia to legislate for that part of the District of Columbia which was ceded by her to the United States continued until 27 February, 1801.
The act of Virginia incorporating the Bank of Alexandria is a public law.
C. Simms, for the defendant in error, having obtained a rule on the plaintiff in error, to show cause why the writ of error should not be quashed, Roungs, E. J. Lee, and Jones, now showed cause, and read a printed paper produced by the other side purporting to be the act of assembly of Virginia of 1792, incorporating the bank and giving them a right to obtain judgments against their debtors at the first term, without appeal or writ of error; another printed paper, also produced by the other side, purporting to be the Act of Assembly of Virginia of 21 January, 1801, continuing the act of 1792 until the year 1811, which would otherwise have expired in the year 1803; the Act of Congress of 27 February, 1801, erecting the Circuit Court for the District of Columbia and providing for an appeal or writ of error to this Court in all cases where the matter in dispute shall exceed the value of one hundred dollars, with a proviso that nothing in that act should impair the rights granted by, or derived from the acts of incorporation of any body corporate within the district; the act of assembly of Virginia of 1789, ceding to the United States a territory for the seat of their government, and the Act of Congress of 1790, accepting the cession.
1. That when the Legislature of Virginia passed the Act of 21 January, 1801, continuing the act of 1792, which incorporated the bank, the State of Virginia had no power to legislate for the District of Columbia, and therefore could not give continuance to the act of 1792 as a law in that district. The consequence of
which is that there is now no law in the District of Columbia which gives to the bank any exclusive privileges.
2. That the act of Virginia of 2 January, 1801, was not adopted as the law for the District of Columbia by the Act of Congress of 27 February, 1801.
3. That if the act of 21 January, 1801, was adopted as to its general provisions, yet so much of it as takes away the right of appeal was not adopted, because inconsistent with that part of the adopting law, which gives an appeal or writ of error, in all cases where the matter in dispute exceeds the value of $100.
4. That the acts of 1792 and 21 January, 1801, were private acts, and that the papers read, purporting to be those acts, were not sufficiently authenticated, and could not be noticed by the Court.
The points being opened, the Court requested to hear the counsel on the other side.
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court:
This is a motion to quash a writ of error which has issued to a judgment obtained by the Bank of Alexandria in the Circuit Court for the District of Columbia sitting in Alexandria. In support of the motion, it is contended that no writ of error lies to such a judgment.
The words of the Act of Congress of February, 1801, by which the circuit court for the District of Columbia was erected, are these:
"Any final judgment, order, or decree in the said circuit court wherein the matter in dispute, exclusive of costs, shall exceed the value of one hundred dollars may be reexamined, and reversed or affirmed in the Supreme Court of the United States by writ of error or appeal."
Upon the operation of this clause in the "act concerning the District of Columbia," no doubt could be entertained were it not produced by the last section, which enacts that nothing in that act contained
"shall in any wise alter, impeach, or impair the rights granted by or derived from the acts of incorporation of Alexandria and Georgetown or of any other body corporate or politic within the district."
The State of Virginia had, in November, 1792, passed an act for establishing a bank in the Town of Alexandria, which act incorporated the bank, and, in addition to the privilege of summary process for the recovery
of debts, deprived their debtors of the right of appeal.
In January, 1801, the Legislature of Virginia passed an act continuing the charter of the bank to 4 March in the year 1801 and authorizing them to transact business in the County of Fairfax.
It is the opinion of the majority of the Court, under the terms of the cession and acceptance of the District, that the power of legislation remained in Virginia until it was exercised by Congress.
But the question recurs whether that part of the act of Virginia which takes away the right of appeal, taken in connection with the act of Congress passed in February, 1801, is now in operation.
The words of the act of Congress, being as explicit as language can furnish, must comprehend every case not completely excepted from them. The saving clause in the last section only saves existing rights; it does not extend those rights or give new ones. The act incorporating the bank professes to regulate, and could regulate, only those courts which were established under the authority of Virginia. It could not affect the judicial proceedings of a court of the United States or of any other state.
There is a difference between those rights on which the validity of the transactions of the corporation depends which must adhere to those transactions everywhere, and those peculiar remedies which may be bestowed on it. The first are of general obligation; the last, from their nature, can only be exercised in those courts which the power making the grant can regulate. The act of incorporation, then, conferred on the Bank of Alexandria a corporate character, but could give that corporate body no peculiar privileges in the courts of the United States not belonging to it as a corporation. Those privileges do not exist unless conferred by an act of Congress.
The mere saving in an act of Congress which expressly renders all judgments of the circuit court for a larger sum than one hundred dollars reexaminable by writ of error in this Court cannot be considered as exempting judgments rendered in favor of the bank from the operation of this general enacting clause respecting writs of error. If the act of March, 1801, be considered as giving the bank a right to proceed in the Circuit Court for Alexandria in the same manner as by the act of incorporation, it might proceed in Virginia, yet that act does not affect the writ of error as given in the act of 27 February.
The motion is therefore overruled.