UNITED STATES V. EATON, 169 U. S. 331 (1898)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Eaton, 169 U.S. 331 (1898)

United States v. Eaton

No. 174

Submitted January 4, 1898

Decided February 28, 1898

169 U.S. 331


Congress has power, under the Constitution, to vest in the President authority to appoint a subordinate officer, called a vice-consul, to be temporarily charged with the duty of performing the functions of the consular office.

The Revised Statutes confer upon the President full power, in his discretion, to appoint vice-consuls, and fix their compensation, to be paid out of the allowance made by law for the principal consular officer in whose place such appointment shall be made.

The facts that the minister resident and consul-general at Siam had obtained a leave of absence from the President, and was ill and unable to discharge his duties, and that the vice-consul previously appointed had not qualified, and was absent from Siam, created a temporary vacancy and justified an emergency appointment to fill it.

The accounting officers of the government did not err in treating the salary fixed by law for the joint service of minister resident and consul-general at Siam as indivisible.

There was no error in allowing Eaton compensation for a period during which he performed the duties of the office before his official bond was received and approved.

A consular officer must account to the government for fees received by him for administering upon the estates of citizens of the United States, dying within the limits of his jurisdiction.

In October, 1890, Sempronius H. Boyd was commissioned as minister resident and consul general of the United States to Siam. He qualified and proceeded to his post and was in June, 1892, engaged in the discharge of his official duties. At that time, being seriously ill, Boyd was granted by the President a leave of absence. Before leaving Bangkok, Siam, Boyd, to quote from the findings of fact,

"believing his illness would terminate fatally, and being desirous to protect the interests of the government during his absence, and until the then expected arrival from the United States of Robert M. Boyd, whom Sempronius Boyd desired should act as consul general, the latter called to his aid Lewis A. Eaton (now a plaintiff herein, who was then a missionary at Bangkok), and asked him

Page 169 U. S. 332

to take charge of the consulate and its archives. Thereupon the following letter, dated June 21, 1892, was written by Boyd:"

" U.S. Legation and Consulate General"

" Bangkok, June 21, 1892"

"Krom Luang Devawongsee Varoprokan"

"Minister for Foreign Affairs"

" Monsieur le Ministre: It is with exceeding regret to me to be forced to abandon my diplomatic and consular duties at the court of his majesty, with the enjoyment, pleasure, comfort, and genuine friendship so marked and distinguished, which the representative of the United States fully appreciated and imparted to his government."

" All the physicians advise me to go soon to a cold climate. The President has wired me to that effect. In 20 or 30 days, I may be strong enough for a sea voyage, of which I will avail myself. I am authorized to designate, and do designate, L. A. Eaton vice-consul general until I am able to assume. If not incompatible with public affairs, I beg you to so regard him."

" Monsieur le Ministre, I am too weak and feeble to call in person, which I would so much like to have done, and expressed my thanks and that of my government to the foreign office and attaches."

" With assurance of my high consideration, I have the honor to be, Monsieur le Ministre,"

" Your obedient servant."

Boyd thereupon administered to Eaton an oath to faithfully discharge the duties of the office of vice-consul general, etc. The findings state that Boyd believed he had authority for his action. Robert M. Boyd, who is referred to above, was then in the United States, and, although appointed as vice-consul, had not qualified. Sempronius H. Boyd remained in Siam until the 12th day of July, 1892, when he left for the United States, and on his departure he turned over to Eaton, as the representative of the government of the United States, all the archives and property of the legation. Boyd arrived at his home, in the State of Missouri, on August 27, 1892, and although his leave of absence expired October 26, 1892, he did chanrobles.com-red

Page 169 U. S. 333

not, on account of illness, return to his post, but remained at his home, where he died June 22, 1894. Eaton, on the departure of Boyd, was the sole person

"in charge of the interests of the government at Bangkok, and performed whatever duties were required there of either a minister resident or a consul general, with the knowledge of the department of state and with that department's approval. The department acknowledged his communications, and acted upon them as communications from a person authorized to perform the duties of minister resident and consul general in the emergency then existing."


"September 2, 1892, Eaton executed (under instructions from the Department of State) an official bond, calling himself acting consul general of the United States at Bangkok. This was received at the Department of State, and was approved January 3, 1893. Subsequently, under instructions from the Department of State dated January 24, 1893, he executed another bond as vice-consul general of the United States at Bangkok, which was approved by the Secretary of State April 23, 1893. Both of these bonds bore date June 13, 1892, with the knowledge and consent of Eaton's sureties thereon, and were so dated because of a pencil memorandum on each bond when received in blank by Eaton from the Department of State directing him to insert the date of his appointment in the blank space reserved for the date."

On November 2, 1892, the Secretary of State wrote Eaton, enclosing him the commission of Robert Boyd, which had been issued in 1891, as vice-consul at Siam. In February, 1893, Robert Boyd appeared in Siam, and in accordance with the instructions of the Secretary of State, Eaton introduced him as vice-consul, and on May 18th he qualified, when Eaton's performance of the duties of the office ceased. The findings below say:

"Eaton rendered to the accounting officers of the Treasury his account for salary for the entire period of his service, in which he charged and claimed one-half of the salary of $5,000 per annum appropriated for said post of minister resident and consul general, from July 12, 1892, to October 26, 1892 -- that is, from the departure of the minister to and including the

Page 169 U. S. 334

date on which the leave of absence for sixty days (excluding transit time) expired -- and the full salary at the rate of $5,000 per annum, from October 27, 1892, to May 17, 1893, inclusive."

"Eaton also rendered with his salary account a return of all fees collected during the entire period of his service, both fees official and unofficial, including fees notarial and fees and fines received in the United States consular court at Bangkok, amounting in all to $245.41."

"Eaton also rendered to the Department of State his account of disbursements from the contingent fund of the legation and consulate general from July 1, 1892, to April 30, 1893, which was there approved."

"In the settlement of said accounts by the accounting officers of the Treasury, the sum of $5.73, expended by Eaton for candles and lanterns, was suspended for information, which was thereafter furnished, but said sum remains disallowed and unpaid."

"In the settlement of Eaton's salary accounts by the Treasury, the total amount of fees received, to-wit, $245.41, was charged to him, and covered into the Treasury. The one-half salary from July 12, 1892, to October 26, 1892, amounting to $726.90, was suspended for 'further information,' which was thereafter furnished, but this sum remains unpaid. The full salary from October 27, 1892, to May 17, 1893, amounting to $2,792.35, as approved by the Department of State, was allowed and credited. Deducting from this $245.41 leaves in Eaton's favor a balance of $2,546.94, which was certified to his credit by the first Comptroller December 4, 1893, no part of which has been paid."

It is inferable from the facts found that the amount of compensation which the accounting officers of the government settled and allowed in favor of Eaton, as above stated, was withheld from him because of a claim advanced by Sempronius H. Boyd to the entire salary as minister resident and consul general during a part of the time for which a portion of or the whole of the salary had been allowed Eaton. Indeed, on the 16th of June, 1894, Sempronius H. Boyd sued in the court below to recover his full salary as minister resident and consul chanrobles.com-red

Page 169 U. S. 335

general from July, 1892, to February 11, 1893. Thereupon, in December, 1894, Eaton commenced his action to recover the sums embraced in the following items:

A. For notarial or unofficial fees charged to

him in the settlement of his salary account

by report No. 162,708, as aforesaid, as per

Exhibit C herewith . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $ 177.41

B. For the item of salary suspended in the

settlement of his accounts for salary by report

No. 162,708, as aforesaid. . . . . . . . . . . . . 726.90

C. For the balance of salary found due to

claimant by report No. 162,708, as aforesaid,

and certified to his credit. . . . . . . . . . . . 2,546.94

D. For item expended for contingent expenses

by claimant, and suspended in the settlement of

his account therefor by report No. 162,709,

as aforesaid . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5.73


$3,456 98

The court below consolidated the two cases, and, on its finding the facts above recited, rejected the claim of Sempronius H. Boyd, his widow having been substituted as a party plaintiff on his death, and allowed the full amount of the claim sued for by Eaton. From this judgment the United States alone appeals.


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