United States v. Smith (124 U.S. 525)/Opinion of the Court
| United States v. Smith (124 U.S. 525)
Opinion of the Court
The indictment in this case is in form sufficiently full and specific in its averments to embrace the offense prescribed by the statute, and yet the defendant charged is not within its provisions. He is designated as a clerk in the office of the collector of customs, and is thus shown not to be charged by an act of congress with the safe-keeping of the public moneys, contrary to the averments of the indictment. The courts of the United States are presumed to know the general statutes of congress, and any averment in an indictment inconsistent with a provision of a statute of that character must necessarily fail, the statute negativing the averment. No clerk of a collector of customs is, by section 3639 of the Revised Statutes, charged with the safe-keeping of the public moneys. That section requires the treasurer of the United States, assistant treasurers, and those performing the duties of assistant treasurer, collectors of customs, surveyors of customs, acting also as collectors, receivers of public moneys at the several land-offices, postmasters, and all public officers of whatsoever character, to keep safely all public money collected by them, or otherwise, at any time placed in their possession and custody, till the same is ordered by the proper department or officer of the government to be transferred or paid out. They are also required to perform all other duties as fiscal agents of the government which may be imposed by law, or by any regulation of the treasury department made in conformity to law. A clerk of the collector is not an officer of the United States within the provisions of this section; and it is only to persons of that rank that the term public officer, as there used, applies. An officer of the United States can only be appointed by the president, by and with the advice and consent of the senate, or by a court of law, or the head of a department. A person in the service of the government who does not derive his position from one of these sources is not an officer of the United States in the sense of the constitution. This subject was considered and determined in U. S. v. Germaine, 99 U.S. 508, and in the recent case of U.S. v. Mouat, 124 U.S. --, ante, 505. What we have here said is but a repetition of what was there authoritatively declared.
The number of clerks the collector may employ may be limited by the secretary of the treasury, but their appointment is not made by the secretary, nor is his approval thereof required. The duties they perform are as varied as the infinite details of the business of the collector's office, each taking upon himself such as are assigned to him by the collector. The officers specifically designated in section 3639 are all charged by some act of congress with duties connected with the collection, disbursement or keeping of the public moneys, or to perform other duties as fiscal agents of the government. A clerk of a collector, holding his position at the will of the latter, discharging only such duties as may be assigned to him by that officer, comes neither within the letter nor the purview of the statute. And we are referred to no other act of congress bearing on the subject, making a clerk of the collector a fiscal agent of the government or bringing him within the class of persons charged with the safe-keeping of any public moneys.
The case of U.S. v. Hartwell, 6 Wall. 385, does not militate against this view. The defendant there, it is true, was a clerk in the office of the assistant treasurer at Boston, but his appointment by that officer under the act of congress could only be made with the approbation of the secretary of the treasury. This fact, in the opinion of the court, rendered his appointment one by the head of the department within the constitutional provision upon the subject of the appointing power. The necessity of the secretary's approbation to the appointment distinguishes that case essentially fro the one at the bar. The secretary, as already said, is not invested with the selection of the clerks of the collector; nor is their selection in any way dependent upon his approbation. It is true the indictment alleges that the appointment of the defendant as clerk was made with such approbation, but, as no law required this approbation, the averment cannot exert any influence on the mind of the court in the disposition of the questions presented. The fact averred, if it existed, could not add to the character, or powers, or dignity of the clerk. The constitution, after providing that the president shall nominate, and, by and with the advice and consent of the senate, shall appoint, ambassadors, other public ministers, and consuls, judges of the supreme court, and all other officers of the United States whose appointments are not otherwise provided for, which should be established by law, declares that 'the congress may by law vest the appointment of such inferior officers as they think proper in the president alone, in the courts of law, or in the heads of departments.' There must be, therefore, a law authorizing the head of a department to appoint clerks of the collector before his approbation of their appointment can be required. No such law is in existence. Our conclusion, therefore, is that section 3639 of the Revised Statutes does not apply to clerks of the collector, and that such clerks are not appointed by the head of any department within the meaning of the constitutional provision. It follows that our answers to the second and third questions certified to us must be in the negative. An answer to the first question is therefore immaterial.
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