McCray v. United States

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United States Supreme Court

195 U.S. 27

McCray  v.  United States

 Argued: December 2, 1903. --- Decided: May 31, 1904

The United States sued McCray for a statutory penalty of $50, alleging that, being a licensed retail dealer in oleomargarine, he had, in violation of the acts of Congress, knowingly purchased for resale a fifty-pound package of oleomargarine, artificially colored to look like butter, to which there was affixed internal revenue stamps at the rate of 4/1 of a cent a pound, upon which the law required stamps at the rate of 10 cents per pound. The answer of McCray, whilst admitting the purchase of the package stamped as alleged, set up two defenses.

First. It was averred that the oleomargarine in question was made by a duly licensed manufacturer, the Ohio Butterine Company, from a formula used by it in making a high grade oleomargarine composed of 'the following ingredients and none other, in these proportions; oleo oil, 20 pounds; natural lard, 30 pounds; creamery butter, 50 pounds; milk and cream, 30 pounds; common salt, 7 pounds.' It was asserted that whilst it was true that the oleomargarine made from the ingredients in question was of a yellow color, that this result was not caused by artificial coloration, but was solely occasioned by the fact that the butter, which was bought in open market, and used in making the oleomargarine, had a deep yellow color imparted to it (the butter) by a substance knows as Wells-Richardson's improved butter color. This preparation, it was averred, was not injurious to health, and was constantly used in the United States in the manufacture of butter made from pure milk or cream, for the purpose of imparting to it a deep yellow color. Averring that a yellow color produced in oleomargarine by the employment of butter, as an ingredient, which was artificially colored, did not amount to an artificial coloration of the oleomargarine within the meaning of the statute, it was asserted that the tax of 1/4 of a cent per pound was a compliance with the law.

Second. If the act of Congress impoing the tax, when rightly construed, required stamps at the rate of 10 cents per pound upon oleomargarine, colored as described in the first defense, the act levying such tax was charged to be repugnant to the Constitution of the United States. As a foundation for this defense the answer contained the following averments:

Whilst butter made from pure milk and cream in the spring season was of a deep yellow color, such butter when made at all other seasons was of a pale yellow; that the taste of consumers of butter in the United States required all butter to possess the deep color naturally belongint to butter made in the spring season, and hence it had come to pass that substantially all butter manufactured for sale in the United States, not made in the spring season, and not naturally of a deep yellow, was colored artificially so as to cause it to have the deep yellow of spring butter. It was alleged that this deep yellow coloration of natural butter was universally produced by the use of either Wells-Richardson's compound or some other coloring ingredient, which did not change the taste of the butter, none of which were injurious to health. Oleomargarine, it was alleged, derived its chief value as an article of food as a substitute for butter, and that growing out of the taste of the consumers, unless the olemargarine which was naturally white could be colored yellow, to present the appearance of butter artificially colored, there was no demand for it, and its manufacture and sale would be commercially impossible. It was then averred that to impose upon the colored oleomargarine a tax of 10 cents per pound would burden it with such a charge as to render it impossible to make and sell it in competition with butter, and therefore the result of imposing a tax of 10 cents a pound on oleomargarine when artificially colored would destroy the oleomargarine industry. From these averments it was charged that if the law imposed the tax of 10 cents upon the oleomargarine in question, the statute was repugnant to the Constitution, because it deprived the defendant of his property without due process of law; because the levy of such a burden was beyond the constitutional power of Congress, since it was an unwarranted interference by Congress 'with the police powers reserved to the several states and to the people of the United States by the Constitution of the United States;' and further, that said acts of Congress were repugnant to the Constitution, since they finally lodged in an executive officer the power to determine what constituted artificial coloration of oleomargarine, and therefore invested such officer with judicial authority; and, finally, because the attempt by Congress to levy a tax at the rate of 10 cents a pound arbitrarily discriminated against oleomargarine in favor of butter, to the extent of destroying the oleomargarine industry for the benefit of the butter industry, and was, therefore, violative of 'those fundamental principles of equality and justice which are inherent in the Constitution of the United States.'


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).