APPEAL from the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of South Carolina. The facts are stated in the opinion of the court.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mr. Justice Swayne delivered the opinion of the court.
Mr. Philip Phillips and Mr. Edward McCrady for the appellants.
Mr. H. E. Young and Mr. W. D. Porter, contra.
There is no controversy about the material facts of this case. At the beginning of the late civil war, the Charleston Gaslight Company was a body politic and corporate of the city of Charleston, in the State of South Carolina. Its capital stock consisted of thirty thousand six hundred and sixty-four shares of $25 each. A part of the stock was held by citizens of other states. Pursuant to a statute of the Confederate States, and an order of the Confederate District Court for the District of South Carolina, three thousand seven hundred and seventy-six shares were sequestrated, and sold at public auction on the 11th of April, 1862, for the alleged reason that they belonged to 'alien enemies.' Of this stock the complainant owned thirteen hundred and fifty-one shares. The defendants, except the gas company, were purchasers at this sale, or are the assignees of such purchasers. The Confederate authorities required the company to erase from its stock-book the names of the loyal owners, to insert those of the purchasers, and to issue stock certificates to the latter; all which was accordingly done. Dividends were declared from time to time, and paid to those parties or their assignees. The company acted under duress. The slightest resistance or hesitation would not have been tolerated by the Confederate authorities.
In February, 1865, the military forces of the United States captured the city of Charleston, and seized all the property and effects of the gas company. The president of the company was relieved from his duties, and ordered to deliver all the records of the company to a lieutenant of the army, who was appointed to succeed him. In May, 1866, the property of the company which had been seized was restored to it. The conditions of the restoration were that the company should erase from its books the names of those who bought the sequestrated stock and of the assignees, and replace the names of the prior stockholders, and also pay to the latter the amount of the dividends declared upon the stock since January, 1861. These requirements were fully complied with by the company.
The bill was filed by Perdicaries for himself and such other stockholders in the same situation as might choose to come in and contribute to the expenses of the litigation. The stock certificates of the original holders, and those of the purchasers or their assignees, are still outstanding.
The complainant prays that the sale may be vacated; that the certificates still outstanding issued to the purchasers and their assignees may be declared invalid, and ordered to be delivered up and cancelled; that the claimants may be enjoined from transferring or selling the shares, and from bringing suits to effect such transfers, or for dividends; and that the company be enjoined from allowing such transfers, from issuing new certificates, and from paying dividends on the shares to those parties.
Subsequently, an amended bill was filed. It alleged that some of the defendants had commenced actions on the case against the company, alleging that it had issued the certificates fraudulently, and that it was bound to make them good, or to indemnify the holders. It was prayed that all the parties be enjoined from prosecuting or instituting such suits, and that their rights should be finally settled in this suit. There was a decree for the complainants, whereupon the defendants brought the case here.
Nothing is better settled in the jurisprudence of this court than that all acts done in aid of the rebellion were illegal and of no validity. The principle has become axiomatic. It would be a mere waste of time to linger upon the point for the purpose of discussing it. Texas v. White, 7 Wall. 700; Hickman v. Jones, 9 id. 197; Hanauer v. Doane, 12 id. 342; Knox v. Lee, id. 457; Hanauer v. Woodruff, 15 id. 439; Cornet v. Williams, 20 id. 226; Sprott v. United States, id. 459.
The transactions here in question were clearly within the category thus denounced. The order of sequestration, the sale, the transfer, and the new certificates, were all utterly void. They gave no rights to the purchasers, and took none from the loyal owners. In the view of the law, the rightful relations of both to the property were just the same afterwards that they had been before. The purchasers had not then, and they have not now, a scintilla of title to the stock.
The transferees can be no better off than their vendors. This is necessarily so, for several reasons.
A thing void as to all persons, and for all purposes, can derive no strength from confirmation. 13 Comyns, Dig., tit. Confirmation, D. 1, 4, pp. 144, 145; Blessing v. House's Lessee, 3 Gill & J. (Md.) 290.
It is a caput mortuum, and nothing can give it vitality. The assignor could give no title to his assignee, when he had none himself.
The stock of such corporations may be held by a valid title without a certificate. The certificate is only one of the indicia of title. The right to the stock is in the nature of a non-negotiable chose in action. Angell & A. on Corp., sect. 560. The assignee takes it subject to all the equities which existed against it in the hands of the assignor. Mechanics' bank v. The New York & New Haven Railroad Co., 13 N. Y. 599. Such is the rule applied to all ...