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United States v. Klein

United States Supreme Court
80 U.S. 128 (1871)


In 1863, Congress adopted a statute providing that individuals whose property had been seized during the Civil War could recover their property or just compensation for it if they proved they had not assisted the Confederate army during the Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln then issued a proclamation offering a pardon to anyone who had fought for or supported the Confederate army, provided that person take an oath of allegiance to the Union. Following Congress’s act and the President’s proclamation, the United States Supreme Court held that a presidential pardon was sufficient proof that an individual had not assisted the Confederate army and was enough to justify a restoration of that person’s property rights. Based on the 1863 statute and the president’s proclamation, V.F. Wilson took the oath of allegiance and was pardoned. After Wilson’s death in 1865, the administrator of his estate, Klein (defendant), applied to the Court of Claims to recover compensation for property seized from Wilson during the Civil War. While Klein’s case was pending, Congress repealed its 1863 statute in 1867. The Court of Claims then decided in 1869 that Wilson’s estate was entitled to compensation for seized property based on his oath and presidential pardon. However, in 1870, Congress passed a new law that prohibited the use of a presidential pardon as proof that an individual was entitled to property rights or compensation. The law also said that acceptance of a presidential pardon, without a specific disclaimer of guilt, was conclusive evidence that the person did provide support to the Confederacy and thus made that person ineligible to recover property or compensation. Congress stated that if a person was ultimately found to support the Confederacy, the United States Supreme Court had no jurisdiction over an appeal of his or her denial of property rights from the Court of Claims. Based on this new law, the United States government (plaintiff) brought suit in the United States Supreme Court challenging the property rights given to Klein on the grounds that since Wilson accepted a presidential pardon, his estate was not entitled to property or sale proceeds.

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