1 minute read

Kendall v. United States

Kendall Loses--and Wins

Unfortunately for Kendall, the Supreme Court did not agree with him at all. They found unanimously that the circuit court did indeed have the power to order him to pay the debt. True, the president himself was "beyond the reach of any other department"--unless Congress should decide to impeach him--but only the president had that kind of power.

The Court found that other members of the executive branch might have their duties divided into two parts. One part, true, required judgment and discretion and might be seen as representing the chief executive. But the other part was "subject to the control of the law, and not to the direction of the president." This part of an official's duties was indeed subject to a court's ruling. Therefore, Kendall should pay the money that he had been ordered to pay.

The Court's decision caused a great deal of controversy. Some segments of the public and the press applauded the "spirit of independence" shown by the Court. Others held that the Supreme Court had "no right to assume authority over the executive."

The Kendall story has a fascinating postscript. Although Kendall did go ahead and pay the money as ordered, Stockton and Stokes were still not satisfied. They sued Kendall for the money they had lost by his long delay. By this time, Kendall had left public office and become the campaign manager of Martin Van Buren, who would become America's next President. Van Buren was a Democrat running against an opponent from the Whig party. A jury of one Democrat and eleven Whigs found against Kendall and ordered him to pay $11,000 in damages.

Kendall was burdened by many debts and refused to pay this one. He said he would rather go to jail than cheat his legitimate creditors by paying anything to Stockton and Stokes. Finally, former President Jackson intervened. He helped pass a law abolishing imprisonment for debt in the District of Columbia--if the debtor was appealing his debt to a higher court. Then, in 1845, the Supreme Court found in Kendall's favor. They ruled that he did not have to pay damages to Stockton and Stokes because he had not been acting in his private capacity, but rather as a government official. Kendall went on to ask Congress to pay his lawyer's fees and other costs for the damages suit. Congress agreed. Kendall was a victor at last.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1833 to 1882Kendall v. United States - Significance, A Carriage And A Pair Of Horses, The President Fails To Intervene, The Separation Of Powers