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Amos T. Akerman to William W. Belknap, 4 February 1871

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Feb. 4, 1871. Hon. W. W. Belknap, Secretary of War. Sir: I have received yours of the 30th ultimo: enclosing a communication from the U. S. Attorney for the District of Vermont, in relation to the suit of Andrew J. Bean against Gilman Henry and D. N. Beckwith military officers of the United States during the late war—the same being an action of false imprisonment for an alleged illegal arrest and imprisonment of the plaintiff by the defendants in the year 186_, by order of their superior officer. The District Attorney is of opinion that the case can be settled by paying the pl'ff five hundred dollars—and he recommends a settlement, apprehending that a larger amount will be recovered by the verdict of a jury. This apprehension grows out of that fact that the arrest will probably be shown to have been made by the order of Major—Gen'l. Dix, the superior officer of the defendants, but not by the order of the President, or the Secretary of War. I have no information concerning the facts, except what is contained in this letter. It appears that in September, 1865, the District Attorney of Vermont was directed by the War Department to appear for the defence;—and I suppose the matter is now referred to me in consequence of the transfer of the control over District Attorney, to this office by the Act to establish the Department of Justice. I will give such directions in the case as the Department may desire. But I respectfully suggest that there is no appropriation known to me—certainly none under the control of this Department—out of which such a compromise could be paid.—And it does not occur to me that the public money should be paid to relieve military officers of the United States from the consequences of unauthorized and illegal acts. If these officers were acting in the line of duty it is not presumable that a verdict will be rendered against them.—If they transgressed the limits of their authority, to the injury of the plaintiff, it seems to me that they, and not the Government, should bear the consequences. Upon a reexamination of the letter of the District Attorney, it appears to me that he overlooks the protection given by the Act of May 11, 1866, (14 U. S. Stat. p. 46,) to officers acting under orders of any military officer of the United States, "holding command of the Department, District, or place" within which the alleged trespass was committed.—His apprehensions rest in great measure upon the probable want of proof that the acts of the officer were ordered by the President;—whereas no such order is needed for the protection given by that Act. Very respectfully, &c, A. T. Akerman, Attorney General.
suit of A. J. Bean, Vermont
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