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February 24, 1902



Fuller, Harlan, Gray, Brewer, Brown, Shiras, Jr., White, Peckham; Mr. Justice Mckenna did not sit in this case and took no part in its decision.


[ 184 U.S. Page 145]

 MR. JUSTICE PECKHAM, after stating the above facts, delivered the opinion of the court.

The question at issue between the parties is as to the proper construction of the act of Congress approved March, 3, 1883, and which is set forth in the foregoing statement of facts. It is contended, on the part of the petitioner, that when application is made to the Postmaster General for a readjustment of salary between the period from 1864 to 1874 it is his duty,

[ 184 U.S. Page 146]

     under the statute of 1883, to compare the salary which the petitioner received in each biennial period with what he would have received in commissions on the receipts of his office, as shown by the sworn returns of the receipts and business of such office, under the statute of 1854 during the same term, and if on such comparison it should appear that the salary thus allowed was ten per centum, or more, less than such commissions, then to readjust the salary for the biennial term by allowing the petitioner the difference between the salary and the commission for that particular term. This has been done by the Court of Claims in its judgment in this case.

The Government, on the other hand, contends that to do so would be a plain violation of the statute, which provides that the readjustments shall be made in accordance with the mode prescribed in section 8 of the act of June 12, 1866, and that they shall date from the beginning of the quarter succeeding that in which such sworn returns of receipts and business or quarterly returns were made. In other words, the petitioner claims that upon a comparison of the actual salary paid him in a two-year period, with what he would have received for the same period upon the basis of commissions on the sum of the quarterly returns for that period, if the salary paid him were ten per cent less than the commissions, he was entitled to be paid the difference for that particular biennial term, whereas the Government contends that by virtue of the statute the readjustment is to date from the immediately succeeding quarter.

Going back to the statute of 1854, providing for compensation by commission, we find the act authorized the Postmaster General to allow the commissions to postmasters at the rates named therein and to be based on the postage collected at their respective offices in each quarter of the year. Then came the act of July 1, 1864, providing for payment to postmasters by salary, and classifying them according to the salary received. There were five classes thus made, and they were arranged at the commencement by reference to the compensation paid to the office for the two years next preceding July 1, 1864. The second section of the act provides for a review by the Postmaster General once in two years, and a readjustment of the salaries

[ 184 U.S. Page 147]

     on the basis of the preceding section, but any change made in the salary, the statute provided, should not take effect until the first of the quarter next following such order. In special cases, upon satisfactory representation, the Postmaster General might also review and readjust the salary assigned to any office as much oftener than once in two years as he might deem expedient.

Prior to this act of 1864 it will be seen that postmasters received their compensation by commission based upon each quarterly return of the amount of sales made at the particular office, but under the act of 1864, instead of compensation by commission, postmasters were to be paid under that act salaries for two years based upon the average amount of the receipts at their offices, as shown by their quarterly returns for the two years preceding the first day of July, 1864, as provided for in the act of June 22, 1854, and this salary was to be reviewed every two years.

Thus at the end of a biennial period the amount of receipts, as shown by the quarterly returns for the past two years, was taken, and upon that amount the salary for the coming two years was fixed, so that, assuming from 1864 to 1866 the amount of the quarterly receipts made a total of $2000, that sum would be fixed upon as the salary for the two years from 1866 to 1868. It was obviously an effort to make the compensation by salary equivalent to the compensation by commissions, and this was the way in which it was to be done. It is equally obvious that a failure to attain this result would frequently occur in the practical operation of the act. The amount of the compensation by salary from 1866 to 1868, for instance, fixed by a resort to the quarterly returns for the two years preceding, would, in rapidly growing communities, fail to reach the amount of compensation which the postmasters would have received had it been fixed by commissions for those years, 1866 to 1868.

The amount of the sales of stamps might have quadrupled in those years over the amount of such sales for the period from 1864 to 1866, and yet, as the compensation for the years from 1866 to 1868 was measured by the sales from 1864 to 1866, ...

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