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De Lane et al. v. Moore et al.
one now under consideration, for that was an application for leave to substitute parol for written evidence, and not for the substitution of an authenticated copy of a written and recorded document in lieu of the original. In Tayloe v. Riggs, the Chief Justice lays down the law as follows:
“ The rule of law is, that the best evidence must be given of which the nature of the thing is capable; that is, that no evidence shall be received which presupposes greater evidence behind in the party's possession or power
. The withholding of that better evidence raises a presumption, that if produced, it might not operate in his favor. For this reason, a party who is in possession of an original paper, or who has it in his power, is not permitted to give a copy in evidence, or to prove its contents. When, therefore, the plaintiff below offered to prove the contents of the written contract on which this suit was insti. tuted, the defendant might very properly require the contract itself. It was itself superior evidence of its contents to any thing depending on the memory of a witness. It was once in his possession, and the presumption was that it was still so. It was necessary to do away this presumption, or the secondary evidence must be excluded. How is it to be done away? If the loss or destruction of the paper can be proved by a disinterested witness, the difficulty is at once removed. But papers of this description, generally remain in possession of the party himself, and their loss can, in most instances, be known only to himself. If his own affidavit cannot be received, the loss of a written contract, the contents of which are well known to others, or a copy of which can be proved, would amount to a complete loss of his rights, at least in a court of law. The objection to receiving the affidavit of the party is, that no man can be a witness in his own cause. This is undoubtedly a sound rule, which ought never to be violated. But many collateral questions arise in the progress of a cause, to which the rule does no apply. Questions which do not involve the matter in controversy, but matters auxiliary to the trial, which facilitate the preparation for it, often depend on the oath of the party. An affidavit of the materiality of a witness, for the purpose of obtaining a continuance, or a commission to take a deposition, or an affidavit of his inability to attend, is usually made by the party, and received without objection. So aflidavits to support a motion for a new trial are often received. These cases, and others of the same character, which might be adduced, show that in many incidental questions that are addressed to the court, and which do not affect the question to be tried by the jury, the affidavit of the party is received. The testimony which establishes the loss of the paper is addressed to the court,
De Lane et al. v. Moore et al.
and does not relate to the contents of the paper. It is a fact which may be important as letting the party in to prove the justice of the cause, but does not of itself prove any thing in the cause. As this fact is generally known only to the party himself, there would seem to be a necessity for receiving his affidavit in support of it.”
The law, as thus clearly declared by this court in Tayloe v. Riggs, is in strictest accordance with the rule prevailing in the Supreme Court of the State within which the case before us was decided. Thus, in the case of Sturdevant v. Gaines, (reported in the 5th vol. Alabama Reports, p. 435,) that court thus announces the rule by which they are governed with respect to the introduction of secondary evidence. “ In the recent case of Jones v. Scott, (2 Alabama R. 61,) it is stated, that no fixed rule can be laid down as applicable to this class of cases; that, in general, search must be made where the lost paper was last known to be. These remarks are quite applicable to this case. Search was made where the paper was last known to be only three days before." Again : “ We cannot say that half an hour's search in a lawyer's office, was not sufficient to ascertain whether the paper was not where it was left, nor, in the absence of any fact indicating that it might be found elsewhere, can we perceive that there was any necessity to search elsewhere for it. If the admission that the paper, on further search where it was last known to be, or elsewhere, might stili be discovered, would preclude the secondary evidence, it would annihilate the rule in all cases where the lost paper was not proved to be destroyed as well as lost, as otherwise there must always be a possibility that it may be found.” With regard to the position insisted upon in the answers, that the antenuptial contract was void for the failure to record it within three months from its date, in conformity with the law of South Carolina ; that position, however maintainable it might be, so far as the instrument was designed to operate by mere legal or constructive effect on creditors and purchasers, becoming such before it was recorded, or, in the event of its never being recorded, cannot be supported to the extent, that by the failure to record it within the time prescribed by the statute, the deed would thereby be void to all intents and purposes. Such a deed would, from its execution, be binding at common law inter partes, though never recorded ; and if, after expiration of the time prescribed by statute, it should be reacknowledged and then recorded, either upon such reacknowledgment, or upon proof of witnesses, it would, from the period of that reacknowledgment and adınission to record, be restored to its full effect of notice, which would, by construction, have followed from its being recorded originally within the time pre
De Lane et al. v. Moore et al.
scribed by law. These conclusions are sustained by numerous decisions. We refer, in support of them, to the cases of Turner v. Stip, 1 Wash. 319; Currie v. Donald, 2 Wash. 58; Eppes v. Randolph, 2 Call, 125; Guerrant v. Anderson, 4 Ran. 208; Roanes v. Atcher, 4 Leigh, 550; Woods v. Owings & Smith, 1 Cranch, 239; Lessee of Sicard v. Davis, 6 Peters, 124.
The antenuptial agreement between Ann Wood De Lane and John Yancey, is proved to have been executed on the 20th day of May, 1816; if it was admitted to record at any time before the 20th of August, in the same year, it operated as notice to all creditors and purchasers becoming such subsequently to the execution of that agreement; if it was not recorded until the 14th of November, in the year 1816, it could by construction operate as notice from the latter period only, but as between the parties, and with regard to subsequent creditors and purchasers with notice, it operated from the period of its execution. The sole purpose of recording the deed, is, that those who night deal with the parties thereto, or with the subjects it comprised, should have knowledge of the true condition of both, and if such knowledge is presumed, nay, established by legal inference from the fact that the deed has been recorded, a fortiori, it must be established by actual notice.
It has been made a ground of defence, in the answers in the court below, and it has also been insisted upon in argument here, that admitting the antenuptial contract to have been recorded in the State of South Carolina, and, in consequence thereof, to have been so operative as to affect with notice creditors and purchasers within that State, yet, that upon the removal of the parties, carrying with them the property into another State or jurisdiction, the influence of the contract, for the .protection of the property, would be wholly destroyed, and the subject attempted to be secured, would be open to claims by creditors or purchasers subsequently coming into existence. The position here advanced is not now assumed for the first time in argument in this court. It has, upon a former occasion, been pressed upon its attention, and has been looked into with care, and unless it be the intention of the court to retrace the course heretofore adopted, this may be now, as it formerly was, called an adjudged question. The case of the United States Bank v. Lee et al., (reported in the 13th of Peters, p. 107,} brought directly up for the examination of this court, the effect of a judgment and execution, obtained by a subsequent creditor in the District of Columbia, upon property found within that district, but which had been settled upon the wife of a debtor, by a deed executed and recorded in Virginia, according to the laws of that State, the husband and wife being, at the time of
De Lane et al. v. Moore et al.
making the instrument, inhabitants of the State of Virginia. The question was, by Mr. Justice Catron, who delivered the opinion of the court, elaborately investigated, and the cases from the different States, founded upon their registry acts, carefully collected. The cases of Smith v. Bruce's Administrator, from 2d of Harris & Johnson, and of Crenshaw v. Anthony, from Martin & Yerger's Reports, p. 110, cited by the learned Judge, fully sustain his reasoning upon the point. This court come unhesitatingly and clearly to the conclusion, that the deed of settlement, executed and recorded in favor of Mrs. Lee, in conformity with the laws of Virginia, protected her rights in the subject settled, against the judgment of the subsequent creditor, in the District of Columbia. We should not be disposed to disturb the doctrine laid down in the case of the Bank of the United States v. Lee, and in the decisions of the State courts of Maryland and Tennessee, above mentioned, if the rights of the parties turned upon the operation of the contract as constituting notice; or upon the proof of knowledge on the part of Goree, the purchaser from Yancey, of the existence of the marriage contract. But we think that the rights of the parties to this controversy should not be made to depend upon any such incident as the existence of notice of the contract, either actual or constructive.
It has been premised, in the statement of the pleadings in this case, that the only defendants in the court below, were the executors of James L. Goree, deceased, called upon in their representative character, and in no other. The marriage contract between Ann W. De Lane and John Yancey, was executed in 1816. It is proved that Yancey died in 1833, or 1834. The complainants are the children of Mrs. Yancey, by her first marriage; so that, at the time of the death of Yancey, the youngest of those children, if born immediately preceding the second marriage, could not have been younger than seventeen years ; the elder children were then probably nearly or fully at majority, After the death of Yancey, the record discloses no claim on the part of the complainants, nor any effort by them to recover the property settled by the contract, earlier than 1842, eight or nine years after Yancey's death ; at which last period, it is said, there was a suit pending in one of the State courts, against the testator of the appellees, but which suit, after being revived against the appellees, subsequently to the death of their testator, was, in the year 1843, dismissed for the want of prosecution. The bill in this suit was filed in January, 1847, at an interval of thirty-one years after the execution of the marriage agreement, and of fourteen years after the death of Yancey; from which last event, the complainants had an undoubted and unobstructed
Trustees for Vincennes University or State of Indian a.
power to seek their rights under that contract, whatever they were.
If mere tardiness in asserting their pretensions, were all that could be imputed to the appellants, this, of itself, would place them in a position which could not commend them the countenance of courts of justice; but, this delay is by no means the only or the least irnputation, resting upon the course of the appellants; for we see that, after calling upon the appellees for satisfaction of their demand, the appellants abandoned that demand, proclaiming thereby to the representatives of Goree (if indeed they were then in possession of the subject,) permission to apply it in conformity with the will of their testator. The appellants, it is not pretended, ever held or claimed the subject in dispute, except in their representative capacity, and in trust for the creditors and legatees of their testator. In the interval between the abandonment of their first and the institution of their second demand by the complainants, those executors have, in fulfilment of their trust, handed over the subject to those for whom they held it under the will; have accounted with the authorities to whom they were responsible, and have received from those authorities a full acquittance. Under these circumstances, to hold them liable to the demands of the appellants, would in effect be to render penal the regular discharge of their duty.
This aspect of the cause we regard as fully warranting the decree of the. District Court, dismissing the bill of the complainants — that decree is therefore affirmed.
Order. This cause came on to be heard on the transcript of the record from the District Court of the United States for the Middle District of Alabama, and was argued by counsel. On considera: tion whereof it is now here ordered, adjudged, and decreed by this court, that the decree of the said District Court in this cause be, and the same is hereby, affirmned with costs..
The BOARD OF TRUSTEES FOR THE VINCENNES UNIVERSITY,
PLAINTIFFS IN ERROR, V. THE STATE OF INDIANA.
In 1804, Congress passed an act, (2 Stat. at Large, 277,)“ making provision for the
disposal of the public lands in the Indiana Territory, and for other purposes," in