Skip to comments.Judge rules Confederate letters are state property
Posted on 08/17/2005 11:45:31 AM PDT by Between the Lines
COLUMBIA - A judge has ruled that a collection of rare, Civil War-era letters belong to South Carolina rather than the man who has had them in his family for generations.
The state sued after Charleston resident Thomas Willcox tried to auction off the letters. Willcox, a descendant of Confederate Gen. Evander Law, filed for bankruptcy soon after.
The collection includes more than 440 letters detailing life in South Carolina between 1861 and 1863.
Many letters are correspondence between generals or the Confederate government and S.C. Govs. Francis Pickens and Milledge Bonham during the Civil War. Three are written by Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Other letters are from residents asking for help defending their communities or for the return of their slaves, who were taken from plantations to help build fortifications. Some letters provide gory details on the realities of war.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge John Waites issued an order Monday stating that the letters deal with the official duties of the governor and therefore are public records.
A large portion of the letters relate to the governor's military duties, Waites said in the ruling.
"These include information relating to military supplies and shortages, military preparations, the strength and condition of the military, documentation of troop movement, accounts and reports on results of certain battles, and use of funds for military purposes," Waites wrote.
Other provisions enacted during the period are mentioned in the letters, Waites said.
In 1861, the governor was authorized to issue bonds or stock in the name of the state to continue the construction of the new Statehouse. One letter, dated June 7, 1861, from Gov. Pickens to the president of the Bank of South Carolina deals with work on the capitol and the sale of state stock, the judge wrote.
Many of the letters have markings on them consistent with the docketing system of the day.
"Such a docketing system appears to indicate an intent to preserve the document as relating to the public office," Waites said.
State Attorney General Henry McMaster said it was important for the state to get the letters back because they represent "a unique historic and turbulent period in our country and state."
"We must do all we can to preserve the rich history and proud heritage of our state."
The letters will provide a link to the past for researchers, historians and students, said Rodger Stroup, director of the state Department of Archives and History.
"We owe a debt of gratitude to the Willcox family for preserving the documents all these years," McMaster said.
Willcox's attorney, Kenneth Krawcheck, said he learned of the ruling Tuesday and had not had time to examine it.
"We're going to review it in detail and then determine if we need to file an appeal," he said.
The State ought to pay him whatever he could get at auction plus some.
That'd be the way to settle it.
I don't know anything about the docketing system - or it's use as an intent to make the letters a public document.
Nah...He should have stuffed them down his pants legs and walked out ..
"Oops, sorry, they fell in the fireplace. Too bad."
The rest of the quote "...but we don't owe them a dime because we have the weight of the lawgivers in black on our side."
It's not a blow to eminent domain at all, it's a blow for eminent domain. All your property are belong to us, The State.
Give the state a bill for 130+ years of storage fees.
Which McMaster will repay by stealing the letters.
Huh? Sure, they are public records if they are in the hands of the government, but that shouldn't mean that the government can steal them from whoever owns them.
Does that mean that if a congressman ever wrote you a letter, that some day the government can come and take it from me?
Eminent domain calls for "Just Compensation" so I'd have to say a blow to. I guess you could argue both.
Dam Activist Judge. And I thought they honored the Life
Liberty,and Property stuff recognized by our Founders.
To claim a man has no right to the property he psseses is
down right UNAmerican and pure D double Despotism as Mr.
Jefferson warned against.
Is this a case of seizure of personal property without compensation or warrant?
If the guy was trying to sell them to pay off some debts then more power to him. Unfortunately, it sounds like he got shafted for trying to be a responsible bill-paying citizen.
In hindsight, he probably should have published them, copyrighted it, and sold it. Just Damn
Property rights thwarted again. This judge is stretching where no man has gone. It truly is assinic.
Actually, the guy should counter sue for storage, archiving and preservation fees - along with back interest and penalties. ;-)
The utter arrogance of many government officials is astounding. This poor guy should have moved out of the state (maybe the Country) and then auctioned them. I pray they are given back to him. I despise the way so many government officials just roll over the small guy. A certain kind of elitist mindset is in place for one to do these things to law abiding citizens. So many of these parasites in government think it is their duty to "rule" over us.
This isn't an eminent domain case. The Government of South Carolina is basically saying these documents are ours and always have been. They do not belong to this guy, accordinng to the ruling. Therefore, he is not entitled to "just compensation"..........
this guy is a total statist.
Now, if anybody else has any old documents somewhere, he's going to hide them, rather than let anyone see them, for fear that the government will just confiscate them.
Great move, once again, by our courts. . .
At least it wasn't real estate. If the letters were real estate, the state would steal them from owner and hand them over to a private developer to pave over and put up a mall. In this case, the state simply stole the letters.
Gee, I LOVE big, leftist government!!!
(Yes, that's sarcasm)
So if I come across a catch of letters written by Abe Lincoln when he was in the Illinois House of representatives I would have to give them to the State of Illinois rather than be able to sell them or even receive a tax credit for the donation.
This verdict strikes me as being very wrong.
My understanding of this case is that it is not as simple as the article infers.
These letters had been part of the official correspondence of the State of South Carolina. The letters were part of a group of documents that were entrusted to a CS government official for safekeeping near the end of the war. His job was to prevent these and other documents from falling into enemy hands so they could be returned to the government once a safe location for their storage could be found. The letters were never the "private" property of the person who held them.
Since the war ended shortly thereafter, the documents remained with the man who had been entrusted with them. He kept them hidden from the Federal authorities who most certainly wanted to investigate them as part of the compilation of the Official Records of the Rebellion.
The letters remained hidden and presumed lost until some of them were offered at auction. That is when the State of South Carolina stepped in, arguing that the letters were state property and that they never had officially deassessed them.
I don't neccessarily agree with the decision but with the added information, it makes more sense.
What a second. How can South Carolina claim CONFEDERATE papers are government property when the Confederacy was not part of the Union that S. Carolina is now sworn to?
If it has docket markers on it, might these letters have earlier been lifted from the public archives at some ancient date?
If that's the case, then these letters would still rightfully be the property of the state from which they were stolen.
That said, it seems to me that the burden of proof, that these archival letters were taken from the state, would repose on the state, not on the private holder of such letters.
Even if the letters are legally "official records", if they were not stolen, then taking them for the public good should require compensation.
However, something else is at work here.
This case was decided in BANKRUPTCY court. So, somebody - creditors - are trying to get their hands on the money. If the letters were sold, the money would not go to the family. It would go into the court to be distributed to creditors, and the collection of letters would be broken up.
These letters being an asset of an individual in bankruptcy, they were going to be taken by SOMEBODY in any case. What this solution does is return the letters to the State, where the public can use them, but screws the CREDITORS of the Willcox's, not the Wilcox's themselves.
If that money doesn't go into the pot for distribution to creditors, the pot will be smaller, but the creditors will still only get what's in it. The Willcox's will still be discharged of their debts at the end of the process.
If this weren't a bankruptcy proceeding, where the courts balance the interests of competing parties, the result might have been very different.
Possession is nine points in the law...
actually it seems like a misreporting.
IF he declared bankruptcy, the letters become an asset of the bankructcy estate. It then becomes the duty of the trustee to dispose of or catalogue assets of the estate.
It depends on whether his state was operating under the federal enumerated personal property exemptions or had opted for the use of state exemptions.
Either way the letters are no longer "his".
The CONTENT is public record. The man's bankruptcy estate should be compensated for taking the originals.
Does anybody but me see this is fundamentally flawed since the confederacy was an illegal form of government and no ownership claim ought be made on that basis just as one cannot redeem confederate currency.
Bankruptcy courts are at the Federal level, although it might be reversed on appeal.
And it has nothing to do with eminent domain. It is a question of whether or not they were official records stolen from the state in the first place.
doctrine of latches? too much time has passed.
Content may be public information but the actual "papers" should go to the trustee for sale.
Oh, so it only depends on who you cheat.
Where is the bankrupcy trustee?
Who is the lawyer who let this man with that type of an asset file for bankruptcy?
That didn't help the yankees who had the stolen documents from North Carolina.
The poor guy should sue his bankruptcy attorney.
Thats funny, I thought the confederate goverment was an illegitimate goverment which would or should negate the ownership by the state government of SC which I thought was part of this illegitimate government.
They'll probably claim they were stolen property and he should feel lucky they are not going to prosecute him for trying to fence stolen property, therefore no "storage fees" or "preservation fees"..........