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Judge rules Confederate letters are state property
The Charlotte Observer ^ | Aug. 17, 2005 | AMY GEIER EDGAR

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.


TOPICS: News/Current Events; US: South Carolina
KEYWORDS: billofrights; civilwar; constitutionlist; dixie; govtheft; govwatch; kelo; letters; libertarians; neoconfederate; privateproperty; southcarolina
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1 posted on 08/17/2005 11:45:32 AM PDT by Between the Lines
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To: Between the Lines
Sounds like this guy is getting the shaft.

The State ought to pay him whatever he could get at auction plus some.

That'd be the way to settle it.

2 posted on 08/17/2005 11:48:01 AM PDT by tallhappy (Juntos Podemos!)
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To: Between the Lines
Another blow to eminent domain, although there is still a chance that this ruling will be overturned at the Federal level.
3 posted on 08/17/2005 11:48:05 AM PDT by HEY4QDEMS (Be thankful we're not getting all the government we're paying for.)
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Comment #4 Removed by Moderator

To: Between the Lines

I don't know anything about the docketing system - or it's use as an intent to make the letters a public document.


5 posted on 08/17/2005 11:49:41 AM PDT by Cathy
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To: tallhappy

Nah...He should have stuffed them down his pants legs and walked out ..


6 posted on 08/17/2005 11:50:54 AM PDT by ken5050 (Ann Coulter needs to have children ASAP to pass on her gene pool....any volunteers?)
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To: Between the Lines

"Oops, sorry, they fell in the fireplace. Too bad."


7 posted on 08/17/2005 11:50:59 AM PDT by TheBigB (Gum would be perfection!)
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To: Between the Lines
"We owe a debt of gratitude to the Willcox family for preserving the documents all these years," (Attorney General Henry) McMaster said.

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."

8 posted on 08/17/2005 11:51:05 AM PDT by steveegg (Real torture is taking a ride with Sen Ted "Swimmer" Kennedy in a 1968 Oldsmobile off a short bridge)
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To: HEY4QDEMS

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.


9 posted on 08/17/2005 11:51:10 AM PDT by coloradan (Hence, etc.)
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To: Between the Lines

Give the state a bill for 130+ years of storage fees.


10 posted on 08/17/2005 11:51:30 AM PDT by atomicpossum (Replies should be as pedantic as possible. I love that so much.)
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To: Between the Lines
"We owe a debt of gratitude to the Willcox family for preserving the documents all these years," McMaster said.

Which McMaster will repay by stealing the letters.

11 posted on 08/17/2005 11:51:46 AM PDT by American Quilter
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To: Between the Lines
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.

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?

12 posted on 08/17/2005 11:51:54 AM PDT by Rodney King (No, we can't all just get along.)
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To: Between the Lines
"We owe a debt of gratitude to the Willcox family for preserving the documents all these years," McMaster said."

Yes, they do owe the guy something. Why not pay him for what the items are worth?
13 posted on 08/17/2005 11:52:47 AM PDT by texas_mrs
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To: coloradan

Eminent domain calls for "Just Compensation" so I'd have to say a blow to. I guess you could argue both.


14 posted on 08/17/2005 11:53:11 AM PDT by HEY4QDEMS (Be thankful we're not getting all the government we're paying for.)
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To: Between the Lines
If it's correspondence between generals or between the general and the government, then it is public record - just as correspondence between Rummy and a current general are public records.

But a good argument could be made that since the Confederate government does not exist, then the letters belong to the owner. But then you get into whether or not the Confederacy was ever a legitimate government.
15 posted on 08/17/2005 11:53:30 AM PDT by BostonianRightist (I don't trust a government I can't shoot back at.)
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To: Between the Lines
This sets a really, really bad precedent.
16 posted on 08/17/2005 11:55:31 AM PDT by xcamel (Deep Red, stuck in a "bleu" state.)
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To: Between the Lines

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.


17 posted on 08/17/2005 11:55:57 AM PDT by StonyBurk
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To: Between the Lines

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


18 posted on 08/17/2005 12:01:35 PM PDT by Mrs. Shawnlaw (Rock beats scissors. Don't run with rocks. NRA)
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To: Between the Lines
Give the state photocopies of the letters and let the OWNERS keep the originals.
19 posted on 08/17/2005 12:01:48 PM PDT by msnimje
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To: Between the Lines

Property rights thwarted again. This judge is stretching where no man has gone. It truly is assinic.


20 posted on 08/17/2005 12:02:00 PM PDT by taxesareforever (Government is running amuck)
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To: tallhappy

Actually, the guy should counter sue for storage, archiving and preservation fees - along with back interest and penalties. ;-)


21 posted on 08/17/2005 12:02:02 PM PDT by glorgau
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To: StonyBurk
We will see how this plays out. But, with that said I would love to read the letters.

My favorite reading on the civil war is the fascinating compilation of letters and articles found in the "Confederate Veteran."
22 posted on 08/17/2005 12:03:12 PM PDT by Ursus arctos horribilis ("It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees!" Emiliano Zapata 1879-1919)
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To: Between the Lines
So, let me understand this: Nixon can bunk off to San Clemente with his official papers as personal property based on customary practice and his heirs get millions from the federal treasury to sell them back; but a hundred and thirty plus years after the Confederacy and its state governments fell, the state of South Carolina successfully claims Confederate papers from private persons with customary possession and ownership? And no compensation is to be paid?
23 posted on 08/17/2005 12:03:22 PM PDT by Rockingham
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To: Rodney King
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?

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.

24 posted on 08/17/2005 12:06:53 PM PDT by liberty2004
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To: HEY4QDEMS

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"..........


25 posted on 08/17/2005 12:08:02 PM PDT by Red Badger (Want to be surprised? GOOOOGLE your own name. Want to have fun? GOOOOGLE your neighbor's......)
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To: American Quilter
Which McMaster will repay by stealing the letters.

this guy is a total statist.

26 posted on 08/17/2005 12:08:09 PM PDT by liberty2004
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To: Allosaurs_r_us; Abram; AlexandriaDuke; Annie03; Baby Bear; bassmaner; Bernard; BJClinton; ...
Libertarian ping.To be added or removed from my ping list freepmail me or post a message here
27 posted on 08/17/2005 12:08:30 PM PDT by freepatriot32 (Deep within every dilemma is a solution that involves explosives)
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To: liberty2004

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. . .


28 posted on 08/17/2005 12:09:45 PM PDT by CondorFlight
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To: Between the Lines

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)


29 posted on 08/17/2005 12:11:06 PM PDT by DustyMoment (FloriDUH - proud inventors of pregnant/hanging chads and judicide!!)
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To: HEY4QDEMS

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.


30 posted on 08/17/2005 12:11:50 PM PDT by nikos1121
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To: Between the Lines

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.


31 posted on 08/17/2005 12:13:45 PM PDT by XRdsRev (New Jersey has more horses per square mile than any other U.S. state.)
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To: Between the Lines

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?


32 posted on 08/17/2005 12:14:07 PM PDT by Bommer
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To: abbi_normal_2; adam_az; Alamo-Girl; Alas; alfons; alphadog; AMDG&BVMH; amom; AndreaZingg; ...
Rights, farms, environment ping.
Let me know if you wish to be added or removed from this list.
I don't get offended if you want to be removed.

List of Ping lists

33 posted on 08/17/2005 12:14:21 PM PDT by freepatriot32 (Deep within every dilemma is a solution that involves explosives)
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To: Between the Lines

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.


34 posted on 08/17/2005 12:16:50 PM PDT by Vicomte13 (Tibikak ishkwata!)
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To: Between the Lines

Possession is nine points in the law...


35 posted on 08/17/2005 12:16:55 PM PDT by Old Professer (As darkness is the absence of light, evil is the absence of good; innocence is blind.)
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To: Red Badger
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"

I hadn't looked at from this angle, maybe he can bill the state for storage and preservation fees.
36 posted on 08/17/2005 12:16:56 PM PDT by HEY4QDEMS (Be thankful we're not getting all the government we're paying for.)
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To: Between the Lines

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".


37 posted on 08/17/2005 12:17:51 PM PDT by longtermmemmory (VOTE!)
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To: Rodney King

The CONTENT is public record. The man's bankruptcy estate should be compensated for taking the originals.


38 posted on 08/17/2005 12:18:59 PM PDT by longtermmemmory (VOTE!)
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To: BostonianRightist

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.


39 posted on 08/17/2005 12:19:26 PM PDT by Old Professer (As darkness is the absence of light, evil is the absence of good; innocence is blind.)
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To: HEY4QDEMS
although there is still a chance that this ruling will be overturned at the Federal level.

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.

40 posted on 08/17/2005 12:20:22 PM PDT by PAR35
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To: HEY4QDEMS

doctrine of latches? too much time has passed.

Content may be public information but the actual "papers" should go to the trustee for sale.


41 posted on 08/17/2005 12:20:44 PM PDT by longtermmemmory (VOTE!)
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To: Between the Lines
Didn't the South go to war over this exact kind of tyranny to begin with? Jeez, come on, people. At least break out the tar and feathers.
42 posted on 08/17/2005 12:21:21 PM PDT by Caipirabob (Democrats.. Socialists..Commies..Traitors...Who can tell the difference?)
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To: Between the Lines
The papers have an estimated value of $2.4 million. ref
43 posted on 08/17/2005 12:21:33 PM PDT by rit
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To: Vicomte13

Oh, so it only depends on who you cheat.


44 posted on 08/17/2005 12:21:38 PM PDT by Old Professer (As darkness is the absence of light, evil is the absence of good; innocence is blind.)
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To: rit

Where is the bankrupcy trustee?

Who is the lawyer who let this man with that type of an asset file for bankruptcy?


45 posted on 08/17/2005 12:25:13 PM PDT by longtermmemmory (VOTE!)
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To: Between the Lines
This is unbelievable! My grandmother sold a lot of Civil War letters and memorabilia after an unscrupulous stock broker churned her retirement account down to nothing(he then committed suicide). My grandfather's father was a captain in the NY unit, known as Seward's Pets, in charge of recruiting. I have only one letter remaining, written from New Berne(his spelling), NC. The letter tells of witnessing several executions for desertion and the signing of his first Negro recruit.
46 posted on 08/17/2005 12:25:53 PM PDT by Eva
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To: liberty2004
This poor guy should have moved out of the state

That didn't help the yankees who had the stolen documents from North Carolina.

47 posted on 08/17/2005 12:26:35 PM PDT by PAR35
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To: PAR35

The poor guy should sue his bankruptcy attorney.


48 posted on 08/17/2005 12:31:42 PM PDT by longtermmemmory (VOTE!)
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To: Between the Lines

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.


49 posted on 08/17/2005 12:33:47 PM PDT by Always Independent
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To: HEY4QDEMS

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"..........


50 posted on 08/17/2005 12:37:37 PM PDT by Red Badger (Want to be surprised? GOOOOGLE your own name. Want to have fun? GOOOOGLE your neighbor's......)
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