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Money-Orders.

MONEY-ORDERS.

Provisions of the act of June 8, 1872, chap. 335, relating to the issue of money-orders by the Post-Office Department,,cited and commented on. Semble that Congress designed to give these orders, in some respects, the character of ordinary negotiable instruments, to the end that they might be received with full credit, and their usefulness, in a business point of view, be thus promoted.

The statute does not contemplate that the remitter of the order shall be at liberty to revoke it, and demand back his money, against the will of the payee, after it comes into the possession of the latter; since, to enable the former to obtain a repayment of the funds deposited, he must produce the order.

The payee of the order, upon complying with the requirements of the law and of the regulations of the Post-Office Department, is entitled to payment of the money on demand; and the remitter of the order cannot, previous to its being paid, by any notice that he may give to the office at which it is payable, forbid the payment thereof to the payee.

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE,
September 25, 1872.

SIR: I have duly considered your communication of the 19th instant, desiring my opinion upon the question whether the remitter of a money-order issued by the Post-Office Department, after he has sent the order to the payee, can revoke the same, and is entitled to have payment of the order refused and the money returned to him, without his producing the order.

The large extent to which the money order system of the Post-Office Department is used for the transmission of small sums from one part of the country to the other makes this a question of great practical importance, and it is likewise one of no little difficulty. I am of opinion that the solution of the question must be found in the statutes establishing the money-order system, and the regulations of the PostmasterGeneral thereunder, and that very little aid can be derived from the analogy furnished by the mercantile law applying to bank checks, drafts, bills of exchange, and certificates of deposit.

The question is, what does the Post-Office Department, acting under the authority of the acts of Congress, agree to do in respect to any money-order which it issues? Does it in such

Money Orders.

case make any agreement with the payee named in the order? or is its agreement solely confined to the remitter, who requests the order, deposits the money, and pays the fee charged for issuing the same?

It is very apparent that, in order to make the money-order system of very general service to the community, it is necessary that the person receiving the order, and who, it may be, parts with valuable property or gives a consideration in return for the same, should be able to rely upon its payment, if presented within the time named, and according to the statute and regulations which govern the system. And if, after having sent the order, and after having perhaps received a valuable consideration therefor, the remitter can forbid or stop the payment thereof, the payment of an order would become so uncertain as greatly to interfere with the utility of the system. The question, however, is not whether it would be wise to establish such rules and provisions that the payee shall be certain that the order, if he conforms to the rules of the Department, will be paid, but whether Congress has so provided in the statute.

By the act consolidating the statutes relating to the PostOffice Department, approved June 8, 1872, in section 109, it is provided, "That the Postmaster-General shall furnish moneyorder offices with printed or engraved forms for money. orders."

Section 111 enacts that no money-order shall be valid and payable unless presented to the postmaster on whom it is drawn within one year after its date, but the PostmasterGeneral, on application of the remitter or payee of any such order, may cause a new order to be issued in lieu thereof.

Section 112 enacts, "That the payee of a money-order may, by his written indorsement thereon, direct it to be paid to any other person, and the postmaster on whom it is drawn. shall pay the same to the person thus designated, but more than one indorsement shall render an order invalid and not payable, and the holder, to obtain payment, shall be required to apply in writing to the Postmaster-General for a new order in lieu thereof, returning the original order."

By section 113 it is provided, "That after a money-order has been issued, if the purchaser desires to have it modified

Money Orders.

or changed, the postmaster who issued the order shall take it back and issue another in lieu thereof."

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In section 114 it is provided, "That the postmaster issuing a money-order shall repay the amount of it upon the appli`cation of the person who obtained it and the return of the order."

In section 115 it is provided, "That whenever a moneyorder has been lost, the Postmaster-General, upon the application of the remitter or payee, may cause a duplicate thereof to be issued."

These provisions, it will be seen, make the money-order, to a certain extent, a negotiable instrument; enable the indorsee, seemingly without the permission of the remitter, to obtain a new order from the Postmaster-General; authorize the Postmaster-General to issue a duplicate in case the moneyorder has been lost, upon application of the remitter or payee; and expressly provide that the postmaster issuing the order shall repay the amount of it upon the application of the remitter and the return of the order. Extensive powers are confided by the statute to the Postmaster-General in respect to the form of the order; and the form authorized by him, while omitting the name of the payee, does state the amount for which the order is given.

Although the money and the fee are paid by the remitter of the order, and the contract of the Government is in the first place with him, yet, upon full consideration, I am of opinion that the statute did not intend that the remitter should be able to revoke the order, or to demand back his money against the objection of the payee. He cannot obtain repayment of the money deposited unless he produces the order. The order may be indorsed once, and the indorsee may secure a new order by application to the PostmasterGeneral. It would seem, therefore, to be the intention of Congress to give these orders in many respects the character of ordinary negotiable instruments, in order that full credit may be given to them, and, consequently, that their use be greatly extended. It was the intention of Congress, as shown by the statute, that the payee or holder of the order shall be able to obtain the money notwithstanding the objection of the remitter, and although the latter may desire to recall it.

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Money-Orders.

But if there is any doubt in regard to this, so far as our statutes themselves are concerned, I think that there is another circumstance which renders this view of the question decisive. The money-order system was established in the English postoffice department more than thirty years ago, and is principally regulated there now by the statute of 11 and 12 Victoria, chap. 88, passed in 1848, and contained in the 88th volume of the English Statutes at Large, 562, and the systems in the two countries are so similar as to make it very apparent that the English statutes and regulations were considered in draughting the laws establishing our own system. By the English statute above cited, section 111, it is enacted "That it shall be lawful for the postmaster-general at any time hereafter to repay or refund the amount of any money-orders, either heretofore granted or issued to the person or persons to whom the same have been or shall or may be so granted or issued, whether such money-orders shall remain or be in the possession of such person or persons or not."

Under this statute, as you inform me, it has been decided in England by the solicitor of the post-office (and very properly decided) that the remitter can forbid the payment of the order against the protest of his payee; but the omission to insert any similar provision in our own statute, and the insertion of one expressly limiting the power of repayment to cases where the remitter produces the order, seems to me to show conclusively that it was the intention of Congress not to adopt this provision of the English statute, but to increase the credit attaching to the orders by rendering them irrevocable when delivered by the remitter to the payee.

I am of the opinion, therefore, in the cases you mention, that the payee of the money-order is entitled to the money upon demand, and upon complying with the statutes and regulations of the Post-Office Department, notwithstanding the protest of the remitter, and that the remitter of the money-order cannot forbid the payment of it by any notice to the office at which it is made payable before it has been paid. Of course I do not touch upon the question of how far, where there is a dispute of identity, or where it is alleged that the order has been stolen or fraudulently obtained, it would be proper for the postmaster at the office upon which the order has been

Telegraphic Messages for the Government. drawn to postpone payment until the matter can be inquired into.

If the objection is raised to this construction of the statute that the remitter may sometimes, by the fraud of the payee, lose the consideration which induced him to transmit the order, the answer is that the same liability exists in all cases where money is transmitted, or where an ordinary check or draft is sent, and, as in these cases, he has his remedy against the payee in the courts of law.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Hon. J. A. J. CRESWELL,

Postmaster-General.

GEO. H. WILLIAMS.

TELEGRAPHIC MESSAGES FOR THE GOVERNMENT.

Section 2 of the act of July 24, 1866, chap. 230, requires all telegraph companies which have accepted the rights and privileges conferred by that act, together with the restrictions and obligations thereby imposed, to give priority to messages from officers and agents of the United States to the several Departments, and to transmit them at the rates fixed by the Postmaster-General, whether the messages are received from such officers and agents directly, or through other connecting telegraph-lines.

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE,
October 2, 1872.

SIR: I have received your letter of the 1st instant, asking my opinion in respect of the proper interpretation of the act of July 24, 1866, (14 Stat., 221,) as respects the duty of those telegraph companies which accepted the same to convey mes. sages from officers and agents of the United States to the several Departments; and I have no doubt that by section 2 of that act all companies accepting the same are obliged to give such messages priority over all other business, and to transmit them at the rates fixed by the Postmaster-General, whether they receive the messages immediately from officers and agents of the United States, or intermediately from the officers of other telegraphic companies making connections with them. In either case they are "telegraphic communica

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