Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Daniel Carroll Brent, 30 March 1802

From Daniel Carroll Brent

March 30th. 1802


In answer to your enquiry of yesterday, whether a debtor can be Confined in Jail by the Marshal for his fees, I send you herewith Mr. Masons Statement of the law which shews, that he can, except where the Debtor is released under the Insolvent law—I have, in no instance however detained a man in Jail for his fees only—

The Costs upon a debt of one dollar is as follows.

Cost of warrant & Execution that is the
fees to the Magistrate & Constable is
} $0.70½
Marshal’s fees Viz. Poundage  0.12¾
Serving the Casa  2.00

If the Debtor when taken into custody has not the sum Sufficient to discharge the Execution & Costs, & the officer carries him to Jail, (& he is liable for the Debt if he does not) and if the debtor remains in Jail only one day a further expence, as follows, is incured

Commitment 50 Cents
Releasment 50
1 days Confinement 20

So that the costs alone upon a Debt of one dollar may amount to $4.03 Cents & ¼, besides for every day the Debtor is in Jail he is chargeable with twenty Cents per day—

Since Christmass 161 warrant Executions have been put into my hands, the average of debt not more than Six dollars—of these, 115, are Casas. the remaining 46, fi.fas.—a few of these Executions have been Superceded—It is in the power of the debtor at any time within two Months after the rendition of the1 Judgement, altho execution shall have issued, to go before any Justice of the peace, together with Security, such as the Justice shall approve of, & Confess Judgment for the debt, and costs of suit adjudged, with stay of execution for six months, a Certificate under the hands of the Justice before whom the Confession of Judgment is made is a sufficient supersedeas to the Marshal to forbear serving execution upon the body2 or goods of the person so obtaining such Certificate; but if the party be taken in execution before any certificate be produced, such certificate being afterwards obtained & produced shall be a sufficient supercedeas to the Marshal to release such person out of prison, upon that execution, the party paying or giving security to such Marshal for his fees due for that imprisonment—The magistrate before whom the Confession is made makes return thereof to the Clerk of the County, & generally as soon as the time limited in the Confession of Judgment expires, execution is taken out against the principal & his Securities—upon executions of this Kind costs upon a Debt. of 6 Dollars may amount to $12.1½ as followes.

Cost of Warrant & Judgment $0.70½
Clerk’s fees  1.26
Marshals fees Viz poundage   .45
Serving Execution on three persons
 if all taken $2 each
 if confined to Jail
}  6.00
Commitment & releasment of 3 persons  3.00
1 days imprisonment of 3 persons
 20 cents each  0.60

Any Debtor who is in Jail for Debt and does not owe more than £200 Sterling can upon giving up all his property and remaining fifty-two days in Jail can come out under the Insolvent Law of Maryland—in which case the Debtor cannot be Confined for his fees, nor is any person liable to the officer for them—I have gone into this detail with a hope of giving you an idea of the warrant Execution System in the County of Washington tho’ a recurrence to the law it self can only give you a Correct one—In the County of Alexandria, no Commitments are made for Sums less than twenty Dollars and there no appeal lyes from the Judgment of the Justice—The executions for small sums under twenty Dollars are served by the Constables & the Marshal has nothing to do with them—I think the same system might with ease be adopted here, & which is certainly less oppressive to the lower Class of people.

I have omitted to mention that in this County appeals by from the Judgment of a Single Magistrate for all sums, above twenty shillings or one hundred pounds of Tobacco—& that the Cost, upon such appeals may amount to as much as on suits in ordinary Cases

With sentiments of the highest respect I am Sir yr Obt. Sert.

Daniel C. Brent

RC (DLC); in an unidentified hand, with closing and signature in Brent’s hand; endorsed by TJ as received 30 Mch. and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: Statement by John Thomson Mason, 29 Mch. 1802, on the existing law regarding the discharge of persons imprisoned for debt, explaining that if committed to jail upon a capias ad satisfaciendum, the prisoner cannot demand discharge upon payment of his debt and costs, but must also pay the marshal poundage fees upon said debt and costs as well as fees due by law for his imprisonment before he can demand his release; in Maryland, whose laws in the matter apply to Washington, D.C., Mason states that “there is no difference in this respect between a Ca. Sa. issued on a Warrant Judgment and a Ca. Sa. issued on a Judgment of a Court of Record.” In a postscript, however, Mason notes that if a debtor is released under the insolvent act, “it discharges him from the sheriffs demands as well as others” (MS in DLC; in Mason’s hand and signed by him).

Maryland enacted an INSOLVENT LAW in 1774, which allowed debtors owing less than £200 Sterling to be discharged from prison upon an assignment of all their property, except bedding and clothing, to their creditors. The legislature revised the act several times in the ensuing years, before repealing it in 1817 (Peter J. Coleman, Debtors and Creditors in America: Insolvency, Imprisonment for Debt, and Bankruptcy, 1607–1900 [Madison, Wis., 1974], 164–5, 171–2).

CASAS: that is, ca. sa., an abbreviation of capias ad satisfaciendum, “A postjudgment writ commanding the sheriff to imprison the defendant until the judgment is satisfied” (Garner, Black’s Law Dictionary description begins Bryan A. Garner, ed., Black’s Law Dictionary, 8th ed., St. Paul, Minn., 2004 description ends , 221).

FI.FAS.: that is, fi. fa., an abbreviation of fieri facias, “A writ of execution that directs a marshal or sheriff to seize and sell a defendant’s property to satisfy a money judgment” (same, 659).

1MS: “of the of the.”

2MS: “body body.”

Index Entries