LETTER, com. law, Crim. law. An epistle; a despatch; a written
message, usually on paper, which is folded up and sealed, sent by one person to
2. A letter is always presumed to be sealed, unless the presumption be
rebutted. 1 Caines, R. 682. 1
3. This subject will be considered by 1st. Taking a view of the law relating
to the transmission of letters through the post office; and, 2. The effect of
letters in making contracts. 3. The ownership of letters sent and received.
4. - §1. Letters are, commonly sent through the post office, and the law has
carefully provided for their conveyance through the country, and their delivery
to the persons to whom they are addressed. The act to reduce into one the
several acts establishing and regulating the post office department, section 21,
3 Story's Laws United States, 1991, enacts, that if any person employed in any
of the departments of the post office establishment, shall unlawfully detain,
delay, or open, any letter, packet, bag, or mail of letters, with which he shall
be entrusted, or which shall have come to his possession, and which are intended
to be conveyed by post or, if any such person shall secrete, embezzle, or
destroy, any letter or packet entrusted to such person as aforesaid, and which
shall not contain any security for, or assurance relating to money, as
hereinafter described, every such offender, being thereof duly convicted, shall,
for every such offence, be fined, not exceeding three hundred dollars, or
imprisoned, not exceeding six months, or both, according to the circumstances
and aggravations of the offence. And if any person, employed as aforesaid, shall
secrete, embezzle, or destroy any letter, packet, bag, or mail of letters, with
which he or she shall be entrusted, or which shall have come to his or her
possession, and are intended to be conveyed by post, containing any bank nots,
or bank post bill, bill of exchange, warrant of the treasury of the United
States, note of assignment of stock in the funds, letters of attorney for
receiving annuities or dividends, or for, selling stock in the funds, or for
receiving the interest thereof, or any letter of credit, or note for, or
relating to, payment of moneys or any bond, or warrant, draft, bill, or
promissory note, covenant, contract, or agreement whatsoever, for, or relating
to, the payment of money, or the delivery of any article of value, or the
performance of any act, matter, or thing, or any receipt, release, acquittance,
or discharge of, or from, any debt; covenant, or demand, or any part thereof, or
any copy of any record of any judgment or decree, in any court of law or
chancery, or any execution which way may have issued thereon; or any copy of any
other record, or any other article of value, or any writing representing the
same or if any such person, employed as aforesaid, shall steal, or take, any of
the same out of any letter, packet, bag, or mail of letters, that shall come to
his or her possession, such person shall, on conviction for any such offence, be
imprisoned not less than ten years, nor exceeding twenty-one years; and if any
person who shall have taken charge of the mails of the United States, shall quit
or desert the same before such person delivers it into the post office kept at
the termination of the route, or some known mail carrier, or agent of the
general post office, authorized to receive the same, every such person, so
offending, shall forfeit and pay a sum not exceeding five hundred dollars, for
every such offence; and if any person concerned in carrying the mail of the
United States, shall collect, receive, or carry any letter, or packet, or shall
cause or procure the same to be done, contrary, to this act, every such offender
shall forfeit and pay for every such offence a sum, not exceeding fifty
5. - §2. Most contracts may be formed by correspondence; and cases not
unfrequently arise where it is difficult to say whether the concurrence of the
will of the contracting parties took place or not. In order to form a contract
both parties must concur at the same time, or there is no agreement. Suppose,
for example, that Paul of Philadelphia, is desirous of purchasing a thousand
bales of cotton, and offers by letter to Peter of New Orleans, to buy them from
him at a certain price; but on the next day he changes his mind, and then he
writes to Peter that he withdraws his offer; or on the next day he dies; in
either case, there is no contract, because Paul did not continue in the same
disposition to buy the cotton, at the time that his offer was accepted. The
precise moment when the consent of both parties is perfect, is, in strictness,
when the person who made the offer becomes acquainted with the fact that it has
been accepted. But this may be presumed from circumstances. The acceptance must
be of the same precise terms without any variance whatever. 4 Wheat. 225; see 1
Pick. 278; 10 Pick. 326; 6 Wend. 103.
6. - §3. A letter received by the person to whom it is directed, is the
qualified property of such person: but where it is of a private nature, the
receiver has no right to publish it without the consent of the writer, unless
under very extraordinary circumstances; as, for example, when it is requisite to
the defence of the character of the party who received it. 2 Ves. & B. 19; 2
Atk. 542; Amb. 737; 1 Ball. & B. 207; 1 Mart. (Lo.) R. 297; Denisart, verbo
Lettres Missives. Vide Dead Letter; Jeopardy; Mail; Newspaper; Postage; Post
LETTER, contracts. In the civil law, locator, and in the French law,
locateur, loueur, or bailleur, is he who, being the owner of a thing, lets it
out to another for hire or compensation. See Hire; Locator; Conductor; Story on
2. According to the French and civil law, in virtue of the contract, the
letter of a thing to hire impliedly engages that the hirer shall have the full
use and enjoyment of the thing hired, and that he will fulfil his own
engagements and trusts in respect to it, according to the original intention of
the parties. This implies an obligation to deliver the thing to the hirer; to
refrain from every obstruction to the use of it by the hirer during the period
of the bailment; to do no act which shall deprive the hirer of the thing; to
warrant the title and possession to the hirer, to enable him to use the thing or
to perform the service; to keep the thing in suitable order and repair for the
purpose of the bailment; and finally to warrant the thing from from any fault
inconsistent with the use of it. These are the main obligations deduced from the
nature of the contract, and they seem generally founded on unexceptionable
reasoning. Pothier, Louage, n. 53; Id. n. 217; Domat, B. 1, tit. 4, §3 Code Civ.
of L. tit. 9, c. 2, s. 2. It is difficult to say how far (reasonable as they are
in a general sense) these obligations are recognized in the common law. In some
respects the common law certainly differs. See Repairs; Dougl. 744, 748; 1
Saund. 321, 32e, and ibid. note 7; 4 T. R. 318; 1 Bouv. Inst. n. 980 et seq.
LETTER, civil law. The answer which the prince gave to questions of
law which had been submitted to him by magistrates, was called letters or
epistles. See Rescripts.
LETTER OF ADVICE. comm. law. A letter containing information of any
circumstances unknown to the person to whom it is written; generally informing
him of some act done by the writer of the letter.
2. It is usual and perfectly proper for the drawer of a bill of exchange to
write a letter of advice to the drawee, as well to prevent fraud or alteration
of the bill, as to let the drawee know what provision has been made for the
payment of the bill. Chitt. Bills 185. (ed. of 1836.)
LETTER OF ATTORNEY, practice. A written instrument under seal, by
which one or more persons, called the constituents, authorize one or more other
persons called the attorneys, to do some lawful act by the latter, for or
instead, and in the place of the former. 1 Moody, Cr. Cas. 52, 70.
2. The authority given in the lettor of attorney is either general, as to
transact all the business of the constituent; or special, as to do some special
business, particularly named; as, to collect a debt.
3. It is revocable or irrevocable; the former when no interest is conveyed to
the attorney, or some other person. It is irrevocable when the constituent
conveys a right to the attorney in the matter which is the subject of it; as,
when it is given as part security. 2 Esp. R. 565. Civil Code of Lo: art. 2954 to
LETTER BOOK, commerce. A book containing the copies of letters written
by a merchant or trader to his correspondents.
2. After notice to the plaintiff to produce a letter which he admitted to
have received from the defendant, it was held that an entry by a deceased clerk,
in a letter book professing to be a copy of a letter from the defendant to the
plaintiff of the same date, was admissible evidence of the contents, proof
having been given, that according to the course of business, letters of business
written by the plaintiff were copied by this clerk and then sent off by the
post. 3 Campb. R. 305. Vide 1 Stark Ev. 356; Bouv. Inst. n. 3139.
LETTER CARRIER. A person employed to carry letters from the post
office to the persons to whom they are addressed.
2. The act of congress of March 3, 1851, Statutes at Large of U. S. by Minot,
591, directs, §10, That it shall be in the power of the postmaster general, at
all post offices where the postmaster's are appointed by the president of the
United States, to establish post routes within the cities or towns, to provide
for conveying letters to the post office by establishing suitable and convenient
places of deposit, and by employing carriers to receive and deposit them in the
post office; and at all such offices it shall be in his power to cause letters
to be delivered by suitable carriers, to be appointed by him for that purpose,
for which not exceeding one or two cents shall be charged, to be paid by the
person receiving or sending the same, and all sums so received shall be paid
into the post office department: Provided, The amount of compensation allowed by
the postmaster general to carriers shall in no case exceed the amount paid into
the treasury by each town or city under the provisions of this section.
3. It is further enacted by c. xxi. s. 2, That the postmaster general shall
be, and he is hereby, authorized to appoint letter carriers for the delivery of
letters from any post office in California or Oregon, and to allow the letter
carriers who may be appointed at any such post office to demand and receive such
sum for all letters, newsapers, or other mailable matter delivered by them, as
may be recommended by the postmaster for whose office such letter carrier may be
appointed, not exceeding five cents for every letter, two cents for every
newspaper, and two cents for every ounce of other mailable matter and the
postmaster general shall be, and he is hereby, authorized to empower the special
agents of the post office department in California and Oregon to appoint such
letter carriers in their districts respectively, and to fix the rates of their
compensation within the limits aforesaid, subject to, and until the final action
of, the postmaster general thereon. And such appointments may be made, and rates
of compensation modified from time to time, as may be deemed expedient and the
rates of compensation may be fixed, and graduated in respect to the distance of
the place of delivery from the post office for which such carriers are
appointed, but the rate of compensation of any such letter carrier shall not be
changed after his appointment, except by the order of the postmaster general;
and such letter carriers shall be subject to the provisions of the forty-first
section of the act entitled "An Act to change the organization of the post
office, department, and to provide more effectually for the settlement of the
accounts thereof," approved July second, eighteen hundred and thirty-six, except
in cases otherwise provided for in this act.
LETTER OF CREDENCE, international law. A written instrument addressed
by the sovereign or chief magistrate of a state, to the sovereign or state to
whom a public minister is sent, certifying his appointment as such, and the
general objects of his mission, and requesting that full faith and credit may be
given to what he shall do and say ou the part of his court.
2. When it is given to an ambassador, envoy, or minister accredited to a
sovereign, it is addressed to the sovereign or state to whom the minister is
delegated in the case of a chargĒ d'affaires, it is addressed by the secretary
or minister of state charged with the department of foreign affairs to the
minister of foreign affairs of the other government. Wheat. International Law,
pt. 3, c. 1, §7; Wicquefort, de l'Ambassadeur, l. 1, §15.
LETTER OF CREDIT, contracts. An open or sealed letter, from a merchant
in one place, directed to another, in another place or country, requiring him
that if a person therein named, or the bearer of the letter, shall have occasion
to buy commodities, or to want money to any particular or unlimited amount,
either to procure the same, or to pass his promise, bill, or other engagement
for it, the writer of the letter undertaking to provide him the money for the
goods, or to repay him by exchange, or to give him such satisfaction as he shall
require, either for himself or the bearer of the letter. 3 Chit Com. Law, 336;
and see 4 Chit. Com. Law, 259, for a form of such letter.
2. These letters are either general or special; the former is directed to the
writer's friends or correspondents generally, where the bearer of the letter may
happen to go; the latter is directed to some particular person. When the letter
is presented to the person to whow it is addressed, he either agrees to comply
with the request, in which case he immediately becomes bound to fulfil all the
engagements therein mentioned; or he refuses in which case the bearer should
return it to the giver without any other proceeding, unless, indeed, the
merchant to whom the letter is directed is a debtor of the merchant who gave the
letter, in which case he should procure the letter to be protested. 3 Chit. Com.
Law, 337; Malyn, 76; 1 Beaw. Lex Mer. 607; Hall's Adm. Pr. 14; 4 Ohio R. 197; 1
Wllc. R. 510.
3. The debt which arises on such letter, in its simplest form, when complied
with, is between the mandator and the mandant; though it may be so conceived as
to raise a debt also against the person who is supplied by the mandatory. 1.
When the letter is purchased with money by the person wishing for the foreign
credit; or, is granted in consequence of a check on his cash account, or
procured on the credit of securities lodged with the person who granted it; or
in payment of money due by him to the payee; the letter is, in its effects,
similar to a bill of exchange drawn on the foreign merchant. The payment of the
money by the person on whom the letter is granted raises a debt, or goes into
account between him and the writer of the letter; but raises no debt to the
person who pays on the letter, against him to whom the money is paid. 2. When
not so purchased, but truly an accommodation, and meant to raise a debt on the
person accommodated, the engagement, generally is, to see paid any advances made
to him, or to guaranty any draft accepted or bill discounted and the compliance
with the mandate, in such case, raises a debt, both against the writer of the
letter, and against the person accredited. 1 Bell's Com. 371, 6th ed. The bearer
of the letter of credit is not considered bound to receive the money; he may use
the letter as he pleases, and he contracts an obligation only by receiving the
money. Poth. Contr. de Change, 237.
LETTER OP LICENSE, contracts. An instrument or writing made by
creditors to their insolvent debtor, by which they bind themselves to allow him
a longer time than he had a right to, for the payment of his debts and that they
will not arrest or molest him in his person or property till after the
expiration of such additional time.
LETTER OF MARQUE AND REPRRISAL, War. A commission granted by the
government to a private individual, to take the property of a foreign state, or
of the citizens or subjects of such state, as a reparation for an injury
committed by such state, its citizens or subjects. A vessel loaded with
merchandise, on a voyage to a friendly port, but armed for its own defence in
case of attack by an enemy, is also called a letter of marque. 1 Bouly-Paty,
tit. 3, s. 2, p. 300.
2. By the constitution, art. 1, s. 8, cl. 11, congress has power to grant
letters of marque and reprisal. Vide Chit. Law of Nat. 73; 1 Black. Com. 251;
Vin. Ab. Prerogative, N a; Com. Dig. Prerogative, B 4; Molloy, B. 1, c. 2, s.
10; 2 Wooddes. 440; 6 Rob. Rep. 9; 5 Id. 360; 2 Rob. Reb. 224. And vide
LETTER missive, Engl. law. After a bill has been filed against a peer
or peeress, or lord of parliament, a petition is presented to the lord
chancellor for his letter, called a letter missive, which requests the defendant
to appear and answer to the bill. A neglect to attend to this, places the
defendant, in relation to such suit, on the same ground as other defendants, who
are not peers, and a subpoena may then issue. Newl. Pr. 9; 2 Madd. Ch. Pr. 196;
Coop. Eq. Pl. 16.
LETTER of RECFALL. A written document addressed by the executive of
one government to the executive of another, informing the latter that a minister
sent by the former to him, has been recalled.
LETTER OF RECOMMENDATION, com. law. An instrument given by one person
to another, addressed to a third, in which the bearer is represented as worthy
of credit. 1 Bell's Com. 371, 6th, ed.; 9 T. R. 51; 7 Cranch, Rep. 69; Fell on
Guar. c. 8; 6 Johns. R. 181; 13 Johns. R. 224; 1 Day's Cas. Er 22; and the
LETTER OF RECREDENTIALS. A document delivered to a minister, by the
secretary of state of the government to which he was accredited. It is addressed
to the executive of the minister's country. This is in reply to the letter of
LETTERS CLOSE, Engl. law. Close letters are grants, of the king, and
being of private concern, they are thus distinguished from letters patent.
LETTERS AD COLLIGENDUM BONA DE FUNCTI, practice. In default of the
representatives and creditors to administer to the estate of an intestate, the
officer entitled to grant letters of administration, may grant to such person as
he approves, letters to collect the goods of the deceased, which neither make
him executor nor administrator; his only busness being to collect the goods and
keep them in his safe custody. 2 Bl. Com. 505.
LETTERS PATENT. The name of an instrument granted by the government to
convey a right to the patentee; as, a patent for a tract of land; or to secure
to him a right which he already possesses, as a patent for a new invention or
discovery; Letters patent are a matter of record. They are so called because
they are not sealed up, but are granted open. Vide Patent.
LETTERS OF REQUEST, Eng. eccl. law, An instrument by which a judge of
an inferior court waives or remits his own jurisdiction in favor of a court of
appeal immediately superior to it.
2. Letters of request, in general, lie only where an appeal would lie, and
lie only to the next immediate court of appeal, waiving merely the primary
jurisdiction to the proper appellate court, except letters of request from the
most inferior ecclesiastical court, which may be direct to the court of arches,
although one or two courts of appeal may, by this, be ousted of their
jurisdiction as courts of appeal. 2 Addams, R. 406. The effect of letters of
request is to give jurisdiction to the appellate court in the first instance.
Id. See a form of letters of request in 2 Chit. Pr. 498, note.
LETTERS ROGATORY. A letter rogatory is an instrument sent in the name
and by the authority of a judge or court to another, requesting the latter to
cause to be examined, upon interrogatories filed in a cause depending before the
former, a witness who is within the jurisdiction of the judge or court to whom
such letters are addressed. In letters rogatory there is always an offer on the
part of tbe court whence they issued, to render a similar service to the court
to which they may be directed whenever required. Pet. C. C. Rep. 236.
2. Though formerly used in England in the courts of common law, 1 Roll. Ab.
530, pl. 13, they have been superseded by commissions of Dedimus potestatem,
which are considered to be but a feeble substitute. Dunl. Pr. 223, n.; Hall's
Ad. Pr. 37. The courts of admiralty use these letters, which are derived from
the civil law, and are recognized by the law of nations. See Foelix, Dr. Intern.
liv. 2, t. 4, p. 800; Denisart, h. t.