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Opinion of the Court.
2. The tax which it levies is placed on the passing of legacies or distributive shares of personal property at a progressive rate, the amount of such rate being determined, not by the separate sum of each legacy or distributive share, but by the volume of the whole personal estate. This is the mode in which the tax was computed by the assessor, and which was sustained by the court below; or,
3. The tax is on the passing of legacies or distributive shares
the persons entitled to beneficial interest therein untruly, or shall not truly and correctly set forth and state therein the clear value of such beneficial interest, or where no administration upon such property or personal estate shall have been granted or allowed under existing laws, the collector or deputy collector shall make out such lists and valuation as in other cases of neglect or refusal, and shall assess the duty thereon; and the collector shall commence appropriate proceedings before any court of the United States, in the name of the United States, against such person or persons as may have the actual or constructive custody or possession of such property or personal estate, or any part thereof, and shall subject such property or personal estate, or any portion of the same, to be sold upon the judgment or decree of such court, and from the proceeds of such sale the amount of such tax or duty, together with all costs and expenses of every description to be allowed by such court, shall be first paid, and the balance, if any, deposited according to the order of such court, to be paid under its direction to such person or persons as shall establish title to the same. The deed or deeds, or any proper conveyance of such property or personal estate, or any portion thereof, so sold under such judgment or decree, executed by the officer lawfully charged with carrying the same into effect, shall vest in the purchaser thereof all the title of the delinquent to the property or personal estate sold under and by virtue of such judgment or decree, and shall release every other portion of such property or personal estate from the lien or charge thereon created by this act. And every person or persons who shall have in his possession, charge or custody any record, file or paper containing, or supposed to contain, any information concerning such property or personal estate as aforesaid, passing from any person who may die as aforesaid, shall exhibit the same at the request of the collector or deputy collector of the district, and to any law officer of the United States, in the performance of his duty under this act, his deputy or agent, who may desire to examine the same. And if any such person, having in his possession, charge or custody any such records, files or papers, shall refuse or neglect to exhibit the same on request as aforesaid, he shall forfeit and pay the sum of $500: Provided, That in all legal controversies where such deed or title shall be the subject of judicial investigation, the recital in said deed shall be prima facie evidence of its truth, and that the requirements of the law liad been complied with by the officers of the government.
Opinion of the Court.
of personalty, with a progressive rate on each, separately determined by the sum of each of such legacies or distributive shares.
On the very threshold, the theory that the tax is not on particular legacies or distributive shares passing upon a death, but is on the whole amount of the personal property of the deceased, is rebutted by the heading, which describes what is taxed, not as the estates of deceased persons, but as “legacies and distributive shares of personal property.” This, whilst not conclusive, is proper to be considered in interpreting the statute, when ambiguity exists and a literal interpretation will work out wrong or injury. United States v. Fisher, 2 ('ranch, 358, 386; United States v. Palmer, 3 Wheat. 610, 631; United States v. Union Pacific Railroad, 91 U. S. 72; Smythe v. Fiske, 23 Wall. 374, 380; Coosaw Mining Co. v. South Carolina, 144 U. S. 550.
The opening words of section 29 may, for clearness, be thus arranged :
“That any person or persons having in charge or trust, as administrators, executors or trustees, any legacies or distributive shares arising from personal property,
passing, after the passage of this act, from any person possessed of such property, either by will or by the intestate laws of any State or Territory,
shall be, and hereby are, made subject to a duty or tax, to be paid to the United States, as follows: that is to say," etc.
Thus collocated, the statute clearly imposes the duty on the particular legacies or distributive shares, and not on the whole personal estate. It does not say that the tax is levied on the personal estate left by the deceased person, but it is imposed on legacies or distributive shares arising from such property. This is made clearer by considering that in the very same section the tax is described as being upon “any interest which may have been transferred by deed, grant, bargain, sale or gift, made or intended to take effect in possession or enjoyment after the death of the grantor or bargainor, to any person or persons,” etc. That is to say, whilst the law places the duty on any legacy or distributive share passing by death, it puts a like
Opinion of the Court.
burden on gifts which may have been made in contemplation of death and otherwise than by last will and testament.
Following the paragraph from which the foregoing has been quoted, the statute makes five distinct classes or enumerations, whereby the rate of the tax is varied, that is, it is made more or less, depending upon the relationship, or want of relationship, of the legatee or distributee to the deceased. But this enumeration can only be explained upon the hypothesis that the law intended to impose a greater or less tax upon a legatee or distributee, arising from his degree of relationship or his being a stranger in blood to the deceased. Thus it cannot be doubted that, in assessing the tax, the position of each separate legatee or distributee must be taken into view in order to ascertain the primary rate which the statute establishes. One of two things must arise. When the rate of tax is thus calculated upon the particular attitude to the deceased of each of the legatees or distributees, the sum of the tax must be deducted either from each particular legacy or from the mass of the whole personal estate. If it is deducted from each particular legacy, then it is manifest that the tax imposed will have been levied, not upon the mass of the estate, but upon each particular legatee or beneficiary, since the share of such person will have paid a rate of taxation predicated upon the amount of the legacy and the relationship, or want of relationsbip, of the particular recipient thereof to the deceased. This being the case, no room would be left for the contention that the tax was imposed on the whole estate. On the other hand, if the whole sum of the taxation on all the shares, calculated on the basis of the relationship of each beneficiary and the amount received, be deducted from the mass of the estate, then, each recipient would pay only a proportion of the amount without reference to his relationship to the deceased. This would result in imposing the tax on the whole personal estate, and ratably distribute the burden among all the beneficiaries. But to reach this the entire classification, grading the rate of the tax by the degrees of relationship, would have to be disregarded. The dilemma, therefore, which is involved in the contention that the statute imposes the tax, not on each legacy or distributive share, but on the whole personalty, is
Opinion of the Court.
this: If the tax is levied and collected according to the classifications in the statute, it is clearly on the legacy or distributive share. If, on the contrary, it is levied on the entire personal estate, then the classifications of the statute must be ignored and the construction be upheld which maintains that the act has classified the rate of tax by the relationship of the beneficiaries to the deceased, and has then disregarded the classification by collecting the tax wholly without reference to such relationship. This construction, besides eliminating a large portion of the text of the act, would do violence to its plain import, which is to make the rate of the tax depend upon the character of the links connecting those taking with the deceased. This is greatly fortified by other portions of the act. At the close of the fifth subdivision of section 29, one of the clauses creating a classification with respect to remote relationship, or want of relationship, to the deceased, it is provided as follows:
“ Provided, That all legacies or property passing by will, or by the laws of any State or Territory, to husband or wife of the person died possessed as aforesaid, shall be exempt from tax or duty.”
Now, mark, the word is “passing” by will, etc., which excludes a conception that the whole amount of the estate, and not the particular portions thereof which passed, is the subject of the tax. And the exemption, from the tax or duty, of the legacy, etc., given to the husband or wife of a deceased, implies that the scheme of taxation is of the legacies, etc., and not of the whole personal estate. This must be So,
unless it can be said that the statute in terms exempts the legacy to a husband or wife from the legacy tax otherwise imposed, although no legacy taxes resulted from the statute.
The provisions for the collection of the tax contained in section 30 of the act confirm the construction that the passing of each legacy or distributive share, and not the entire personal estate of a deceased person, forms the subject of the tax. Thus, before payment and distribution to the legatees, etc., an executor, administrator or trustee is required to pay " the amount of the duty or tax assessed upon such legacy or distributive share,”
Opinion of the Court.
and to “make and render a schedule,” etc., in duplicate, "of the amount of such legacy or distributive share, together with the amount of duty which has accrued, or shall accrue thereon," and the schedule is required to “contain the names of each and every person entitled to any beneficial interest therein.”'
Whatever be the obscurity it is illumined when the light of the previous legislation, which we have already reviewed, is thrown on it. The passing of legacies and distributive shares were the objects taxed under the English legacy act. They were the subjects taxed under the act of Congress of 1797. By the act of 1862, as we have seen, the whole estate was reached by a probate duty, whilst a distinct duty was charged upon legacies and distributive shares in personal property. When the act of 1864 was enacted there was added a succession tax on real estate, modeled, as said by this court and as shown by the act itself, upon the English Succession Duty Act, which treated each particular gift of real estate as a distinct succession, separately liable for the duty laid by the act. The legacy tax and the succession tax were thus co-related and rested upon the same theory; that is, both considered, they created a tax on the passing of each particular gift or distributive share of both the personal and real estate, treated as separate, one from the other, and each as forming a distinct estate subject to taxation. To assume that, when the succession duty was adopted in 1864, the legacy tax, which was also reënacted in that act, lost its character and became a tax levied, not on the passing of the legacies and distributive shares, but upon the whole amount of the estate before passing, would destroy the entire harmony of the system, and lead to a confession that a confusion of thought existed which cannot in reason be admitted. Indeed, it is difficult to conceive that the act of 1864 contemplated that either the legacy duty or the succession duty which it imposed should be upon the whole estate, since the tax to be paid by the whole estate was therein distinctly and separately provided for by means of the probate duty. If the tax on the whole estate can be, by implication, inserted, the same reasoning would also imply that the succession duty must be likewise treated. It would thus be that the entire act of 1864 would be in force despite its