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 another.
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 dollars.
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 Master General.
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, 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, 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 Bailm. §369.
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.