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The Promissory Cow
© Jerry Buchmeyer, 1986


What ever happened to the litigious Albert Haddock?

I’m so glad you finally asked.

After Haddock was successful in quashing a traffic ticket on the grounds ”that Magna Carta is no longer law” (but was fined costs of one pound for conducting his defense in rhymed Couplets”)(1) — and after he diabolically escaped punishment for printing crossword puzzles with answers libelous of The Bishop of Bowl. John Lickspittle, and others (the persons who completed the crossword puzzles were guilty of libel, not Haddock)(2) — Haddock (with some assistance from his creator, A.P. Herbert) confronted the Internal Revenue Service in The Case of the Promissory Cow: Board of Inland Revenue v. Haddoock.(3) Haddock and the Internal Revenue were involved in a bitter tax dispute (or, in the court’s words, they have “for many months in spite of earnest endeavors on both sides, been unable to establish harmonious relations”). Finally, “after an exchange of endearing letters,” the amount in dispute was reduced to 57 pounds. Then, the Collector of Taxes received a visit from a noisy crowd, attracted by the sight of Mr. Haddock, who was leading a large white cow of malevolent aspect.” Clearly stenciled in red ink on the back and sides of the cow were these words:

To the London and Literary, Bank, Ltd. ‘Pay the Collector of taxes, who is no gentleman, or Order, the sum of 57 pounds (and may he rot!).’
L 57/0/0
Albert Haddock”
Haddock tendered the cow in payment of the income tax, but the Collector refused “objecting that it would be difficult or even impossible to pay the cow into the bank.” To this, Haddock “politely” suggested that the Collector could simply “endorse the cow to any third party to whom he owed money, adding that there must be many persons in that category. The results (and the charges):
“ ...The Collector then endeavored to endorse the check on the back of the check, that is to say on the abdomen of the cow. The cow, however, appeared to resent the endorsement and adopted a menacing posture. The Collector, abandoning the attempt, declined finally to take the check. Mr. Haddock led the cow away and was arrested in Trafalgar Square for causing an obstruction. He has also been summoned by the Board of Inland Revenue for nonpayment of income tax.
” In defense, Haddock argued that there was nothing in the ‘“statute or customary law to say that [a check must be written on a piece of paper of specified dimensions; indeed he himself had drawn checks on menus, napkins, and winebottle labels — all of which were duly honored and passed through the Bankers’ Clearing House.” Therefore, Haddock:
“ ... could see no distinction in law between a check written on a napkin and a check written on a cow. The essence of each document was a written order to pay money, made in the customary form and in accordance with statutory requirements as to stamps, etc. A check was admittedly not legal tender in the sense that it could not lawfully be refused; but it was accepted by custom as a legitimate form of payment. There were funds in his bank sufficient to meet the cow; the Commissioners might not like the cow, but, the cow having been tendered, they were stopped from charging him with failure to pay. (Mr. Haddock here cited Spowers v.The Strand Magazine, Lucas v. Finck, and Wadsworth v.The Metropolitan Water Board.)

“… Cross-examined as to motive, Haddock said that he had no check-forms available and, being anxious to meet his obligations promptly, had made use of the only material at hand. Later he admitted that there might have been present in his mind a desire to make the Collector of Taxes ridiculous. But why not? There was no law against deriding the income tax.”
As to his arrest for causing an obstruction, Haddock indignantly commented that “it was a nice thing if, in the heart of the commercial capital of the world, a man could not carry a negotiable instrument down the street without being arrested” — and he sued Constable Boot for false imprisonment.

The decision was rendered by Justice Basil String who —what a charmed life Haddock seemed to lead in his career as a litigant — was not particularly enamored with the Internal Revenue. He began by noting that this case involves “a citizen who is unusual both in his clarity of mind and integrity of behavior,” and then continued:
... The defendant, Mr. Haddock, repels arid resents the income tax, but since it has received the sanction of Parliament, he dutifully complies with it. Hampered by practical difficulties, he took the first steps he could to discharge his legal obligations to the State. Paper was not available, so he employed instead a favorite cow. Now, there can he nothing obscene, offensive, or derogatory in the presentation of a cow by one man to another. Indeed, in certain parts of our Empire the cow is venerated as a sacred animal. Payment in kind is the oldest form of payment, and payment in kind more often than not meant payment in cattle.... So that, whether the check was valid or not, it was impossible to doubt the validity of the cow; and whatever the Collector’s distrust of the former it was at least his duty to accept the latter and credit Mr. Haddock’s account with its value. But as Mr. Haddock protested in his able argument, an order to pay is an order to pay, whether it be made on the back of an envelope or on the back of a cow. The evidence of the bank is that Mr. Haddock’s account was in funds. From every point of view, therefore, the Collector of Taxes did wrong, by custom if not by law, in refusing to take the proffered animal.
As to the charge of causing an obstruction, Justice String first noted that the horse, “at the present time a much less useful animal than the cow,” constantly appears in the public street without protest — and that the motor car, “more unnatural and unattractive still,” is more numerous than either animal. Thus, he concluded:
“… It cannot be unlawful to conduct a cow through the London streets… Much less can the cow be regarded as an improper or unlawful companion when it is invested (as I have shown) with all the dignity of a bill of exchange.
If people choose to congregate in one place upon the apparition of Mr. Haddock with a promissory cow, then Constable Boot should arrest the people, not Mr. Haddock. Possibly, if Mr. Haddock had paraded Cockspur Street with a paper check for one million pounds made payable to the bearer, the crowd would have been as great, but that is not to say that Mr. Haddock would have broken the law. In my judgment Mr. Haddock has behaved throughout in the manner of a perfect knight, citizen and taxpayer. The charge brought by the Crown is dismissed; and I hope with all my heart that in his action against Constable Boot Mr. Haddock will be successful. What is the next case, please?”

 


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