Mr. Justice Matthews delivered the opinion of the court:273
The plaintiff in error, who was also plaintiff below, brought his action in detinue on the 26th day of April, 1883, against Samuel C. Greenhow, for the recovery of specific personal property , to wit: one officer desk of the value of $30, before a police justice in the City of Richmond, who dismissed the case for wart of jurisdiction. An Appeal was taken by the plaintiff to the Hastings Court for the City of Richmond, where the facts were found by agreement of parties to be as follows: That the plaintiff was a resident of the city of Richmond, in the State of Virginia; that he owed to the State of Virginia, for taxes on property owned by him in said city for the year 1882, $12.45, which said taxes were due and leviable for, under the laws of Virginia, on the first day of December, 1882; that the defendant, Samuel C. Greenhow, was the Treasurer of the City of Richmond, and as such is charged by law with the duty of collecting taxes due to the State of Virginia by all residents of said city; that on the 25th day of April, 1888, the defendant, as such Treasurer and collector of taxes, made upon the plaintiff demand for the payment of the taxes due by him to the State as aforesaid; that the plaintiff, when demand was so made for payment of his taxes, tendered to defendant in payment thereof 45 cents in lawful money of the United States, and Coupons issued by the State of Virginia under the provisions of the Act of the General Assembly of that State of March 30, 1871, entitled "An Act to Provide for the Funding and Payment of the Public Debt"; that said coupons so tendered by plaintiff were all due and past maturity, and amounted in the aggregate to $12, and were all cut from bonds issued by the said State of Virginia under the provisions of the said Act of March 30, 1871; hat the said coupons and money so tendered by the plaintiff amounted together to exactly the sum so due the State by the plaintiff for taxes; that the defendant refused to receive the said coupons and money so tendered in payment of the plaintiff's taxes; that the defendant, after said tender was made, as he deemed himself required to do by the Acts of Assembly of Virginia, entered the plaintiff's place of business 274 in said city and levied upon and took possession of the desk, the property of the plaintiff, now sued for, for the purpose of selling the same to pay the taxes due from him; and that the said desk is of the value of $30, and still remains in possession of the defendant for the purpose aforesaid, he having refused to return the same to the plaintiff an demand.
It is suggested that the right to have Coupons received payment of taxes is a mere right of set-off, and is itself but a remedy subject to the control of legislation. Ordinarily, it is true, the right to set off mutual independent debts, by way of compensation and satisfaction, is dependent on the general law, does not enter into the contract, although it may be the lex loci contractus; and is dependent for its enforcement upon the lex fori, when suit is brought, and consequently may impairing changed by the Legislature without impairing vested rights. But in such cases the right is entirely dependent upon the general law and changes with it. It is different when, as in many cases of equitable set-off, it inheres in the transaction, or arises out of the relations of the parties; and it may in any case, as it was in this, be made the subject of contract between parties. When this is done, it stands upon the footing of every other lawful contract, upon valuable consideration, the obligation of which cannot be impaired by subsequent legislation.