Chisholm v. Georgia

Robert Farquhar (1743-1784)

The Supreme Court of the United States (1793)

The Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution (1795)

The final settlement between Peter Trezevant (1768-1854) and the State of Georgia (1789-1847)

1743 Robert Farquhar was born in Bilbo, Scotland, to John and Elizabeth Farquhar. His siblings were John Farquhar (1751-1826), Anne Farquhar, and Charlotte Farquhar.

1760 At age seventeen he came to America, settling in Charleston, South Carolina. He became a shop keeper and then a merchant, trading by sea among the American colonies, Bermuda, and the Bahamas.

1771 April 14. At age of twenty-eight Robert Farquhar married Elizabeth Fagan (1747-1773), age twenty-four.

1772 December 20. The Farquhar’s only child Elizabeth Willoughby Farquhar (1772-1845) was born in Charleston.

1773 January 2. At age twenty-six Elizabeth Fagan Farquhar died, leaving her husband Robert and their infant daughter Elizabeth Willoughby Farquhar. The child was put in the care of family in Charleston.

1776 July 4. The American Declaration of Independence was declared. Robert Farquhar was thirty-three years old.

1777 October.

During the Revolutionary War, Mr. Robert Farquhar . . . was on a voyage from one of the neutral West Indian Islands bound in a small vessel with a cargo of Cloths, Cottons, Linens, Blankets, etc. bound for Charleston, S. Ca. but when off the Coast of Georgia was pursued by a Cruiser. He ran into Tybee for safety, went up to the port of Savannah, reported at the Custom House, for permission to land his Cargo, & to transport it through the inland navigation to Charleston, but was refused as those articles were wanted for the use of the Army & Navy of the State of Georgia, - the then Governor and Council appointed a Deputation to make a purchase of them which was declined by Mr. Farquhar, they then put an armed force on board of the vessel and told Mr. Farquhar that if he did not choose to make a sale of the said goods, that Messrs. Thomas Stone, Edward Davis [Davies] and other persons, names not now recollected, should proceed to discharge the cargoe, put their own price to each article which should be decisive as to the amount to be paid for said goods. Mr. Farquhar then determined to make the best bargain he could, with the Commissioners and the amount agreed upon was seven thousand five hundred and eighty six pounds ten shillings Stg pble in a given date. When the payment became due Edward Davis one of the said commissioners went to the Treasury Office and received that amount in certificates approved for that payment but never paid Mr. Farquhar. He (sd Davis) died soon after his widow married a Mr. (?) Stibbens who made use of those certificates, this was sworn to by Mr. Thomas Stone, also one of the commissioners who also swore that all of the goods were delivered and appropriated for the use of the Army & Navy & it was also proved by GeneralJames Jackson of Georgia who was at that time an officer in the army and did receive part of the articles for the use of the regiment to which he belonged and by Commodore Bowe who then commanded the Flotilla who also received some of the goods for the use of his seamen. The [later] plea made for refusing payment to me [Peter Trezevant] was that Mr. Davis had received the funds for payment at the time the contract was due. [“Depositions for J.L Pedigru (of Peter Trezevant, 1840),” p. 2] [Peter Trezevant was the son-in-law of Robert Farquhar. He had married Farquhar’s only child and daughter, Eilzabeth Willoughby Farquhar in 1789. This deposition was done as part of Trezevant’s continued dealings with the state of Georgia since 1789.]

At that time American troops under the command of General James Jackson, quartered near Savannah, were in grave need of supplies. On October 31, 1777, the Executive Council of Georgia authorized Thomas Stone and Edward Davies of Savannah, as commissioners of the state, to purchase goods from Robert Farquhar, a merchant of Charleston, South Carolina. The sale apparently was contracted in Savannah on October 31 for quite a sizable amount of merchandise, including cloth, thread, silk, handkerchiefs, blankets, coats, and jackets. Stone and Davies agreed that Farquhar was to receive $169,613.33 for his merchandise. Delivery was to be made to Savannah by December 1, 1777. Farquhar seems to have delivered the items on November 3. According to the agreement at the time of the sale, payment was to be made by December 1. On December 2 Farquhar requested payment, as he was to do several times thereafter, but he was refused.

Stone and Davies were empowered to pay for the merchandise in continental currency or in indigo at Carolina prices if currency was not available. Apparently, they were authorized to draw on the state treasury for the needed sum. A committee of the Georgia house of representatives in 1789 [1779 or ten years later?] reported that Georgia had paid Stone and Davies the necessary sum in continental loan office certificates for the purpose of satisfying Farquhar. However, from all evidence obtained, Farquhar received no part of the funds. [Mathis, pp. 20-21]

1781 At age thirty-eight Robert Farquhar as was appointed by the lieutenant governor as the guardian of his nine-year-old daughter Elizabeth Willoughby Farquhar.

October 19. After the last major battle of the Revolution, the British surrendered at Yorktown, Virginia.

1782 January 24. At age ten Elizabeth Willoughby. Farquhar was placed under the care of Mr. S.H. Ball and sent to England.

November. Provisional articles of peace were signed in Paris.

1783 March 26. At age forty Robert Farquhar applied to become a citizen of the state of South Carolina.

April 10. Robert Farquhar took the Oath of Allegiance.

April 25. At age forty Farquhar made his will. He named Alexander Chisholm (1738-1810), age forty-five, a fellow Scotsman, as an executor of the will, along with his father John Farquhar and merchant Peter Dean of Savannah. In the will he provided that an annual amount of twenty pounds sterling be provided for his parents until their deaths. The remainder of his estate was to go to his daughter Elizabeth Willoughby Farquhar.

And it is my will and I do hereby recommend my Executors to give my said Daughter a genteel and good Education, and to bring her up in every Respect in a condition suitable to the Fortune she will inherit from me. . . . And whereas my said Daughter is now an Infant of ten years of age, on the 20th day of December last past, and now at Great Britain in school, my Will and Pleasure is that my executors hereinafter mentioned shall be, and they are hereby nominated and appointed Guardians for her till she comes of age, in case she would not arrive at that Period of Life before my Decease. [“Farquhar:” Probate Court, Charleston, S.C. vol. 20 (WPA version) 1783-86 pp. 337-8-9]

September 3. The Treaty of Paris was signed, officially ending the American Revolution.

1784 January 13. Robert Farquhar obtained a certification of his having taken the Oath of Allegiance.

January 20.

In February [January] 1784 Mr. Robt. Farquhar, on his passage from Charleston to Savannah was unfortunately knocked overboard in Tybee,his body was recovered but died before he reached Savannah where he was buried. When he left Charleston he told his friends that he was going to endeavor to get a settlement of the debt [owed by the state of Georgia, from 1777] and recover some other large sums due him by Individuals. [“Deposition for J.L. Petigru (of Peter Trezevant, 1840),” p. 2]

At the time of his death Robert Farquhar was forty years old. His daughter Elizabeth Willoughby Farquhar at age twelve was still in England. From 1777 to 1784 Farquhar had steadily made contact with the state of Georgia and its agents, attempting to recover the debt owed him for that state’s confiscation of goods in 1777.

February 17. Alexander Chisholm, as executor of Farquhar’s estate, proved Farquhar’s will, with W. Cameron, William Riddell, and Alexander Walker as witnesses. [“Farquhar:” Will Book A 1783-86 p. 278]

1786 At age eighteen Peter Trezevant (1768-1854), a native of Charleston, arrived back in Charleston after a 54-day sail from Dublin on board the Fame under Capt. George Warren Cross. [Capt. Cross (1755-1816) was then thirty-one years old and was probably already married to Peter’s older half-sister Charlotte Trezevant (1755-1832), so he was Peter’s brother-in-law.] It could be that Cross at the request of family had arranged for Peter to meet Elizabeth Farquhar, age fourteen while he was in England. Back in Charleston, Peter took up residence and began to work.

1787 September 17. The text of the U.S. Constitution was signed in Philadelphia.

1788 December. At age sixteen Elizabeth W. Farquhar returned to America after six years in England.

1789 March 4. The United States Constitution was ratified.

September 13. At age sixteen, nine months after her return to America, Elizabeth Willoughby. Farquhar married Peter Trezevant, age twenty-one, in Charleston. They probably took up residence at 5 Stoll’s Alley, a property that she inherited from her father’s estate at the time of her marriage.

Peter Trezevant married the only child of Mr. Robert Farquhar in September 1789, during this lapse of time [1784-89] Mr. Alex Chis[h]olm the Executor of R.F.’s will and guardian of Mrs. T. never made any Inquiry at the proper offices as to the state of the debt or application for payment. . . . . . . (illegible). I [Peter Trezevant] immediately after my marriage went to Savannah & called on Coln Richard Wylly who had been the auditor general of the state, he told me that the office was closed and that nothing could be done —-but upon the proofs that I had obtained that the claim would have been permitted, and payment would have been made in preferred stock —3/percent—’

Deferred stock as in all other cases for supplies to the Army & Navy & that —- would have been allowed on the debt. He, Col. Wylly, also stated that on a settlement of the account of the State of Georgia with the United States that the State of Georgia did receive credit for the cost of these goods as forming supplies in the general cause of the Revolution. I [later] made repeated applications to the Legislature of Georgia for payment, but —- I —-. [Disposition for J.L. Petigru (of Peter Trezevant, 1840), p. 2]

November 25.

Also in 1789, a petition was submitted [by Trezevant] to the legislature of Georgia asking for the settlement of the Farquhar claim. On November 25 the committee on petitions in the house of representatives recommended against paying the claim because Stone and Davies had received state funds for this purpose. The committee suggested that the proper remedy for those holding the Farquhar claim was to bring a suit against Stone and the representatives of Davies, who was deceased by the time of the committee’s report in November 1789. The house voted not to pay the claim, and the Georgia senate concurred on December 12, 1789.

Following the state’s failure to pay the claim, Chisholm brought suit against it in the United States Circuit Court for the District of Georgia. The case is listed as Farquhar’s Executor v. Georgia The petition before the Circuit Court asked for L100,000 sterling in payment and damages. [Mathis, p. 22]

1791 January. The executor’s account of the Farquhar estate was made out.

April 1.

On April 1, 1791, the Georgia legislature received a communication from the attorney general of the state expressing his view of Chisholm’s suit. He held that it could never have been the intention of ‘those persons delegated from the different states in the Union to form the Federal Compact, to subject the government of each or either of the States to be impleaded in the District Circuit, or Supreme Federal Court.’ [Mathis, p. 23]

October. Farquhar v. Georgia

was argued and decided in the October 1791 term of the Circuit Court at Augusta. The judges in the case were James Iredell, of the United States Supreme Court on circuit, and Nathaniel Pendleton, of the United States District Court for Georgia. Iredell and Pendleton shared the opinion that Georgia could not be sued by a citizen of South Carolina in the Circuit Court, but their reasons were different and they each wrote an opinion. [Mathis, p. 23]

December 15. The first ten amendments to the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights, were ratified.

1792  August 11. Chisholm decided to carry the case to the United States Supreme Court as Chisholm v. Georgia. For the state of Georgia the issues were a possible reduction of sovereignty and Chisholm’s asking for payment of $500,000 for the claim and damages. The Supreme Court convened for the hearing of the Chisholm case on August 11, 1792. The attorneys for the plaintiff were John Hallowell and Edmund Randolph, Attorney General of the United States. Georgia was not represented before the Court, so the plaintiff’s attorneys agreed to postpone the case until February 4, 1793. [Mathis, pp. 23-24]

1793 February 5.

The Chisholm case was taken under advisement from February 5 to February 18. On the latter date each of the five justices of the Supreme Court delivered a separate opinion. Chief Justice John Jay joined with John Blair, William Cushing, and James Wilson to make up the majority of the Court; Justice Iredell wrote the dissenting opinion. The decision of the Court was announced on February 19, the day following the delivery of the opinions. The Court ordered ‘that the plaintiff in this case do file his declaration on or before the first day of March next. Ordered, that certified copies of the said declaration be served on the Governor and Attorney General of the State of Georgia, on or before the first day of June next. Ordered, that unless the said State shall either in due form appear, or show cause to the contrary in this Court, by the first day of next Term, judgment by default shall be entered against the said State.’

Thus, the Court rejected the views of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and [John] Marshall, who as leading proponents of the ratification of the Constitution in 1788, insisted that a state, without its consent, could not be made a party defendant in the federal courts by a citizen of another state. [Mathis, pp. 24-25]

February 19.

There was an immediate and strong reaction against the Chisholm decision from all parts of the United States, due in large measure to the filing of suits against other states. On the day the Court issued its order, February 19, 1793, a resolution was introduced in the United States House of Representatives for an amendment to the Constitution. The following day a resolution for an amendment was introduced in the Senate. The resolutions did not pass. [Mathis, pp. 25-26]

August 5.

On August 5, 1793, Dallas and Jared Ingersoll appeared before the Supreme Court for [representing] Georgia to contend that judgment by default should not be entered against the state, and the following day the Court, with the consent of counsel for the plaintiff, postponed the order against Georgia. [Mathis, p. 26]

1794 January 2.

Although these resolutions [of February 1793] did not pass, a similar resolution for a constitutional amendment that had been introduced on January 2, 1794, was passed by the United States Senate on January 14 and by the House of Representatives on March 4. The proposed amendment was sent to the states for ratification. [Mathis, p. 26]

February 13.

On February 13, 1794, [Attorney General] Randolph moved that judgment be entered for the plaintiff, and on the following day the Court agreed, awarding a writ of inquiry for damages against the state of Georgia. [Mathis, p. 26]

June 9.

On June 9, 1794, Hallowell, attorney for the plaintiff, sent a letter to the governor of Georgia giving notice that the writ of inquiry for damages would be executed at the City Hall in Philadelphia on the first Monday in August of that year. [Mathis, p. 26]

August 5.

Then, on August 5, 1794, on the motion of counsel for the plaintiff, the Court provided that a jury would be summoned at its next session to inquire what damages the plaintiff should be awarded. The governor and attorney general of Georgia were to be given three months notice of the holding of the inquiry. The writ of inquiry for damages granted in the Chisholm case was never sued out or executed, even though the case was continued by the Court in each term until the docket was cleared of all suits against states commenced by citizens of another state following the case of Hollingsworth v. Virginia, decided at the February term of 1798. [Mathis, pp. 26-27]

December 9.

Probably the reason the writ of inquiry was not sued out before the adoption of the Eleventh Amendment was that Georgia settled the Farquhar claim on December 9, 1794. The settlement was made with Peter Trezevant, husband of Elizabeth Farquhar. Trezevant, in turn for a release in full of all Farquhar’s claims, received from the state eight audited certificates for the sum of just over L7,586. Trezevant sold three of the eight certificates to meet expenses but continued to hold five of them valued at L5,000. [Mathis, p. 27]

Peter Trezevant of the city of Charleston, State of South Carolina, now residing at Chester Terrace, Regent’s Park in the Kingdom of Great Britain declares that he was married to Elizabeth Willoughby Farquhar the only child of Captain Robert Farquhar deceased on the 13th September 1789. That the sd Peter Trezevant, prior to his marriage knew nothing of Captain Farquhar’s claim on the State of Georgia. That after his marriage he took the management of the business for recovery of said claim into his own hands under a Power of Attorney from Mr. Chisholm, the Executor. That he was previously engaged from 1789 to 1794 in the prosecution of the said claims and attended every meeting of the Legislative Body of the said State till he received the audited Certificates now in his possession or that of his Attorneys and gave a release. That his former Petitions to the Legislature were presented by himself and the suit in the United States court was conducted by John Houston, Esq. formerly Judge of Georgia, —- Stevens, Esq. afterwards Federal Judge of the District of Georgia, Samuel Stirk, Esq. of Savannah Attorney at Law, Seabourne Jones, Esq. also Attorney at Law in the State of Georgia, —- Carnes, Senr.Esq. also of Augusta in the State of Georgia. This deponent attended at every Suit till a Verdict was given in his favor. That the audited certificates never passed as currency. That soon after he received them disposed of certificates to the amount of L2588.10.1 at the rate of about 5s/ in the pound to raise money to pay the Expense that he had incurred in prosecuting his claims. That the value of said Certificates continually declined and he never could dispose of the others at all except as collateral Security for a loan and that he always kept the determination not to part with them unless compelled from pecuniary embarrassment not to accept from the State anything short of payment in full and did always calculate upon receiving Interest on the full amount. [“Depositions for J.L. Petigru (of Peter Trezevant, 1840),” p. 1]

1795 February 7.

The necessary three fourths of the states had ratified the [Constitutional] amendment by February 7, 1795. The Eleventh Amendment was proposed and ratified in the unusual time of less than two years following the Chisholm decision, although it was not proclaimed by the President as part of the Constitution until January 8, 1798. [Mathis, p. 26]

1798 January 8. President John Adams proclaimed the eleventh amendment to be part of the United States Constitution.

1799 Georgia legislature

An act of the Georgia legislature in 1799 provided that state certificates not renewed within two years would be deemed ‘fraudulent and forever barred.’ Apparently Trezevant was not even in the United States when the law was passed. Even though he was a resident of Charleston, South Carolina, during most of the time until 1826, Trezevant claimed not to have been in Georgia , nor even to have heard of the 1799 law until long past the time for renewing certificates. [Mathis, p. 27]

1808 Georgia legislature

In 1808 the legislature of Georgia enacted a law providing for the payment of state certificates at approximately one eighth of their face value. It was claimed that such provision would be a fair payment because of the depreciation of the currency. Trezevant did not choose to redeem his certificates at this reduced rate. In fact, he did not push redemption of the certificates until 1838, when, as a resident of London, England, on November 19 he presented a petition to the state senate. [Mathis, pp. 27-28]

1810 December 10. Alexander Chisholm, executor of the Robert Farquhar estate, died in Charleston at age seventy-two. Peter Trezevant was forty-two. He continued his efforts on behalf of the Farquhar estate.

1826 July 6. At age seventy-five John Farquhar (1751-1826), Robert’s brother, died in England. Elizabeth Farquhar Trezevant, as a niece, inherited a portion of his very large estate.

As a result of that inheritance Peter and Elizabeth Trezevant (ages 58 and 54, respectively) moved to London, England, where they maintained residence for the remainder of their lives. Peter Trezevant, however, continued his entreaties to the state of Georgia.

1838 December 24.

On December 24, 1838, the senate and house of representatives of Georgia passed a resolution that was signed by the governor on the following day calling for a commission of three ‘fit and proper persons’ to be appointed by the governor to investigate the claims of Trezevant and the other petitioners. The resolution provided ‘that the Commissioners be instructed to enquire particularly, if any demand was made for the payment of the amount due Farquhar, between the years 1777, and 1789, and at what time Stone and Davis [Davies] became insolvent, and whether Farquhar or his representatives, had any notice that the State had placed funds in the hands of Stone and Davis, to settle the debt on which said certificates were founded.’ [Mathis, p. 28]

1839 Legislative commission

The commissioners named were David C. Campbell, William Law, and Joseph H. Lumpkin, and in 1839 they made their report, but the part on the Trezevant claim was referred back to the commission by the governor for further investigation. [Mathis, p. 28]

1840 June 15. Depositions were done [or copied] by J.L. Pedigru of Peter Trezevant.

1841 November 13.

The revised report was not completed until November 13, 1841. The final report of the commission was favorable to the claim of Trezevant, recommending payment of the principal in full and interest since the petition was presented in 1838.

Following the report of the commission the Trezevant claim again was pushed before the Georgia legislature when a memorial [petition] was presented on November 17, 1841 [in the names of Peter Trezevant and his attorneys, James Hamilton and J.L. Petigru]. There was considerable opposition to even printing the petition for consideration, but eventually the legislators decided to hear the matter and give attention to the commission report. [Mathis, p. 28]

1843 December 4.

On December 4, l843, the Georgia senate committee on finance presented a resolution providing that the state issue bonds to pay Trezevant L5,00, at four dollars and forty-four cents to the pound, with six percent interest from January 1839. The committee also resolved that Georgia’s congressional delegation be requested to urge that the United States repay Georgia the amount of the Trezevant claim. Two weeks later, the finance committee of the Georgia house of representatives presented a majority report opposing the Trezevant claim. [Mathis, p. 28]

1845 December 30. At age 73 Elizabeth Farquhar Trezevant, the only child of Robert Farquhar, died at 31 Chester Terrace, Regent’s Park, London, England. Her remains were deposited in the vault of her uncle John Farquhar in St. John’s Wood Chapel in 1849.

1847 November 9.

On November 9, 1847, the Trezevant petition was again presented to the Georgia house. On November 20 a house committee issued a favorable report and proposed a bill for relief, which passed on December 18 by a vote of sixty-two to fifty-eight. A favorable committee report also had been made in the Georgia senate on November 17, and the bill for relief passed the senate on December 23 by a vote of twenty-eight to fourteen. [Mathis, p. 29]

Peter Trezevant had worked for fifty-eight years (1789-1847) for the resolution of the Farquhar case.

1854 21 June. At age 85 Peter Trezevant died at 21 Brunswick Square Hotel, Brighton, Sussex, England. He was buried in one of the catacombs in Lewis Cemetery near Brighton.

NOTE: For further information about Robert Farquhar and Peter and Elizabeth Trezevant, plus additional documentation related to Chisholm v. Georgia, see their biographical sketches in the Generation Chart tab on this website.


The jurisdictional question–did the Constitution make states answerable to action by a private party in a federal court–was the sole issue argued in the Chisholm case. [Swindler]

To this day, Chisholm stands as one of only a handful of Supreme Court rulings that have been overturned by constitutional amendment. Even more important, the Supreme Court has built on the repudiation of Chisholm to hold that the Eleventh Amendment exemplifies as sovereign-immunity principle that sweeps well beyond the amendment’s text. Invoking this principle, the court has sheltered states from almost all money-damage actions brought in any court, even when initiated by a state’s own residents based on clear violations of federal statutory law. [Coenen]


A Blockade Runner, A Bon Vivant, and the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution by Robert W. Trezevant (Carologue, Vol. 32, No. 2, Fall 2016, pp. 13-17).”

Note: Carologue is the quarterly general-interest magazine published by the South Carolina Historical Society, edited by Lauren Nivens.


Documents Donated to the South Carolina Historical Society

General Details of Facts

Table of Events

Peter Trezevant Deposition

Oct. 1777 List


Allen, Richard C. Email correspondence and phone interviews with Bob Trezevant. 2010-present. [Rick Allen, a native of Atlanta, Georgia, is a descendant of Charles Simmons Trezevant.  He now lives in western Montana.  As a trained historian, military veteran, and retired police officer, Rick has researched family history for decades.  He is especially adept at placing people and events in their larger social and political contexts.  Rick has provided me with the extensive reports and documentation that form the basis of many entries on this website.  And his enthusiasm and encouragement have given me the motivation to compile the site’s materials into a presentable form.  For all of that, I’m deeply grateful.  R.W.T.]

Coenen, Daniel T., “Chisholm v. Georgia (1793)” in The New Georgia Encyclopedia. Georgia Humanities Council and the University of Georgia Press, 2004.

Documents from England: Depositions for J.L. Petigru dated 15 June 1840 for the Counsel General of the U. States. South Carolina Historical Society, Charleston, SC. (typed transcription by Charles N. Gignilliat, Jr., n.d.)

“Farquhar.” Farquhar Family File. South Carolina Historical Society. Charleston, SC.     (typed monograph, author unknown, n.d.)

Hulsebosch, Daniel.  Email correspondence with Bob Trezevant and Rick Allen. 2015-present. [Daniel Hulsebosch, the Charles Seligson Professor of Law at New York University, is a legal and constitutional historian who has referenced Robert Farquhar and Chisholm v. Georgia in several publications.]

Lavelle, Brittany, “BVL Research 9/8/11 re addresses”: pdf.

Lavelle, Brittany, “BVL Chain-of-Title Research 2012-2015”: pdf.

Mathis, Doyle. “Chisholm v. Georgia: Background and Settlement.” Journal of American History, Vol. 54, No. 1 (1967): 19-29.

“Report of the Commissioners on the Petition of Peter Trezevant,” Milledgeville, 1842.  South Carolina Historical Society, Charleston, SC. (photocopy of the petition text of November 17, 1841, certified by the Georgia secretary of state on December 13, 1841).

Shortell, Christopher. Rights, Remedies, and the Impact of State Sovereign Immunity. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2008.  [This text, though not used in the foregoing presentation, gives the context for Chisholm v. Georgia and recounts the story of Robert Farquhar and Peter Trezevant (pp. 15-17, 36-39, and 54).  It also gives extensive coverage to subsequent legal situations involving state sovereign immunity.]

Swindler, William F. “Mr. Chisholm and the Eleventh Amendment.” Supreme Court Historical Society Yearbook, 1981.


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