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eral kindness of feeling, can indulge in such a tone of triumphant irony towards a few old, gray-headed, poor, and broken warriors of the Revolution! There is, I know, something repulsive and opprobrious in the name of pension. But God forbid that I should taunt them with it! With grief, heart-felt grief, do I behold the necessity which leads these veterans to accept the bounty of their country, in a manner not the most agreeable to their feelings. Worn out and decrepit, represented before us by those, their former brothers in arms, who totter along our lobbies, or stand leaning on their crutches, I, for one, would most gladly support such a measure as should consult at once their services, their years, their necessities, and the delicacy of their sentiments. I would gladly give, with promptitude and grace, with gratitude and delicacy, that which merit has earned and necessity demands.
Sir, what are the objections urged against this bill? Let us look at them, and see if they be real; let us weigh them, to know if they be solid; for we are not acting on a slight matter, nor is what we do likely to pass unobserved now, or to be forgotten hereafter. I regard the occasion as one full of interest and full of responsibility. Those individuals, the little remnant of a gallant band, whose days of youth and manhood were spent for their country in the toils and dangers of the field, are now before us, poor and old, -intimating their wants with reluctant delicacy, and asking succor from their country with decorous solicitude. How we shall treat them it behooves us well to consider, not only for their sake, but for our own sake also, and for the sake of the honor of the country. Whatever we do will not be done in a corner. Our constituents will see it; the people will see it; the world will see it.
Let us candidly examine, then, the objections which have been raised to this bill, with a disposition to yield to them, if from necessity we must, but to overcome them, if in fairness we can.
In the first place, it is said that we ought not to pass the bill, because it will involve us in a charge of unknown extent. We are reminded, that, when the general pension law for Revolutionary soldiers passed, an expense was incurred far beyond what had been contemplated; that the estimate of the number of surviving Revolutionary soldiers proved altogether fallacious; and that, for aught we know, the same mistake may be committed now.
Is this objection well founded? Let me say, in the first place, that if one measure, right in itself, has gone farther than it was intended to be carried, for want of accurate provisions and adequate guards, this may furnish a very good reason for supplying such guards and provisions in another measure, but can afford no ground at all for rejecting such other measure altogether, if it be in itself just and reasonable. We should avail ourselves of our experience, it seems to me, to correct what has been found amiss; and not draw from it an undistinguishing resolution to do nothing, merely because it has taught us, that, in something we have already done, we have acted with too little care. In the next place, does the fact bear out this objection? Is there any difficulty in ascertaining the number of the officers who will be benefited by this bill, and in estimating the expense, therefore, which it will create ? I think there is none. The records in the department of war and the treasury furnish such evidence that there is no danger of material mistake. The diligence of the chairman of the committee has enabled him to lay the facts connected with this part of the case so fully and minutely before the Senate, that I think no one can feel serious doubt. Indeed, it is admitted by the adversaries of the bill, that this objection does not apply here with the same force as in the former pension-law. It is admitted that there is a greater facility in this case than in that, in ascertaining the number and names of those who will be entitled to receive that bounty.
This objection, then, is not founded in true principle; and if it were, it is not sustained by the facts. I think we ought not to yield to it, unless, (which I know is not the sentiment which pervades the Senate,) feeling that the measure ought not to pass, we still prefer not to place our opposition to it on a distinct and visible ground, but to veil it under vague and general objections.
In the second place, it has been objected that the operation of the bill will be unequal, because all officers of the same rank will receive equal benefit from it, although they entered the army at different times, and were of different ages. Sir, is not this that sort of inequality which must always exist in every general provision. Is it possible that any law can descend into such particulars? Would there be any reason why it should do so, if it could ? The bill is intended for those who, being in the army in October, 1780, then received a solemn promise of half-pay for life, on condition that they would continue to serve through the war. Their ground of merit is, that, whensoever they joined the army, being thus solicited by their country to remain in it, they at once went for the whole; they fastened their fortunes to the standards which they bore, and resolved to continue their military service till it should terminate either in their country's success or in their own death. This is their merit and their ground of claim. How long they had been already in service, is immaterial and unimportant. They were then in service; the salvation of their country depended on their continuing in that service. Congress saw this imperative necessity, and earnestly solicited them to remain, and promised the compensation. They saw the necessity also, and they yielded to it.
But, again, it is said that the present time is not auspicious. The bill, it is urged, should not pass now. The venerable member from North Carolina says, as I understood him, that he would be almost as willing that the bill should pass at some other session, as be discussed at this. He speaks of the distresses of the country at the present moment, and of another bill, now in the Senate, having, as he thinks, the effect of laying new taxes upon the people. He is for postponement. But it appears to me, with entire respect for the honorable member, that this is one of the cases least of all fit for postponement. It is not a measure that, if omitted this year, may as well be done next. Before the next year comes, some of those who need the relief may be beyond its reach. To postpone for another year an annuity to persons already so aged, — an annuity founded on the merit of services which were rendered half a century ago, — to postpone to another whole year a bill for the relief of deserving men, - proposing, not aggrandizement, but support, not emolument, but bread, — is a mode of disposing of it in which I cannot concur.
But it is argued, in the next place, that the bill ought not to pass, because those who have spoken in its favor have placed it on different grounds. They have not agreed, it is said, whether it is to be regarded as a matter of right, or matter of gratuity, or bounty. Is there weight in this objection? If some think the grant ought to be made, as an exercise of judicious and well-deserved bounty, does it weaken that ground that others think it founded in strict right, and that we cannot refuse it without manifest and palpable injustice ? Or is it strange that those who feel the legal justice of the claim should address to those who do not feel it considerations of a different character, but fit to have weight, and which they hope may have weight? Nothing is more plain and natural than the course which this application has taken. The applicants themselves have placed it on the ground of equity and law. They advert to the resolve of 1780, to the commutation of 1783, and to the mode of funding the certificates. They stand on their contract. This is perfectly natural. On that basis they can present the argument themselves. Of what is required by justice and equity, they may reason, even in their own case. But when the application is placed on different grounds; when personal merit is to be urged as the foundation of a just and economical bounty; when services are to be mentioned, privations recounted, pains enumerated, and wounds and scars referred to, the discussion necessarily devolves upon others. In all that we have seen from these officers in the various papers presented by them, it cannot but be obvious to every one how little is said of personal merit, and how exclusively they confine themselves to what they think their rights under the contract.
I must confess, Sir, that principles of equity, which appear to me as plain as the sun, are urged by the memorialists them. selves with great caution, and much qualification. They advance their claim of right without extravagance or overstraining; and they submit to it the unimpassioned sense of justice of the Senate.
For myself, I am free to say, that, if it were a case between individual and individual, I think the officers would be entitled to relief in a court of equity. I may be mistaken, but such is my opinion. My reasons are, that I do not think they had a fair option in regard to the commutation of half-pay. I do not think it was fairly in their power to accept or reject that offer. The condition they were in, and the situation of the country, compelled them to submit to whatever was proposed. In the next place, it seems to me too evident to be denied, that the five years' full pay was never effectually received by them. A formal compliance with the terms of the contract, not a real compliance, is at most all that ever took place. For these reasons, I think, in an individual case, law and equity would reform the settlement. The conscience of chancery would deal with this case as with other cases of hard bargains; of advantages obtained by means of inequality of situation; of acknowledged debts, compounded from necessity, or compromised without satisfaction. But although such would be my views of this claim, as between man and man, I do not place my vote for this bill on that ground. I see the consequence of admitting the claim, on the foundation of strict right. I see at once, that, on that ground, the heirs of the dead would claim, as well as the living; and that other public creditors, as well as these holders of commutation certificates, would also have whereof to complain. I know it is altogether impossible to open the accounts of the Revolution, and to think of doing justice to every body. Much of suffering there necessarily was, that can never be paid for; much of loss that can never be repaired. I do not, therefore, for myself, rest my vote on grounds leading to any such consequences. I feel constrained to say, that we cannot do, and ought not to think of doing, every thing in regard to Revolutionary debts which might be desirable, if the whole settlement were now to be gone over anew.
The honorable member from New York has stated what I think the true ground of the bill. I regard it as an act of discreet and careful bounty, drawn forth by meritorious services and by personal necessities. I cannot argue, in this case, with the technicality of my profession; and because I do not feel able to allow the claim on the ground of mere right, I am not willing, for that reason, to nonsuit the petitioners, as not having made out their case. Suppose we admit, as I do, that, on the ground of mere right, it would not be safe to allow it; or, suppose that to be admitted for which others contend, that there is in the case no strict right upon which under any circumstances, the claim could stand; still it does not follow that there is no reasonable and proper foundation for it, or that it ought not to be granted. If it be not founded on strict right, it is not to be regarded as being, for that reason alone, an undeserved gratuity,
* Mr. Van Buren.