Grover Cleveland.

The writings and speeches of Grover Cleveland; (Volume 1) online

. (page 34 of 48)
Online LibraryGrover ClevelandThe writings and speeches of Grover Cleveland; (Volume 1) → online text (page 34 of 48)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


394 ON PENSIONS AND

applicants under the act was 22,297, and the number of pen-
sions actually allowed 20,485, costing, it is reported, for the
first year, $1,847,900, instead of $40,000, the estimated expense
for that period.

A law was passed in 1853 for the benefit of the surviving
widows of Revolutionary soldiers who were married after
January 1, 1800. It was estimated that they numbered 300 at
the time of the passage of the act ; but the number of pensions
allowed was 3742, and the amount paid for such pensions,
during the first year of the operation of the act, was $180,000
instead of $24,000, as had been estimated.

I have made no search for other illustrations, and the above,
being at hand, are given as tending to show that estimates can-
not be relied upon in such cases.

If none should be pensioned under this bill except those
utterly unable to work, I am satisfied that the cost stated in
the estimate referred to would be many times multiplied, and
with a constant increase from year to year ; and if those
partially unable to earn their support should be admitted to
the privileges of this bill, the probable increase of expense
would be almost appalling.

I think it may be said that at the close of the War of the
Rebellion, every Northern State and a great majority of North-
ern counties and cities were burdened with taxation on
account of the large bounties paid our soldiers ; and the
bonded debt, thereby created, still constitutes a large item in
the account of the tax-gatherer against the people. Federal
taxation, no less borne by the people than that directly levied
upon their property, is still maintained at the rate made nec-
essary by the exigencies of war. If this bill should become a
law, with its tremendous addition to our pension obligation, I
am thoroughly convinced that further efforts to reduce the
Federal revenue and restore some part of it to our people, will
and perhaps should be seriously questioned.

It has constantly been a cause of pride and congratulation



TO SOLDIERS' ORGANIZATION '.V. 395

to the American citizen that his country is not put to the
charge of maintaining a large standing army in time of peace.
Yet we are now livingunder a war tax which has been tolerated
in peaceful times to meet the obligations incurred in war. But
for years past, in all parts of the country, the demand for the
reduction of the burdens of taxation upon our labor and pro-
duction has increased in volume and urgency.

I am not willing to approve a measure presenting the objec-
tions to which this bill is subject, and which, moreover, will
have the effect of disappointing the expectation of the people
and their desire and hope for relief from war taxation in time
of peace.

In my last annual message the following language was
used :

Every patriotic heart responds to a tender consideration for those who,
having served their country long and well, are reduced to destitution and
dependence, not as an incident of their service, but with advancing age or
through sickness or misfortune. We are all tempted by the contemplation of
such a condition to supply relief, and are often impatient of the limitation of
public duty. Yielding to no one in the desire to indulge this feeling of con-
sideration, I cannot rid myself of the conviction that if these ex-soldiers are
to be relieved, they and their cause are entitled to the benefit of an enact-
ment, under which relief may be claimed as a right, and that such relief
should be granted under the sanction of law, not in evasion of it ; nor should
such worthy objects of care, all equally entitled, be remitted to the unequal
operation of sympathy- or the tender mercies of social and political influenct
with their unjust discriminations.

I do not think that the objects, the conditions, and the
limitations thus suggested are contained in the bill under
consideration.

I adhere to the sentiments thus heretofore expressed. But
the evil threatened by this bill is, in my opinion, such that,
charged with a great responsibility in behalf of the people, 1
cannot do otherwise than to bring to the consideration of this
measure my best efforts of thought and judgment, and perform



39 6 ON PENSIOArS AND

my constitutional duty in relation thereto, regardless of all
consequences, except such as appear to me to be related to the
best and highest interests of the country.

Grover Cleveland.
Executive Mansion,
Washington, February n, 1887.



VIII.

From the Message Vetoing the Loren Burritt Pension Bill,
February 21, 1887.

This bill was reported upon adversely by the House Com-
mittee on Pensions ; and they, while fully acknowledging the
distressing circumstances surrounding the case, felt constrained
to adverse action, on the ground, as stated in the language of
their report, that "there are many cases just as helpless and
requiring as much attention as this one, and were the relief
asked for granted in this instance it might reasonably be
looked for in all."

No man can check, if he would, the feeling of sympathy and
pity aroused by t'he contemplation of utter helplessness as the
result of patriotic and faithful military service. But in the
midst of all this, I cannot put out of mind the soldiers in this
condition who were privates in the ranks, who sustained the
utmost hardships of war, but who, because they were privates,
and in the humble walks of life, are not so apt to share in
special favors of Congressional action. I find no reason why
this beneficiary should be singled out from his class, except it
be that he was a lieutenant-colonel instead of a private.

I am aware of a precedent for the legislation proposed,
which is furnished by an enactment of the last session of Con-
gress, to which I assented, as I think improvidently; but I am
certain that exact equality and fairness in the treatment of our
veterans is after all more just, beneficent, and useful than un-
fair discrimination in favor of officers, or the special benefit,
born of sympathy, in individual cases.



TO SOLDIERS' ORGANIZATIONS. y)l

IX.

Letter to the Reunion of Union and ex-Confederate Soldiers held
at Gettysburg, July 2, 1887.

Executive M a.nsion,

Washington, June 24, 1887.
My Dear Sir :

I have received your invitation to attend, as a guest of the
Philadelphia Brigade, a reunion of ex-Confederate soldiers of
Pickett's Division who survived their terrible charge at Get-
tysburg, and those of the Union Army stdl living, by whom it
was heroically resisted.

The fraternal meeting of these soldiers upon the battlefield
where twenty-four years ago, in deadly affray, they fiercely
sought each other's lives, where they saw their comrades fall,
and where all their thoughts were of vengeance and destruc-
tion, will illustrate the generous impulse of brave men and
their honest desire for peace and reconciliation.

The friendly assault there to be made will be resistless,
because inspired by American chivalry; and its results will be
glorious, because conquered hearts will be its trophies of
success. Thereafter this battlefield will be consecrated by a
victory which shall presage the end of the bitterness of strife,
the exposure of the insincerity which conceals hatred by pro-
fessions of kindness, the condemnation of frenzied appeals to
passion for unworthy purposes, and the beating down of all
that stands in the way of the destiny of our united country.

While those who fought, and who have so much to forgive,
lead in the pleasant ways of peace, how wicked appear the
traffic in sectional hate and the betrayal of patriotic senti-
ment !

It surely cannot be wrong to desire the settled quiet which
lights for our entire country the path to prosperity and great-
ness ; nor need the lessons of the war be forgotten and its
results jeopardized in the wish for that genuine fraternity
which insures national pride and glory.



39 8 ON PENSIONS AND

I should be very glad to accept your invitation and be with
you at that interesting reunion, but other arrangements already
made and my official duties here will prevent my doing so.

Hoping that the occasion will be as successful and useful as
its promoters can desire,

I am, yours very truly,

Grower Cleveland.

Mr. John W. Frazier, Secretary, etc.



X.

Letter to the Mayor of St. Louis, Mo.

Executive Mansion,
Washington, July 4, 1887.
Hon. David R. Francis, Mayor and Chairman.

My Dear Sir : When I received the extremely cordial and
gratifying invitation from the citizens of St. Louis, tendered
by a number of her representative men, to visit that city during
the national encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic,
I had been contemplating for some time the acceptance of an
invitation from that organization to the same effect, and had
considered the pleasure which it would afford me, if it should
be possible, to meet not only members of the Grand Army, but
the people of St. Louis, and other cities in the West, which the
occasion would give me an opportunity to visit. The exac-
tions of my public duties I felt to be so uncertain, however,
that, when first confronted by the delegation of which you
were the head, I expected to do no more at that time than to
promise the consideration of the double invitation tendered
me, and express the pleasure it would give me to accept the
same thereafter, if possible. But the cordiality and sincerity
of your presentation, reinforced by the heartiness of the good
people who surrounded you, so impressed me that I could not
resist the feeling which prompted me to assure you on the
spot that I would be with you and the Grand Army of the



TO SOLDIERS' ORGANIZATIONS. 399

Republic at the time designated, if nothing happened in the
meantime absolutely to prevent my leaving Washington.

Immediately upon the public announcement of this conclu-
sion, expressions emanating from certain important members
of the Grand Army of the Republic, and increasing in volume
and virulence, constrained me to review my acceptance of
these invitations.

The expressions referred to go to the extent of declaring
that 1 would be an unwelcome guest at the tune and place of
the national encampment. This statement is based, as well as
I can judge, upon certain official acts of mine, involving im-
portant public interests, done under the restraints and obliga-
tions of my oath of office, which do not appear to accord with
the wishes of some members of the Grand Army of the Re-
public.

I refuse to believe that this organization, founded upon
patriotic ideas, composed very largely of men entitled to lasting
honor and consideration, and whose crowning glory it should
be that they are American citizens as well as veteran soldiers,
deems it a part of its mission to compass any object or pur-
pose by attempting to intimidate the Executive or coerce those
charged with making and executing the laws. And yet the
expressions to which I have referred indicate such a preva-
lence of unfriendly feeling and such a menace to an occasion
which should be harmonious, peaceful, and cordial, that they
cannot be ignored.

I beg you to understand that I am not conscious of any act
of mine which should make me fear to meet the Grand Army
of the Republic, or any other assemblage of my fellow-citizens.
The account of my official stewardship is always ready for
presentation to my countrymen.

I should not be frank if I failed to confess, while disclaiming
all resentment, that I have been hurt by the unworthy and
wanton attacks upon me growing out of this matter, and the
reckless manner in which my actions and motives have been
misrepresented both publicly and privately, for which, how-



400 ON PENSIONS AND

ever, the Grand Army of the Republic, as a body, is by no
means responsible.

The threats of personal violence and harm, in case I under-
took the trip in question, which scores of misguided, unbal-
anced men under the stimulation of excited feeling have made,
are not even considered.

Rather than abandon my visit to the West and disappoint
your citizens, I might, if I alone were concerned, submit to
the insults to which, it is quite openly asserted, L would be
helplessly subjected if present at the encampment; but I
should bear with me there the people's highest office, the
dignity of which I must protect ; and I believe that neither
the Grand Army of the Republic as an organization, nor any-
thing like a majority of its members, would ever encourage
any scandalous attacks upon it.

If, however, among the membership of this body there are
some, as certainly seems to be the case, determined to de-
nounce me and my official acts at the national encampment, I
believe they should be permitted to do so, unrestrained by my
presence as a guest of their organization, or as a guest of the
hospitable city in which their meeting is held.

A number of Grand Army posts have signified their inten-
tion, I am informed, to remain away from the encampment in
case I visit the city at that time. Without considering the
merits of such an excuse, I feel that I ought not to be the
cause of such non-attendance. The time and place of the en-
campment were fixed long before my invitations were received.
Those desiring to participate in its proceedings should be first
regarded, and nothing should be permitted to interfere with
their intentions.

Another consideration of more importance than all others
remains to be noticed. The fact was referred to by you when
you verbally presented the invitation of the citizens of St.
Louis, that the coming encampment of the Grand Army of the
Republic would be the first held in a Southern State. I sup-
pose this fact was mentioned as a pleasing indication of the



TO SOLDIERS' ORGANIZATIONS. 401

fraternal feeling fast gaining ground throughout the entire
land and hailed by every patriotic citizen as an earnest that
the Union has really and in fact been saved in sentiment and
in spirit, with all the benefits it vouchsafes to a united people.

I cannot rid myself of the belief that the least discord on
this propitious occasion might retard the progress of the senti-
ment of the common brotherhood which the Grand Army of
the Republic has so good an opportunity to increase and
foster. I certainly ought not to be the cause of such discord
in any event or upon any pretext.

It seems to me that you and the citizens of St. Lends are
entitled to this unreserved statement of the conditions which
have constrained me to forego my contemplated visit, and to
withdraw my acceptance of your invitation. My presence in
your city, at the time you have indicated, can be of but little
moment compared with the importance of a cordial and har-
monious entertainment of your other guests.

I assure you that I abandon my plan without the least per-
sonal feeling, except regret, constrained thereto by a sense of
duty, actuated by a desire to save any embarrassment to the
people of St. Louis or their expected guests, and with a
heart full of grateful appreciation of the sincere and unaffected
kindness of your citizens.

Hoping the encampment may be an occasion of much use-
fulness, and that its proceedings may illustrate the highest
patriotism of American citizenship,
I am,

Yours very sincerely,

Grover Cleveland.



XL



From the Message Vetoing the Mary Ann Dougherty Pension
Bill, July 5, 1 888.

I cannot spell out any principle upon which the bounty of
the government is bestowed through the instrumentalitv of



402 ON PENSIONS AND

the flood of private pension bills that reach me. The theory
seems to have been adopted that no man who served in the
army can be the subject of death or impaired health except
they are chargeable to his service. Medical theories are set
at naught and the most startling relation is claimed between
alleged incidents of military service and disability or death.
Fatal apoplexy is admitted as the result of quite insignificant
wounds, heart disease is attributed to chronic diarrhea, con-
sumption to hernia, and suicide is traced to army service in a
wonderfully devious and curious way.

Adjudications of the Pension Bureau are overruled in the
most peremptory fashion by the special acts of Congress, since
nearly all the beneficiaries named in these bills have unsuccess-
fully applied to that Bureau for relief.

This course of special legislation operates very unfairly.

Those with certain influence or friends to push their claims
procure pensions, and those who have neither friends nor in-
fluence must be content with their fate under general laws.
It operates unfairly by increasing, in numerous instances, the
pensions of those already on the rolls, while many other more
deserving cases, from the lack of fortunate advocacy, are
obliged to be content with the sum provided by general laws.

The apprehension may well be entertained that the freedom
with which these private pension bills are passed furnishes an
inducement to fraud and imposition, while it certainly teaches
the vicious lesson to our people that the treasury of the Na-
tional Government invites the approach of private need.

None of us should be in the least wanting in regard for the
veteran soldier, and 1 will yield to no man in a desire to see
those who defended the government when it needed defenders
liberally treated. Unfriendliness to our veterans is a charge
easily and sometimes dishonestly made.

I insist that the true soldier is a good citizen, and that he
will be satisfied with generous, fair, and equal consideration
for those who are worthily entitled to help.

T have considered the pension list of the Republic a roll of



TO SOI DIERS' ORGA VIZ I //< ' \ , i ,

honor, bearing names inscribed by national gratitude, and not
by improvident and indiscriminate alms-giving.

1 have conceived the prevention of the complete discredit

which must ensue from the unreasonable, unfair, and reckless
granting of pensions by special acts to be the best service I
can render our veterans.

In the discharge of what has seemed to me my duty as related
to legislation and in the interests of all the veterans of the
Union Army, I have attempted to stem the tide of improvi-
dent pension enactments, though 1 confess to a full share of
responsibility for some of these laws that should not have been
passed.

1 am far from denying that there are rases of merit which
cannot be reached except by special enactment ; but I do not
believe there is a member of either House of Congress who will
not admit that this kind of legislation has been carried too far.

I have now before me more than one hundred special pen-
sion bills which can hardly be examined within the time allowed
for that purpose.

My aim has been at all times, in dealing with bills of this
character, to give the applicant for a pension the benefit of
any doubt that might arise and which balanced the propriety
of granting a pension, if there seemed any just foundation for
the application ; but when it seemed entirely outside of every
rule, in its nature or the proof supporting it, I have supposed
I only did my duty in interposing an objection.

It seems to me that it would be well if our general pension
laws should be revised with a view of meeting every meritor-
ious case that can arise. Our experience and knowledge of
any existing deficiencies ought to make the enactment of a
complete pension code possible. In the absence of such a
revision, and if pensions are to be granted upon equitable
grounds and without regard to general laws, the present
methods would be greatly improved by the establishment of
some tribunal to examine the facts in every case and determine
upon the merits of the application.



404 ON PENSIONS AND

XII.

From the Message Vetoing the Theresa Herbst Pension Bill,
July 17, 1S88.

John Herbst, the husband of the beneficiary named in this
bill, enlisted August 26, 1S62. He was wounded in the
head at the battle of Gettysburg, July 2, 1863. He re-
covered from this wound, and on the 19th clay of August,
1864, was captured by the enemy. After his capture he
joined the Confederate forces, and in 1865 was captured by
General Stoneman, while in arms against the United States
Government. He was imprisoned and voluntarily made known
the fact that he formerly belonged to the Union Army. Upon
taking the oath of allegiance and explaining that he deserted
to the enemy to escape the hardship and starvation of prison
life, he was released and mustered out of the service on the
nth day of October, 1865.

He was regularly borne on the Confederate muster-rolls for
probably nine or ten months. No record is furnished of the
number of battles in which he fought against the soldiers of
the Union, and we shall never know the death and the wounds
which he inflicted upon his former comrades in arms. He
never applied for a pension, though it is claimed now that at
the time of his discharge he was suffering from rheumatism
and dropsy, and that he died in 1868 of heart disease. If such
disabilities were incurred in military service they were likely
the result of exposure in the Confederate Army ; but it is not
improbable that this soldier never asked a pension because he
considered that the generosity of his government had been
sufficiently taxed when the full forfeit of his desertion was not
exacted.

The greatest possible sympathy and consideration are due
to those who bravely fought, and, being captured, as bravely
languished in rebel prisons. But I will take no part in putting
a name upon our pension-roll which represents a Union soldier
found fighting against a cause he swore he would uphold ;



TO SOLDIERS' ORGANIZATIONS. 4°5

nor should it be for a moment admitted that such desertion
and treachery are excused when they avoid the rigors of
honorable capture and confinement. It would have been a
sad condition of affairs if every captured Union soldier had
deemed himself justified in fighting against his government
rather than to undergo the privations of capture.



XIII.



From the Fourth Annual Message to Congress,
December, 1888.

I am thoroughly convinced that our general pension laws
should be revised and adjusted to meet, as far as possible in
the light of our experience, all meritorious cases. The fact
that one hundred and two different rates of pensions are paid
cannot, in my opinion, be made consistent with justice to the
pensioners or to the government ; and the numerous private
pension bills that are passed, predicated upon the imperfection
of general laws, while they increase in many cases existing
inequality and injustice, lend additional force to the recom-
mendation for a revision of the general laws on this subject.

The laxity of ideas prevailing among a large number of our
people regarding pensions is becoming every day more marked.
The principles upon which they should be granted are in
danger of being altogether ignored, and already pensions are
often claimed because the applicants are as much entitled as
other successful applicants, rather than upon any disability
reasonably attributable to military service. If the establish-
ment of vicious precedents be continued, if the granting of
pensions be not divorced from partisan and other unworthy
and irrelevant considerations, and if the honorable name of
veteran unfairly becomes by these means but another term
for one who constantly clamors for the aid of the Government,
there is danger that injury will be done to the fame and



406 ON PENSIONS AND

patriotism of many whom our citizens all delight to honor,
and that a prejudice will be aroused unjust to meritorious
applicants for pensions.



XIV.

To a Pennsylvania Grand Army Post.

New York, October 24, 1889.
E. W. Fosnot, Esq.

Dear Sir : Applications such as you make in your letter of
the 22d instant are so numerous that it is impossible to comply
with them all. You ask that Mrs. Cleveland or I shall contribute
something to be " voted off " at the coming fair to be held by
Post 176, of the Grand Army of the Republic, Department of
Pennsylvania, and you state that the purpose of the fair is to in-
crease the charity fund of the Post.

I do not know what your idea is as to the thing which we
should send, and do not care to assume that anything which
we might contribute to be *' voted off " would be of especial
value to the cause for which the fair is to be held. But it is so
refreshing, in these days when the good that is in the Grand
Army of the Republic is often prostituted to the worst pur-
poses, to know that at least one Post proposes, by its efforts,
to increase its efficiency as a charitable institution, that 1



Online LibraryGrover ClevelandThe writings and speeches of Grover Cleveland; (Volume 1) → online text (page 34 of 48)