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NAVY PENSION FUND.
FEBRUARY 18, 1931.
Mr. HOFFMAN, from the Committee on Naval Affairs, made the following
The Committee on Naval Affuirs, to whom has been referred the memorials of several persons, praying a pension to be made chargeable on the Navy Pension Fund, report:
That they have had under consideration the subject of the said fund, and the pensions chargeable thereon, and herewith report a bill upon the sub ject.
This fund was created by the 9th section of the act of March 2, 1799, (vol. 3, p. 250,) which was repealed by the “ Act for the better government of the Navy of the United States,” of April 23, 1800, (vol. 3, p. 361,) the ninth section of which enacts:
“ That all money accruing, or which has already accrued, to the United States from the sale of prizes shall be and remain for ever a fund for the payment of pensions and half pay, should the same be hereafter granted to the officers and seamen who may be entitled to receive the same; and if the said fund shall be insufficient for the purpose, the public faith is hereby pledged to make up the deficiency; but if it should be more than sufficient, the surplus shall be applied to the making further provision for the comfort of the disabled officers, seamen, and marines, and for such as though not disabled may merit, by their bravery, or long and faithful services, the gratitude of their country.”
This fund was, therefore, intended for three purposes. .
The first of these was, with the pledge of the public faith to support it, to provide pensions and half pay to officers, seamen, and marines, disabled by wounds in the line of their duty; and this intention was executed in the 8th section of the same act, which declares:
“ That every officer, seaman, and marine, disabled in the line of his duty, shall be entitled to receive for life, or during his disability, a pension from the United States, according to the nature and degree of his disability, not exceeding one-half of his monthly pay.
Article second of these intentions is out of the surplus of the fund to make further provision for the disabled officers, seamen, and marines, and was executed in the provisions of the act of April 16, 1816, vol. 6, p. 66, section 7, which enacts, “ that, in cases where the allowance of the hall monthly pay which may now be granted by law to officers, seamen, and marines, disabled in the service of the United States, shall, in the opinion of the Commissioners of the Navy Pension Fund, from the nature and extent of the disability, and the situation of the party disabled, be inadequate to his necessary subsistence, the said Commissioners shall be, and hereby are, authorized, in their discretion, to increase such allowance to any sum not exceeding the full amount of the monthly pay, to which the party so disabled was by law entitled in the said service."
The following are special cases for disabled persons, specifying the essential particulars of each case:
Capt. S. Harding: act, Feb. 6, 1807, vol. 4, p. 78: at half his monthly pay to take effect from January 1, 1804, as stated in the act, “ who has been se disabled in the line of his duty while in service, that he is unable to support himself by labor.”
Capt. Abraham Whipple: act, Dec. 12, 1811, vol. 4, p. 363: at half monthly pay to commence January 1, 1810, for the same cause above quoted.
William Munday: April 16, 1816, vol. 6, p. 60: at $20 a month for “ the loss of both his arms in an attack on the enemy at Leonard's creek on the 28th day of June, 1814, in lieu of the pension to which he is now entitled by law.”
James Merril: act of May 4, 1820, vol. 6, p. 494: to be placed on the navy pension list, to take effect from Oct. 23, 1819, “ who, whilst engaged in the discharge of his duty as an ordinary seaman on board the United States' ship Adams in the month of May, 1814, was accidentally injured by felling from the gun deck into the hold of the ship, which injury has disabled him from obtaining a subsistence by his labor."
Willium Thompson: act of May 20, 1926, vol. 7, p. 500: "a seaman who was wounded on board the cutter Louisiana, August 10, 1819, with a musket ball,” to be placed "upon the pension list in the same manner, and upon the same terms, as if he had received the said wound in the naval service of the United States.”
In the act of July 26, 1813, (vol. 4, p. 579,) to authorize the President to raise a corps of sea-fencibles, of not exceeding ten companies, for a term not exceeding one year, to be employed on land or water for the defence of ports and harbors, sec. 4, it is enacted, " that the officers, warrant officers, boatswains, and men, raised pursuant to this act, shall be entitled to the like compensation, in case of disability incurred by wounds or otherwise in the service of the United States, as officers, warrant officers, and seamen, in the present naval establishment.”
The act of April 18, 1814, (vol. 4, p. 690,) enacts, “that the officers and seamen of the revenue cuiters of the United States, who have been, or may be, wounded or disabled in the discharge of their duty, whilst co-operating with the navy, by order of the President of the United States, shall be entitled to be placed on the navy pension list, at the same rate of pension, and under the same regulations and restrictions, as are now provided by law for the officers and seamen of the navy."
In relation to some of these special cases, and the two last cited acts, and especially that respecting sea-fencibles, the committee will remark, that the legislation of Congress has appropriated the moneys of the fund for purposes for which it is thought those of the general treasury should have been taken; and certainly it could not have been the intention of Congress, in enacting the ninth section of the act of April 23, 1800, to apply the moneys of the
sund to persons who could not, in the course of their services, be expected to contribute to the fund by captures of prizes.
The eighth section of the act of April 23, 1800, and the seventh section of the act of April 16, 1816, appear to have carried the first and second intentions of the ninth section of the act of 1800 into full effect, and have made ample provision for disabled officers, seamen, and marines.
The third intention of the ninth section of the act of April 23, 1800, is out of the surplus of the fund to make provision for such officers, seamen, and marines, as, “though not disabled, may merit, by their bravery, or long and faithful services, the gratitude of their country.” Although every thing in the history of the naval service has called as strongly for such a provision as it is supposed future circumstances ever can, the committee find only one instance of the kind in more than a quarter of a century. For that cause, clearly expressed in the act of March 2, 1821, (vol 6, p. 558,) Congress directed captain Samuel Tucker to be placed upon the navy list of invalid pensioners of the United States, at the rate of twenty dollars a month, to commence from January 1, 1818. With this solitary exception, the committee find that intention wholly unexecuted.
The legislation of Congress does not show, very distinctly, why this purpose has been abandoned. The pursuit of it would at once have made provision for the veteran whose life had been devoted to his country, until age had palsied his limbs; and, retiring to enjoy the bounty of his country, younger men, in the prime of life, the vigor of intelligence, and warm with the love of glory, would have supplied his place, and strengthened the naval service. The committee must, therefore, regard the abandonment of this intention, under such circumstances, as expressive of a reluctance in Congress, which they cannot expect to be able to remove.
Indeed, the whole purpose of Congress appears to have been changed; and much of the surplus of the fund has been appropriated to pay pensions to widows and children. The reasons for this change existed most strongly in the difficulties of the late war; and the power to make it may perhaps be found in the consideration that the prizes and money arising from them are the property of the United States, who are, therefore, as well the founders and donors of the fund as its governors. Congress seem to have considered the fund as entirely subject to legislation; but it is fair to presume that all its legislation on this subject has been designed to secure a more ready engagement in the service, or faithful and fearless discharge of duty in it.
The committee will now, as briefly as may be, refer to the several acts granting as well as those renewing pensions to widows and children, chargeable on this fund.
The first of these is the act of January 20, 1813, vol. 4, page 486, which enacts, that, “ if any officer of the navy or marines shall be killed, or die by reason of a wound received in the line of his duty, leaving a widow, or, if no widow, a child or children under sixteen years of age, such widow, or, if no widow, such child or children shall be entitled to receive half the monthly pay to which the deceased was entitled at the time of his death, which allowance shall continue for and during the term of five years; but, in the case of the death or intermarriage of such widow before the ex piration of the said term of five years, the half pay for the remainder shall go to the child or ch ldren of the said deceased officer: Provided, That such half pay shall cease, on the death of such child or children,” to be paid out of the navy pension fund. The act of March 4, 1814, vol. 4, page 653,
Thavy pensia, a.child or erved in the
section 2d, enacts, “ that if any sea man or marine belonging to the navy of the United States shall die, or if any officer, seaman, or marine, belonging to the navy of the United States, shall have died since the eighteenth day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and twelve, by reason of a wound received in the line of his duty, leaving a widow, or, if no widow, a child or children,” &c., and directs them to be placed on the navy pension list, as in the act above quoted.
The only other act granting pensions to widows and children, is that of March 3, 1817, vol. 6, p. 212, which extends these pensions on like terms and conditions to the widows and children of any officer, seaman, or marine, “who shull die, or shall have died since the 18th day of June, 1812, in consequence of disease contracted, or of casualties or injuries received while in the line of his duty.” And this act was repealed in a special manner by the 2d section of the act of January 22, 1824, vol. 7, p. 213, which enacts, " that, from and after the passing of this act," the act of March 3, 1817, “be, and the same is hereby, repealed: Provided, however, that nothing in this act contained shall be construed to prevent the payment of any persion already granted, until the full expiration of the period thereof; nor to affect or impair the rights of any person or persons which may have accrued during the existence of the act hereby repealed, as aforesaid.”
Although some contrariety in the decisions granting, renewing, or refusing pensions to widows and children, under these and other acis, may be found, the committee believe that these general rules have been adopted and intended to be adhered to. First, that, under the three above acts, the right of the claimant to the pension became vested on the death of the husband or father from any of the causes specified in the acts; and, second, that the pension began to run from that death, though the proof was not made, or the claim asserted, until long afterwards. On these principles, where the death occurred before the repeal by the act of January 22, 1824, the pension for a death by any disease contı ucted, or casualty or injury received in the line of duty, under the act of March 3, 1817, would be granted, though the claim was made after the repeal; and though the death may not have happened until after the repeal, yet, if the disease was contracted or the casualty or injury causing it was received before the repeal, it will appear, by an examination of some of the cases, that the right to the pension has been considered as saved by the proviso to the 2d section of the repealing act; but it is difficult to maintain such a construction, though the committee, in the bill they report, do not intend to affirm or deny this forced construction.
Three several acts have been passed, extending, each for a term of five years, certain of these pensions to widows and children. The act of March 3, 1819, enacts, “ that, in all cases where provision has been made by law for five years' half pay to the widows and children of officers, seamen, and marines, who were killed in battle, or died of wounds received in batile, or who died in the naval service of the United States during the late war, the said provision shall be continued for the additional term of five years, to commence at the end of the first term of five years, in each case respectively, making the provision equal to ten years' hall pay,” to be paid out of the pension fund, with like limitations as in the acts granting these pensions.
The most liberal construction of which this act appears susceptible, is, hat it renews the pension to the widows and children where the husband or father, first, was at any time killed in battle, second, at any time died of wounds received in battle, or, thirdly, at any time DURING THE LATE WAR died of disease contracted, or casually or injury received in the line of duty. But a reference to the cases decided under this act, and those passed subsequently, and both similar and dependent on it, will, it is believed, show that this construction has at times been superseded by one either entirely more enlarged or somewhat more restraining. At present it is believed that the restraining clause, during the late war, is held to apply equally to the three members of the sentence in which it occurs-a safe construction in practice, and which the committee do not seek to disturb.
The act of January 22, 1924, vol. 7, p. 213, section 1st, extends these pensions, on like terms and limitations, for a further term of five years, making fifteen years' provision in all cases where the husband or father was killed in battle, or died in the naval service of the United States during the late war, “ and also in all cases where provision has been made for extending the term for five years in addition to the first term of five years," and the act of May 23, 1828, laws 20th Congress 1st session, p. 65, in substantially the same words, extends the same pensions, on like terms, for the further term of five years, making a term of twenty years to all the pensions whose case comes within the provision of these extending acts.
The committee will not detain the House by any further comments on the variant and discordant constructions given at different times to these acts. They will sufficiently appear in the printed documents, and would probably be more apparent, if the cause for which a pension has been granted or renewed could be ascertained in every case, or if the causes and grounds of applications denied could be known.
The committee will now refer, with all practicable brevity, to a few anomalous cases of pensions to widows charged on this fund.
A pension for five years, on the usual limitations, was granted by the act of May 16, 1826, vol. 7, p. 475, to Peneloply Denny, the mother of James Denny, late a quartergunrer in the navy, killed in battle, without leaving a widow or issue, and at the time of his death contributing by an allotment of part of his pay to the support of his poor aged and infirm mother, then a widow. A like pension for like cause was afterwards granted to Elizabeth Mays, by the act of March 25, 1830, laws 1st session 21st Congress, p. 40, to commence September 3, 1829. No pension of this description has been renewed; and, in the opinion of the committee, sound policy does not require that they should be extended.
The act of April 12, 1814, vol. 4. p. 680, directs that Mary Cheever, should, from that time, be paid out of the navy pension fund, during her lise, twenty-five dollars, quarter-yearly, “as a gratuity from Congress, on account of the distinguished bravery and services of her two sons, John Cheever and Joseph Cheever, who were seamen on board the frigate Constitution, and who were slain at the capture of the British frigate Java."
That such devotion to the service of the country, as was exhibited in the life and death of these seamen, should be rewarded with that most durable of all monuments—a record in the statute books of a free people, is natural and right; but it is to be regretted that Congress should divert this fund to the purpose of gratuities, even to the mother of such children, when they had at their disposal the general treasury.