Register of Debates in Congress, Comprising the Leading Debates and Incidents of the Second Session of the Eighteenth Congress Page: 147
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GALES & SEA TON'S REGISTER
H. of R.]
[Jan. 6, 1825.
to provide. There could be no difficulty as to the ab-
ttract principle of the case. The provision of the con-
stitution, which forbids the quartering of troops on the
citizens of the Urrted States, against their consent, un-
less in a manner to be prescribed by law, must be re-
spected. But the law of 1816 was not passed in obedi-
ence to the constitution—it was bottomed on a false as-
sumption, and it provided to pay for losses for which the
United States are not responsible. That law went on
the false assumption that the Government is bound by
every act of everyone of its officers—an assumption than
which none could be more erroneous. It took for grant-
ed, that what its officers did, in taking those buildings
by force, and quartering troops in them, was constitu-
tional, whereas, it was directly in the face of the constitu-
tion. If the Government is bound by every act of its
lowest officer, wha* is to become of the Treasury It
any and every act of a subaltern constitutes, at once, a
charge upon the funds of the Government, where is any
limit to the responsibility which it may be thus forced to
assume ? No Government on earth ran long be adminis-
tered if such a principle is once admitted. The acts of
these officers were clearly against both the law and the
constitution, and the Government was in no wise bound
by them. But < ongress considered the case as a hard
one: and it therefore was induced to pass the law of
1816, by which it established rules, according to which,
the proof of loss was to be taken—and one of its leading
provisions was, that, to entitle toindemnity.it should be
proved that the occupation was the cause of the de-
struction of the property. This provision, Mr. F. said,
was now by this bill to be done away. But, supposing,
the acts of the officers had been in strict accordance
with the constitution, what does the constitution direct,
in case of taking private property for the public use ?
It requires " just compensation'*—that is, compensation
for the time in which Government had the use of the
property, and compensation for any injury it may have
sustained in consequence of its occupation by Govern-
ment. The Government does not ensure the property
against all acts of the enemy, lawful and unlawful He
would illustrate this by a familiar example : a city is bom-
barded by the enemy, and defended by our own troops,
who occupy some of the houses as barracks—a bomb
falls on a house adjoining one of those thus occupied,
and, in consequence, the barrack catches fire, and is con-
sumed. Would the Government be liable in such a case?
The house was destroyed accidentally There was no
connection between the injury it sustained and its occu-
pancy by the United States ; and the Government would
be no more obligated to pay for the house which was
used as a barrack than for the house adjoining to it on
which the bomb fell. All the difficulty in the case of
the Niagara depredations was the want of proof that the
destruction was caused by the occupation; but, without
this, the claim against the Government could never be
made out. Now, it was said by s<>me, that the destruc
lion was in retaliation for acts of our own forces. By
others this was denied. It was a question of fact—and on
that point, the whole question turns. It may not be as-
sumed that the occupancy was the cause. He would
not, however, enter on that question ; it was a difficulty
which the House had shifted from its own shoulders,
and imposed on those of the Third Auditor.
Another reason of my opposition to the bill, said Mr.
P. is the limitation of the amount to be appropriated.
The claims are either just or unjust. If they are in
theirprinciple just, they ought to be paid, let the amount
be what it may. If they are unjust, they ought not to
be paid at all. Ifyou limit the sum you will grant, you
are not paying debts, but granting favors.
Upon the whole, he considered the bill as, in its prin-
ciple, tending to subvert the constitution, and in its prac-
tical tendency highly dangerous. It was founded on an
assumption that Government was responsible, when it
was not responsible, and responsible in a manner m
which it was not responsible
Mr STORKS acquiesced in the sentiment just ex-
pressed by the gentleman from Georgia, viz: that this
bill does not go so far as it ought to go j that, if all these
claimants who had a just demand upon the Government,
were to be paid, it would require a sum far greater than
that at which he had himself proposed to limit it He
did not believe that the bill would pay more than 50 or
60 per cent, of the amount of the claims. But, sir, said
Mr. S. f have seen these sufferers; I have conversed,
with them ; and so ruinous has been our delay of justice#
so long have their hopes and tears been sported with,
and such is the present situation of many among them,
that they are willing to take whatever you are at length
disposed to allow them. They are glad to get any thing
at our hands, rather than have your promise any longer
" Kept to their ear, but broken to their hope."
The bill before you is far from being as extensive in
it s operation as the gentleman from Georgia apprehends.
Let us meet the bill as it is, not as it is not.
As to the objection to the act of 18;6, Mr. S, said it
was one which he hardly knew in what way he ought to
attempt to answer. The gentleman had been opposed
to that net, as he bad himself informed the House, and
it could hardly be expected, therefor'-, that he should
be in favor of the present bdl. But, said Mr. S. let us
see what he himself proposes respecting slaves: he
would have the Government pay for all slaves impressed
during the last war, and afterwards lost [Mr. F explain-
ed that he did not refer to all who were impressed, but
to all who were impressed lawfully.*] As to the lawful-
ness of the acts of the officers of the Government being
requisite before the Government will pay or make repa-
ration for them, Mr. S. said there are precedents in abun-
dance on our statute books, which contradict such a doc-
trine. Here Mr. S. referred to the case of indemnity to
Major Austin, for damages obtained against him for acts
done in the discharge of an official duty, and to several
* llesprcting this part of the report, the following note, pub-
lished in the National Intelligencer, more exactly explains Mr.
Mr. FORSYTH requests Messrs- Gales. & Seaton to cor-
rect an error in their statement of Thursday's proceedings in
the House of Representatives. Mr. F. was in favor of Mr.
IjITTLk's amendment to give to all persons whose eases might
be covered by the bill before the House an opportunity of pro-
fiting by its provisions. The bid, as it stands, is limited in its
operation to cases which were presened to the Commissioner
for adjudication under the act of 1816, differing materially from
the bill under discussion.
Mr. F. is represented as interrupting Mr. Stoiirs, to ex-
plait, the motion to <idd a section for the payraeni of slaves im-
pressed into the public service No such explanation was made.
Mr. F. does not believe that any stave, or other property, was
lawfully impressed, during the late war, into the public service;
and, theretore, according to his opinion there is n obligation
to pay for them out of the public Treasury. Congress, how-
ever, proposing to consider ail impressment <>f p operty during
the war lawful, cannot make a distinction between different
species of property without injustice.
The act of 1816 established a principle, and the Legislative
body deliberately refused to make the application of it general.
As the subject was again under consideration, Mr. F. thought
it his duty to give the oportunit\ to those who believe the prin-
ciple correct, to apply it to a species of property heretofore ex-
cluded. The adoption or rejection of (.he amendment respect-
ing slaves would have made no difference in Mr. F's judgment
or vote on the act of 1816, or on the bill now before the House
of Representatives. It must be very obvious, however, that the
rejection of it must have excited that feeling always produced
by legislation which appears to be partial. Mr- Forsyth, by
Mr. Stojius' permission, made au explanation of an argument
used by him in the course of the discussion, which had not beea
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Gales, Joseph, 1761-1841. Register of Debates in Congress, Comprising the Leading Debates and Incidents of the Second Session of the Eighteenth Congress, book, 1825; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc30752/m1/78/: accessed May 26, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.