NATIONAL EXPENDITURE FOR THE PAYMENT OF CLAIMS.
1. Nature of claims against the government.
2. Mode of determining their validity by a committee.
3. Organization of the Court of Claims.
4. Pension claims.
5. French spoliation claims.
6. Civil War claims.
7. Indian depredation claims.
8. Congress still acts on claims.
9. How Congress ought to act on them.
Reasons on which Congress acts in paying claims.
1. Besides the expenditures already mentioned, large aims are authorized at every session of Congress to be paid to various claimants against the Government. One of the peculiarities of a public claim is its immortality; Ito statute ever bars its collection.' Indeed, the age of a claim is often helpful to its owner, because evidence of its Worthlessness has disappeared. Many a claim is paid whose fraudulent character could have been easily proved had it been presented for payment at an early date.
2. Claimants began to present claims from the very beginning of the National Government. A committee on Claims was appointed to examine all presented and to re port thereon. One can readily see what an imperfect tribunal is a committee of Congress for investigating such matters. The mode of proceeding is somewhat similar to that of a court; witnesses are examined and documents read. But the committees are composed of men charged with other duties ; and so, however good may be their intention, they have not the time to conduct their work in a thorough manner.
3. This became so evident to members of Congress that in 1855 a Court of Claims was organized, to which many claims have been referred. But as Congress is not thereby prevented from investigating claims, a large number are always pending before that body, 4. One class relates to pensions which are claims re jected by the Pension Department because of fraud or imperfection in proof. Some of them doubtless have merit and are worthy of recognition by the Government. Other requests are presented, for example, by the widows of officers in the army and navy who have died since the Civil War.
5. The French spoliation claims have been pending for more than a hundred years. In 1885 a bill was passed referring them to the Court of Claims to determine what was due to claimants, or to their assignees. Claims to the amount of $1,258,46o have been paid by authority of Congress, and judgments amounting to as much more are awaiting the action of that body. The aggregate amount is supposed to be about 6. Another class of claims relates to losses incurred during the Civil War through the depredations of the Union armies. One of the essentials of such a claim is loyalty on the part of the sufferer. The amount has been estimated at $22,000,000.
7. Another class of claims are known as the Indian depredation claims. They are made against Indians for property unlawfully taken by them through theft or by open attacks, or in other ways. Congress has ordered the ascertainment of the amount and its deduction from the sums due to the offending tribes. The Government has been paying the amounts awarded to claimants, but has hesitated to deduct them from Indian funds in its possession, and probably never will.
8. Every year Congress appropriates money for the settlement of claims, the payment of which is recom mended by the Court of Claims or by committees of Congress. One day in the week, Friday, is devoted by the rules of the House to this business. It is asserted that there are many claims against the Government which have never been presented. These, to some extent, offset the claims paid possessing very little merit.
9. A different method ought to be speedily adopted of dealing with the vast body of claims, either for money or land, now awaiting the action of Congress. If a claim has been examined in any judicial proceeding without finding a just foundation, or has been examined and re ported adversely by a committee of either the Senate or House, surely Congress ought not to take favorable ac tion before making still more critical inquiry. If the presentation of a claim has been long delayed, or adverse action has been taken by Congress on more than one occasion, its doubtful merit is emphasized. We would suggest, first, that on every claim which is the subject of special investigation there should be a report, and if an appropriation or other action is recommended, this should be taken by a separate bill, and never by one of the reg ular appropriation bills ; second, that such action be taken within sixty days from the opening of a session, because (a) if it is worthy, its recognition and adjust ment ought to be no longer delayed, and because (b) the latter part of every session ought to be devoted wholly to public matters ; third, a claim that has been once ex amined and rejected by a competent tribunal ought not to receive the approval of Congress without a vote of two-thirds or other large majority of all the members present, or of the entire number; fourth, Congress ought not to examine into the merits of a particular claim which has not been before the Court of Claims or some commission appointed to inquire into its validity; fifth, if enough tribunals do not exist for making these in quiries, they should be established to the end that just claimants may get their deserts and Congress be relieved of thousands of bills that now choke every calendar, de lay action on more general measures, and cause constant and heated struggles between members to secure prece dence for measures affecting particular constituents. If
this were done, another gain, too important to be omitted, would be the saving to character, for many a reputation has been tarnished by advocating claims, on which both justice and expediency frowned, rather than incur the displeasure of some unreasonable constituent.
1o. Among the unknown elements in Congress, when acting on claims, are those of sympathy and regard for claimants. A large number of claims are favorably con sidered chiefly because the claimant is old or in need, or has rendered at some time or other a service to his coun try. It cannot be said that appropriations based on such reasons are tainted with corruption. They are rather in the nature of gifts or donations. As the nioney does not come out of the pockets of the donors, and the people, so it is thought, will never miss the amounts paid, in truth, in many cases will never know what has been done, Congress is moved to favorable action. Of course, appropriations for many claims are based on just grounds; in other cases on none whatever. In the latter class of claims favorable action is secured by persistent efforts, which are rewarded by sharing in the plunder. One of the best known methods of securing payment of them is by combining the supporters of enough claims to overcome all opposition. This is the most dangerous method now in vogue in legislation, setting aside, as it effectually does, the consideration of each measure on its merits and paralyzing the action of those who other wise would act independently and oppose improper measures.' 'The Chouteau claim is a fair illustration. It was paid many years ago, but the claimants were not satisfied. In the first session of the 54th Congress a bill was introduced in the Senate for its payment, a favorable report was made (No. 622) and the bill passed. It was tacked as an amendment to the general deficiency bill sent by the House to the Senate.
When this bill reached the President it was vetoed and Mr. Cannon in his subsequent explanation of the bill thus remarked concerning this claim. "It was paid in full. Full receipt was given by the contractors." In 1873 the contractor or his as signees sued in the Court of Claims to recover the amount and was defeated. "A well considered opinion was rendered. It was again sent by the committee oh claims of the House under the Bowman act to the Court of Claims and turned down," the court saying that "the committee had no power to send it to them." 28 Cong. Rec. 6206. And yet notwithstanding the numerous decisions against its Validity the Senate passed it as above stated.
'President Cleveland vetoed a bill for paying them which contains a brief history of the legislature on this subject. Sec. H. of R. report, 50 Cong. 1 Seas. No. 2961 and 28 Cong. Rec. 6205. A more complete account is found in Gray v. United States, 21 Ct. of Claims Rep. 340. For an explanation of so many reports in favor of paying the claims, see Senator Sherman's speech, Dec. 17, 1672, Selected Speeches 356. For another brief account, see 62 Nation 499. The amount thus far declared to be due by the Court of Claims is $3,500,130. ,Congress has made two appropriations for paying them of $2,395,997. See Rep. of U. S. Atty.-Gen. for 1899, p. 57, for further data.
See interesting debate on how claims are examined by the Com. of the Senate, 34 Cong. Record, 1420 and 1456.
'See Senate debate on Smithmayer claim, 33 Cong. Record 7025: House debate on Sparks pension claim, Id. 5815; civil war claim of State a Nevada, Id. 7357; cotton claim, Id. 5144; Un derbh(11 claim, Id. 6954; claim of letter carriers, Id. 6954; Omnibus claims bill 32, Id. 2646, 2667.