Thomas Jefferson Certifies An Original Act of Congress Providing For Justice to the Soldiers and Sailors of the American Revolution

It Allows For Post-War Compensation “for personal services rendered to the United States”.

It would fall to Alexander Hamilton to implement this Act; A rare Act of Congress, with only one other known copy in the New York Public Library

During the Revolution, the United States, having limited means of funding its war effort, often turned to private citizens for help. After the war, these...

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Thomas Jefferson Certifies An Original Act of Congress Providing For Justice to the Soldiers and Sailors of the American Revolution

It Allows For Post-War Compensation “for personal services rendered to the United States”.

It would fall to Alexander Hamilton to implement this Act; A rare Act of Congress, with only one other known copy in the New York Public Library

During the Revolution, the United States, having limited means of funding its war effort, often turned to private citizens for help. After the war, these people desired compensation for this.

On April 17, 1792, Alexander Hamilton addressed the House of Representatives:

“The situation of the United States, in the course of the late war, necessarily occasioned much want of order and regularity in the conduct of public business. The institutions for carrying it on, frequently devised in moments of hurry and confusion, almost always without the requisite lights from experience, were unavoidably in many cases, either faulty in principle, or deficient in some provisions, checks and guards, which were indispensible to their safe and efficacious execution. The commencement of a more orderly system is not of earlier date, than February 1781, when the executive departments were established.

“But during the whole of the time, and even after the institution of these departments, the state of the public finances obliging the Government to rely essentially on operations of credit and sometimes even on coertion, for the means of carrying on the war; an unexampled number of persons were, of necessity entrusted to bind the Government by their contracts, and with a latitude of discretion, which rendered a due supervision of their conduct, and a regular accountability, impracticable.

“In different stages of the war, almost every officer of the army, whether in the departments charged with procuring supplies, or otherwise, had it in his power to contract debts legally or equitably obligatory on the United States….

“Congress, during the war, passed sundry resolutions for regulating and limiting the public responsibility in such cases, and since the peace, they prescribed periods, within which, claims of certain descriptions, and finally all unliquidated claims, were to be exhibited for settlement, or to be for ever after barred.

“Of the first description, are the resolutions of March 5th 1779, and August 23d. 1780. The following have been passed since the peace.

“By an act of the 17th March 1785, all persons having unliquidated claims against the United States are required, within twelve months, to exhibit particular abstracts of such claims to Commissioners, who were sent and empowered to adjust all such claims, within such State; on condition, that accounts not so presented should thereafter be settled only at the treasury. By the Act of November 2nd 1785, all persons having claims for services performed, in the military department, were directed to exhibit the same for liquidation, to the Commissioner of Army accounts, before the first of August ensuing, under the penalty of being thereafter precluded from settlement or allowance. And by the Act of the 23d. of July 1787, all unliquidated claims pertaining to the Commissionary’s, Quarter Master’s, Hospital, Cloathing, or Marine departments, were to be exhibited to the Commissioners appointed to settle the accounts of said departments, within eight months; and all other accounts were to be exhibited at the Treasury, within one year from the date of the said Act, or to be precluded from settlement and allowance.

“The justice, as well as policy of Acts of limitation, under such circumstances, cannot be doubted. It was essential to the public administration, that the extent of just demands upon the Government should be within a reasonable period definitely ascertained. It was essential to the public safety and to right, in relation [to] the whole community, that all unsettled claims should be made known, within a time when there were yet means of proper investigation, and after which, the public responsibility should terminate…

“The principles of self defence, therefore, require and justify an adherence to these Acts, with very few exceptions, and those founded upon such clear evidence, as shall avoid all danger of imposition, and such special reasons, as shall effectually discriminate them from that mass of claims, which it would be so dangerous to admit. The laws of the present Session have removed the obstacle arising from the limitation Acts, to a description of claims of a nature peculiarly meritorious, those for personal services in the army and navy.”

This is that original Act of Congress referenced by Hamilton, allowing soldiers and sailors of the Revolution to present their claims for compensation by the government, regardless of the statute of limitations.  Document Signed by Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State, Philadelphia, March 27, 1792.  “The operation of the resolutions of the late Congress of the United States, passed on the second day of November, 1785, and the 23rd day of July, 1787, so far as they have barred, or may be construed to bar the claims of any officer, soldier, artificer, sailor or marine of the late army or navy of the United States, for personal services rendered to the United States, in the military or naval department, shall from and after the palling of this aft, be suspended, for and during the term of two years. And that every such officer, soldier, artificer, sailor and marine having claims for services rendered to the United States, in the military or naval departments, who shall exhibit the same, for liquidation, at the Treasury of the United States, at any time during the laid term of two years, (hall be entitled to an adjustment, and allowance thereof on the fame principles, as if the fame bad been exhibited, within the term prescribed by the aforesaid resolutions of Congress…”

At the time, it was the custom to officially notify the states of acts of Congress, which was done by the Secretary of State sending them signed copies of the acts.  This Act is scarce, with only one other copy known to exist.  That other is in the New York Public Library.

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