Ulysses S. Grant photo

Special Message

June 17, 1876

To the Senate and House of Representatives:

The near approach of a new fiscal year and the failure of Congress up to this time to provide the necessary means to continue all the functions of Government make it my duty to call your attention to the embarrassments that must ensue if the fiscal year is allowed to close without remedial action on your part.

Article I, section 9, of the Constitution declares:

No money shall be drawn from the Treasury but in consequence of appropriations made by law.

To insure economy of expenditure and security of the public treasure Congress has from time to time enacted laws to restrain the use of public moneys, except for the specific purpose for which appropriated and within the time for which appropriated; and to prevent contracting debts in anticipation of appropriate appropriations, Revised Statutes, section 3679, provides:

No Department of the Government shall expend in any one fiscal year any sum in excess of appropriations made by Congress for that fiscal year, or involve the Government in any contract for the future payment of money in excess of such appropriations.

Section 3732 provides:

No contract or purchase on behalf of the United States shall be made unless the same is authorized by law or is under an appropriation adequate to its fulfillment, except in the War and Navy Departments, for clothing, subsistence, forage, fuel, quarters, or transportation, which, however, shall not exceed the necessities of the current year.

Section 3678, as follows:

All sums appropriated for the various branches of expenditure in the public service shall be applied solely to the objects for which they are respectively made, and for no others.

Section 3690, that--

All balances of appropriations contained in the annual appropriation bills, and made specifically for the service of any fiscal year, and remaining unexpended at the expiration of such fiscal year, shall only be applied to the payment of expenses properly incurred during that year or to the fulfillment of contracts properly made within that year; and balances not needed for such purposes shall be carried to the surplus fund. This section, however, shall not apply to appropriations known as permanent or indefinite appropriations.

The effect of the laws quoted, taken in connection with the constitutional provision referred to, is, as above stated, to prohibit any outlay of public money toward defraying even the current and necessary expenses of Government after the expiration of the year for which appropriated, excepting when those expenses are provided for by some permanent appropriation, and excepting in the War and Navy Departments, under section 3732.

The number of permanent appropriations are very limited, and cover but few of the necessary expenditures of the Government. They are nearly all, if not quite all, embraced in sections 3687, 3688, and 3689 of the Revised Statutes. That contained in section 3687 is applicable to expenses of collecting the revenue from customs , that in section 3688 to the payment of interest on the public debt , and that in section 3689 to various objects too numerous to detail here.

It will be observed that while section 3679, quoted above, provides that no Department shall in any one fiscal year involve the Government in any contract for the future payment of money in excess of the appropriation for that year, section 3732, also quoted above, confers, by clear implication, upon the heads of the War and Navy Departments full authority, even in the absence of any appropriation, to purchase or contract for clothing, subsistence, forage, fuel, quarters, or transportation not exceeding the necessities of the current year. The latter provision is special and exceptional in its character, and is to be regarded as excluded from the operation of the former more general one. But if any of the appropriation bills above enumerated should fail to be matured before the expiration of the current fiscal year, the Government would be greatly embarrassed for want of the necessary funds to carry on the service. Precluded from expending money not appropriated, the Departments would have to suspend the service so far as the appropriations for it should have failed to be made.

A careful examination of this subject will demonstrate the embarrassed condition all branches of the Government will be in, and especially the executive, if there should be a failure to pass the necessary appropriation bills before the 1st of July, or otherwise provide.

I commend this subject most earnestly to your consideration, and urge that some measure be speedily adopted to avert the evils which would result from nonaction by Congress. I will venture the suggestion, by way of remedy, that a joint resolution, properly guarded, might be passed through the two Houses of Congress, extending the provisions of all appropriations for the present fiscal year to the next in all cases where there is a failure on the 1st of July to supply such appropriation; each appropriation so extended to hold good until Congress shall have passed a corresponding appropriation applicable to the new fiscal year, when all moneys expended under laws enacted for this fiscal year shall be deducted from the corresponding appropriation for the next.

To make my ideas on this subject more clear, I have caused to be drawn up a joint resolution embodying them more fully.


Joint Resolution to provide for defraying temporarily

the ordinary and necessary expenses of the public service.

Whereas the ordinary and necessary expenses of the public service in its various branches, comprising among others the expenses which especially pertain to the legislative, executive, and judicial departments of the Government, to the consular and diplomatic service, to the postal service, to the support of the Army, and to the maintenance of the Navy, are generally met by annual appropriations which expire at the end of the current fiscal year; and

Whereas no public funds will be available to defray these expenses as the same shall accrue after that period unless appropriations shall have been previously made therefore by law; and

Whereas, to avoid the great embarrassment to the public service that might otherwise ensue, it is expedient to make provision for defraying temporarily such of these expenses as would be unprovided for in case some one of the usual annual appropriation bills designed to provide therefor should fail to be matured by the end of the fiscal year now current: Therefore,

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That in case any of the following appropriation bills for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1877, shall not have passed by the commencement of such year, so that the funds to be appropriated thereby may then be available for expenditure--that is to say, the bill providing for the legislative, executive, and judicial expenses; the bill providing for the consular and diplomatic expenses; the bill providing for the service of the Post-Office Department; the bill providing for the support of the Army, and the bill providing for the naval service--the appropriation act for the current fiscal year corresponding in its general description and object to such appropriation bill shall extend to the fiscal year next ensuing until such appropriation bill is enacted and takes effect, to the end that the provisions of such appropriation act which apply to the ordinary and necessary expenses of the public service for the current fiscal year shall in like manner be applicable to similar expenses which may accrue during the period intervening between the end of the current fiscal year and the time when such appropriation bill for the next ensuing fiscal year shall be enacted and take effect.

Ulysses S. Grant, Special Message Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/204577

Filed Under



Simple Search of Our Archives