To the Senate:
I return herewith without approval Senate bill No. 143, entitled "An act for the relief of the heirs of D. Fulford."
This bill directs the Secretary of the Treasury "to redeem, in favor of the heirs at law of D. Fulford, four bonds of the United States, consols of 1867, of the denomination of $500, $100, $50, and $50, and known as five-twenties, said bonds having been destroyed by fire the 9th day of July, 1872, and to pay to the heirs at law of said D. Fulford the amount of said bonds, together with accrued interest from July 1, 1872, to the date of the maturity of said bonds."
The bill further provides that the heirs to whom the payment is to be made shall execute and file with the Secretary of the Treasury a bond "conditioned to save harmless the United States from loss or liability on account of said bonds or the interest accrued thereon, and to contain such words as to cover any liability resulting from any mistake in the designation or description of the bonds, so that in no event shall the United States be called upon by a rightful claimant for a second payment thereof."
The proposition is that the Government shall pay bonds alleged to have been destroyed by fire nearly twenty-three years ago.
The Secretary of the Treasury states that an application for the payment of these bonds, made by Mr. Fulford himself, was rejected by the Department because he was unable to describe the bonds in such a way as to permit their identification and because the evidence of their destruction by fire was inconclusive.
The Senate Committee on Claims, however, in their report on the bill under consideration, state that they are entirely satisfied that Mr. Fulford was the owner of four Government bonds, one for $500, one for $100, and two for $50, and that they were burned with his residence, which was destroyed by fire on the 9th day of July, 1872, and that while he could not furnish the numbers or descriptions of said bonds he understood all these bonds were of the class known as consols of 1867, and that he had collected the coupons thereon for the interest due July 1, 1872.
The particular class of bonds mentioned were dated July 1, 1867, and were payable or redeemable not less than five nor more than twenty years from their date. The short period expired, therefore, on the 1st day of July, 1872. That was the date when the last coupons on Mr. Fulford's bonds, which it is alleged were detached and collected, became due, and only nine days before the supposed destruction of the bonds by fire.
A letter from the Secretary of the Treasury dated July 20, 1892, attached to the report of the Senate committee made upon a bill similar to this which was pending at that time, discloses the fact that among the consols of 1867 then outstanding there were 107 of the denomination of $500, 167 of the denomination of $100, and 85 of the denomination of $50. This statement merely shows that there were numerous bonds precisely similar to those described as belonging to Mr. Fulford which had not in July, 1892, been redeemed, though the extreme limit of their maturity expired on the 1st day of July, 1887. The letter of the Secretary further discloses, however, that there were two of these outstanding bonds of the denomination of $500 and two of the denomination of $100 upon which coupons of interest had not been paid since July 1, 1872. Of course this lends plausibility to the suggestion that two of these four bonds, one of each denomination, were those destroyed when Mr. Fulford's house was burned in July, 1872; but this suggestion loses its force under the additional statement in the letter of the Secretary of the Treasury that in July, 1892, there were no consols of 1867 of the denomination of $50 whose last coupon was paid July 1, 1872. This shows conclusively that no fifty-dollar bonds of this class were destroyed by fire in Mr. Fulford's house and casts great uncertainty upon the description of the other bonds, inasmuch as the theory of the claimants seems to be that all the bonds destroyed belonged to the same class.
In 1893, upon an examination of the records of the Treasury Department, it was found that the two unpaid bonds for $500 reported in 1892 as outstanding, from which no coupons had been paid since July 1, 1872, still remained unredeemed, but that one of the two one-hundred-dollar bonds which were in that condition in 1892 had been since that time paid and canceled. I think it must be conceded that this late redemption of this bond greatly weakens any presumption that the other three will not be presented for payment.
It is perfectly clear that so far as this bill directs the payment to the persons therein named of two consols of 1867 of the denomination of $50 each on the ground that such bonds were destroyed by fire in July, 1872, it requires the payment of money to those not entitled to it, since it is shown that these consols could not have been destroyed at the time stated, because coupons due on all consols of that denomination unredeemed have been paid since that date.
While the objections to the payment of the amount of the other two bonds mentioned in the bill are less conclusive, there seem to be so much doubt and uncertainty concerning their description and character, and their identification as unredeemed consols of 1867 is so unsatisfactory, that, in my opinion, it is not safe to assume, as is done in this bill, that they are represented among those bonds of that class recorded as still outstanding whose coupons for some reason have not been presented for payment since July 1, 1872.
I do not believe that an indemnity bond could be drawn which, as against the strict rights of sureties, would protect the Government against double liability in case all the payments directed by this bill were made. Even if the payments were confined to the two larger consols described, there would be great difficulty in framing a bond which would surely indemnify the Government.
There should always be a willingness to save the holders of Government securities from damage through their loss or destruction, but, in my judgment, a bad precedent would be established by paying obligations whose destruction and identification are not more satisfactorily established than in this case.
Grover Cleveland, Veto Message Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/206344