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Veto Message

January 17, 1889

To the Senate:

I return without approval Senate bill No. 3646, entitled "An act for the relief of William R. Wheaton and Charles H. Chamberlain, of California."

These parties were, respectively, for a number of years prior to 1879, the register and receiver of the land office at San Francisco, in the State of California.

Prior to July, 1877, they had collected and retained, apparently without question, certain fees allowed by law for reducing to writing the testimony heard by them in establishing the rights of claimants to public lands.

On the 9th day of July, 1877, these officials were notified by the Acting Commissioner of the General Land Office that monthly thereafter, and dating from July 1, 1877 such fees should be reported with other fees to the General Land Office.

This notification furnished clear information that, whatever may have been the justification for their retention of these fees in the past, the parties notified must thereafter account to the Government for the same.

On the 8th day of February, 1879, the beneficiaries were peremptorily required by the Commissioner of the General Land Office to deposit in the Treasury of the United States the sums which they had received for the services mentioned since July 1, 1877, and which, though reported, had not been paid over. Soon thereafter, and pursuant to this demand, the sum of $5,330.76, being the aggregate of such fees for the nineteen months between July 1, 1877, and February 1, 1879, was paid over to the Government.

On the 19th day of February, 1879, these officers were authorized to employ two clerks, each upon a salary of $100 per month.

The purpose of the bill now under consideration is to restore to the beneficiaries from the money paid over to the Government, as above stated, the sum of $3,800. This is proposed upon the theory that clerks were employed by the register and receiver to do the work for which the fees were received, and that these officials having paid them for their services they should be reimbursed from the fund.

It will be observed that whatever services were performed by clerks in the way of writing down testimony, and paid for by the beneficiaries, were performed and paid for after July, 1877, and after they had in effect received notice that such employment and payment would not be approved by the Government.

Upon this statement the claim covered by the bill can hardly be urged on legal grounds, whatever the Government may have allowed prior to such notice.

I am decidedly of the opinion that the relations, the duties, and the obligations of subordinates in public employment should be clearly defined and strictly limited. They should not be permitted to judge of the propriety or necessity of incurring expenses on behalf of the Government without authority, much less in disregard of orders. And yet there are cases when in an emergency money is paid for the benefit of the public service by an official which, though not strictly authorized, ought in equity to be reimbursed.

If there is any equity existing in favor of the beneficiaries named in the bill herewith returned, it is found in the fact that during the nineteen months from the 1st day of July, 1877, to the 1st day of February, 1879, they paid out certain moneys for which the Government, in the receipt of the fees which they paid over, received the benefit. Manifestly such equity in this case, if it can be claimed at all in view of the facts recited, is measured by the sum actually paid by these officials to the persons, if such there were, who did the work from which the fees arose which were paid over to the Government.

In other words, if certain clerks were paid by the beneficiaries from their private funds for doing this work, there should be a distinct statement of the sum so paid, and their claim should rest upon indemnity and reimbursement alone. But no such statement appears, so far as I can see from an examination of papers presented to me by the Interior Department and from the report of the Senate committee who reported this bill, except as it may be gathered from the rather indirect allegations contained in a paper prepared by counsel.

No vouchers have ever been received at the General Land Office for money paid for clerical services rendered during the period for which reimbursement is sought. The verified statement of the claimants annexed to the committee's report contains only the allegation that they paid for the necessary clerical services, and the affidavits of the clerks themselves furnish no clew to the amount they received. Such an omission, in my opinion, discredits the claim made, and the allowance of the sum of $100 per month for two clerks during the period of nineteen months covered by this claim, because that was the sum authorized to be paid thereafter for clerks' services, is, it seems to me, adopting a standard entirely inapplicable to the subject.

In any event these beneficiaries should be required to establish the sum necessary for such indemnification, and the amount appropriated for their relief should be limited to that sum.


Grover Cleveland, Veto Message Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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