Grover Cleveland

Veto Message

April 18, 1888

To the Senate:

I return without approval Senate bill No. 258, entitled "An act for the relief of Major Daniel N. Bash, paymaster, United States Army."

The object of this bill is to release Paymaster Bash from all liability to the Government for the loss by theft of $7,350.93, which was intrusted to him for the payment of United States troops at various posts, one of which was Fort McKinney, in Wyoming Territory.

He started from Cheyenne Depot, accompanied by his clerk, D. F. Bash. Before starting he attempted to procure an iron safe in which he could deposit the money which he should have in his possession during his absence, but was unable to do so. It is alleged that it is customary for paymasters in such cases to be furnished with sales by the Government.

On the 17th day of March, 1887, Major Bash arrived at Douglas, Wyoming Territory, having in his possession $350.93, which was a balance left in his hands after making previous payments on the way. At Douglas he received by express $7,000, $250 of which were in silver. He was met here by an escort consisting of a sergeant and private soldier, who had been sent from Fort McKinney, and who were under orders to report to the paymaster at Douglas and to act as guard from that place to Fort McKinney.

Another unsuccessful attempt having been made at Douglas to obtain a safe or treasure box in which to carry the money, the same was put in a leather valise as the best thing that could be done in the circumstances. The money was first handed by the paymaster to his clerk, and by the clerk put in the valise and handed to the sergeant of the escort. There is evidence that the sergeant was told not to permit it to be out of his sight. Immediately after supper at Douglas the entire party entered the stage and proceeded upon their journey, the sergeant carrying the valise. Major Bash asserts that he said to the sergeant, "You must take good care of the valise; it contains the money."

The next morning, on the 18th day of March, the party arrived at Dry Cheyenne. When the paymaster went in to breakfast at that place, he found all the party at the breakfast table. After breakfast he walked out to the stage, the sergeant going at the same time. He asked him what he had done with the valise, and received the reply that it was in the stage. He then said to the sergeant, "You ought to have brought it in with you; you should take better care of that valise." The valise was then examined and the money was found untouched.

Pursuing their journey, the party arrived at Antelope Springs, Wyoming Territory, at half past 10 o'clock the same morning. The paymaster alleges that he asked the sergeant if he should take dinner there, and that, being answered in the negative, he remarked to him that he might then stay at the stage; that he then went to the stage station, leaving the two soldiers and the clerk at the stage; that he remained at the station warming himself a short time, finding there three citizens, one of whom he afterwards learned was Parker, the thief; that he left the room in which he had been warming himself and went to the dining room, passing along the front of the house, and as he did so noticed the stage standing there with no one near it except a stock tender; that on reaching the dining room he found his entire party at the table; that he looked "pretty sharp" at the sergeant, as he was surprised to see him there, but as he was just eating his pie he (the paymaster) said nothing to him; that not more than a minute after that the sergeant and driver got up and went out; that three or four minutes after they went out they rushed back and said that the valise had been taken.

It was found that the valise and money had been taken by Parker, who had mounted a horse and ridden away. He was pursued so closely that revolver shots were exchanged between the sergeant, who was badly mounted, and the thief. The sergeant alleged that he could have shot Parker if he had been provided with a gun instead of a revolver.

The facts in relation to this subject were developed upon a court of inquiry called for that purpose; and much of the above recited is derived from the evidence of Major Bash himself, taken upon such inquiry.

The following is the finding of the court concerning the conduct of the paymaster in the premises:

That Major Daniel N. Bash, paymaster, United States Army, did not give such direct and detailed orders to the members of the escort as to the manner in which they should guard the public money in his (Bash's) possession while en route to Fort McKinney as the importance of the matter required, and that he did not take the proper and necessary pains to see that any orders which he had given on this subject were duly obeyed.

This finding defines a case of negligence which renders the paymaster liable for the loss of these funds. But a number of army officers, including the members of the court of inquiry, suggest that the paymaster thus found at fault should be relieved from responsibility. This is much the fashion in these days.

It is said that a safe should have been provided; that the paymaster had the right to rely upon the fidelity and efficiency of the escort, and that the two men furnished him as an escort were unintelligent and negligent; that they should have been armed with guns instead of pistols, and that the instructions given to the escort by the paymaster were sufficient to acquit him of culpable neglect.

It seems to me that the omissions of care on the part of this officer are of such a nature as to render much that is urged in his favor irrelevant. He had the charge of this money. It was his care, vigilance, and intelligence which were the safeguards of its protection. If he had as full an appreciation as he indicates of the importance of having a safe, he must have known that in its absence additional care and watchfulness on his part were necessary, whatever his escort or his clerk might do.

But notwithstanding all this he seemed quite content to leave this large sum of money in the hands of those sent to him, not to have the custody of his funds, but to guard him from violence and robbery. On the very morning of the day the theft was committed he had found fault with the sergeant for leaving the money in the stage while he took breakfast, and had said to him that he (the sergeant) ought to have brought it in with him. He here furnishes his own definition of the kind of care which should have been taken of the money--the sergeant "ought to have brought it in with him;" and this suggests the idea that it would have been quite consistent with his duty, and perhaps not much beneath his dignity, if he had taken it in himself. (Chief Paymaster Terrell, in a letter favoring leniency, states that the coin could not have weighed less than 15 pounds.)

It must certainly be conceded that what then took place plainly warned him that to insure the safety of this money he must either take personal charge of it or he must at least be sure that those to whom he surrendered it were watchful and vigilant. And yet when, a few hours later, on the same day, upon arriving at Antelope Springs, he was informed by the sergeant that he did not propose to take dinner there, the paymaster almost casually said to him, "Then you stay at the stage," and he himself went to a room at the station to warm himself. When, as he went from there to the dining room, he passed the stage and saw no one near it except a stock tender, a very conservative idea of duty and care would have induced him to stop at the stage and ascertain the condition of affairs. If he had done so, he probably would have found the money there, and could have taken it in with him or watched it until some of his party came out from dinner. Instead of doing this, he himself went to the dining room, and indicated his surprise at seeing the sergeant there by looking at him sharply. However, as he was just eating his pie, nothing was said.

It is not improbable that the thief waited for the clerk and escort, and lastly the paymaster himself, to enter the dining room before venturing to take, entirely unmolested, the valise containing the money. When it is considered that after finishing his pie the sergeant came out to the stage so nearly the exact moment of the theft that, though badly mounted, he was able to approach near enough in pursuit of the fleeing thief to exchange revolver shots with him, it is quite apparent that the loss might have been prevented if the paymaster had remained a short time by the stage when he saw it unprotected, or had taken the valise in with him, or promptly diverted the attention of the sergeant from his pie to the money which all had abandoned.

When, therefore, it is said that this loss can be charged in any degree to the neglect or default of the Government, it is answered that the direct and immediate cause of the loss was the omission on the part of this paymaster of the Government, in whose custody these funds were placed, of the plainest and simplest acts of prudence and care.

The temptation is very strong to yield assent to the proposition for the relief of a citizen from liability to the Government arising from conduct not absolutely criminal; but the bonds and the security wisely exacted by the Government from its officers to insure proper discharge of public duty will be of very limited value if everything is to be excused except actual dishonesty.

I am thoroughly convinced that the interests of the public would be better protected if fewer private bills were passed relieving officials, upon slight and sentimental grounds, from their pecuniary responsibilities; and the readiness with which army officers join in applications for the condonation of negligence on the part of their army comrades does not tend, in my opinion, to maintain that regard for discipline and that scrupulous observance of duty which should characterize those belonging to their honorable profession.

I can not satisfy myself that the negligence made apparent in this case should be overlooked.


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

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