To the Senate of the United States:
I return herewith without my approval Senate bill No. 161, entitled "An act for the relief of those suffering from the destruction of salt works near Manchester, Ky., pursuant to the order of Major-General Carlos Buell."
All the objections made by me to the bill for the relief of J. Milton Best, and also of the East Tennessee University, apply with equal force to this bill.
According to the official report of Brigadier-General Craft, by whose immediate command the property in question was destroyed, there was a large rebel force in the neighborhood, who were using the salt works and had carried away a considerable quantity of salt, and were preparing to take more as soon as the necessary transportation could be procured; and he further states "that the leaders of the rebellion calculated upon their supply of salt to come from these works," and that in his opinion their destruction was a military necessity. I understand him to say, in effect, that the salt works were captured from the rebels; that it was impracticable to hold them, and that they were demolished so as to be of no further use to the enemy.
I can not agree that the owners of property destroyed under such circumstances are entitled to compensation therefor from the United States. Whatever other view may be taken of the subject, it is incontrovertible that these salt works were destroyed by the Union Army while engaged in regular military operations, and that the sole object of their destruction was to weaken, cripple, or defeat the armies of the so-called Southern Confederacy.
I am greatly apprehensive that the allowance of this claim could and would be construed into the recognition of a principle binding the United States to pay for all property which their military forces destroyed in the late war for the Union. No liability by the Government to pay for property destroyed by the Union forces in conducting a battle or siege has yet been claimed, but the precedent proposed by this bill leads directly and strongly in that direction, for it is difficult upon any ground of reason or justice to distinguish between a case of that kind and the one under consideration. Had General Craft and his command destroyed the salt works by shelling out the enemy found in their actual occupancy, the case would not have been different in principle from the one presented in this bill. What possible difference can it make in the rights of owners or the obligations of the Government whether the destruction was in driving the enemy out or in keeping them out of the possession of the salt works?
This bill does not present a case where private property is taken for public use in any sense of the Constitution. It was not taken from the owners, but from the enemy; and it was not then used by the Government, but destroyed. Its destruction was one of the casualties of war, and, though not happening in actual conflict, was perhaps as disastrous to the rebels as would have been a victory in battle.
Owners of property destroyed to prevent the spread of a conflagration, as a general rule, are not entitled to compensation therefor; and for reasons equally strong the necessary destruction of property found in the hands of the public enemy, and constituting a part of their military supplies, does not entitle the owner to indemnity from the Government for damages to him in that way.
I fully appreciate the hardship of the case, and would be glad if my convictions of duty allowed me to join in the proposed relief; but I can not consent to the doctrine which is found in this bill, as it seems to me, by which the National Treasury is exposed to all claims for property injured or destroyed by the armies of the United States in the late protracted and destructive war in this country.
Ulysses S. Grant, Veto Message Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/203613