To the House of Representatives:
I herewith return without approval House bill No. 2637, entitled "An act for the relief of Eugene Wells, late captain, Twelfth Infantry, and second lieutenant, First Artillery, United States Army."
This bill authorizes the President to nominate and, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to appoint the beneficiary therein named a second lieutenant of artillery in the Army of the United States, and it directs that when so appointed he shall be placed upon the retired list on account of disability, thus dispensing with the usual examination and finding by a retiring board and all other ordinary prerequisites of retirement.
Appointments to the Army under the authority of special legislation which names the proposed appointee, and the purpose of which is the immediate retirement of the appointee, are open to serious objections, though I confess I have been persuaded through sympathy and sentiment on a number of occasions to approve such legislation. When, however, it is proposed to make the retirement compulsory and without reference to age or previous examination, a most objectionable feature is introduced.
The cases covered by the special enactments referred to are usually such as should, if worthy of any consideration, be provided for under general or private pension laws, leaving the retired list of the Army to serve the legitimate purpose for which it was established.
A recent discussion in the House of Representatives upon a bill similar to the one now before me drew from a member of the House Committee on Military Affairs the declaration that hundreds of such bills were before that committee and that there were fifty precedents for the passage of the particular one then under discussion.
It seems to me that this condition suggests such an encroachment upon the retired list of the Army as should lead to the virtual abandonment of the legislation referred to.
In addition to the objections to such legislation based upon sound policy and good administration, there are facts connected with the case covered by the bill now before me which, in my judgment, forbid its favorable consideration.
The beneficiary named in this bill entered the military service as first lieutenant in 1861. In September or October, 1870, then being a captain, a charge of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman was preferred against him with a view to his trial on said charge before a court-martial.
The Articles of War provide that any officer convicted of this offense shall be dismissed the service.
The first specification under this charge alleged that Captain Wells did violently and without just cause or provocation assault First Lieutenant P. H. Breslin "by furiously striking and hitting him (Lieutenant Breslin) upon the head with a hickory stick, the butt end of a billiard cue, and did continue the assault (upon Lieutenant Breslin) until forced to desist therefrom by First Lieutenant Carl Veitenhimer, Fourth United States Infantry, thereby endangering the life of Lieutenant Breslin and disgracing himself (Captain Wells) as an officer of the United States Army."
The second specification alleged that Captain Wells "did become so much under the influence of intoxicating liquor as to behave himself in a scandalous manner by violently attacking the person of First Lieutenant P. H. Breslin, Fourth United States Infantry."
These offenses were charged to have been committed on the 3d day of September, 1870, at Fort Fetterman, in Wyoming Territory.
On the 15th day of July, 1870, a law was passed, among other things, to bring about a reduction of the Army, which law provided that the President should before the 1st day of July, 1871, reduce the number of enlisted men in the Army to 30,000, and authorized him in his discretion to honorably discharge from the service of the United States officers of the Army who might apply therefor on or before January 1, 1871.
Before the trial by court-martial upon the charge then pending against him Captain Wells applied for his discharge under the provision of the law above recited, whereupon the charge against him was withdrawn and canceled, and on the 27th day of October, 1870, his application for a discharge was granted.
On the 6th day of July, 1875, he was again appointed to the Army as second lieutenant in the artillery, against which a remonstrance was made by certain officers in the Army.
In August, 1877, Second Lieutenant Wells was charged with being "drunk on duty, in violation of the thirty-eighth article of war."
He was also charged with "conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline."
The first specification under the latter charge alleged that the accused did "engage in an affray with First Lieutenant E. Van A. Andruss, First Artillery." The second specification under said charge alleged that the accused addressed his superior officer in a defiant and disrespectful manner and neglected and hesitated to promptly obey the order of said superior officer.
All these offenses were alleged to have been committed at Reading, Pa., on the 2d day of August, 1877.
Soon after these charges were preferred a court-martial was convened for the trial of the accused thereon. He pleaded not guilty to the charges and specifications, but was convicted of them all and sentenced "to be dismissed the service of the United States."
On the 6th day of October the proceedings, findings, and sentence of the court-martial were approved by the President, who ordered the sentence to be executed; and on the 13th day of October, 1877, in pursuance thereof, Lieutenant Eugene Wells was dismissed from the service.
Since that time repeated efforts have been made to vacate this judgment and restore the dismissed officer to the service. While a number of committees in Congress have made reports favorable to such action, at least two committees have recommended a denial of legislative relief. Both of these reports were made on behalf of House Committees on Military Affairs by distinguished soldiers, who, after patient examination and with an inclination to be not only just but generous to a fellow-soldier, were constrained to recommend a refusal of the application for restoration. One of these reports was made to the Forty-seventh and the other to the Forty-ninth Congress.
I am impressed with the belief that legislation of the kind proposed is of extremely doubtful expediency in any save very exceptional cases, and I am thoroughly convinced by the facts now before me that the discipline and efficiency of our Army, as well as justice to its meritorious members, do not permit my approval on any ground of the bill herewith returned.
Grover Cleveland, Veto Message Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/206329