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United States v. Alexander (79 U.S. 177)

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United States Supreme Court

79 U.S. 177

United States  v.  Alexander

APPEAL from the Court of Claims, the case being thus:

On the 29th July, 1848, Congress enacted:

'That the widows of all officers, non-commissioned officers, musicians, soldiers, mariners, or marines, and Indian spies, who shall have served in the Continental line, State troops, volunteers, militia, or in the naval service, in the Revolutionary War with Great Britain, shall be entitled to a pension, during such widowhood, of an equal amount per annum that their husbands would be entitled to, if living, under existing pension laws, to commence on the 4th day of March, 1848, and to be paid in the same manner that other pensions are paid to widows.' . . .

The act proceeded, however, further to declare that 'no widow married after the 1st day of January, 1800, should be entitled to receive a pension under the act.'

A subsequent section enacted that the same rules of evidence, regulations, and prescriptions should apply and govern the Commissioner of Pensions and pension agents as then prevailed under existing pension laws which related to widows of Revolutionary officers and soldiers.

On the 23d of February, 1853, Congress passed another act, thus:

'And be it further enacted, that the widows of all officers, non-commissioned officers, musicians, and privates of the Revolutionary army, who were married subsequently to January, A. D. 1800, shall be entitled to a pension in the same manner as those who were married before that date.'

In this state of the statutes, Mrs. Alexander, widow of a soldier in the Revolutionary War, who was married to him subsequently to the year 1800, and who had received a pension from the date of this act of February 3d, 1853, filed a petition in the Court of Claims to recover what her counsel called 'the arrears of her pension;' that is to say, to have it declared that her pension took effect from the passage of the act of 1848. The argument of the claimant's counsel was that the act of 1853 was substantially an amendment of the act of 1848, and intended to repeal the provision it contains, that widows married after January 1st, 1800, should not be entitled to its benefits; that hence the two acts must be read together, and all widows be entitled to a pension commencing on the 4th of March, 1848. This was inferred from the assumption that the act of 1848 must be referred to in order to fix the rate, or amount of the pension granted by the act of 1853, as well as its duration, and that if there be an implied reference for those purposes there must be for the purpose of fixing the commencement of the pension.

Of this view was the Court of Claims, and it accordingly gave a decree for the amount claimed as arrears. The United States appealed, Mr. B. H. Bristow, Solicitor-General, and Mr. C. H. Hill, Assistant Attorney-General, insisting in her behalf--

1. This the Court of Claims had no jurisdiction of a claim for a pension.

2. That under a proper construction of the act of 1853, persons who under it were entitled to a pension, were entitled to one but from the date of that act.

Mr. J. A. Wills, contra, enforced the argument above presented, as made below.

Mr. Justice STRONG delivered the opinion of the court.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).