United States v. Bowen

Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

100 U.S. 508

United States  v.  Bowen

APPEAL from the Court of Claims.

Charles Bowen filed in the court below his petition alleging that the United States unlawfully withheld from him $270, being the amount due him from Sept. 13, 1876, when he was admitted as an inmate of the 'Soldiers' Home,' to Dec. 4, 1877, upon his pension theretofore granted, by reason of a wound received by him in the military service of the United States.

That court found the following facts:--

1. The claimant was a private in Company B, Third Regiment United States Infantry, from the 9th of March, 1861, to the 9th of March, 1864, and during that time, under the provisions of sect. 7 of the act of March 3, 1859 (11 Stat. 434), there was deducted from his pay the sum of $4.57.

2. An invalid pension was granted to him March 13, 1865, at $8 per month, commencing March 9, 1864, by certificate No. 39,050; the monthly rate of such pension was increased from $8 to $15, Jan. 21, 1867, to commence June 6, 1866; and from $15 to $18, July 8, 1876, to commence June 4, 1872.

3. On the 13th of September, 1876, he was admitted as an inmate of the Soldiers' Home, and his pension from that date to the 4th of December, 1877, to wit, the sum of $264.60, was regularly paid to the treasurer of that institution.

The court found as a conclusion of law that the claimant should recover the sum of $264.60. Judgment in his favor having been rendered therefor, the United States appealed.

The fifth section of the act entitled 'An Act to found a military asylum for the relief and support of invalid and disabled soldiers of the army of the United States,' approved March 3, 1851 (9 Stat. 595), provides 'that any pensioner on account of wounds or disability incurred in the military service, although he may not have contributed to the funds of the institution, shall be entitled to all the benefits herein provided, upon transferring his pension to said asylum for and during the period that he may voluntarily continue to receive such benefits.'

The act of March 3, 1859, making appropriations for the support of the army for the year ending June 30, 1860 (11 id. 431), changes the name of the institution to 'Soldiers' Home,' and the sixth section declares that 'all pensioners, on account of wounds or disability incurred in the military service, shall transfer and surrender their pensions to the institution, for and during the time they may remain therein, and voluntarily continue to receive its benefits.'

Sect. 4820 of the Revised Statutes provides that 'the fact that one to whom a pension has been granted for wounds or disability received in the military service, has not contributed to the funds of the Soldiers' Home, shall not preclude him from admission thereto; but all such pensioners shall surrender their pensions to the Soldiers' Home during the time they remain therein and voluntarily receive its benefits.'

The Attorney-General for the United States.

The whole controversy arises from interpolating in the Revised Statutes 'such' between 'all' and 'pensioners,' where the latter words occur in the sixth section of the act of March 3, 1859; and its determination depends upon the answer to the inquiry, Did the revision of the statutes repeal the law requiring an inmate of the Soldiers' Home, who had contributed twelve and a half cents per month during his service, to transfer his pension to the institution, or did Congress merely intend to incorporate in them the then existing law?

The appellee contends that 'such' works so manifest a change in the antecedent law, that the declared intent of the revision, namely, to 'revise and consolidate the statutes in force on the 1st of December, 1873,' is not to be regarded, and that it is not of any importance what had been the settled law by clear expressions in the statutes for fourteen previous years. The appellant submits that these considerations, together with the otherwise rigid adherence in the chapter of the Revised Statutes entitled the 'Soldiers' Home,' to the language, chronology, and provisions of the antecedent law, demonstrate that the revisers only attempted to collate, and that Congress did not mean to change, the law as it stood at that date.

Spencer, J., in Taylor v. Delancy, 2 Cai. (N. Y.) Cas. 149, discussing the revision of 1801, lays down the following rule: 'Where the law antecedently to the revision was settled, either by clear expressions in the statutes, or adjudications on them, the mere change of phraseology shall not be deemed or construed a change of the law, unless such phraseology evidently purports an intention in the legislature to work a change.'

This rule was approved and adopted by Kent, himself one of the revisers of 1801, in Yates's Case (4 Johns. (N. Y.) 317, 359); and it has received the indorsement of all the courts which have considered the question. Burnham v. Stevens, 33 N. H. 247; Ash v. Ash, 9 Ohio St. 383; Conger v. Barker, 11 id. 1; Croswell v. Crane, 7 Barb. (N. Y.) 191; Ennis v. Crump, 6 Tex. 34; Dominick v. Michael, 4 Sandf. (N. Y.) 374; Goodell v. Jackson, 20 Johns. (N. Y.) 722; Theriat v. Hart, 2 Hill (N. Y.), 380; Hoffman v. Delihanty, 13 Abb. (N. Y.) Pr. 388; In re Brown, 21 Wend. (N. Y.) 316; Allen v. Ramsey, 6 Metc. (Mass.) 635.

It was competent, therefore, for the appellant to examine the prior statutes, to determine whether a radical change in them was intended by Congress by the insertion of the word in question.

Mr. Matt. H. Carpenter, contra.

The chapter of the Revised Statutes, entitled 'The Soldiers' Home,' in which sect. 4820 is found, was evidently intended as the only provision to regulate and govern that institution, and to repeal all existing laws relating thereto. Covering their whole subject, and embracing all that was intended to be preserved of them, it becomes a complete law in itself, providing every thing necessary to the perfect management and discipline of the 'Soldiers' Home.' Such is the natural inference from its general character and particular provisions, and it leaves no room for doubt as to the intention of its framers. It therefore repeals all former statutes on the same subject. Ellis v. Page, 1 Pick. (Mass.) 45; Smith, Comm. on Stat. Constr., sects. 785, 786; Boucicault v. Hart, 13 Blatch. 52; Holmes v. Wiltz, 11 La. Ann. 446; United States v. Hammond, 2 Woods, 203; Jones v. Smart, 1 Tenn. 44.

That section is expressed in clear, concise, and intelligible language, leaving nothing for interpretation or conjecture, and the construction for which the appellee contends has been uniformly given to it by the Commissioner of Pensions, who is charged with the duty of executing its provisions. His interpretation, to use the language of the court in United States v. Moore (95 U.S. 760), is 'entitled to the most respectful consideration, and ought not to be overruled without the most cogent reasons.'

It is unnecessary, however, to contend that the prior statutes are repealed by implication, for sect. 5596 repeals them in express terms. It declares, that 'all acts of Congress passed prior to said first day of December, one thousand eight hundred and seventy-three, any portion of which is embraced in any section of said revision, are hereby repealed, and the sections applicable thereto shall be in force in lieu thereof.'

MR. JUSTICE MILLER 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).