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JANUARY 30, 1855.
Mr. T. WENTWORTH, from the Committee on Commerce, made the fol
The Committee on Commerce, to whom was referred Senate bill No.
356, granting relief to George Dennett, for alleged services performed by him whilst he was naval officer at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, respectfully report :
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That said George Dennett was appointed naval officer for the port of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and that he took the oath prescribed by law, and entered upon the discharge of his duties on the 13th of March, 1839. It appears that the said office was vacant from the 18th day of December, 1839, till the appointment of said Dennett.
The petitioner states, “that by circulars of the Treasury Department, dated December 15, 1838, and March 15, 1839, the naval Officers at the respective ports of entry in the United States were directed to open and keep a set of books of the revenue receipts and light-house expenses, so as to form a check against the books kept in the collectors' office;' and that he did open said set of books as from the date of said first circular, and examined all the vouchers and original papers Decessary therefor in the office of the collector and of the naval officer, and made out said accounts as required by said circular;" and the petitioner alleges “that these duties were novel in the office, and were extra, and were not required by virtue of any statute of the United States detailing them as part of the duties of the naval officer.”
The petitioner further alleges that his commission “directed that he should hold the office from the 18th December, 1838, for the term of four years,” and “that the usual and average receipts of the office were, for many years, $581 35 per annum,” and “the time covered by his said commission, and for which no pay was allowed him, was eighty-five days;' that “the average pay of the office was $1 594 per diem, being, for the said eighty-five days, $135 55;" and "his commission having covered that time, he having performed the services incumbent on the office for that period, having received no recompense for the same," he humbly desires Congress to "grant him relief in the premises, by causing him to be paid out of the treasury of the United States the said $135 55 remuneration.”
By the statement in the petition, the claim in this case is, that, in
asmuch as the petitioner was, by his commission, to hold his office for four years from the 18th of December, 1838, he claims the salary and fees accruing to the office from that time to the 13th of March, 1839. And there probably being no data by which he could ascertain the actual fees of his office in that interval, (none probably being taken,) he makes an average of several years, and thus fixes his compensation.
The committee are of opinion that an officer has no claim for his salary before he qualifies under his commission, and fees that he never earned are in no case due him from the government, and therefore, upon the case as made by him in the petition, nothing is due.
But the bill from the Senate proposes to pay him seventy-five dollars for alleged services in opening a set of books, and entering thereon certain transactions occurring from December 18, 1838, to March 13, 1839, and is founded upon an expression in the Secretary's letter accompanying the papers.
No evidence has been offered to the committee of the amount of these services; and as the claim, as made by the petitioner, was for the salary and fees during the interval, rather than for extra labor performed after he assumed the office, the inference would seem to be, that that mode of compensation was the most beneficial to the petitioner; and whether the actual labor of opening the books occupied a day, they are entirely without proof, and unable to form an opinion.
It is the duty of the petitioner to prove the services for which he asks compensation, and then to submit to Congress if they be such as of right ought to be paid.
The committee are of opinion that the case must be a very strong one that would justify Congress in paying a public officer extra for services in bringing up the books of the office to which he had been appointed. It is quite common, amid the frequent changes of officers under the government, for offices to remain vacant for a time; and if the principle be admitted, that in all such cases government pays a reasonable compensation for any extra service, however slight, a door would be opened to the admission of almost countless claims.
In the present condition of the country, there appears no necessity of offering even a slight premium for official candidates, and your committee, as at present advised, are unwilling to adopt the principle that, in a case like the present, a public officer should receive any compensation for his mere official duties, beyond that fixed by law. They therefore recommend that the bill do not pass.
2d Session. S
MEMPHIS NAVY YARD.
FEBRUARY 1, 1855.
Mr. F. P. STANTON, from the Select Committee, made the following
The Select Committee to whom was referred the President's message of
the 1st January, 1855, in answer to a resolution of the House, on the subject of the Memphis navy yard, having had the same under consideration, submit the following report :
and other impro of one million do any recommendatoration on the
fast eesti greutive, House of
The navy yard at Memphis—the only establishment of that kind in the Mississippi valley-had been in existence for about ten years. During that period great progress had been made towards the accomplishment of the work projected: valuable buildings had been erected, and other improvements completed, at a cost to the government, in round numbers, of one million dollars. In the closing hours of the last session of Congress, without any recommendation to that effect by the Executive, and with apparently little consideration on the part of the Senate and House of Representatives, the navy yard and its appurtenances, with all the costly improvements already mentioned, were suddenly and unceremoniously abandoned, and ceded to the city of Memphis. The city authorities have accepted this unexpected but munificent gift, and the property is now vested absolutely in them. It is believed that the sale of this property to private individuals, for private uses, would place in the city treasury not less than five hundred thousand dollars. This depreciation of value would be only a natural consequence of the change of purpose, yet would still leave a very handsome fund at the command of the public authorities of Memphis.
But the people of Memphis, through their proper representatives, the board of mayor and aldermen, have, in the most solemn manner, declared their conviction that the establishment unexpectedly ceded to them is "a great national work, of equal importance to any similar work in the eastern States, and that justice to the citizens of the great valley of the Mississippi demands its continuance.” They have accordingly offered to retrocede this valuable property to the government, upon condition that the establishment shall be reinstated according to its original design; “not as a ropewalk alone, but as a depot of construction and equipment of government vessels for the navy.'
In the report of the Secretary of the Navy which accompanies the President's message on this subject, that officer makes serious objection to the conditions proposed, declaring that he “cannot consider it wise policy in the government to own property involving large expenditures, upon conditions to which, in good faith, it may be bound to adhere, although found by experience to be impolitic.” The committee do not see the force of this objection. The only effect of the condition would be to cause the property to revert to the city of Memphis, whenever Congress might choose to abandon the establishment as a navy yard: it would certainly not impose upon the government any obligation to make unwise or impolitic expenditures. The navy yard at Gosport, in the State of Virginia, is held by the government of the United States upon a similar condition. By a law passed the 25th January, 1800, the State of Virginia authorized the conveyance of the Gosport property to the United States, and the second section of that law is in the following words:
" That in case the government of the United States shall at any time hereafter abandon the design of establishing a navy yard at the place hereby ceded, or after the establishment thereof shall discontinue the same, then, and in that case, the property in the soil, and the jurisdiction over the territory hereby directed to be vested in the United States, shall revert to this commonwealth, and shall be considered as the property and subject to the jurisdiction of the same, in like inanner as if this act had never been made: Provided, That in such case this commonwealth will repay to the government of the United States the sum or sums paid in consideration of the cession hereby directed to be made.”
The consideration paid Virginia for the Gosport property was about $12,000; and, in the event of discontinuing the navy yard, the whole property, with the immense expenditure upon it, would revert to the State of Virginia upon the payment of this inconsiderable sum. The condition proposed by the city of Memphis is not essentially different from that existing in the case at Gosport. The committee do not see how the government could be injured by accepting this condition, if it be considered otherwise proper and politic to maintain a naval establishment upon the site of the Memphis yard. It was with the view of maintaining such a work that the site was originally selected and liberal appropriations made. Nothing but an implied condition, similar to that connected with the Gosport yard, could have induced or justified the donation by Congress of so much valuable property to the city which originally conveyed it to the government. The proposition now is, to make that an express condition, which before was only implied, yet fully acknowledged, when Congress came to abandon the work. If, therefore, the re-establishment of the navy yard be desirable and important to the government, the committee are of opinion that the proposed condition ought not to be an obstacle in the way of accepting a reconveyance of the large establishment, so hastily and inconsiderately abandoned at the last session of Congress.
It now becomes the duty of the committee to consider how far it is expedient to maintain a naval establishment on the banks of the Mississippi river; for it is believed that the question for the whole valley