Last blog told of the 27th Maine and how they were asked to stay behind after their term of service was up, and protect the capital in the event the Union lost at Gettysburg. They were promised Medals of Honor by President Lincoln for those staying behind but bureaucratic foul ups ended up in medals destined for about 300, being awarded to the entire regiment of about 860.
Powerful groups like the Grand Army of the Republic and the Medal of Honor Legion, forerunner of today's Congressional Medal of Honor Society, took various shots at trying to kill all the medals issued to the 27th Maine, both those perfectly valid under the rules of the day, and those issued in error.
Repeated failures at making any real ground on the matter were further frustrated when the Adjutant General's office in 1886 issued a list of MOH men. In this were included all of the 27th men, both those staying behind and the rest as well. Such a list would later be argued as yet more proof, issued by government, of the validity of all the 27th medals.
Matters bumbled along till 1891 when the Commander in Chief of the MOH Legion wrote the Adjutant General. He argued that since the men of the 27th had been ruled by his organization to be not entitled to membership therein, how was it that they could be argued to still hold the same medal as the rest of their membership.
Their cause was not supported by the Adj. General and they were told to knock it off as the medals were issued pursuant to the laws of the day. (Despite the fact that over half were awarded by mistake, but be that as it was, they were still awarded.)
Matters on another front would meld with the 27th story. Many were fed up with the badge of membership used by GAR. It looked too much like the MOH and people were getting confused as to whom had the medal and whom did not. This coupled with the fact that lists of recipients were often full of mistakes, and even at that, yet hard to find. So a move came about to pressure to have a new medal designed to be quite different then the CW Army and Navy versions of the medal. And at the same time, the issuing authority could then only send these to all except the 27th men.
Then the heat started getting turned up.
With the creation of a new design came issuing instructions. They were to be provided to all those covered by previous legislation... thus the acts creating the medals back in Civil War days. The wording therefore further confirmed, rather than disqualified the 27th men's medals. All of them!
The Adjutant General, who had already fought off the demands of several groups re the 27th matter, then knew that this new act and wording would start up yet another round of attacks. To head these off he wrote to the Judge Advocate General for a formal legal opinion to end all the bickering. The later then passed it on to the Attorney General of the country for advise.
While all this was going on the powerful groups also sought help from President Roosevelt. He in turn wrote to the Secretary of War (future President Howard Taft) and demanded that the 27th medals be rescinded... not some but all of them. But before sending off his letter he had second thoughts and toned down his letter with the REQUEST that the thoughts of the groups to rescind ought to be followed.
On becoming aware of the Roosevelt "request" the Adjutant General wrote to Taft and enclosed a copy of an opinion of the Judge Adjutant General. In short, that opinion said that everybody better slow down, forget pressures from all sides, and smell the coffee.
That opinion began with the direction that it was high time all the current players (in 1904) (and perhaps 2014) better start respecting the directives of President Lincoln and his Secretary of War back in CW days.
The opinion then noted that there was case law on the fact that when a right (read.. .a medal) is passed on to a citizen by a President, that right IS NOT SUBJECT TO REVIEW OR REVERSAL BY A SUCCESSOR. ... "for if it were, there would be no stability or security for any rights of property acquired under the action of a government."
It continued with the note that when the property has been transferred... (ie the medal given) a property right has also been given... and that equated to a guarantee ... 'which can only be divested by the action of a court, and the result of a legal proceeding."
It added further that.... "if the act of investing property title is not warranted by statue,.. the courts ALONE can apply a remedy." This, it said, was by virtue of the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution where the reader will find the familiar phrase, oft ignored by many, that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law. (On reading that amendment I saw no note saying that the provision did not apply to the men of the 27th Maine Infantry.)
The opinion then made two profound statements, First that the men of the 27th were awarded the medals pursuant to the laws of the day. More profound, it said that the Secretary of War had no authority to review the actions of President Lincoln and his Secretary of War. In summary he said that whilst others would have liked to see the issue of the new 1904 medal to all but the 27th, they were in fact as entitled to it as any other was.
Roosevelt backed down as did the Secretary of War and the medals were issued to all... including all those from the 27th still alive, and or their families. And yet again their names were continued on the lists of all other MOH recipients.
When a Congressmen pushed Howard Taft as Secretary of War to continue the fight, Taft wrote back that the medals were legally awarded.
Surely all of this ought to have ended the battle... but instead of smelling the coffee many sat back and watched in burn.. till the machine exploded in 1916-7.
I'll tell you about that on Wednesday.