Letter from Martha Hodges to the Second Assistant Secretary of the Interior, June 10, 1897

Hon Second Assistant Secretary of the Interior,

Dear Sir,

I beg to state by way of appeal to you from the ruling of the Hon Commissioner of Pensions on June 3-97 rejecting my application for restoration to the pension roll my case. My certificate of pension No is 110,132 Restoration. As widow of Harrison Hodges Co A, 11 Regt U.S.C.V. Infty. The certificate of pension which I now have is dated Feby 16-77. At $8.00 a month to commence Sept 4-73. My husband died during the war & just after the war they granted me a pension under the original pension law passed July 14-62 amended March 3-65. In 1869 I was taken from the pension roll upon the charged which I proved to be false that I had remarried again. This restoration was in 1873 & is the certificate I now have. I was then taken from the pension roll Aug 12-86 & have no since been put back.

My right to restoration I respectfully submit to you rests upon a question of law & one of right & justice to me,

The act under which my pension was granted rests alone upon one single fact was I the widow of a soldier. And I certainly was. No one disputes this. It is sec 4702 US.R.S, There is in that act but one condition upon which the pension should be forfeited & that act was in case of remarriage.

I take the position that a pension is a vested right. A vested right means one that can not be taken away. There is now question that this is the right view to take of it.

If it is a vested right then it can not be taken away. And if so in principle then the ruling of the courts our Supreme Court of the U.S. included is not sound.

Another view of a pension is that it is a vested contract right. But the poor answer that has been made to this is that the courts have held it was not a contract. If it is not a contract & rightly so on principle & in justice & right we would like to know by what of sanctity of life could be made a contact. It is in truth the obligation of our great Government to pay & in part poorly pay for the sacred services of a man & as in this case for his life money that was blood & life money to him in the honorable calling of seeking to preserve the union of his country in its most dire necessity. And if such sacred things as these do not form contract obligations may kind heaven protect us from those who cant see it that way.

The poor answer miserably poor answer that we have received from these propositions & often receive is the courts have held it was not a vested right. The courts have held it was not a vested contract right.

One officer of the Government wrote me you are right in principle. Your proposition is right, it is unanswerable. If it was a contract if it was a vested right. But the courts have held it was not a vested right. It was not a contract. If we know the courts are wrong. If we know this ruling is wrong should we not do what is right & just. What we know is right & just. Are we to dispose of the substantial rights of our people upon technicalities & hair spliting & deny them justice & right on any such grounds as this. If it is a vested right now power on earth can take it away. If it is in truth a contract obligation no subsequent law can impair the obligation of that contract. Yes that is so they tell us but the court has held it was not a contract. Is it possinle that we are to be answered that hte Government wont do what its officers know is right because the courts have mistakenly ruled it was not a contract—was not a vested right. You call this justice or right.

The act by which my rights have been taken away & are sought to be withheld from me was passed Aug 7-82—long years after my claim had been acted on & adjudicated & my rights fixed & pension granted & I had been drawing.

If it is a vested right & I submit that in truth it is & if it is a contract & I earnestly submit that in truth, justice & right it is then this law passed Aug 7-82 must be construed & given the force & effect of a law that is retrospective in its action. It must act backwards & deprive me of rights granted by a law passed 20 years before.

Were there any such conditions in the act of July 14-62 as are in the act of Aug 7 82. We all know there are not.

If you make a deed or contract in accordance with a certain law & specified the conditions stated in that law. And afterwards another law is passed adding other kinds of conditions. Can you make that law act backwards so as to ingarft on the old contract the conditions of the new law. Impair the obligations of that contract. We all know you cant. But the technical loop hole out of which we are told this can be gotten is that a pension is not a contract although it in fact is. That it is not a vested right although it is in fact a vested right because the courts have so held.

Is this what we are told is called a liberal administration of these laws. Of course it cant be any such thing. But we hope for right & justice in this matter out side of any legal quibles. And I beg you please to examine my case with this view. Kindly wright me soon. And much oblige me. I am a poor woman struggling by washing clothes to keep the wolf from my door. And I have proved by the best people here white & colored that I have been a virtuous woman ever since I was suspended. 

Respect Marhta Hodges

P.O. 21 St Martin St, Memphis, Tenn.
June 10-97.