Monday, October 10, 2011

October 11, 1861 (Friday): Corruption In Saint Louis

Brant House, Saint Louis (Library of Congress)

                                                                        QUARTERMASTER’S OFFICE,
                                                                        Saint Louis, Mo., October 11, 1861.

   GENERAL:  I take the occasion of the presence of the honorable Secretary of War and yourself to make certain inquiries.
  Is it competent for every member of the staff of Maj. Gen. John C. Fremont to issue orders in the name of the general, directed to me, and involving an expenditure of money?
  Am I bound to recognize any other signature than that of Captain McKeever, the regularly-constituted assistant adjutant-general of the Western Department?
  I desire to be instructed whether the simple approval of an account by the commanding general carries the weight of an order.
   There are heavy accounts, involving hundreds of thousands of dollars, that have come under my observation, which are approved by Maj. Gen. John C. Fremont, but in direct terms are not ordered.  It is doubtless the intention of the general to order the payment.  But as I understand the Army Regulations and the laws of Congress, an approval is not an order.  If I am mistaken in this, I desire to be corrected.
   Great latitude is taken in verbal orders.  And the general being in the field, I cannot stop to question the authenticity of these orders, and feel it to be my duty to see them executed, although I have not the authority on paper necessary to carry these expenditures through the Treasury.
   Accounts involving hundreds of thousands of dollars have been presented to me within the few days I have been here, informal, irregular, and not authorized by law or regulations.
   No quartermaster who understands his duty can pay this class of accounts without involving himself in irretrievable ruin.  I do not mean to say that these accounts are not just or should not be paid; but as they are outside of the regulations—in other words, extraordinary—they can be adjusted only by extraordinary authority.
   Some three days ago I telegraphed the Quartermaster-General, M. C. Meigs, a message; and I give you an extract from memory:  “If the reckless expenditures in this department are not arrested by a stronger arm than mine, the Quartermaster’s Department will be wrecked in Missouri along.”
   I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
                                                                                    ROBT. ALLEN,
                                                                        Major and Quartermaster.
General L. Thomas, Adjutant-General U. S. Army.

When Fremont arrived in Saint Louis he rented, at government expense of $6,000 per year, the elegant Brant mansion and surrounded himself with a hand-picked 300 man guard.  The going rate for any service authorized by Fremont, which often went to friends of Fremont’s from California was at minimum twice the going rate.  The administration was besieged with reports of corruption from Missouri, aggravated by Fremont’s lack of military success and (some believed) culpability in failing to support Lyons in his campaign to Wilson’s Creek.  The “Pathfinder” was blessed with Republican connections (being the party’s first presidential candidate) and a politically connected wife (whose father was the late Senator Thomas Hart Benton).  After the war, he was convicted in absentia as a swindler in French courts in connection with schemes involving the transcontinental railroad, but never served time.

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