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“Petitions Without Number”: Widows' Petitions and the Early Nineteenth-Century Origins of Public Marriage-Based Entitlements

  • Kristin A. Collins
Extract

In 1858, Catharine Barr wrote to the Pension Commissioner in Washington, D.C., seeking reinstatement of her widow's pension. Barr explained that she had been married to two men who had died in the service of the United States: first to George Bundick, “a young and beloved husband” who had died in the War of 1812; then to William Davidson in 1835, who had died in 1836 of injuries sustained while serving on the USS Vandalia. She acknowledged that she was not, strictly speaking, a widow, as her current husband, James Barr, was still living and they were still married. She nevertheless sought reinstatement of the pension she had been granted as Davidson's widow. Pursuant to the terms of the relevant pension statute, Barr's pension had terminated upon her remarriage to James. However, as Barr explained to the commissioner, James “has neither been with me or given me one Dollar for my support since 1849, and I know not his whereabouts.” Having also lost her father in the War of 1812, Barr saw herself as particularly deserving of the federal government's assistance and believed that she and other widows in her position had a claim on the national coffers. “I for one,” she implored, “have no Dependence on Earth only what comes through my relations.”

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1. File of Catharine Davidson, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. (hereinafter NARA), Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, RG 15, Old Wars Pension Files, Widow's File 322, Catharine Barr to George C. Whiting, Commissioner of Pensions, June 20, 1858. See also, ibid., Catharine Davidson to Secretary of the Navy, February 14, 1842. Catharine Barr's maiden name was Dorgan but her widow's pension application is filed under her second husband's name, William Davidson, and hence I cite to her pension file using that last name. When referring to Catharine in the text, however, I refer to her as Barr, as that was her name during her final and, to my knowledge, longest pursuit of a widow's pension. When citing to particular letters in footnotes, I use the name she used to sign the letter, that is, Catharine Davidson or Catharine Barr.

2. See ibid., Catharine Davidson to Commissioner of Pensions, September 8, 1858. Although Barr does not reveal as much in her letters to the Pension Office, by 1858 she had been married at least five times. In addition to her marriages to Bundick, Davidson, and Barr, records suggest that she married Samie Sniffin in 1818 or thereabouts and Captain Charles Hobday in 1823. See Application of Harriet M. Buhler for Membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution, October 15, 1937 (noting Catherine [sic] Dorgan's marriage to Samie Sniffen in 1818); “Married,” N.Y. Spectator, April 29, 1823, at 1 (reporting the marriage of Captain Charles Hobday to Mrs. Catherine [sic] Sniffen).

3. File of Catharine Davidson, NARA, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, RG 15, Old Wars Pension Files, Widow's File 322, Catharine Barr to George C. Whiting, Commissioner of Pensions, September 8, 1858.

4. Ibid., Catharine Barr to George C. Whiting, Commissioner of Pensions, June 20, 1858.

5. See below note 29.

6. See, for example, statutes cited below in notes 17, 19, 20, 22, and 26. See also Collins, Kristin A., “Administering Marriage: Marriage-Based Entitlements, Bureaucracy, and the Legal Construction of the Family,” Vanderbilt Law Review 62 (2009): 1085–167.

7. See Dubler, Ariela R., “In the Shadow of Marriage: Single Women and the Legal Construction of the Family and the State,” Yale Law Journal 112 (2003): 1658–59.

8. Theda Skocpol's pathbreaking study of Civil War military pensions illuminated the significance of military pensions as a form of social provision, and in particular provision made for widows and other family dependents. See Protecting Soldiers and Mothers: The Political Origins of Social Policy in the United States (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992). However, Skocpol references pre-Civil War veterans' and widows' pensions in passing only, noting that “the expansions of U.S. military pensions prior to the 1860s were minimal compared to what was to come with the mass-mobilizing Civil War and its political aftermath.” Ibid., 105. Alice Kessler–Harris's study of the Social Security Act of 1939 and related early twentieth-century legislation probes the modern history of social provision for women predicated on marriage. See In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in 20th-Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001). Linda Gordon has focused on the development of mothers' aid statutes and “welfare” for mothers from the Progressive period through the New Deal. See Gordon, Linda, Pitied but Not Entitled: Single Mothers and the History of Welfare, 1890–1935 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994). However, attention to social provision for women in the early nineteenth century has largely focused on local poor law legislation and charity, rather than centralized, government-funded systems of entitlement. See, for example, Abramovitz, Mimi, Regulating the Lives of Women: Social Welfare Policy from Colonial Times to the Present (Boston: South End Press, 1989), 181213.

9. See Collins, “Administering Marriage,” 1122–56.

10. See, for example, Ginzberg, Lori D., Untidy Origins: A Story of Women's Rights in Antebellum New York (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005); Portnoy, Alisse, Their Right to Speak: Women's Activism in the Indian and Slave Debates (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005); Zaeske, Susan, Signatures of Citizenship: Petitioning, Antislavery, and Women's Political Identity (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003); and Hershberger, Mary, “Mobilizing Women, Anticipating Abolition: The Struggle Against Indian Removal in the 1830s,” Journal of American History 86 (1999): 1540.

11. There is a robust and expanding literature exploring the various ways that women harnessed contemporary gender conventions in their efforts to shape government practices and civil society in the early nineteenth century. See, for example, Zagarri, Rosemarie, Revolutionary Backlash: Women and Politics in the Early American Republic (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007); Varon, Elizabeth R., We Mean to Be Counted: White Women and Politics in Antebellum Virginia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998); Ryan, Mary P., Women in Public: Between Banners and Ballots, 1825–1880 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990), 130–41; Kerber, Linda K., Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980), 85; and Ginzberg, Lori D., “‘Moral Suasion Is Moral Balderdash’: Women, Politics, and Social Activism in the 1850s,” Journal of American History 73 (1986): 601–22.

12. By focusing on widows' petitions as an important factor in the emergence of military widows' pensions, this article builds on and attempts to bridge two analytical approaches that have tended to dominate discussions of the development of broad-scale systems of social provision: the institutional-political process approach favored by political scientists (see, for example, Wier, Margaret, Orloff, Anna Shola, and Skocpol, Theda, The Politics of Social Policy in the United States [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988], 4041), and feminist historians' keen attention to the role of gender ideology in the evolution of redistributive systems (see Kessler–Harris, In Pursuit of Equity; Abramovitz, Regulating the Lives of Women; and Nelson, Barbara, “The Origins of the Two-Channel Welfare State: Workmen's Compensation and Mothers' Aid,” in Women, the State, and Welfare, ed. Gordon, Linda [Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990], 123–51).

13. See discussion accompanying notes 159–62.

14. This section draws significantly on my description of the early nineteenth-century military widows' pension statutes provided in Collins, “Administering Marriage,” 1095–116.

15. See Trustram, Myna, Women of the Regiment: Marriage and the Victorian Army (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 92 (“Pensions for officers' widows and orphans originated in the early eighteenth century. NCOs and privates had to wait for almost two centuries before the needs of their families were recognised.”).

16. For examples of colonial poor law provision for families of soldiers, see “An Act for Relieving Such as Shall Be Maimed in the Colonies Service, and the Widow, Parents or Relations of Such as Shall Be Kill'd in the Colonies Service, and Shall Not Be Able to Subsist or Maintain Themselves” (1718) reprinted in The Earliest Acts and Laws of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations 1647–1719, ed. Cushing, John D. (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1977), 228–29; and An Act to Amend the Act Concerning Pensioners” (1785) in The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, ed. Hening, William Waller (Richmond: George Cochran, 1823), 12:105.

17. For examples of acts granting pensions to officers' widows only, see Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. Ford, Worthington C. et al. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1904–37), 17:772–73 (resolution of August 24, 1780 providing pensions to widows of Revolutionary War officers); Act of June 7, 1794, ch. 52, § 1, 1 Stat. 390, 390 (providing 5-year half-pay pensions to widows of commissioned officers who “die by reason of wounds received in actual service of the United States”); Act of March 16, 1802, ch. 9, § 15, 2 Stat. 132, 135 (providing 5-year half-pay pensions to widows of “commissioned officer[s] in the military peace establishment” who “die by reason of any wound received in actual service of the United States”); and Act of January 11, 1812, ch. 14, § 15, 2 Stat. 671, 673 (providing 5-year half-pay pensions to widows of “any commissioned officer in the military establishment of the United States” who died “by reason of any wound received in actual service of the United States”).

18. Unlike most widows' service-based pensions, described in the text accompanying notes 24–26, traditional war widows' pension statutes also provided for the children of deceased soldiers and officers, but only in the absence of a widow or upon her death or remarriage. Children were pension eligible until they reached the age of 16 or 21, or the term-limited pension expired, whichever occurred first. See, for example, Act of April 10, 1812, ch. 54, § 2, 2 Stat. 704, 704; Act of March 19, 1836, ch. 44, § 5, 5 Stat. 7, 7; and Act of March 3, 1837, ch. 38, § 1, 5 Stat. 180, 180. Careful analysis of statutory provision for the children of fallen soldiers is outside the scope of this article. However, a few observations are particularly relevant to understanding the widows' pension statutes. First, it is significant that children were not primary beneficiaries of the pension statutes, given that under contemporary intestacy law children had a direct claim on their fathers' estate that was in certain respects superior to that of the widow. See Collins, “Administering Marriage,” 1111–12. Second, although traditional war widows' pensions extended to orphans in some circumstances and were often justified based on widows' actual or presumed service as mothers, motherhood was not required for widows' pension eligibility––only marriage. Accordingly, a widows' pension eligibility turned on the existence of a legal marriage, a point I explore in detail in “Administering Marriage,” 1130–40.

19. Act of March 4, 1814, ch. 20, §§ 1–2, 3 Stat. 103, 103; and Act of April 16, 1816, ch. 55, §§ 1–2, 3 Stat. 285, 285–86.

20. See, for example, Act of March 3, 1817, ch. 60, § 1, 3 Stat. 373, 373–74 (providing 5-year half-pay pensions to widows of navy officers, seamen, and marines who had died, or were to die, in the line of duty after June 18, 1812); Act of April 20, 1818, ch. 101, § 2, 3 Stat. 459, 459 (granting 5-year half-pay pensions to widows of militia who “prosecut[ed] the war against the Seminole tribe of Indians”); and Act of May 23, 1828, ch. 72, § 1, 4 Stat. 288, 288 (granting 5-year extension of pensions awarded to widows of all “officers, seamen and marines” killed in the War of 1812).

21. See sources cited in note 17.

22. Act of March 19, 1836, ch. 44, § 5, 5 Stat. 7 (emphasis added).

23. In English law, there was a brief but important exception to the class-salient approach to military widows' pensions in the mid-seventeenth century. Following the English Civil War, soldiers' war widows were eligible to receive pensions from a fund established by the short-lived republican Commonwealth government, as long as the widow could demonstrate poverty as a result of her husband's death. See Hudson, Geoffrey L., “Negotiating for Blood Money: War Widows and the Courts in Seventeenth-Century England,” in Women, Crime and the Courts in Early Modern England, ed. Kermode, Jennifer and Walker, Garthine (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994), 151–52. Hudson explains, however, that after the demise of that system with the restoration of the monarchy, widows of English soldiers would not receive pensions “for over 200 years.” Ibid., 146. Isser Woloch has excavated another republican experiment with pensions for the widows of soldiers in France at the end of the eighteenth century. However, France's experiment with the pension alimentaire for soldiers' widows was also short lived, ending in the 1810s. See Woloch, Isser, “War-Widows Pensions: Social Policy in Revolutionary and Napoleonic France,” Societas 6 (1976): 238–40.

24. See Act of July 4, 1836, ch. 362, § 3, 5 Stat. 127, 128. Section 3 of the July 4, 1836 statute extended the Revolutionary War veterans' service-based pensions, created in 1832, to veterans' widows. See Act of June 7, 1832, ch. 126, § 1, 4 Stat. 529, 529–30. Pursuant to Section 3, the widow received the same amount that her husband had received under the 1832 Act. Thus, widows whose husbands had served in the Revolutionary War for at least 2 years received full pay for life (capped at the pay of a captain) and widows whose husbands had served between 6 months and 2 years received pensions prorated based on their length of service. See Act of July 4, 1836, § 3; and Act of June 7, 1832, § 1.

25. Committee on Revolutionary Pensions, Huldah Pennyman, H.R. Rep. No. 24–235, 1 (1837).

26. See, for example, Act of March 3, 1837, ch. 42, § 2, 5 Stat. 187, 187 (granting lifetime pensions to widows who had married a Revolutionary War veteran prior to 1783); Act of July 7, 1838, ch. 189, § 1, 5 Stat. 303, 303 (granting 5-year pensions to widows who had married a Revolutionary War veteran prior to 1794); Act of March 3, 1843, ch. 102, § 1, 5 Stat. 647, 647 (granting a 1-year extension of pensions awarded to widows pursuant to the Act of July 7, 1838); Act of June 17, 1844, ch. 102, §§ 1–2, 5 Stat. 680, 680 (granting a 4-year extension of pensions awarded to widows pursuant to the Act of July 7, 1838); Act of February 2, 1848, ch. 8, §§ 1–2, 9 Stat. 210, 210–11 (transforming widows' pensions awarded under the Act of July 7, 1838 into lifetime pensions); Act of July 29, 1848, ch. 120, § 1, 9 Stat. 265, 265–66 (granting lifetime pensions to Revolutionary War widows married prior to 1800); and Act of February 3, 1853, ch. 41, § 2, 10 Stat. 154, 154 (granting lifetime pensions to Revolutionary War widows, regardless of when their marriage to a veteran took place).

27. The amount an individual widow received as a pension corresponded to her husband's rank because her pension was calculated according to the soldier's or officer's pay, although pensions were generally capped at a particular rank, such as captain or lieutenant colonel. See, for example, Act of June 7, 1794, ch. 52, § 1, 1 Stat. 390, 390; Act of April 10, 1812, ch. 54, § 2, 2 Stat. 704, 705; Act of July 4, 1836, ch. 362, § 3, 5 Stat. 127, 128; and Act of February 3, 1853, ch. 41, § 1, 10 Stat. 154, 154.

28. Laura Jensen makes this important point with respect to veterans' service-based pensions, which Congress expanded significantly in the 1810s and 1820s. See Jensen, Laura, Patriots, Settlers, and the Origins of American Social Policy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 912.

29. My estimate that at least 47,000 widows collected pensions from 1836 to 1860 exceeds estimates offered by William Glasson and John Resch, both of whom placed the number at approximately 23,000. See Glasson, William H., Federal Military Pensions in the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1918), 9596; and Resch, John, Suffering Soldiers: Revolutionary War Veterans, Moral Sentiment, and Political Culture in the Early Republic (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1999), 203. In large part, this is because Glasson and Resch included only Revolutionary War widows in their estimates, whereas my calculation includes traditional war widows who received pensions between 1836 and 1861. Accordingly, there is no actual inconsistency between my estimates and theirs, although the lower estimates are misleading if they are understood to represent the full scope of early nineteenth-century military widows' pensions. My calculation is based on careful examination of data contained in early nineteenth-century reports by the Commissioner of Pensions to Congress. The vagaries of early nineteenth-century record keeping make any estimation imperfect, and when in doubt I erred on the side of undercounting the number of widows receiving pensions. See Loren Pinckney Waldo, Report of the Commissioner of Pensions, H.R. Exec. Doc. No. 33–1, 1:488, 495 (1st Sess. 1853); Loren Pinckney Waldo, Report of the Commissioner of Pensions, S. Exec. Doc. No. 33–1, 1:558–59 (2nd Sess. 1854); J. Minot, Report of the Commissioner of Pensions, H.R. Exec. Doc. No. 34–1, 1:594 (1st Sess. 1855); J. Minot, Report of the Commissioner of Pensions, H.R. Exec. Doc. No. 34–1, 1:848 (3rd Sess. 1856); George C. Whiting, Report of the Commissioner of Pensions, H.R. Exec. Doc. No. 35–2, 2:706–9 (1st Sess. 1857); George C. Whiting, Report of the Commissioner of Pensions, H.R. Exec. Doc. No. 35–2, 2:676–79 (2nd Sess. 1858); George C. Whiting, Report of the Commissioner of Pensions, S. Exec. Doc. No. 36–2, 1:825–28 (1st Sess. 1859); and George C. Whiting, Report of the Commissioner of Pensions, S. Exec. Doc. No. 36–1, 1:470–73 (2nd Sess. 1860).

30. For a detailed discussion of the administration of the widows' pensions, see Collins, “Administering Marriage,” 1123–40.

31. See, for example, Committee on Revolutionary Claims, Heir of Richard Wilde, H.R. Rep. 27–357 (1842) (petition reports that the “widow of Lieutenant Wilde had often applied to her friends to get her an allowance for her husband's services, and was always told by them that they knew of no law that would entitle her to receive anything”); Committee on Military Affairs, Pamela Adams, H.R. Rep. 23–328, 2 (1834) (widow's petition notes that she is seeking a pension “by the advice of friends”). See also text accompanying notes 97 and 128–40.

32. See, for example, “War Department, Pension Office,” Berkshire Journal, May 5, 1831, at 1 (reporting widows' right to arrears under the Act of March 2, 1829, setting forth application procedures, and noting that “printers in the city and country are requested to insert the above for the benefit of revolutionary pensioners”); “Pensions to Widows,” Salem Gazette, March 21, 1837, at 2 (reporting that Congress had granted pensions to widows of those who had died in the navy, “whatever was the cause of death, whether they were seamen or marines”); “Information to the Widows and Children of the Revolution, and of Such as Died in the War of 1812,” Farmers' Cabinet, December 6, 1839, at 3 (providing basic information regarding widows' pension eligibility under extant acts of Congress).

33. For example, in a declaration submitted to the Pension Office in 1847, Pamela Blackwell of New Jersey explained that “she knew well that she was entitled to a pension from the Government soon after the passage of that law”––the Act of July 4, 1836––as “she was visited by a number of agents to draw papers and prosecute her claim.” File of Pamela Blackwell, NARA, RG 15, microfilmed on Records of the Veterans' Administration, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land Application Files, 1800–1900 (1974), Series M804 (hereinafter “Series M804”), W 839, Declaration of Pamela Blackwell, April 5, 1847. For a detailed discussion of the pension claims agents and their function in the pension claims process, see Collins, “Administering Marriage,” 1124–27.

34. The phrase “imagined community” is, of course, Benedict Anderson's, and it refers to the power of various mechanisms––including newspapers––to build a sense of nationalism in the absence of direct contact between members of a national polity. Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (New York: Verso, 1983).

35. Report of Secretary of War Knox to Congress on the Claim of Ruth Roberts, February 5, 1790, American State Papers: Claims, 1:5–6.

36. See Mayo, Robert and Moulton, Ferdinand, Army and Navy Pension Laws, and Bounty Land Laws of the United States, 2nd ed. (Baltimore: Lucas Brothers, 1854), XXVIXXVII.

37. For two foundational examinations of the development of the concept of domesticity in the early nineteenth century, see Cott, Nancy F., The Bonds of Womanhood: “Women's Sphere” in New England, 1780–1835 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977); and Sklar, Kathryn Kish, Catharine Beecher: A Study in American Domesticity (New York: Norton, 1973).

38. This point draws on Nancy Cott's important observation that the Civil War widows' pension system, “reaching far into the ranks of the very poor . . . , reinforced the standard that the husband and father was the provider and family members his dependents.” See Cott, Nancy F., Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), 103.

39. de Kay, James Tertius, A Rage for Glory: The Life of Commodore Stephen Decatur, USN (New York: Free Press, 2004), 4560.

40. Ibid., 59.

41. For a detailed and illuminating discussion of the prize-money system and its dissolution in the nineteenth century, see Parillo, Nicholas, “The De-privatization of American Warfare: How the U.S. Government Used, Regulated, and Ultimately Abandoned Privateering in the Nineteenth Century,” Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities 19 (2007): 2326.

42. de Kay, A Rage for Glory, 174. For a discussion of elite Washington society during this period, and especially the role of women in patronage politics, see Allgor, Catherine, Parlor Politics: In Which the Ladies of Washington Help Build a City and a Government (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2000), 128–46.

43. For a discussion of the code of honor that governed dueling in early nineteenth-century America, see LaCroix, Alison L., “To Gain the Whole World and Lose His Own Soul: Nineteenth-Century American Dueling as Public Law and Private Code,” Hofstra Law Review 33 (2004): 501–69.

44. de Kay, A Rage for Glory, 177–92.

45. Lewis, Charles Lee, The Romantic Decatur (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1937), 232–33.

46. Ibid., 279 nn.103,105.

47. Ibid., 279 n.105.

48. See, e.g., Act of March 4, 1814, ch. 20, § 2, 2 Stat. 103 (granting pensions to widows whose husbands “shall die . . . by reason of a wound received in the line of his duty”). See also Susan Decatur, H.R. Rep. No. 34–306 (1856) (reprinting J. Minot, Pension Commissioner, to Hon. S.R. Mallory, Chairman, Senate Committee on Naval Affairs, May 14, 1856); see source cited in note 214.

49. Committee on Naval Affairs, On the Claim of Mrs. Susan Decatur, Widow of Commodore Stephen Decatur for Prize Money, for the Capture and Destruction of the Frigate Philadelphia, at Algiers, H.R. Rep. No. 19–281, at 484–86 (1826).

50. Committee on Naval Affairs, Destruction of Frigate Philadelphia, H.R. Rep. No. 19–74, at 10 (1827).

51. See ibid.; Committee on Naval Affairs, On the Claims of the Survivors and Legal Representatives of the Officers and Crew of the Ketch Intrepid, Commanded by Captain Stephen Decatur, and others, for Remuneration for the Destruction of the Frigate Philadelphia at Tripoli, in 1804; and Recommending the Distribution of $100,000 Amongst Them in the Proportion Stated, H.R. Rep. No. 24–595 (1836).

52. See Digested Summary and Alphabetical List of Private Claims Presented to the House of Representatives from the 1st to the 31st Congress (Washington, DC: Wm. M. Belt, 1853).

53. See, for example, Committee on Naval Affairs, Destruction of Frigate Philadelphia, H.R. Rep. No. 19–74 (1827); Committee on Naval Affairs, On Senate Bill No. 50––Susan Decatur, et al., H.R. Rep. No. 20–201 (1828); Case of Susan Decatur, et al., H.R. Rep. No. 21–60 (1830); On Claim of Mrs. Susan Decatur and Others, H.R. Rep. No. 21–398 (1830); Case of Susan Decatur, et al., H.R. Doc. No. 22–27 (1831); Committee on Naval Affairs, Susan Decatur, H.R. Rep. No. 23–45 (1833); Committee on Naval Affairs, On the Claim of Susan Decatur and Others, H.R. Rep. 23–522 (1833); Committee on Naval Affairs, On the Claims of the Survivors and Legal Representatives of the Officers and Crew of the Ketch Intrepid, H.R. Rep. No. 24–595 (1836); Committee on Naval Affairs, Susan Decatur, H.R. Rep. 34–22 (1856); and Committee on Naval Affairs, Susan Decatur, S. Rep. 34–306 (1856). For representative floor debates, see text accompanying notes 206–210.

54. Eberlein, Harold Donaldson & Van Dyke Hubbard, Cortland, Historic Houses of George-Town & Washington City (Richmond: Dietz Press, 1958), 271.

55. If personal letters sent to Susan Decatur by representatives and senators are to be taken at face value, she had many supporters in Congress. See, for example, File of Susan Decatur, Georgetown University Archives, Box 1, Folder 23, Representative Samuel Carson to Susan Decatur, February 8, 1832; ibid., Box 1, Folder 24, Representative Edward Everett to Susan Decatur, February 26, 1832; ibid., Box 1, Folder 30, Representative John Patton to Susan Decatur, February 5, 1835; ibid., Box 1, Folder 28, Representative George McDuffie to Susan Decatur, February 7, 1835; and ibid., Box 1, Folder 20, Representative Henry Horn to Susan Decatur, December 31, 1851. Lewis Cass, secretary of war from 1831 to 1836, was also supportive of her claim. See ibid., Box 1, Folder 21, Lewis Cass to Susan Decatur, January 2, 1832.

56. A Resolution Granting a Pension to Susan Decatur, Widow of the Late Stephen Decatur, No. 2, 24th Cong., 2nd Sess. (March 3, 1837); and Cong. Globe, 34th Cong., 1st Sess. 1600 (1856).

57. Act of March 3, 1837, ch. 38, § 1, 5 Stat. 180.

58. The unusually broad reach of the statute was noted in congressional debates leading to its repeal, as discussed in text accompanying notes 214–18.

59. Decatur v. Paulding, 39 U.S. 497, 514 (1840).

60. Transcript of Record in Decatur v. Paulding, 39 U.S. 497 (1840), B. F. Butler to Hon. Mahlon Dickerson, April 11, 1837; and ibid., M. Dickerson to Susan Decatur, April 14, 1837.

61. Cong. Globe, 34th Cong., 1st Sess. 1600 (1856).

62. Decatur, 39 U.S. 498. Paulding had known Stephen Decatur in the 1810s, when they had lived in the same Washington, D.C., boardinghouse. See Aderman, Ralph M. and Kime, Wayne R., Advocate for America: The Life of James Kirke Paulding (Selinsgrove, PA: Susquehanna University Press, 2003), 6061. Paulding, who was a significant literary voice for the Democratic party, also wrote a “Biography of Commodore Decatur,” which was published in Analectic Magazine in 1813. Ibid., 349 n.11.

63. Transcript of Record in Decatur v. Paulding, 39 U.S. 497 (1840), Petition to Circuit Court (November 25, 1839), 6; and ibid., Amended Petition (December 14, 1839), 15.

64. Decatur, 39 U.S. 515. For a discussion of the Decatur case and its significance for early nineteenth-century administrative law, see Jerry L. Mashaw, “Administration and ‘The Democracy’: Administrative Law from Jackson to Lincoln, 1829–1861,” Yale Law Journal 117 (2008): 1673–76.

65. Decatur, 39 U.S. 516.

66. Act of August 16, 1841, ch. 8, § 1, 5 Stat. 440, 440 (1841).

67. On occasion, Decatur, or at least her supporters in Congress, claimed poverty. See Cong. Globe, 34th Cong., 1st Sess. 1582, 1600 (1856). Others found this assertion implausible given that Decatur had received arrearages of approximately $14,000 under the March, 3, 1837 public law before it was repealed. Ibid., 1600. The repeal of the March 3, 1837 general pension law is discussed in detail in section III.C.

68. Joint Resolution for the Benefit of Susan Decatur, Widow of Commodore Stephen Decatur, Late of the United States Navy, S.R. 24, 34th Cong., 1st Sess. (August 2, 1856); and Cong. Globe, 34th Cong., 2nd Sess. 2227 (1856).

69. Starting in 1837, Catharine Barr also pursued a pension for herself and her siblings based on the military service of their father, Andrew Dorgan. Under most traditional war widows' pension statutes, if the widow died or remarried, the pension would go to the children of the deceased officer, soldier, or seaman, until the children reached the age of 16 or, in the case of some navy pensions, 21. See, for example, Act of April 10, 1812, ch. 54, §2, 2 Stat. 704, 704; Act of March 3, 1837, ch. 38, § 1, 5 Stat. 180, 180. In 1837 the children of Andrew Dorgan were awarded pensions for the death of their father in 1817. Although Barr was the primary advocate for the pension, she collected only a one-time payment of $8.57 because she had turned 21 years of age 3 months after her father died, whereas her youngest sibling collected a handsome payment of $1,466.71. See File of Andrew Dorgan, NARA, Records Department of Veterans' Affairs, RG 15, Old Wars Pension Files, File No. 373, Andrew Dorgan Sailing Master, Dec'd 20 July 1817 (table calculating pensions due children of Andrew Dorgan); and File of Catharine Davidson, NARA, Records of the Department of Veterans' Affairs, RG 15, Old Wars Pension Files, Widow's File 322, Catharine Barr to Secretary of the Navy, February 14, 1842.

70. For a detailed description of this administrative process, see Collins, “Administering Marriage,” 1123–46.

71. The vast majority of widows and veterans were represented by pension claims agents, who took a percentage of the pension as payment for their services. Ibid., 1124–26.

72. File of Catharine Davidson, NARA, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, RG 15, Old Wars Pension Files, Widow's File 322, Catharine Barr to Commissioner of Pensions, June 20, 1858; and File of Andrew Dorgan, NARA, Records Department of Veterans' Affairs, RG 15, Old Wars Pension Files, File No. 373, Andrew Dorgan Sailing Master, Dec'd 20 July 1817 (recording Catharine Dorgan's date of birth as October 20, 1796).

73. File of Catharine Davidson, NARA, Records of the Department of Veterans' Affairs, RG 15, Old Wars Pension Files, Widow's File 322, Catharine Barr to Secretary of the Navy, February 14, 1842.

74. Ibid.

75. Ibid. Barr was almost certainly pensioned under the Act of March 4, 1814, which provided for the widows of “any officer, seaman or marine serving on board of any private armed ship or vessel bearing a commission” of the United States. Act of March 4, 1814, ch. 20, § 1, 3 Stat. 103, 103.

76. See Application of Harriet M. Buhler for Membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution, Oct 15, 1937 (listing Catherine [sic] Dorgan's marriage to Samie Sniffen in 1818). Buhler's account is consistent with a contemporary record of Catharine's subsequent marriage to Charles Hobday in 1823. See “Married,” N.Y. Spectator, April 29, 1823, 1 (reporting the marriage of Captain Charles Hobday to Mrs. Catherine [sic] Sniffen).

77. See, e.g., Act of March 4, 1814, ch. 20, § 1, 3 Stat. 103, 103 (“in the case of death or intermarriage of such widow before the expiration of the term of five years” the remaining pension payments “shall go to the child or children of the deceased” and “shall cease on the death of such child or children”); and Act of June 30, 1834, ch. 134, 4 Stat. 714, 714 (“every pension hereby granted shall cease on the death or marriage of such widow”). Congress sometimes made exceptions to this rule by allowing some re-widowed widows to claim pensions. See discussion in note 182.

78. See “Married,” N.Y. Spectator, April 29, 1823, 1 (reporting the marriage of Captain Charles Hobday to Mrs. Catherine [sic] Sniffen).

79. See File of Catharine Davidson, NARA, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, RG 15, Old Wars Pension Files, Widow's File 322, Marriage Certificate of William and Catharine Davidson, October 15, 1835. Although it is unclear when Charles Hobday died, an 1829 New York City directory lists Catharine Hobday as a widow. See Longworth's American Almanac, New York Register, and City Directory for the Fifty-fourth Year of American Independence (New York: Thomas Longworth, 1829), 293.

80. File of Catharine Davidson, NARA, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, RG 15, Old Wars Pension Files, Widow's File 322, Thomas Williamson to Catharine Davidson, August 14, 1836. Williamson, a hospital administrator, added that Davidson was an “old sailor, of depraved constitution, & has been a hard drinker.” Ibid.

81. Ibid., Catharine Davidson to Secretary of the Navy, August 22, 1836.

82. Ibid. See also ibid., Pension Certificate of Catharine Davidson, September 2, 1836.

83. Act of March 3, 1837, ch. 38, § 1, 5 Stat. 180.

84. File of Catharine Davidson, NARA, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, RG 15, Old Wars Pension Files, Widow's File 322, Catharine Barr to Commissioner of Pensions, June 20, 1868.

85. Ibid., Form of Declaration for Obtaining a Renewal Widow's Navy Pension, September 17, 1868.

86. Ibid., Catharine Barr to Secretary of the Navy, February 14, 1842.

87. Ibid.

88. Ibid.

89. Ibid., Catharine Barr to Commissioner of Pensions, September 8, 1858.

90. Ibid.

91. Ibid., Catharine Barr to Commissioner of Pensions, June 20, 1858.

92. Ibid., Form of Declaration for Obtaining a Renewal Widow's Navy Pension, September 17, 1868.

93. Ibid., anonymous folder notation, November 7, 1868. Sometimes administrators––or, on appeal, legislators––exercised leniency on this point, allowing widows to collect a pension after they had remarried and were re-widowed, even when the particular widows' pension statute clearly terminated the widow's pension upon remarriage. See discussion in note 182.

94. File of Catharine Davidson, NARA, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, RG 15, Old Wars Pension Files, Widow's File 322, M. G. Delancy to Catharine Davidson, July 27, 1836.

95. Ibid., Catharine Davidson to M. Dickerson, August 29, 1836.

96. Ibid., Catharine Barr to Secretary of the Navy, February 14, 1842.

97. Ibid.

98. See sources cited in note 10.

99. Kerber, Women of the Republic, 85. For a wonderful examination of the differences in the rhetorical modes of men's and women's anti-removal petitions, see Portnoy, Their Right to Speak, 71–78.

100. Kierner, Cynthia A., Beyond the Household: Women's Place in the Early South, 1700–1835 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998), 9799.

101. See Landis, Michele L., ‘Let Me Next Time Be “Tried by Fire”’: Disaster Relief and the Origins of the American Welfare State, 1789–1874,” Northwestern University Law Review 92 (1998): 978–81.

102. See Pfander, James E. and Hunt, Jonathan L., “Public Wrongs and Private Bills: Indemnification and Government Accountability in the Early Republic,” New York University Law Review 85 (2010): 1932–39.

103. See Jensen, Patriots, 68–69; and Resch, Suffering Soldiers, 85–91.

104. See John, Richard, Spreading the News: The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995), 4950.

105. See Kierner, Beyond the Household, 125–27; Cott, The Bonds of Womanhood, 7; see also Bogin, Ruth, “Petitioning and the New Moral Economy of Post-Revolutionary America,” William & Mary Quarterly 45 (1988): 391425.

106. See Lebsock, Suzanne, The Free Women of Petersburg: Status and Culture in a Southern Town, 1784–1860 (New York: Norton, 1984), 196201. At the federal level, from 1848 to 1854, Dorothea Dix famously petitioned Congress for a land grant with the intention of selling the land to provide relief and support for the poor and insane. See Brown, Thomas J., Dorothea Dix: New England Reformer (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), 148214.

107. For a discussion of this appeal process, see Collins, “Administering Marriage,” 1129–45.

108. See, for example, sources cited in note 55.

109. For a useful discussion of various forms of literacy among men and women in this period, and the difficulty of determining literacy rates, see Kaestle, Carl F., “The History of Literacy and the History of Readers,” Review of Research in Education 12 (1985): 1153.

110. One possible theory is that the lion's share of the pressure to enact military widows' pensions came from men––men who risked their lives in war and who were gradually being incorporated into the ranks of the enfranchised. It is clear that men and groups of men sometimes pressed for widows' pensions. See, for example, Committee on Military Affairs, Pamela Adams, H.R. Rep. 23–328, 2–3 (1834) (report reprinting letter signed by 97 men in support of a widow's pension petition); Journal of the House of Representatives 341 (28th Cong., 1st Sess. 1844) (Representative David L. Seymour presenting a resolution of the State of New York urging extension of Revolutionary War widows' pensions); and Journal of the House of Representatives 343 (28th Cong., 1st Sess. 1844) (Representative Jacob Collamer presenting a “Joint Resolution Relative to Pensions to Widows of Revolutionary Officers and Soldiers” on behalf of the Vermont state legislature). However, upon closer analysis this explanation is only partial, and is in certain respects misleading. As an initial matter, many of the military widows' pensions––even for traditional war widows––were granted retroactively, suggesting that men did not routinely insist on widows' pensions as a condition for service. See, for example, Act of March 4, 1814, ch. 20, §§ 1–2, 3 Stat. 103, 103–4; Act of April 16, 1816, ch. 55, §§ 1–2, 3 Stat. 285, 285–86; and Act of July 4, 1836, ch. 362, § 1, 5 Stat. 127, 127–28. Moreover, as classes of potential pensioners, veterans and widows were sometimes in direct competition for resources, revealing a misalignment of interests between veterans (at least some of whom were enfranchised) and widows (none of whom were enfranchised). Indeed, in the 1830s, some officers actively petitioned against proposals that would fund officers' widows' pensions from a tax levied on officers' regular pay. See, for example, Memorial of Sundry Officers of the Army and Military Academy Remonstrating Against the Passage of the “Bill to Provide for the Support of Widows and Orphans of Such Officers of the Army as May Die While in Service of the United States,” H.R. Rep. 23–74 (1834); Memorial of a Committee of Officers Stationed at Fort Monroe, H.R. Rep. No. 23–130 (1834); Petition Against Bill to Provide for Widows of Officers, H.R. Rep. No. 23–205 (1834); and Remonstrance of Officers of the Army and Military Academy Against Taxing Their Pay for the Support of Widows and Orphans of Deceased Officers, S. Rep. No. 23–563 (1834). In short, although there is no doubt that men––fathers, brothers, adult sons, neighbors, and town officials––had an interest in securing assistance for widows, widows themselves were the most active proponents of widows' pensions.

111. See Collins, “Administering Marriage,” 1130–40.

112. In this regard, the widows' pension petitions and statutes support Barbara Yngvesson's important observation that law “is neither ‘from above’ nor ‘from below’ but simultaneously separate and immanent, imposed and participatory.” Barbara Yngvesson, “Making Law at the Doorway: The Clerk, the Court, and the Construction of Community in a New England Town,” Law & Society Review 22 (1988): 412.

113. I take no position on whether the First Amendment petition clause obliged Congress, or any other branch of the federal government, to formally consider the petitions it received. Compare Spanbauer, Julie M., “The First Amendment Right to Petition Government for Redress of Grievances: Cut from a Different Cloth,” Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly 21 (1993): 17, with Lawson, Gary and Seidman, Guy, “Downsizing the Right to Petition,” Northwestern University Law Review 93 (1999): 739–40. As a matter of practice, it is almost certain that some widows' petitions were not considered at all. However, the fact that legislators appear to have been generally responsive to widows' pension petitions for individual relief, even if they did not usually act on them affirmatively, suggests that the legal tradition mandating some sort of response was a strong one, indeed. See Mark, Gregory A., “The Vestigial Constitution: The History and Significance of the Right to Petition,” Fordham Law Review 66 (1998): 2160 (“The government . . . felt a socio-political obligation to hear those grievances [expressed in petitions], to provide a response, and often to act upon the complaints.”).

114. See Risjord, Norman K., “Congress in the Federalist-Republican Era,” in Encyclopedia of the American Legislative System, ed. Sibley, Joel H. (New York: Scribner, 1994), I:99109.

115. Ibid., 103 table 2.

116. See, for example, Pension, February 20, 1819, American State Papers: Claims 1: 675 (committee report on the petition of Ruth Reed); On the Claim of the Widow of a Seaman Who Died in Dartmoor Prison, in England, to Five Years' Half-Pay, February 3, 1827, American State Papers: Naval Affairs 3: 24 (committee report on the petition of Abigail Appleton); Committee on Invalid Pensions, Thankful Randall, H.R. Rep. No. 23–89 (1835). Congress also received petitions from officers' widows who, for whatever reason, did not qualify for a pension under the general pension statutes. See, for example, Committee on Pensions, S. Rep. No. 16–72 (1820) (report on the petition of Catharine Shapley); Committee on Military Pensions, Polly Campbell, H.R. Rep. No. 20–232 (1828); and Committee on Naval Affairs, Sophia Gardner, H.R. Rep. 21–113 (1831). See also Army Contractor Killed by the Enemy, February 15, 1804, American State Papers: Claims, 1:297 (committee report on the petition of Ann Elliot).

117. For examples of pre-1836 general pension statutes granting pensions to widows of soldiers killed in battle, see statutes listed in note 19.

118. See The First System of Public Marriage-Based Entitlements (text section I.)

119. Committee of Claims, Major Dade, et al.––Pensions to Widows and Children, H.R. Rep. No. 24–415 (1836).

120. See, for example, “Horrid Massacre!,” Pittsfield Sun, February 4, 1836, at 2; “Reported Indian Massacre,” Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics, January 30, 1836, at 3; “Slaughter of a Detachment of U.S. Troops by the Seminoles, on the 28th of December,” Connecticut Courant, February 1, 1836, at 2.

121. Committee of Claims, Major Dade, et al.––Pensions to Widows and Children, H.R. Rep. No. 24–415 (1836).

122. Ibid., 3.

123. Act of March 19, 1836, ch. 44, §§ 1, 5, 5 Stat. 7, 7.

124. Revolutionary War veterans had been awarded need-based service-based pensions in 1818. See Act of March 18, 1818, ch. 19, 3 Stat. 410, 410–11. Over the course of the following decade, the veterans successfully petitioned for the creation of service-based pensions not tied to financial need, codified in the Act of May 15, 1828, ch. 53, 4 Stat. 269, 269–70. For a rich and illuminating discussion of the political forces that helped give rise to veterans' service-based pensions, see Jensen, Patriots, 62–122.

125. See, for example, Committee on Pensions, S. Rep. No. 21–69 (1830) (report on the petition of Elizabeth Anderson); Committee on Revolutionary Claims, Martha Yeomans, H.R. Rep. No. 21–154 (1830); Committee on Revolutionary Claims, Elizabeth Dandridge, H.R. Rep. No. 21–182 (1830); and Committee on Revolutionary Claims, Nancy Davis, H.R. Rep. No. 21–324 (1830).

126. Petition of [Martha] Poor, Elizabeth Adams, Lydia Fogg, Mary Emery, T. Tenney, and Caroline L. Eustis, NARA, Records of the House of Representatives, RG 233, 21st Congress, 1st Session, Committee on Military Pensions, Tray HR21A-G13.1 (Petitions), Folder Wham–Yeomans, printed in Select Committee, Petitions of Widows of Officers of the Revolutionary Army, H.R. Rep. No. 21–4, at 4 (1830); and Memorial of Certain Widows of Revolutionary Officers, January 18, 1830, NARA, Records of the United States Senate, RG 46, Committee on Revolutionary Pensions, file SEN 21A-G13, tray 31B (petition of Caroline Langdon Eustis, T. Tenney, Elizabeth Adams, M[ary] Emery, and Lydia Fogg). The New England widows' first petition was formally presented in the House on February 16, 1829, along with the New Jersey widows' petition described in text accompanying notes 133–35. See Journal of the House of Representatives 289–90 (20th Cong., 2nd Sess. 1829). The New England widows' second petition was presented in the Senate on January 18, 1830. See Journal of the Senate 86 (21st Cong., 1st Sess. 1830). See also note 140 and accompanying text.

127. Petition of Caroline L. Eustis, October 31, 1849, NARA, Records of the United States Senate, RG 46, 32A-H15, Committee on Revolutionary Pensions, Tray 1, Folder 4.

128. See sources cited in below notes 137–39.

129. Tenney, Tabitha Gilman, Female Quixotism, Exhibited in the Romantic Opinions and Extravagant Adventures of Dorcasina Sheldon, 2 vols. (Boston: I. Thomas and E.T. Andrews, 1801). See also Davidson, Cathy N., Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 280–82. Although Eustis traveled in the most elite circles of American society, all of the widows who signed the petition were from well-established New England families. For example, Samuel Tenney and William Eustis were classmates at Harvard and Tenney later served as a surgeon's mate under Eustis during the war before serving as a surgeon in his own right. Harrington, Thomas Francis, The Harvard Medical School: A History, Narrative and Documentary (New York: Lewis Publishing Co., 1905), 1:55, 63. The two men also served in Congress together. The Elizabeth Adams who signed the petition was most likely Elizabeth Parker Adams of Tenney's hometown, Exeter, New Hampshire. Adams was the widow of a Revolutionary War lieutenant, Samuel Adams. File of Elizabeth Adams, NARA, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, RG 15, Series M804, W 20564, Declaration of Elizabeth Adams, August 15, 1838. Adams was related by marriage to Lydia Fogg, as Adams's grandfather, Reverend Jeremiah Fogg, was Lydia's father-in-law. Ibid. Lydia Fogg lived just south of Exeter in Kensington, New Hampshire and was the widow of Jeremiah Fogg, a major in the Revolutionary War. File of Lydia Fogg, NARA, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, RG 15, Series M804, W 16116, Declaration of Lydia Fogg, August 15, 1838. Major Fogg was a 1768 graduate of Harvard College and, following the Revolution, a senator in the New Hampshire State Senate. See Fogg, Jeremiah, Journal of Major Jeremiah Fogg During the Expedition of Gen. Sullivan in 1779 Against the Western Indians (Exeter, N.H.: The New Letter Press, 1879), 1.

130. Davidson, Revolution and the Word, 278.

131. Petition of [Martha] Poor, Elizabeth Adams, Lydia Fogg, Mary Emery, T. Tenney, and Caroline L. Eustis, NARA, Records of the House of Representatives, RG 233, 21st Congress, 1st Session, Committee on Military Pensions, Tray HR21A-G13.1 (Petitions), Folder Wham–Yeomans.

132. Ibid.

133. Select Committee, Petitions of Widows of Officers of the Revolutionary Army, H.R. Rep. No. 21–4, 3–4 (1830) (printing memorial of widows Mary S. Hunter, Susanna Armstrong, Susan Dayton, and Sarah Cumming); Journal of the House of Representatives 290 (20th Cong., 2nd Sess. 1829) (presentation of memorial of widows Hunter, Armstrong, Dayton, and Cumming).

134. For example, Dayton was the widow of the Revolutionary War general Jonathan Dayton, who was a high-ranking Federalist until he was arrested for treason in 1807 for his alleged role in the Burr Conspiracy. New International Encyclopedia, 2nd ed. (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1914), 6:548. Sarah Cumming was the widow of John N. Cumming, a colonel in the Continental Army. File of Sarah Cumming, NARA, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, RG 15, Series M804, W 7234, Declaration of Sarah Cumming, October 21, 1836. Susanna Armstrong was the widow of the Reverend James Armstrong, who graduated from the College of New Jersey (which was later renamed Princeton) and served as a trustee in the 1790s. See Maclean, John, History of the College of New Jersey from Its Origin in 1746 to the Commencement of 1854 (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1877), 2:110.

135. Select Committee, Petitions of Widows of Officers of the Revolutionary Army, H.R. Rep. No. 21–4, 3 (1830).

136. H.R. 405, 20th Cong. 2nd Sess. (1829); Journal of the House of Representatives 328 (20th Cong., 2nd Sess. 1829).

137. T. Tenney to Caroline Langdon Eustis, November 17, 1829, NARA, Records of the United States Senate, RG 46, Committee on Revolutionary Pensions, file SEN 21A-G13, tray 31B. Given that the petition appears to have been physically penned by a scrivener, it is not clear whether Tenney's assertion that she “caused” the petition “to be written” means that she composed the petition but then had it transcribed, or that she enlisted the services of a pension claims agent, lawyer, or other acquaintance to compose the petition.

138. Ibid.

139. Ibid. (emphasis in original).

140. Journal of the Senate 86 (21st Cong., 1st Sess. 1830).

141. Committee on Pensions, Report, S. Rep. No. 21–70 (1830).

142. Ibid. In rejecting the pension petition of Celestine Wilkinson, the widow of Brigadier General James Wilkinson, the Senate Committee on Pensions explained that “[i]t has not been the policy of this Government to adopt the system of granting pensions for military services merely.” Committee on Pensions, S. Rep. No. 21–71 (1830) (report on the petition of Celestine Wilkinson).

143. Anne Royall was the widow of William Royall, who was a major in the Revolutionary War. Her quest for a pension may have been what brought her to Washington, D.C., in 1824, where she established herself as the first professional woman journalist in America. See James, Bessie Rowland, Anne Royall's U.S.A (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1972), 104–14.

144. Committee on Military Affairs, Anne Royall, H.R. Rep. No. 23–100 (1833).

145. See, for example, sources cited in note 125.

146. See Committee on Revolutionary Pensions, Revolutionary Pensions, H.R. Rep. No. 24–210, at 2–3 (1836).

147. Ibid., 3. The committee's focus on wives' wartime contributions supported its recommendation to limit pensions to those widows “whose marriage occurred previous to the expiration of [their husband's] service.” Ibid., 2. The notion that pensions for Revolutionary War widows were justified, in significant part, by the widows' service to country and husband was articulated in several congressional reports. In 1839, the House Committee on Revolutionary War Pensions explained that “the wives of our revolutionary patriots, upon whom devolved the whole management of the domestic concerns of the family, during the absence of the husband . . . had much of the troubles, the anxieties, and dangers of the revolutionary struggle to encounter, all will admit.” Committee on Revolutionary Pensions, Margaret Wade, H.R. Rep. No. 25–309 (1839). An 1848 House Committee Report provides a similar explanation of the Act of July 4, 1836, noting that the act “was passed, in order to provide for those venerable widows who had shared with their husbands in the sufferings and toils of the revolution.” Committee on Revolutionary Pensions, H.R. Rep. No. 31–295, 2 (1848).

148. Committee on Revolutionary Pensions, Revolutionary Pensions, H.R. Rep. No. 24–210, 3 (1836).

149. Act of July 4, 1836, ch. 362, § 3, 5 Stat. 127, 128. For details of the operation of Section 3 of the July 4, 1836 statute, see discussion in note 24.

150. These numbers are estimates based on references in the Senate and House journals to widows' pension petitions formally submitted to and considered by Congress, and in related bills and reports. This information was compiled using the text-searchable online versions of the journals on the Library of Congress American Memory website http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/hlawquery.html (last accessed September 29, 2011). After gathering references to the term “widow” and recording all references to widows' petitions, I then collected bills and committee reports associated with each widow's name to determine whether, in fact, the widow sought a pension (rather than some other form of relief from Congress). When in doubt, I omitted the widow's petition from the count. A similar search was performed in the “Bills and Resolutions” database on the Library of Congress website and the information similarly cross-checked against other sources. This method is by no means perfect, but neither are the alternatives. On the one hand, relying on digitized records likely leads to underestimation of the number of widows' petitions submitted to Congress, as technological limitations almost surely prevent retrieval of all references to widows' pension petitions, even with careful searching. On the other hand, my experience in the National Archives suggests that many actual petitions have been lost or misfiled, making those records an imperfect source as well. Cross-checks of existing registers of petitions to Congress from and of this period also reveal significant omissions. Finally, there is a problem that riddles any effort to determine how many widows petitioned Congress for pensions during this period: it is far from clear that every petition received by a representative or senator was formally submitted to Congress. As per routine practice, any petition not submitted to Congress by the end of a legislative session was returned to the petitioner. Kenneth Kato, Archives Specialist, Center for Legislative Archives, NARA, Washington, D.C., telephone interview with the author, April 13, 2010.

151. See, for example, Committee on Revolutionary Claims, Ann Mortimer Barron, H.R. Rep. No. 23–58 (1833) (navy widow seeking benefit of army widows' pension statute); Committee on Revolutionary Pensions, Jerusha Ripley, H.R. Rep. No. 24–77 (1837) (widow petitions Congress for pension despite the fact that she had remarried); and Committee on Revolutionary Pensions, Hannah Eldridge, H.R. Rep. No. 24–124 (1837) (widow petitions Congress seeking pension despite the fact that she had remarried).

152. Act of July 4, 1836, ch. 362, § 3, 5 Stat. 127, 128.

153. See Act of July 7, 1837, ch. 189, § 2, 5 Stat. 303, 303.

154. See Committee on Revolutionary Pensions, Margaret Wade, H.R. Rep. No. 25–309, 1–2 (1839).

155. Committee on Pensions, S. Rep No. 24–146 (1837) (report on the petition of Sarah Rogers).

156. Ibid.

157. See sources cited in note 26.

158. See Ginzberg, Lori D., Women and the Work of Benevolence: Morality, Politics and Class in the Nineteenth-Century United States (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990); Walters, Ronald G., American Reformers, 1815–1860 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1978); and Boylan, Anne M., “Women in Groups: An Analysis of Women's Benevolent Organizations in New York and Boston, 1797–1840,” Journal of American History 71 (1984): 497523.

159. See Keyssar, Alexander, “Widowhood in Eighteenth-Century Massachusetts: A Problem in the History of the Family,” Perspectives in American History 8 (1974): 112.

160. See Reeve, Tapping, The Law of Baron and Femme, of Parent and Child, Guardian and Ward, Master and Servant, and of the Powers of Courts of Chancery (New York: Banks, Gould, 1841): 8081.

161. In the majority of American jurisdictions, dower was limited to one-third of the husband's real property, though there was some regional variation on this and other aspects of dower law. See Salmon, Marylynn, Women and the Law of Property in Early America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986), 147–84.

162. See ibid., 88–89.

163. See Witt, John Fabian, The Accidental Republic: Crippled Workingmen, Destitute Widows, and the Remaking of American Law (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), 2326.

164. For a probing discussion of dower, its shortcomings as a means of securing widows' financial stability, and dower reform statutes of the early twentieth century, see Dubler, “In the Shadow of Marriage,” 1660–1700.

165. See Chused, Richard H., “Married Women's Property Law: 1800–1850,” Georgetown Law Journal 71 (1983): 1394–95.

166. See ibid., 1398–1404.

167. See ibid., 1410.

168. Sharon Ann Murphy, Investing in Life: Insurance in Antebellum America (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010), 143–48. According to Murphy, “[m]en supported this moderate expansion of the rights of women because it allowed the paternalism of the husband to extend from beyond the grave.” Ibid., 151. See also Heen, Mary L., “From Coverture to Contract: Engendering Insurance on Lives,” Yale Journal of Law & Feminism 23 (2011): 346–50; Susanna L. Blumenthal, “Death by His Own Hand”: Accounting for Suicide in Nineteenth-Century Life Insurance Litigation, in Subjects of Responsibility: Framing Personhood in Modern Bureaucracies, ed. Andrew Parker, Austin Sarat, and Martna Merrill Umphrey (New York: Fordham University Press, 2011): 98–144.

169. See Morantz, Alison, “There's No Place Like Home: Homestead Exemption and Judicial Constructions of Family in Nineteenth-Century America,” Law & History Review 24 (2006): 252–54.

170. See Witt, John Fabian, “From Loss of Services to Loss of Support: The Wrongful Death Statutes, the Origins of Modern Tort Law, and the Making of the Nineteenth–Century Family,” Law & Social Inquiry 25 (2000): 733–43.

171. Ibid., 732 (“[W]hat is remarkable about early actions to recover damages for wrongful death is that . . . they all revolved around masters, husbands, or fathers suing to recover damages for the loss of the services of a servant, wife, or minor child.”).

172. Ibid., 736–37.

173. A claim to dower was not particularly valuable to women whose husbands lacked property. And unlike women of means, the widows of working men were also unlikely to have any independent resources held in trust for their benefit, Salmon, Women and the Law of Property, 83, or even to benefit from other emerging legal tools, such as the married women's property acts.

174. See 31 Annals of Cong. 148 (1818) (statement of Senator William Smith) (contending that creation of veterans' service-based pensions violated the “written Constitution”); and Committee on Revolutionary Pensions, Revolutionary Pensions, H.R. Rep. No. 24–210, 3 (1836) (noting that the military pension system “is condemned by many, as unconstitutional . . . .”). National legislators also frequently resorted to the Constitution as a basis for opposing private relief bills submitted by widows of high-ranking elected officials, such as Anna Harrison, widow of President William Hamson. See, for example, Cong. Globe, 27th Cong., 1st Sess. 104–5 (1841) (statement of Senator Thomas Benton); Cong. Globe, 27th Cong., 1st Sess. 118 (1841) (statement of Senator Ambrose Sevier).

175. As both Jensen and Resch have demonstrated, many legislators argued that military service alone was not a sufficient basis for a pension. For searching discussions of the veterans' arguments––and resistance to those arguments––see Jensen, Patriots, 63–109, and Resch, Suffering Soldiers, 84–118.

176. Cong. Globe, 27th Cong., 3rd Sess. 388 (1843). See also sources cited in above note 147.

177. Committee of Claims, Major Dade, et al.––Pensions to Widows and Children, H.R. Rep. No. 24–415, 1 (1836).

178. Committee on Invalid Pensions, Mem[orandum] in Case of Thankful Randall, H.R. Rep. No. 29, NARA, Records of the House of Representatives, RG 233, 24th Congress, Committee Papers––Committee on Invalid Pensions, Hr27a-G9.1 (file of Issac Pishon); see also Committee on Invalid Pensions, Thankful Randall, H.R. Rep. No. 23–89 (1835).

179. Journal of the House of Representatives 939 (26th Cong., 1st Sess. 1840).

180. Committee on Invalid Pensions, Widow Hannah Duboise, H.R. Rep. No. 28–482 (1844).

181. Ibid.

182. File of Nancy Lancy, NARA, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, RG 15, Old Wars Pension Files, Widow's File 688, Pension Certificate, March 4, 1816; ibid., Petition of Nancy Lancy, March 1, 1824. Congress struggled to fashion a pension system that took account of the plight of the re-widowed. For the elderly widows of the Revolutionary War, Congress in 1837 softened the remarriage bar to pensions and allowed pensions for widows of veterans who had remarried but found themselves widowed a second (or third) time. See Act of March 3, 1837, ch. 42, § 1, 5 Stat. 187, 187 (1837). Congress sometimes used private acts to circumvent similar limitations on traditional war widows' pensions. For example, prior to remarrying, the widow of Robert Brice had received a pension for 10 years. Her pension ceased when she married Aaron Bowen, but when Bowen died in 1848, Nancy Bowen petitioned Congress for a pension, as she had been left “in a destitute and helpless situation, aged, infirm, and childless.” The Senate Committee on Pensions found that “it is just and proper in cases like this, where the widow has been left in a destitute and helpless condition, to renew the pension.” Committee on Pensions, S. Rep. No. 32–93 (1852) (report on petition of Nancy Bowen). A later report on Bowen's petition discussed other similarly situated widows and explained that “this class of petitioners . . . ha[s] been, and will continue to be, provided for by special acts of Congress.” See Committee on Pensions, S. Rep. No. 33–242 (1854) (report on the petition of Nancy Bowen). Despite these assertions many traditional war widows who remarried and were re-widowed found themselves unable to convince the Pension Office that they should be re-pensioned. See sources in note 77.

183. File of Nancy Lancy, NARA, Records of the Department of Veterans' Affairs, RG 15, Old Wars Pension Files, Widow's File 688, Petition of Nancy Lancy, March 1, 1824.

184. Ibid.

185. Committee on Pensions and Revolutionary Claims, Petition Granted to the Widow of a Captain in the Army Who Died in Service, H.R. Rep. No. 14–285 (1816) (report on the petition of Elizabeth Morgan).

186. See, for example, Act of March 4, 1814, ch. 20, § 2, 2 Stat. 103, 103–4 (granting pensions to widows of any “officer, seaman, or marine” of the United States navy who “shall die . . . by reason of a wound received in the line of his duty”); Act of April 16, 1818, ch. 65, § 1, 3 Stat. 427, 427–78 (granting 5-year extension of pensions awarded to widows pursuant to the Act of March 4, 1814); Act of April 20, 1818, ch. 101, §§ 1–2, 3 Stat. 459, 459 (granting 5-year half-pay pensions to widows of militia who “prosecut[ed] the war against the Seminole tribe of Indians”); and Act of March 3, 1819, ch. 60, 3 Stat. 502, 502 (granting 5-year extension of pensions awarded to widows of “officers, seamen, and marines” killed in the War of 1812).

187. 33 Annals of Cong. 378 (1818).

188. Ibid.

189. Ibid., 382–83.

190. 31 Annals of Cong. 873 (1818).

191. Ibid., 874.

192. 33 Annals of Cong. 378–79 (1818).

193. Ibid., 396. See also 31 Annals of Cong. 150 (1818) (statement of Senator William Smith) (“All the despotisms of Europe have had their foundations in a claim to military merit. All their pensions and places originated in it.”); ibid., 156 (statement of Senator Nathaniel Macon) (“[The opinion that Republics are ungrateful] has been promulgated by the flatterers and sycophants of kings and despots, to become their favorites and pensioners, to live sumptuously on their folly or wickedness, or both, on the profits of the labor of those who were more virtuous and better than themselves. The opinion is founded in idleness and hatred to free Governments, where every man ought live by the sweat of his own brow . . . .”); Cong. Globe, 27th Cong., 1st Sess. 74 (1841) (statement of Representative Thomas Gilmer) (“It ought to be remembered by every citizen of a free Republic, that, under our forms of Government, while the soldier hazarded his life and spent his time or his fortune for the public good, he could look to none of those rewards which, under European Governments, were so frequently bestowed as marks of public honor.”); and source cited in note 222.

194. 33 Annals of Cong. 394 (1818).

195. 31 Annals of Cong. 875 (1818).

196. Pole, J. R., Political Representation in England and the Origins of the American Republic (London: Macmillan, 1966), 206–9; and Keyssar, Alexander, The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 31.

197. See Jensen, Patriots, 66–79; Resch, Suffering Soldiers, 84–118.

198. See Resch, Suffering Soldiers, 2–3.

199. It is relevant to note that the first service-based pension statute for Revolutionary War widows, enacted in 1836, technically extended the pensions that had been awarded to Revolutionary War veterans to their widows. See discussion in note 24.

200. Characterization of the Jacksonian period as the “era of the common man” was significantly discredited by historians in the 1960s and 1970s. See, for example, Pessen, Edward, Jacksonian America: Society, Personality, and Politics (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1969). More recent work by Sean Wilentz has revitalized interest in the Jacksonian period, and the conviction that it was marked by distinctive “democratic” changes in national and local politics. See Wilentz, Sean, The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln (New York: Norton, 2005); see also Pasley, Jeffrey L., “Minnows, Spies, and Aristocrats: The Social Crisis of Congress in the Age of Martin Van Buren,” Journal of the Early Republic 27 (2007): 599653. One need not resolve this debate to recognize that claims to egalitarianism––and opposition to values associated with aristocracy––were a salient feature of political discourse during the period. Debates over widows' pension petitions suggest that the creation and expansion of widows' pensions was in part fueled, or at least justified, by “democratic” values of the era.

201. See Cott, The Bonds of Womanhood, 7–9.

202. Ibid., 8.

203. See Degler, Carl, At Odds: Women and the Family in America from the Revolution to the Present (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 111–43 (observing the salience of the concept of domesticity even among lower-class women).

204. See discussion accompanying notes 165–73.

205. See note 97.

206. The phrase is Representative Harrison's. See 33 Annals of Cong. 377 (1818).

207. See Decatur v. Paulding, 39 U.S. 497 (1840).

208. Committee on Naval Affairs, On the Claim of Mrs. Susan Decatur, H.R. Rep. No. 19–281 (1826). See sources cited in note 55.

209. 10 Reg. Deb. 3820–21 (1834).

210. Cong. Globe, 34th Cong., 1st Sess. 1582 (1856). Impatience with Decatur's claim was palpable even in discussions of parliamentary procedure. Objecting to a motion to take up Decatur's bill out of order under Senate rules, Senator Richard Brodhead of Pennsylvania, former Chairman of the House Committee on Revolutionary Pensions, sniped, “I hope we shall not go beyond one o'clock with this bill for the relief of Mrs. Susan Decatur. I have heard a great deal of Mrs. Susan Decatur since I have been in Congress for the last ten years.” Ibid., 1600.

211. See The First System of Public Marriage–Based Entitlements (text section I).

212. Act of March 3, 1837, ch. 38, § 1, 5 Stat. 180, 180.

213. Ibid.

214. Cong. Globe, 26th Cong., 2nd Sess. App. 81 (1840) (statement of Representative Charles Shepard) (explaining that by the 1837 Act “a new doctrine was slipped into the statute-book; it gave pensions to the widows, and, if no widows, to the children of officers, seamen, and marines, ‘who have died or may hereafter die in the naval service.’ However unjust or impolitic previous acts had been, they were not complained of, because the benefit accrued to the relatives of such as ‘were killed, or died by reason of wounds received in the line of duty’—but now if a sailor should die from an ordinary disease, or the constitution of an officer be broken down by dissipation, their widows and children are entitled to the same pensions as those of the men who fall in battle.”).

215. Ibid., 80 (statement of Representative Charles Shepard) (observing that the 1837 Act was “not discussed, [and] the yeas and nays were not taken on its package”).

216. To my knowledge, in the early nineteenth century Congress repealed a widows' pension statute on only one other occasion: in 1824, it repealed an 1817 statute that expanded pension eligibility to widows whose husbands had died of disease while in the line of duty. See Act of January 22, 1824, ch 15, § 2, 4 Stat. 4, 4 (repealing Act of March 3, 1817, ch. 60, 3 Stat. 373).

217. Cong. Globe, 26th Cong., 2d Sess. App. 80 (1840).

218. Act of March 3, 1837, ch. 38, § 1, 5 Stat. 180.

219. As early as 1815, the Annals of Congress contains a brief summary of a “debate . . . of some interest” concerning a pension petition brought by the widow of Vice President Elbridge Gerry. “The general principle asserted by those opposed to the pension was the impropriety of setting a precedent of pensions for civil services, which would entail on the United States the evils so grievously felt in despotic Governments, from the same source.” 28 Annals of Cong. 1173 (February 20, 1815). Not all petitions submitted by widows of famous men were denied. For example, although a petition submitted by Alexander Hamilton's widow Elizabeth in 1810 was initially rejected, she was eventually granted 5 years of back pay allegedly owed her husband. See Committee on Pensions and Revolutionary Claims, Claim of the Widow of Colonel Alexander Hamilton for Commutation, H.R. Rep. No. 14–299 (1816). However, Elizabeth did not receive a pension per se until 1838, when she became entitled to a service–based widows' pension under a law of general applicability, the Act of July 4, 1836. See File of Elizabeth Hamilton, NARA, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, RG 15, Series M804, W 13402, Pension Office Summary of Record.

220. See Cong. Globe, 27th Cong., 1st Sess. 104 (1841).

221. Debates over Harrison's pension petitions yielded at least 22 pages in the very small font of the Congressional Globe. See Cong. Globe, 27th Cong., 1st Sess. 67–70; 73–77; 104–11; 116–21 (1841); and Cong. Globe, 27th Cong., 1st Sess. App. 64; 169–70 (1841).

222. Cong. Globe, 27th Cong., 1st Sess. 105 (1841).

223. Ibid., 108.

224. Celebration of social and political equality is often associated with the Jacksonian period, although any robust claims to actual socioeconomic and political equality during that period were put to rest by Edward Pessen over four decades ago. See Pessen, Jacksonian America, 39–58. One certainly does not find evidence that pro-pension legislators sought to secure conditions of social or economic equality for struggling widows. Nevertheless, national legislators' resistance to class-salient widows' pensions are marked by a distinctive distrust of aristocratic entitlement that was undoubtedly informed by a commitment, however limited, to a more egalitarian approach to entitlements.

225. See notes 22–36 and accompanying text.

226. See Skocpol, Protecting Soldiers and Mothers.

227. See Jensen, Patriots, 110–22. Notably, in her searching and careful analysis of the emergence of veterans' pensions in the early nineteenth century, Jensen finds that party politics did not play a significant role in their development. Ibid., 110.

228. See Collins, “Administering Marriage.”

229. File of Catharine Davidson, NARA, Records of the Department of Veterans' Affairs, RG 15, Old Wars Pension Files, Widow's File 322, Catharine Barr to Commissioner of Pensions, June 20, 1858.

230. See, for example, Zboray, Ronald J. and Zboray, Mary Saracino, Voices Without Votes: Women and Politics in Antebellum New England (Lebanon: University of New Hampshire Press, 2010); Zagarri, Revolutionary Backlash; Portnoy, Their Right to Speak; Allgor, Parlor Politics; Kierner, Beyond the Household; Ryan, Women in Public, 19–42, 130–41; Varon, We Mean to Be Counted; Marszalek, John F., The Petticoat Affair: Manners, Mutiny, and Sex in Andrew Jackson's White House (New York: Free Press, 1997); and Ginzberg, “‘Moral Suasion Is Moral Balderdash’”.

231. See, for example, Committee of Claims, Martha Twist, H.R. Rep. No. 28–29 (January 11, 1845). Martha Twist was the widow of Stephen Twist, who, she observed, “was in the service of the United States for about the period of fifty years.” But Martha also based her pension claim on the fact that “she herself was . . . attached to the army for about the same length of time in the capacity of a nurse and laundress and therefore asks that she may receive such assistance as will prove adequate to support her during the rest of her life.” The Committee recommended against the pension, noting that “[t]he valuable services of the petitioner are not called into question” but that “they cannot consent to establish a precedent that will open a new class of cases to be adjusted and paid at the treasury.” Ibid.

232. The exceptions, although famous, prove the rule. For example, Deborah Sampson (later Gannett) enlisted in the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment in 1781 as “Robert Shurtleff.” She fought in several engagements and was honorably discharged after she was discovered to be a woman. She was pensioned by the state of Massachusetts in the 1790s and by Congress in 1805. For a rich account of Deborah Sampson Gannett's pursuit of a pension, see Alfred F. Young, Masquerade: The Life and Times of Deborah Sampson, Continental Soldier (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004). Her husband was granted a pension by Congress for her service in 1837. See Committee on Revolutionary Pensions, Benjamin Gannett, H.R. Rep. No. 24–172 (1837).

233. See Reva B. Siegel, “Home As Work: The First Woman's Rights Claims Concerning Wives' Household Labor, 1850–1880,” Yale Law Journal 103 (1994): 1073–217.

234. Ibid., 1086–91.

235. Ibid., 1216–17, 1108–12.

236. See Hartog, Hendrik, “Mrs. Packard on Dependency,” Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities 1 (1988): 79.

237. Ibid., 79–81.

238. Ibid., 93.

239. Ibid.

240. See Sklar, Catharine Beecher, 151–67.

241. Beecher, Catharine E., An Essay on Slavery and Abolitionism with Reference to the Duty of American Females (Philadelphia: Henry Perkins, 1837), quoted in Zaeske, Signatures of Citizenship, 115. Alisse Portnoy's account of Catharine Beecher's involvement in the anti-removal petition campaign calls into question Beecher's later suggestion that women's involvement in the abolitionist campaign was problematic because it brought women into an “arena of public collision.” Instead, Portnoy argues, Catharine Beecher objected to the abolitionist petition campaign because of her support for African colonization as a remedy for slavery, instead of emancipation. Portnoy, Their Right to Speak, 13–14.

242. See Cott, The Bonds of Womanhood, 7–9.

243. See Zaeske, Signatures of Citizenship, 48–104; and Portnoy, Their Right to Speak, 52–86.

244. Gramsci, Antonio, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, trans. and ed. Hoare, Quintin and Smith, Geoffrey Nowell (New York: International Publishers, 1971), 242–46.

245. Mayo and Moulton, Army and Navy Pension Laws, XXVI–XXVII.

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Law and History Review
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