1877: When America Was In No Hurry to Pay the Military
In the midst of the 2018-2019 Shutdown, active members of the US Coast Guard did not receive paychecks on time.
Embarrassingly, Admiral Karl Schultz, Commandant of the US Coast Guard — in the carefully worded way of a government careerist — tweeted to those under his command: "Today you will not be receiving your regularly scheduled paycheck. To the best of my knowledge, this marks the first time in our Nation’s history that servicemembers in a U.S. Armed Force have not been paid during a lapse in appropriations."
Today you will not be receiving your regularly scheduled paycheck. To the best of my knowledge, this marks the first time in our Nation’s history that servicemembers in a U.S. Armed Force have not been paid during a lapse in appropriations. Read more: https://t.co/5tLzGhK2nt pic.twitter.com/J2o00zWm0k— Admiral Karl Schultz (@ComdtUSCG) January 15, 2019
Yet, there have indeed been other times that Us military personnel have gone unpaid. Three examples spring to mind, but it is likely other examples exist.
1783: Revolutionary War Veterans Chased Congress From Philadelphia
The Continental Congress was meeting at Independence Hall in Philadelphia in the summer of 1783. On June 17, 1783, Congress received a message from soldiers of the Continental Army stationed in Philadelphia, which demanded payment for their service during the Revolutionary War.
With the Revolutionary War winding down, some soldiers were concerned that the politicians who promised to pay them for their service might not follow through on that promise once the war was over.
Congress refused to produce the funds, and a group of approximately 80 soldiers chased Congress from Philadelphia in what came to be known as the Pennsylvania Mutiny of 1783. Congress later regrouped in New Jersey. After this, Congress refused for years to meet again in Philadelphia. This uprising is commonly cited as a reason that DC was made into a district of its own rather than be beholden to the militia in an individual state for protection.
1877: An Overgrown US Army Goes Months without Pay
With Congress seeking to downsize in the wake of Reconstruction:
Proposed amendments and legislative maneuvering also resulted in the 54th Congress adjourning in March before they had passed an appropriations bill for the coming fiscal year and, for the sake of political expediency, the president did not call Congress back into session to rectify the matter. Thus, as of June 30, 1877 [lasting until November], neither officers nor enlisted men, be they soldier, sailor, or marine, was able to draw even a dime of pay.
US Army Officers, meanwhile, had been living on stripped-down salaries from 1870 to 1877:
Officers had it even worse. Whether unmarried or at the head of a household, they had been responsible for covering the cost of all personal necessities, including their uniforms, out of their own meager salaries since 1870. Many, unable to live on their savings, were forced to borrow money at usurious rates against their future pay or live off the charity of relatives and friends. A lucky few received assistance the Louisiana National Bank which offered loans without interest to Army officers, and Americans pitched in to help in whatever way they could. For example, some hotels like the Occidental in San Francisco let it be known that they would present no bills to officers in transit.
1932: US Veterans Denied Promised Bonuses.
In 1932, tens of thousands of WWI “bonus marchers” marched into Washington DC in 1932 because, eight year earlier, in 1924 Congress declined to pay them an additional bonus for their military service. A bonus had been promised as a way to help discharged soldiers quickly after the First World War. Unemployed and injured veterans were especially prone to protest.
Instead of paying the bonus, in 1924, Congress kicked the can down the road and gave the WWI veterans an IOU that would not be redeemable until 1945, provided that future Congresses agreed to set aside those funds to pay the bonuses. Understandably, being told they’d have to wait 27 years after the end of the war to get paid turned into a sore topic for many veterans.
When the protestors got too rambunctious and comfortable, and stayed too long in DC, 600 active-duty soldiers under the command of Army Chief of Staff and Major General Douglas MacArthur (and Major George Patton) marched on the protestors — with bayonets — and chased them from DC. They would not receive their payment before leaving town.
American Antagonism Toward Militarism
Many might view these events as aberrations in American history, but they really reflect what has been an ongoing antagonism toward federal soldiers in US history. From the Third Amendment (on quartering soldiers on private property) to Article One's prohibition on lengthy appropriations for standing armies, the US Constitution reflects a deeply held opposition to a well entrenched and well-funded federal military in the United States. And then, of course, there is the Second Amendment, which favored both formal and informal militia as an attempt to prevent the rise of a permanent military establishment.
Admiral Karl Schultz is wrong about the military salaries and the supposed novelty of servicemembers not being paid. The truth is that the US military has never been better equipped than it is today. It is silly for high ranking officers to pretend otherwise, and Admiral Schultz should know better.