John A. Peters
April 13, 1864
As late in the Civil War as 1864, Maine Adjutant General John Hodsdon had a continuing money problem. Municipal officials would claim military recruits as residents of their towns for the purpose of filling their enlistment quotas, but would treat the men as transients when it came to paying them their bounties.
Hodsdon sought advice from his good friend, John Peters, of Bangor.
Peters was a graduate of Yale and of Harvard Law School. Now, at the age of 42, he is Attorney General of Maine.
Peters writes to Hodsdon about the residence issue. He reminds the Adjutant General that "Inter arma leges silent," a misquotation from the Latin maxim "Inter arma enim silent leges," meaning, "In times of war the law falls silent."
"The military is superior to the civil," he adds, essentially advising Hodsdon to use his discretion as military commander of the State.
Under the Federal system for raising troops, the government would issue a nationwide call for thousands of new recruits. The number of men was apportioned to each State, based on the number of male residents of military age. A proportionate number, based on the local population, was then assigned as the quota of each town.
Peters understands the problem. He points out that legally, a man’s "residence is any where he pleases. … He can reside in Brewer today and Bangor tomorrow."
"A town has no hold on a man because he has resided in such town, and does not now reside there," says Peters,
Some potential recruits would take up a brief residence in a town that was paying a high bounty. Some became bounty jumpers, moving from town to town to collect multiple bounties until they were caught.
The Bounty Act of 1864 offered a $300 bounty to new recruits, under a new quota. Some towns had not filled their quotas under the previous Act, and hoped to pay the lesser bounty. Hodsdon wondered, what then?
"You must see the quota full; or you must reside him elsewhere, or you cannot have him," asserts Peters.
The Attorney General tosses the matter back to the Adjutant General. "Of course towns should fill their old quotas, but it would have been well to have left some discretion with your department. Not having done so, I would take some discretion in cases the most imperative."
The problems caused by the bounty and quota systems remained unsolved during the Civil War.
John Peters went on to serve in Congress, was later appointed to the Maine Supreme Court, and served as Chief Justice from 1883 to 1900.
- When did the Army cease to use the bounty and quotas system in war time?
- What inducements to serve in the Armed Forces does the government offer to today’s men and women?