Liveblogging the Civil War False Claims Act: "Northern Traitors and Their Deeds"

by Ben Vernia | February 6th, 2012

On February 6, 1862, the New York Times ran a lengthy piece describing the 1100-page report of House Select Committee on Government Contracts. It detailed a wide variety of abuses discovered by the committee (omitting several lengthy descriptions of specific fraudulent schemes and actors):

n Immense volume, consisting of over 1,100 octavo pages, has just been sent us from Washington, containing the report of the Select Committee of the House of Representatives to inquire into the contracts of the Government Mr. VAN WYCK, of this State, Chairman. Fragments of the report and of the testimony have already been given to the public; but as these were evidently published so as to expose the crimes of some men and to conceal those of others, and as, because they were but fragments of the evidence given they were necessarily unjust, we have refrained from giving any of it publicity until the whole of the report and the testimony was before us. In this volume we have all the evidence so far as it has yet been taken. The Committee, however, announce that they have a large amount of material still on hand, which will be made the subject of a further report; and as the work of the Committee in investigating contracts is still going on, and is likely to be kept up as long as the war lasts, or until contractors and agents become indisputably honest, it is likely that we will be furnished with a library of corrupt reading, which, next to the history of this bloody rebellion itself, will strike posterity with horror at the awful wickedness of the present generation. The document, and the exposures contained in it might have a certain kind of speculative and anatomical interest if the rebellion were crushed out and victory had perched upon our banner; but at the present crisis of the Republic, such disclosures are painful and dreadful, and produce a feeling of public indignation which would justify the most summary measures against the knaves whose villany is here dragged into daylight.

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If officers of the Government, who should be imbued with patriotism and integrity enough to have a care of the means of the Treasury, are ready to assist speculating contractors to extort upon and defraud the Government, where is this system of speculation to end, and how soon may not the finances of the Government be reduced to a woful bankruptcy? The evidence under this head is brief, only seventeen pages; but in this branch of contracting, also, the Committee complain of great irregularities. Men claiming to be in the employment of the Government, by and with the evident consent and collusion of some of the officers of regiments, have committed the most shameless frauds and peculations upon individuals and the Government, according to the testimony of witnesses.

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From the facts elicited in this branch of the investigation, it appears that military officers and agents of the Government, or men who in some sense were acting as agents of the Government, including a minister of the gospel, have been guilty of gross abuses upon private rights and upon the public Treasury, and in other respects have proved faithless to the trust committed to them.

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It is of course impossible for us here to give any condensation of this mass of testimony. But as 5,000 extra copies of the report of the Committee to investigate contracts, together with the evidence, and 10,000 copies of the report, without the evidence, were ordered to be printed for the use of the House, those who feel a desire or an interest to purse the subject further can do so by sending to their representatives at Washington, for a copy of either the longer or the shorter report.

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