Relief Law (1864)

Updated: January 03, 2011

Upon becoming Ohio's twenty-sixth governor on January 11, 1864, John Brough sought to aid the Union war effort. He succeeded in enacting a two mills property tax to support soldiers' families.

Upon becoming Ohio's twenty-sixth governor on January 11, 1864, John Brough sought to aid the Union war effort. He succeeded in enacting a two mills property tax to support soldiers' families. Known as the Relief Law, this legislation also permitted counties and cities to levy an additional 1.5mill tax to assist these same people.

Brough also helped to devise a plan to have several Northern states provide the federal government with militia forces to supplement the regular soldiers currently serving in the Union military. Known as the Hundred Days' Men, Brough hoped that these militiamen would allow the North to defeat the South in one hundred days or less while keeping Northern states safe from Confederate attack and anti-war unrest.

Governor Brough believed that hardships would occur for the militiamen's families left behind. He had implemented the Relief Law to provide financial assistance to the families of soldiers serving in the regular military but now realized militiamen's families would also face difficulties. Brough, however, believed that the families of the Hundred Days' Men did not qualify for aid under the Relief Law. In a proclamation on May 9, 1864, Brough called on local citizens to assist the families of the militiamen.

EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENT,

Columbus, May 9, 1864.

To THE MILITARY COMMITTEES AND THE PEOPLE OP THE STATE:

The departure of the National Guard from the State, in the service of the country, will necessarily work much individual hardship. In many cases in each county, families of laboring men, dependent on the daily labor of the head, will be left almost wholly unprovided for. The compensation of the soldier will not enable him to provide for the daily wants of his family. We who remain at home, protected by the patriotism and sacrifices of these noble men, must not permit their families to suffer. The prompt response of the Guard to the call has reflected honor upon the State. We must not sully it by neglecting the wants of those our gallant troops leave behind. No such stain must rest upon the fair character of our people.

As organized, is ever better than individual action, I suggest to the people of the several counties that they promptly raise, by voluntary contribution, a sufficient sum to meet the probable wants of the families of the Guards, who may require aid, and place the same in the hands of the military committee of the county, for appropriation and distribution. The committee can designate one or two good men in each township who will cheerfully incur the trouble and labor of passing upon all cases in their townships, and of drawing and paying such appropriation as may be made to them. Citizens, let this fund be ample. Let those whom God has blessed with abundance contribute to it freely. It is not a charity to which you may give grudgingly. It is payment of only part of the debt we all owe the brave men who have responded to the call of the country, and whose action is warding off from us deadly perils, and saving us from much more serious sacrifices. What is all your wealth to you if your Government be subverted? What the value of your stores if your public credit or finances be ruined, or Rebel armies invade and traverse your State? Be liberal and generous then in this emergency. Let no mother, wife, or child of the noble Guard want the comforts of life during the hundred days; and let these noble men feel on their return that the people of the State appreciated, and have, to some extent, relieved the sacrifices they so promptly made in the hour of the country's need.

As these families do not come within the means provided by the Relief Law, we must look to voluntary contributions to provide for them. In aid of these, I feel authorized to appropriate the sum of five thousand dollars from the Military Contingent Fund. This sum will be apportioned among the several counties in proportion to the number of the Guard drawn from each, and the chairman of the military committee early notified of the amount subject to his order.

In many oases men have left crops partly planted, and fields sown, that in due time must be harvested or lost. In each township and county there should be at once associations of men at home who will resolve, that, to the extent of their ability, they will look to these things. It is not only the dictate of patriotism, but of good citizenship, that we make an extra exertion to save the crops to the country, and the accruing value to the owners, who, instead of looking to seed-time and harvest, are defending us from invasion and destruction. Men of the cities and towns when the harvest is ready for the reaper, give a few days of your time, and go forth by the dozens and fifties to the work. The labor may be severe, but the sacrifice will be small, and the reflection of the good you have done will more than compensate you for it all.

In this contest for the supremacy of our Government, and the salvation of our country, Ohio occupies a proud position. Her standard must not be lowered; rather let us advance it to the front. No brighter glory can be reflected on it than will result from a prompt and generous support to the families of the Guard. Let us all to the work.

Very respectfully, JOHN BROUGH.

One week later, Brough changed his views regarding the Relief Law. He concluded that the militiamen and their families qualified for assistance under the Relief Law's provisions. On May 16, 1864, he notified the Military Committees, the organizations mandated by the Relief Law to assist soldiers and their families, to prepare to meet the needs of the militiamen.

EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENT,

Columbus, May 16, 1864.

TO THE MILITARY COMMITTEES:

Upon more careful examination of the provisions of the Relief Law, I feel constrained to change my former position as to the right of families of the National Guard to its benefits. They have the same rights as families of other soldiers in the service. Still, our people should bear in mind that with the large addition thus made to the dependent families of soldiers, this fund will now be severely burdened. The taxation was made on the basis of our quotas under the calls.

I've have now added over thirty thousand men; and to that extent have increased the number of families that will require aid. Therefore, it is necessary that we should add to the fund, by voluntary contribution, to the extent, at least, of  this increase of its liability. You should see that your county commissioners levy the discretionary tax for this year; or, at least have a clear record of a refusal to do so.

Some complaints in regard to the action of trustees in the distribution of this fund, are answered in this form:

1. It is asked, Where the absent soldier owns a house and lot, or a small tract of land on which his family resides, is the family thereby debarred from relief? Certainly not; unless the property, independent of furnishing a home for the family, is productive of the means of supporting it. Unproductive property may be an incumbrance, in the way of taxes and other expenses. Sensible and well-meaning men should not have any trouble in deciding questions of this kind. A helpless family may not be able to work ground, even to the partial extent of a livelihood. The simple question with practical men should be: Does the family, considering all its circumstances, its capability to produce, its ordinary industry and economy, need aid to live comfortably? If so, the aid should be extended. It is mortifying to add, that in a few cases trustees are represented as deciding that where the family held a small homestead, entirely unproductive, it was not entitled to relief until the property be sold, and its proceeds consumed. Such a position is at variance alike with the provisions of the law, and the dictates of humanity.

2. It is asked whether the family of a deceased soldier in receipt of a Government pension is entitled to relief? The answer depends upon the circumstances, sensibly viewed. Is the pension, considering the size and helplessness of the family, sufficient for its support? If not, relief should be extended from the fund, and the amount of the pension is to be taken into the account when equalizing the fund in the township.

Other questions that may arise should be settled, not by the strict rules of legal refinement, but upon the principles of practical common sense. The trust should be liberally and honestly construed. There is no requirement to practice a niggardly economy, but to fairly distribute the funds in the spirit of justice and humanity, and accomplish with it the greatest amount of good.

In cases where the military committees feel warranted in doing so, they can relieve themselves of some labor and responsibility, and probably secure a more equitable distribution, by apportioning the voluntary contributions among the townships, upon the basis adopted by the county commissioners, and handing the amounts to the township trustees, to be paid out in the. same manner, and as a part of the relief fund.

Please have this circular published in your county.

Very respectfully, JOHN BROUGH.

The Relief Law helped Ohioans with loved ones serving in either the regular military or in the Ohio Militia to cope with the financial and economic difficulties that the war caused.

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"Relief Law," Ohio Civil War Central, 2019, Ohio Civil War Central. 8 Dec 2019 <http://www.www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=223>

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"Relief Law." (2019) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved December 8, 2019, from Ohio Civil War Central: http://www.www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=223

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