Government waste, circa 1863

I recently finished processing the Citizens’ Bounty Fund Committee records, another Civil War-era collection that we are working on as part of the Digital Center for Americana project.

The Citizens’ Bounty Fund Committee formed in Philadelphia during the summer of 1862, in response to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for another 300,000 Union troops. Concerned about a possible draft, Philadelphia Mayor Alexander Henry led a public meeting in July 1862 to discuss how best to increase enlistment. The meeting attendees decided to create a bounty fund to pay volunteers for enlisting, a tactic that other cities were using.

Mayor Henry himself chaired the new Citizens’ Bounty Fund Committee. Philadelphia City Council voted to allocate $500,000 to the fund, and private donors added approximately $200,000 more.

A description of the committee's various bounty and premium payments.

Philadelphia did indeed fill its enlistment quota without needing to turn to a draft, but by other measures, the bounty system failed.

The Citizens’ Bounty Fund Committee concluded in early 1863 that “the payment of bounties has not worked as well as was expected, and that the continuance thereof is a waste of money in many instances being an incentive to desertions.”

This draft resolution notes that the committee decided the bounty system wasn't worth the money.

HSP’s collection includes the administrative records of the committee, as well as a variety of enlistment, muster, and bounty records of the men who qualified for bounties under the system. The collection is open to all researchers and its finding aid is now available online.

You can learn more about Mayor Henry, who served as Philadelphia mayor from 1858-1865, in another HSP collection: the Alexander Henry papers (collection 278). Its finding aid is also now available online.

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