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John P. Altgeld.


Justice to the Deaf Soldier.

(Published in the "American Tribune," Indianapolis, Dec. 27, 1889.)

Captain Wallace Foster:

My Dear Mr. Foster: Your favor of the 25th ult., stating that "a deaf soldier has no show to enter the civil service, while the amputation cases are found in every department at Washington," reached me some days ago, and confirms what my own observation had already led me to believe.

It is remarkable that the government of this great republic should discriminate against the deaf soldier. But there has always been against him a discrimination invidious and unjust, tending to create a feeling of bitterness. Until about a year ago, the pension paid to a totally deaf soldier was only thirteen dollars per month. Think of thirteen dollars per month for a man totally deaf, while at the same time those that were disabled by reason of a loss or disability of limb or limbs


were paid from two to three times this amount, and more. Under the law of August 27, 1888, the totally deaf soldier is paid thirty dollars per month, while soldiers suffering from other disabilities may receive as high as seventy-two dollars per month, the loss of only one arm or of one leg entitling the pensioner to receive thirty-six dollars per month; and yet experience has long shown that such a man can get employment where a totally deaf man cannot, and certainly in point of suffering that of the latter is infinitely greater than that of the former.

The rules of the civil service and the practice thereunder to which you refer simply show that the same condition of things exists in the Federal service that is found in the world outside. The deaf soldier has little show of getting a job in either. It is fair to assume that the men who framed the rules, and the men who from time to time controlled the appointments, were honest, intelligent, and humane, and certainly as ready to assist the deaf soldier as any private employer would be. And the fact that the former has had little show in securing or holding positions in the Federal service simply demonstrates how unreasonable it is to expect him to get work from private employers, and how unjust it is to discriminate against him in fixing the pension to be paid him. No private employer will from choice select a deaf man. If he employs him at all it is as a matter of charity, and he will keep him only as long as he feels that charity requires him to. So that even while doing the little work which may be given him, he must feel himself an object of charity; instead of receiving a cold potato at the kitchen door, a pittance is doled out to him in the shop. This is all wrong. Our country should not force such a humiliation on those of its defenders that were unfortunate. The American people are liberal, and, above all things, want to see justice done. The difficulty grows out of the fact that the full extent of the disability and suffering resulting from total deafness is not at once perceived. When a man has lost a leg, or an arm, or his eyesight, the character of the affliction can be seen, and while not fully, it is still more nearly appreciated. But the deaf man can walk and see, so that at first view he does not seem to be so badly off as the other. It is not till afterward that we discover that it is almost impossible for him to get anything to do. Particularly is this true now, when thousands of men who are in possession of all their faculties find it very difficult to earn a living, and nobody but himself and his God can fully understand how severe is the suffering that comes from the utter isolation from all mankind into which he is forced. No voice of wife or child can gladden him; no spoken word of friend can cheer him; as a rule he must


forever sit down alone, and can commune only with his own sad thoughts, and it seems to me that the government should see to it that these thoughts are not embittered by the feeling that the country which he helped to rescue when it was in peril, and in whose service he was disabled, now neglects him in the days of its greatness and of his misery.

What is necessary is to make the public once understand the full meaning of your affliction. This once accomplished, you will be fairly dealt with. You and your comrades have already done very much in this direction, and I hope soon to see full justice done you. With kind regards, I am very truly yours,


Indianapolis, November 14, 1889