search   index   by subject   by year   biographies   books  SF Activities  shop museum   contact

Lt. Gen. Arthur MacArthur replaced Maj. Gen. Adolphus W. Greely in late 1906, and inherited the vast flow of paperwork concerning the illegal seizure of private property by the military immediately following the earthquake.

In an endorsement to another report that claimed compensation for destruction of liquor, Gen. MacArthur–father of Douglas MacArthur–attempted to bring closure by suggesting that all documentation for seizure claims be forwarded to him, and he would convene a board of officers to consider such claims, or pay restitution out of funds he controlled.

What is so remarkable about the entire series of correspondence on the destruction of property issue is that each involved command officer of the Pacific Division; Greely, Funston and MacArthur, saw the moral obligation to proceed with payment. The moral and legal obligations, however, were rejected by the War Department, and the claims were not paid.

Gen. MacArthur, finally, puts into perspective the immense and critical role the military played in San Francisco during the disaster.

San Francisco, California,
October 19, 1906.

Respectively forwarded to The Military Secretary, War Department, Washington, D.C.

The claims of Patrick J. Trant, and G.B. Firpo do not appear to be connected with any duty performed by U.S. Troops.

As to claims of Charles Krueckel and S.G. Cox, attention is in addition invited to Additional "E"-7036, these headquarters, forwarded to War Department July 31, 1906.

The incidents connected with the seizure and destruction of the private property referred to in the accompanying claims are herewith briefly recapitulated for convenient consideration in connection with the substance of this endorsement:

(1) Under pressure of an overwhelming emergency, Colonel Morris, Artillery Corps, on the 19th of April, 1906, requested authority to seize and destroy intoxicating liquor within the limits of the district of San Francisco, then under his command. It is apparent from his subsequent actions that when he made his request, he had in mind all liquors within the limits of his control.

(2) General Funston, then in command of all U.S. troops in the city approved Colonel Morris' request. The effect of such approval was to authorize Colonel Morris to carry out his purpose, although it is quite plain that General Funston did not, at the time, realize the full scope of the action that he authorized Colonel Morris to take.

(3) Having received authority in the premises, Colonel Morris ordered his subordinates to seize all liquor that could be found, excepting beer, and to destroy the same so that it could not be imbibed.

(4) In pursuance of Colonel Morris' orders, some 131 separate parcels of liquor were seized and destroyed by his subordinates amounting in aggregate value to approximately $30,000.00.

The conditions which existed in San Francisco at the time of these transactions are perhaps unexampled in the annals of the world. All of the normal conditions of society had been relaxed or entirely destroyed. The Army and Navy of the United States, and the Militia of California were the only institutions which retained entire cohesion, and as a consequence, for the time being, the whole population was clinging to them as to a last hope. The maintenance of their integrity and efficiency was of paramount importance to all concerned. Under these conditions Colonel Morris considered accessible liquor as a serious and urgent menace to the situation, and accordingly requested and obtained authority to destroy the same, and proceeded to carry out his purpose in a systematic and orderly manner. The state of facts as they appeared to Colonel Morris at the time he acted, undoubtedly impressed him with the belief that the peril was immediate and pressing. The taking of the property was therefore, in pursuance of a necessary public emergency, and its destruction was an exercise in the right of eminent domain, which the officers was justified, and in consequence of which the government is liable for just compenstation to the persons from whom the private property was taken.

From the foregoing facts, it appears conclusively that the motives of all concerned were above reproach, and considering all the circumstances surrounding the situation, it does not seem necessary to pronounce an opinion upon the judgement of Colonel Morris, or of any other officer. On the other hand, it is equally apparent that private property was forcibly taken for the benefit of the public, and it is thought that compensation should be made therefor in cases in which it is clearly shown that the owner of any of the property destroyed was not openly violating legal obligations, and was strictly complying with all orders published for the regulation of the people of San Francisco in consequence of the great calamity with which they were confronted.

The most expeditious, and possibly the best way to settle these claims would be to return all the papers to these headquarters with authority to convene a board of officers to determine the justness and amount of each claim; the judgments thus entered to be paid from the relief funds now under my control, either upon my order of approval, or upon the approval of the War Department, as may be deemed most expedient. This action to apply only to claims arising in consequence of the enforcement of Colonel Morris' order above referred to.

It is assumed that payments as above suggested could be made under the concluding clause of the Resolution of Congress approved April 24, 1906, as an expenditure which would have been necessary but for the relief measures growing out of the earthquake and conflagration.

If the existing law precludes such action, the expediency of a further joint resolution in the premises might be considered.

The amount of relief fund subject to my control is at present $100,837.82.

    (Signed.) Arthur MacArthur
    Lieutenant General, U.S Army,

Return to the 1906 Earthquake Exhibit.

Return to top of page