DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE,
Richmond, July 24, 1862.
Hon GEORGE W. RANDOLPH,
Secretary of War:
SIR: Your letter of this date propounds to me the following question: "The first section of the conscript law requires all persons under the age of eighteen years and over the age of thirty-five years to remain in their respective corps for ninety days, unless their places be sooner supplied. Does this mean ninety days from the passage of the act, or from the expiration of their term?"
The intention of the law-makers must be gathered from the language used in the law and from the context, looking at the mischief felt and the object and remedy in view. The language of the proviso to the first section of the act is:
That all persons under the age of eighteen years or over the age of thirty-five, who are now enrolled in the military service of the Confederate States, in regimens, squadrons, battalions, and companies hereafter to be reorganized, shall be required to remain in their respective companies, squadrons, battalions, and regiments for ninety days, unless their places can be sooner supplied by other recruits not now in the service who are between the ages of eighteen and thirty-fie years, &c.
This language is plain, according to well-established rules of construction, it must govern, unless there is something in other parts of the act which makes it necessary to disregard the particular intent thus manifested in order to accomplish the general purpose of the law-makers, made manifest by the whole of the parts compared together.
From what time shall we commence to count the ninety days? In our Government all laws take effect from the day of their passage, unless otherwise expressed. As no period is fixed by this law from which to commence the ninety days, we must commence from the day of the passage of the act. This is the grammatical as well as the legal construction of the language used. After a careful analysis and examination of the whole act, I can discover nothing which creates a doubt on the subject. This proviso applies to all persons under the age of eighteen and over that of thirty-five in companies, squadrons, battalions, and regiments which have the right given by the first section of the act to reorganize, I. e., those enlisted for a term not longer than twelve months. As the contract with the Government binds the twelve-moths' men for the whole stipulated term, I do not suppose that any over the age of thirty-five or under the age of eighteen can, under this law, be discharged on account of age until the expiration of their stipulated term, although some might be retained longer than ninety days after the passage of the act. My opinion is that all over the age of thirty-five and those under the age of eighteen whose term of service, according to enlistment, expires on or before the end of ninety days from the passage of the act are entitled to discharges at the end of said ninety days. All twelve-moths' men over thirty-five and under eighteen years of age whose term of service, according to enlistment, does not expire within ninety days from the passage of the act will be entitled to discharge at the expiration of their term of service.
I have the honor to be, &c.,
T. H. WATTS,