Benjamin Franklin Thomas.

Speeches in the second and third sessions of the Thirty-seventh Congress, and in the vacation (Volume 2) online

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of the State to regulate its internal police and domestic
institutions is a vital, essential feature of our civil polity.


If it may be taken from the States to abolish slavery, it
may be taken from them for any purpose. It is a ques-
tion of power, and not merely of its use. The change
involved is a change in the whole structure of the Gov-
ernment. The States and the union of States are gone.
The result is, one State, one vast central power, a repub-
Hc in name only. This fundamental change in our sys-
tem of Government is to be wrought by the power of the
sword, without action of States or people. This is
the inauguration of a war of revolution wholly outside
of the Constitution ; a war, practically, for the enthe sub-
jugation and permanent conquest of fifteen States: for
an attempt to destroy slavery by a revolution will unite
the entire South against it. These fifteen States must
be reduced to military colonies, and held in subjection by
vast standing armies and by vast navies. If the thing
were practicable, it would be at the cost of national ex-
haustion and the loss of our own freedom. You cannot
maintam your conquest over fifteen subject States, cover-
ing so vast a territory, except by a military despotism.
But the thing is impracticable. Every dollar spent for
such a conquest would be wasted ; every drop of blood
shed for it would be spilt on the ground. The talk of a
war of utter extermination is mere passion, which reason
and conscience alike condemn. The only war the peo-
ple desire is a war of restoration. If we go beyond this,
we embark on a sea of strife and blood, without chart or
compass ; a war of vengeance and hate, of carnage and
desolation, physical and moral, compared with which, all
we have seen in the war thus far are nmiistrations of



Let me not be misunderstood. It is my firm convic-
tion, that, in the prosecution of this war, the power of
slavery will be broken ; if the war shall be prolonged,
utterly broken. Practically, the question of emancipa-
tion is one of possessio iJedis. The Union army will
not leave slavery behind it. Emancipation will not pre-
cede, but follow in its footsteps.

Ponder on these things, fellow-citizens. Stand by the
Constitution ; stand by the Union ; stand by their glorious
emblem, the banner of our love and pride. Give your-
selves freely to the service of your country. The
thought of her is in every heart, and on every lip ; breaks
into prayer, melts into tears, kmdles into flame ; the last
thought at night, the first thought of morning: our
country, perplexed, but not in despair ; cast down, but
not destroyed ; wrestling with adversity, as Jacob with
the angel, to wring from it its blessing ; veiled and
eclipsed as the sun, to come forth again with life
and light and healing in its beams. Fellow-citizens, at
an hour of such extreme peril as this, principles are
every thing ; parties and individuals, nothing. I have not
taken, for many years, an active part in politics. My
judicial position forbade it. I have had no direction of
the " People's " movement ; but I believe it had its origin
in dissatisfaction with the existing condition of public
affairs, in a natural and wise dread of any attempt to
change the objects and purposes of the war, and in dis-
trust of political cliques who have used the party in
power for their own ends, and not for the country's. I
cordially approve of the spirit and general objects of this
movement. I know well, and respect and honor, gentle-


men connected with it. I believe their apparent objects
are their real objects. Truer men, more loyal and patri-
otic, are not found in the Commonwealth.

They are conservative in their views ; but they are in
favor of the vigorous prosecution of the war, of main-
taining the nation's unity at every cost, and of cordially
upholding the President in the discharge of his great and
difficult duties. They cling with tenacity and unfalter-
ing devotion to the Union and the Constitution of their
fathers. Mistakes have doubtless been made ; mistakes
especially which show an ignorance of political machi-
nery and management.

" Where ignorance is bliss,
'Tis folly to be wise."

It is my fii-m conviction, that the certain result of the
rigid, prescriptive, partisan policy adopted by the Ke-
publican Convention, especially if followed up by the
charge of treason against all who dissent from it, is a
di\ided North ; divided not as to the duty of suppressing
the Rebellion, but so divided in feeling and policy as to
render efficient co-operation impracticable. I pray you,
my Republican friends, to listen to the voices that come
to us from the Great West, and to be tolerant and just.
The men of Massachusetts cannot be driven. They will
practise forbearance for their country's sake, but not
for ever.

To what condition of thmgs have we come, fellow-
citizens, when such a man as Josiali G. Abbott can be
denounced as a traitor, and this, too, as he stands by the
fresh-made grave of a son, dearly beloved ; one of three
given to the service of his country ? I know him well.


A man better qualified to represent you cannot be found
in the district ; and it is one of strong men. He is a
very able lawyer ; and great questions of law will have
to be settled by the next Congress. He is a man of
thoroughly practical mind, of large common sense, of ex-
tensive knowledge of men and business. He is a patriot
through and through, from the crown of his head to the
sole of his foot.

Nor can any charity excuse or palliate the gross attacks
made upon the accomplished and gallant standard-bearer
of this movement.* A leader at one of the ablest bars of
the State, respected and beloved by his brethren, at the
first call of his country he gave himself to her service.
Beginning the war as major of a battalion, he has been
successively appointed colonel, brigadier-general, and has
now command of a division. His courage and gallantry
have been tested; his ability is unquestioned, his cha-
racter without reproach. How Christian gentlemen can
denounce such men as traitors, it is difficult for a plain
man to comprehend.

* Gen. Charles Devens.




The House being in Committee of the "Whole, and having under
consideration the Appropriation Bill, Mr. Thomas said, —

Mr. Chairman, — I beg to call the attention of the
Committee back to the precise matter before us. It is
a provision for the appropriation of money for a definite
and specific purpose : that purpose is, to enforce the col-
lection of a direct tax assessed by Congress in conformity
to a provision of the Constitution of the United States
(art. 1, sect. 2, clause 4); a tax which could only have
been assessed in exact conformity to that provision.
The object of this provision in the appropriation bill,
and of the law of the last session, is to enforce, in the
disaff'ected States, the collection of the tax. Upon what
ground, Mr. Chahman, are we seeking to enforce this
tax in the " seceded " States 1 Upon the obvious ground,
that the authority of this Government at this time is as
valid over those States as it was before the acts of seces-
sion were passed ; upon the ground, that every act of
secession passed by those States is utterly null and void ;
upon the ground, that an act legally null and void cannot
acquire force, because armed rebellion is behind it, seek-
ing to uphold it ; upon the ground, that the Constitution
makes us, not a mere confederacy, but a nation ; upon


the ground, that the provisions of that Constitution strike
through the State government, and reach directly, not
intermediately, the subjects of the United States.

Gentlemen say that there is a belligerent power exer-
cising authority against us. That is, you say that rebel-
lion is attempting revolution. Very well. Who ever
heard, as a matter of public law, that the authority of a
government over its rebellious subjects was lost until that
revolution was successful, was a fact accomplished ?
That day, I pray God, I may not live to see.

My position, then, Mr. Chairman, is, that we may
enforce the collection of this tax, because to-day, as here-
tofore, the authority- of the National Government binds
and covers every inch of the national domain ; because
that law, which we call the Constitution, is, to-day, the
supreme law of the land. If the position taken by
the learned gentleman from Pennsylvania [Mr. Stevens]
be true, that we are every day passing unconstitutional
acts, we are every day violatuig our oaths to support the
Constitution of the United States. I beg leave to say,
that, however we may differ as to the extent of powers
which the Constitution gives us (and they are ample for
all good ends), when we deliberately pass from fidelity to
this Constitution, to enact laws in violation of its sacred
provisions, we are ourselves inaugurating revolution. It
is fire against fire, revolution agamst revolution ; and God
have mercy on the country ! In all events, at whatever
cost or peril of treasure or of life, we must cling to the
national unity ; and, for this end, we must cling to
the only possible bond of unity, the Constitution.

I have but a word more to say, Mr. Chairman. I have



listened quietly, but with great sorrow, to the attacks
often made on the Republican side of the House against
the gentlemen from the Border States. I desire to say,
what I have often said, and repeat, with the fullest sense
of my responsibility, that in fidelity to the Union and
the Constitution, and every earnest effort to uphold them,
there have been no truer, nobler, more devoted men
than these representatives from the Border States.
[Applause.] And the great heart of this country to-day
goes out to meet them and to bless them. It is easy in
New England (where fortunes are rapidly built up, and
mdustry quickened, and material prosperity advanced, by
this war), or in New York, or in Pennsylvania, to be
patriotic and loyal and national. These men have stood
the touch of fii'e and the sword. They have been tried
by suffering. No ties of natural affection, no love of
kmdred, no fear of desolation or death, has moved them ;
not even your unkindness. I do not believe that it is
policy or wisdom to alienate such men from us : we
should rather grapple them with hooks of steel to our

Say what you will, IVIr. Chairman, as a practical ques-
tion, this war must be fought out in the Border States.
They constitute the battle-ground of this contest to-day,
as they. have been from the beginning of the war. Can
you hold the Border States to then' allegiance ? If you
can, the final victory is with us ; if you cannot, separa-
tion is inevitable. I hope and trust and pray, Mr. Chair-
man, that we shall hear no more of party discussions and
wrangles ; no more reproaches thrown from the one side
of the House to the other. We have no strength thus


to fritter away. God knows, we need a united people to
save the Union, trembling, even now, on the verge of
dissolution ; and therefore, if we cannot agree upon all
questions of law, if we cannot agree upon all questions
of policy, let us consent to differ as we best may, but
with the firm resolve, that every thing of strength, of
power, of purpose, of motive, of will, that is in us, shall
combine, concentrate, converge, to save the national
mtegrity, the national hfe.

It has been said by the gentleman from Pennsylvania,
— and I will say a word on this, and relieve your
patience, — that there are those here who oppose the
policy of the Administration. I suppose there is no man
in this House who has more respect for the intellectual
vigor and manliness of the gentleman from Pennsylvania
[Mr. Stevens] than I have ; but I beg leave to call his
attention to the fact, that he has not always been able
to concur in the policy of this Administration. I beg
leave to remind him of a difficulty which has occurred
to aU members of the House, that it has sometimes been
very difficult for even a very careful and scruthiizing
observer to know or find out what the policy of the
Admmistration is ; and we are obliged to grope our
way darkly therefore, and determine for oiu'selves what
will be for the peace and mterest of the country, and
follow that. If the Administration does not clearly
indicate its policy, we may be excused for not being
always found m its path ; and, when indicated, we may
not follow it, if fidelity to the Constitution or the highest
interests of the country forbid.




I HAVE no desire, Mr. Speaker, to launch my bark
upon the sea of this illimitable debate. My object in
obtaining the floor last evening, was to present, in
addition to a few remarks upon the bill before the
House, some considerations concerning the relations of
New England, and more especially what has been called
the Puritanism of New England, to the Union. But I
could not fail to see that this subject would be too remote
from that immediately before the House. I propose,
therefore, to confine myself to a few, I fear some-
what desultory, suggestions upon the measure before
us, and the pohcy which it involves.

It seems to me, Mr. Speaker, that the discussion,
thus far, has scarcely touched, much less carefully con-
sidered, the special subject-matter before us. This bill
proposes, as I understand it, to raise a new and large
army from the men of African descent in this country.
The amendment ofl"ered by the gentleman from Penn-
sylvania [Mr. Stevens] to the original bill (the measure
to be pressed) proposes to raise that army without limi-
tation as to numbers ; without Hmitation as to the States,
loyal or rebel, from which they are to be taken ; without



limitation as to the expense, because without limitation
as to number ; without limitation as to the places where,
or purposes for which, the army is to be used ; without
limitation as to the discipline to which that army is to
be subjected ; each and all of these matters resting
solely in the discretion of the President of the United
States. I believe that I shall have the concurrence of
every member of this House, and of the gentleman
from Pennsylvania [Mr. Stevens] among the rest, when
I say, that this bill, in its new form, proposes to vest
in the President of the United States a larger power
and wider discretion than were ever reposed by Con-
gress in the hands of one man, unless under our pre-
vious legislation on the same subject. I am not here,
Mr. Speaker, to raise the question, whether we may not
wisely repose a large discretion in the Executive at
a time like this. It is among the necessities of our
condition, that a large discretion should be reposed in
the Executive ; but it is the duty of Congress to see that
no such extent of power is vested in the President, or
any one else, that that power may be readily used, as
all power is liable to be used, to defeat the ends for
which it is given, to subvert instead of upholding the
laws. And this question is not one of the individual
character of the officer, but of principle and policy. In
what condition of our affairs do we propose to raise this
new army ?

If I understood rightly the chairman of the Com-
mittee on Military Affairs, my friend from New York
[Mr. Olin], we have now in the field, or rather we have
upon the pay-rolls of the Government, a million of


white men of the Anglo-Saxon, Cehic, or German races.
This, no man can doubt, is a sufficient army for the pur-
pose of suppressing this RebelKon, if this RebelHon can
be subdued by physical power alone. I do not say how
many of those men are engaged to-day in active service,
in face of the enemy. There are, we are told, very
large desertions from the army. There are vast num-
bers now on your pay-rolls, capable of service, who are
doing no service. But that must be, to a considerable ex-
tent the fault of the administration of the army. It is the
plain, obvious duty of the Government to see that these
men, who are on your pay-rolls and capable of service,
are rendering that service. With a million efficient
men in the army and at work, and with our large and
gallant navy, if it is practicable to conquer rebellion by
arms, you have force adequate for the purpose; as
large a force as we can hope to maintain and replenish
without bankruptcy.

We must look, Mr. Speaker, to the financial aspect
of this question, the question of ways and means. I do
not think the financial condition of this country has
been truly presented ; or rather, I should say, fully pre-
sented : for no gentleman, of course, could desire to
present it otherwise than truly. If I understand the
facts spread by the gentlemen of the Committee of
Ways and Means before the country, in the speeches
made on this floor, our national debt at the end of the
next fiscal year will be at the least two thousand million
dollars. By that debt is meant the liquidated debt of
the country. I would call the attention of the House
to the fact, that the unliquidated debt of this coun-


try, the debt for damages for the taking of property
and the destruction of property by the military power
in the prosecution of the war, upon any equitable or
reasonable rule which this Congress or any other Con-
gress may adopt in its adjustment, may reach as high as
five hundred millions more. This may be possibly too
large an estimate; but gentlemen will see at once, that
how large it may be, and whether it reaches this limit,
must depend on the rule which Congress shall apply to
the adjustment of those claims ; how widely the door
is thrown open. If we admit not only all legal claims,
but all claims that are equitable, in the ordinary sense
of that word, and if the estimate also include pensions,
I think I do not state the case too strongly when I say
it would reach five hundred millions.

Do not fail to observe one other fact of our financial
condition ; and that is, that when you get the national
debt of this country, liquidated and unliquidated, you do
not reach the whole marrow of the thing. Your state,
county, city, town, and parish debts all over this country,
taken together, will make an aggregate approaching at
least to half of the liquidated national debt at the end
of the present fiscal year ; and when you combine these
debts, the liquidated debt, the unliquidated debt, the
liability for pensions, the State, county, city, and town
debts, and consider also how much higher interest we
are paying than that paid by any other people, the fact
will stare you in the face, that this nation, at the end of
the next fiscal year, will be more heavily laden with
debt than any nation in Europe.

Now, I make no complaint of this, Mr. Speaker. I


would not withhold nor give grudgingly even my last
dollar to the prosecution of this righteous war ; right-
eous, if prosecuted for the ends for which it was
begun, — the noblest war this country could wage ; com-
pared with which, the Revolution itself was not only
on a small scale, but for ends less grand and moment-
ous. I differ from some of my friends here as to the
nature and object of this war. It is a pleasant thing to
say this is a war for liberty. It sounds well ; it soothes
the ear ; it stirs the blood : but it is not true. That is
not the fundamental idea of this war. Liberty we have
had, sometimes to license. The fundamental idea, the
idea of highest moral dignity, in the prosecution of this
war, is the upholding of civil order and law and the
Constitution, which is the nation's supreme law, its
bond of unity, and its breath of life ; the noblest pro-
duct of human thought ; the framework of an empire
capable of almost infinite expansion, in which central
power was reconciled with local independence, the
gentlest restraint with the highest security, the broadest
equality with the firmest order, the amplest protection
with the slightest burden. The thought of to-day is
not liberty, as commonly understood, the absence of
restraint ; but the law in which true liberty is enthroned
and made possible.

I repeat, Mr. Speaker, I do not groan under the
burdens the country has been and will be called to bear
in the just prosecution of the war. It may be (though
that question is now one of history only), it may be,
that, by early mutual restraint and by moderate counsels,
the war might have been averted. But it was not


begun by this Government. After the fii'st shot at
Sumter, it was an inevitable necessity, a war of self-
defence. I am yet in favor of vigorously prosecuting
the war until the ends for which it was instituted are
attained, or their attainment clearly seen to be impos-
sible. I am for prosecuting it by the use of all just
means and instruments, all means and instruments
which have the sanction of public law as it has been
tempered by civilization and Christianity.

But to the money aspect of the question: the bill,
without disturbing the present army at all, without
diminution of its numbers, authorizes the President of
the United States to enlist one hundred thousand, or two
hundred thousand, or three hundred thousand men of
African descent ; and every new man you put into your
army, according to the estimates of intelligent gentle-
men on the floor of this House, costs you from seven
hundred to a thousand dollars ; and if you raise one
hundred and fifty thousand men, as was proposed by
the gentleman from Pennsylvania originally, you in-
crease your expenses one hundred to one hundred and
fifty millions a year.

Mr. Stevens. The gentleman will allow me a word.
I understand him to say, that this bill proposes to raise
an additional army, without any diminution in the num-
ber of the present army. Now, the preamble to the
bill which I introduced stated expressly, that it was
upon the ground, that, within a few months, the terms
of enlistment of several hundred thousand of the troops
now in the field would expire ; and this proposes to
supply their places.


Mr. Thomas. That was in the preamble of the
original bill introdnced by the gentleman from Pennsyl-
vania ; but the bill reported as from the War Depart-
ment, and now before the House, has no such provision.
The authority vested in the President, according to his
construction of our statutes, is to raise an army of a mil-
lion men. I do not complain of that construction.
There is no provision in this bill for the diminution of
that number ; and that number is not to be diminished,
at any rate, until June next. I may add, a bill has been
introduced in the other end of the Capitol for the
recruiting of this army, and supplying its losses.

Mr. Speaker, let me now turn to another feature of
this bill, the term of enlistment. It provides for the
enlistment of men for a period of jive years. Why five
years ? I think there is more significance in that word
" five " in this bill than in all other ivords written in it.
Its possible objects are not written. Do you mean to
say to the country, that it is your expectation, your rea-
sonable expectation, and the basis on which you propose
to make enlistments for your army, that this war is to
continue for a period of five years longer X Do you
mean to say to the country, that on the vast scale on
which the war is now prosecuted, and at the expense of
treasure and of life at which it is prosecuted, you expect
to carry it on for five years more % If such be your
expectation, it is just and manly to say so. If such be
not your expectation, pray add nothing to the anxiety
and alarm of the people.

Mr. Speaker, if the object of this war is restoration,
that involves a state of things, present or future, which


will soon be developed and felt A war for restoration
proceeds upon the ground, that you will find in the
rebel States, as your army advances and protection is
made possible, men who are ready to rally again under
the blessed flag of the Union, and to return to their
allegiance to the National Government. If that feeling

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Online LibraryBenjamin Franklin ThomasSpeeches in the second and third sessions of the Thirty-seventh Congress, and in the vacation (Volume 2) → online text (page 10 of 15)