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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exists, and is developed, certainly it will be developed
before the lapse of five years ; never, indeed, by this
instrumentality ; never ! But if the object of this war
is not restoration ; if the purpose and object of this
war are, as is sometimes declared in the heated and
brilliant rhetoric of gentlemen on your left, subjuga-
tion, extermination, the re-colonization of the whole
rebel territory, then your term of enlistment is alto-
gether too short, altogether too short.

If, Mr. Speaker, the object be extermination, there
is not one of these pages, snatched prematurely from
his mother's arms or cradle, who will live to see the
end. You have been waging the war two years, and
yet the number of inhabitants in the rebel States to-day
is larger than it was when the war was begun. You
cannot, probably, if you would, and you would not if
you could, carry on a war with a fierceness and severity
that would destroy life as rapidly as it germinates.
Men, in war even, will marry, and women be given in
marriage ; children will be born to them, and their
mothers will hold them to their flowing breasts as the
storm sweeps by. The angel of life will triumph over
the angel of death. Such is the blessed economy of
God. The extermination of eight millions of people,
with the use of all our power and all our resources, is


a moral and physical impossibility. Of this war, if it
is carried on for extermination, neither you nor I, Mr.
Speaker, may hope to see its close but in one way, to
us the way of deepest humiliation, — the intervention
of other nations to stay its ravages. Who talks of a
war of extermination is simply mad.

I proceed, Mr. Speaker, to a consideration of the
material of which you propose to make up this army.
If I understand myself, I entertain very little prejudice
and no unkindness toward the colored race. I may
believe, I do believe, as a matter of fact, that, in the
sterner stuif, they are an inferior race ; in some of
the gentler qualities, our superiors ; and, in my judg-
ment, the moral condemnation of slavery is the sterner
for that fact. I have more respect, or rather less aver-
sion, hate, for Roman or Grecian slavery, which subdued
equals to its service, not inferiors ; not men to whom
Nature had not given equal power of self-reliance and
self-protection. But I also believe, that as society now
exists, where these races are brought together in num-
bers approaching equality, the relations that will exist
between them, will be, perhaps must be, to some extent,
relation of dependence and pupilage on the one part,
and government and protection on the other ; but not
involving necessarily any feature of chattel slavery.

Now, I do not enter into the XDliilosophy of races.
As a practical man, I take and deal with things as they
are. Looking at the existing relations in different parts
of the country between the two races, I beheve, after
much reflection and careful consideration, that as mat-
ter of wisdom, for the good of both, and especially for



the permanent good of the colored race, we should not
involve that race in this war if we can fairly avoid it.
To some extent, and for valuable services, they have
been and will be used ; but, in the policy of creating
from them distinct and large armies, we shall lose more
than we gain. They will fight by the side of their
masters better than they will against them. This may
seem strange at first blush ; but, the more you study the
African character, the firmer will be your conviction of
its soundness. The light which our history gives us is
mainly of ^slaves fighting with their masters ; and the
fact will be found to be, though not, of course, without
its exceptions, that slaves are attached and devoted to
their masters and their families, and will stand by
them, and fight with and for them.

I do not question that there are men of color in this
country capable of bearing arms and making good
soldiers. There are men of talent and culture among
them. I have heard a man of color in this country
address a polished assembly with a beauty of style, and
force of argument, which any gentleman on the floor of
this House might be content to equal ; which I should
be glad to imitate. But, Mr. Speaker, great questions
of public policy are not determined rightly on excep-
tional cases : they confirm rather than impair the rule.
And no valuable judgment can be formed as to the use-
fulness of a negro army of a hundred thousand men from
the fact that a hundred men here, or fifty men there,
had been used in the military service, and had been
used successfully. The practical question is, taking
one, two, or three hundred thousand of escaped slaves



from the rebel and border States, what sort of material
you have for an army, compared with the present
material 1

My friend from New York [Mr. Roscoe Conkling] has
caused to be read some remarks of Alexander Hamilton
on this subject. There is no statesman in our history
for whom I have a profounder respect ; but I have no
confidence in the views expressed as to the proper mate-
rial of an army, as applied to the times in which we live,
or the purposes for which the war is waged. The argu-
ment proceeds on the ground, that the soldie^r is, to all
practical intents and purposes, a machine. Mr. Speaker,
the soldier of to-day is a thinking, or, if you will, " a
calculating machine." Your army in the field, as the
history of this war will signally illustrate, is valuable
for your service just in the degree that it is intelligent ;
just in the degree that your soldiers are capable of
understanding and appreciating the duty which they
have to perform, and the fealty which they owe to the
Government ; just in the degree that the man within
inspires and animates and nerves and presses onward
the outer man ; just in the degree that he feels that this
glorious country and beneficent Government are his
country and his Government, the life-estate in him,
the fee in his children. Suppose, for example (I hope
my friend from Maine, listening to me, will take no
ofi'ence), you get a regiment of backwoodsmen of Maine,
men inured to life in boreal airs, whose stalwart arms
humble forests: you have an excellent regiment, be-
cause the backwoodsmen of Maine are thinking, intelli-
gent men, owning the country, and loving it. Take an


equal number of young men from one of our cities, of
culture and spirit and pride, and you would have at
least as good soldiers. Nay, more : if you were to take
these two bodies of men, and cross with them the Rocky
Mountains, you would find that the young men from
the city, of intelligence and spirit, would bear all the
fatigues, privations, and hardships, as well as the stout-
est woodmen ; " better," said to me one who had tried
the experiment, — Capt. Williams, of the Second Mas-
sachusetts Regiment, one of the many noble offerings
Massachusetts has freely laid on the altar of country.

Mr. Hamilton cites the authority of Frederick of
Prussia, a great soldier and loose talker : yet we may
concede, that, for many uses to which armies have been
put, it were well to have them as near to machines as
possible; the nearer the better. Stupidity might, to
some extent, be compensated by unthinking obedience
to the will of the commander. Such an army this
country does not seek, and will not have. Create an
army of three hundred thousand men, so stupid as to
understand nothing of the purpose for which the war is
prosecuted ; obedient, but obedient only to the will of
a commander; mere "machines" in his hands; and
they may be the readiest instruments to destroy what all
good men are struggling to preserve.

For one, Mr. Speaker, I do not object to the enlist-
ment of intelligent free men of color, though I doubt
whether they seek it. I am a citizen of a State which
recognizes the substantial equality of all men before
the law. I love and honor her for her fidelity to the
cause of freedom, though I may sometimes fear " she


loves not wisely, but too well." I thank God, there is
not a man treading the soil of Massachusetts who is not
in all substantial legal rights my peer. The colored
man of Massachusetts is as much a citizen of Massa-
chusetts as I am. The question has been settled from
our first Constitution. Nothing is clearer as matter of
principle or of history ; nor has there ever been any
decision of the courts of the United States that impairs
his right.

But, while I rejoice in the policy of Massachusetts
toward the colored race, I do not assume to direct or
control or curse the policy of other co-equal States. I
am not unmindful of the fortunate condition, as to the
colored race, in which the Revolution found us. I am
not blind to the fact, that thek numbers were so small
as not to constitute practically a disturbing element. I
am grateful for these things : but I am not sure, that if
a half or a third of our population had been of African
descent, and our soil and its products and their labor
congenial, we should have been so much wiser and
better than our neighbors ; nor am I certain, that if we
bordered on the slave States, and were exposed to the
incoming of large numbers of black men, we should be
so tolerant in our policy, though we should try to
be just.

I do not form my judgment from the relations that
exist between the white and colored races in Massachu-
setts, of those that must and should exist in States where
the colored men constitute a large component part
of the population ; nor do I form a judgment, from my
knowledge of some respectable and intelligent colored


people at home, what sort of an army could be made
up of the slave population of the South. Congress
must recognize and act upon facts as they are, and not
as they would have them to be. It must make large
allowance for the feelings and prejudices even of the
present army ; yes, for the blind, unreasoning preju-
dices and hostilities of color and of race. Other gene-
rations may be wiser, better, more tolerant, than our
own ; but we have to deal laith our own.

The friends of this measure are very confident,
they are rather used to being confident, that these
black men, slaves or freed, will make good soldiers. I
cannot aver with certainty, they will not ; but I can say,
we have no satisfactory evidence that they will. I can
say, that they lack the intelligence, the energy, and the
self-reliance which characterize so largely our present
army, and which all men have conceded to be the
strength and effective power of that army.

But suppose that the experiment you are to try is
not successful. Suppose you raise an army of two or
three hundred thousand men of African descent, and
you find that the capacity is not in them which free
institutions have given to your white soldiers, the spirit
and habit of self-reliance and self-possession ; and I
may remark in passing, Mr. Speaker (I suppose there
is no man in this House who has not lived long enough
to have learned it), that the great difference between
men in this world is the degree in which they possess
themselves, — their own powers and resources. Sup-
pose, I repeat, that your experiment should fail, and you
have this army of two or three hundred thousand black


men on your hands : what will you do with them 1 If
you have an army composed of the white citizens of
the country, and the period of their service expires,
they will return to the ordinary relations and avocations
of life and business ; they will resume their former
position in society. They are soldiers to-day : they are
citizens to-morrow. But an army of two or three hun-
dred thousand black men, freed slaves, to be disbanded,
where shall they go ? To what place and condition
are they to be returned? Of course, not to slavery.
No man who has ever served under our flag, whether
for a day or for an hour, can be made again a slave.
Where, then, shall they go I You may be willing to
colonize them ; but they may prefer not to be colonized.
I wish some practical man, who is disposed to discuss
these questions upon practical grounds, would tell me
what disposition you would make of these men, if the
experiment fails, as fail I believe it will ; or when their
term of service has expired.

Mr. Speaker, I have listened attentively to this debate.
I think I may claim the merit, if I have no other, of
being a very patient listener ; and it sometimes requires
a patience which Job himself would envy. But every
thing aff'ecting, ever so remotely, the destiny of the coun-
try, is of painful interest now. I have, with pleasure
for the most part, listened to this discussion. It has
concerned great principles of policy and of conduct in
the administration of our affairs. But I deeply regret
to have seen the spirit of party so often invoked in this
debate. It has no place in the presence of these great
perils and great duties. The utmost freedom of discus-


sion and of counsel, here and elsewhere, must be main-
tained. Principles are vital ; party organizations or
triumphs, individual hopes and aspirations, nothing.
That party will wear the crown which shall do most to
save the life of this nation, its unity, its liberty in law.
No party can hope to triumph which is not faithful to
these great aims ; unless the triumph of its policy and
the ruin of the country shall be cotemporaneous.

I heard with great sorrow the thoughtful and elo-
quent speech of the gentleman from Kansas ; but I
heard it with no surprise. It was but carrying out the
principles laid down in his speech a year ago to their
plainest and most logical conclusion. The principles
were received with cordial sympathy and warmest wel-
come by men who shrink from the conclusion as from
the abyss of despair. He and they rejected with scorn
the old Union, any Union, with slave States. The only
alternatives were revolution and permanent conquest of
the entire South, or separation. The first is felt to be
impossible ; and the gentleman from Kansas logically,
and I have no doubt honestly, accepts the alternative.
But the gentleman cannot fail to see that the question
before the country to-day is, not separation or no, but
disintegration or no ; that, the moment you sever the
bond as to one State, you sever it as to the whole. No
man can say, if separation begins, where it will end, or
where the division-line will ultimately fall. Our only
safety has been and is in clinging to the Union as it
was in fact, and still is de jure ; the old Union, the
blessed Union of our fathers.

It has been clear to me as the sun in heaven and at


mid-day, that this was our only possible way of salva-
tion. This old Constitution, spurned now by foot even
of sciolist and charlatan, this stone the builders of
"baseless fabrics" have rejected, must again become
the head of the corner. I beseech and adjure statesmen
at either end of the Capitol, at either end of the Ave-
nue, to continue no policy, to enter upon none, which
shall preclude the restoration of the Union, with the
rights and powers of the States unimpaired; the only
Union now within the reach, even of hope.

I regret deeply some of the measures of the Ad-
ministration. I have earnestly, and with a depth of
conviction which could find no adequate utterance,
protested against them. The confiscation bill, the pro-
clamations of Sept. 22d and 24th and Jan. 1st, power-
less for good, have been, and Avill be, I fear, fruitful
only of evil.

The proclamation of Sept. 24th is in conflict with
the august and sacred muniments of personal secu-
rity, to which, for six centuries, the Anglo-Saxon
mind and heart have clung as the gospel of civil free-
dom. Every arrest made under it in the loyal and
peaceful States serves only to strengthen the enemies of
the Government, and to wound and grieve its friends.
If they tried to say "Amen" to it, the amen would stick
in their throats. Pray, let it sleep "the sleep that
knows no waking."

The proclamation of Jan. 1st will do less good or
harm than its friends hoped or opponents feared. It is
not thus that great wars are prosecuted or great ends
accomplished. However kind may have been the mo-


tives of those who begat and conceived it, it was still-
born; and no political galvanism can give to it the
semblance of life. But though the Administration
may adopt measures my judgment condemns, having
attempted to stay them, and protested against them, I
stand in the path of duty. This is my country to serve,
my Government to obey, my Constitution to rescue and
save, my Union,

•« Where I have garnered up my heart ;
Where I must live, or bear no life."

Amid all the darkness, the thick darkness, around us, I
cling to the single, simple, sublime issue, the Constitu-
tion, and the Union of which it is the bond ; the old
Union. God bless the old Union, and the wrath of the
Lamb of God shrivel to their very sockets the arms
lifted to destroy it ; — not in vengeance, but in mercy
to them and to all mankind !

This country of ours, this nation of ours, is the grand-
est, sublimest trust that was ever committed into human
hands. Pray the Father of lights, we be faithful. My
way of duty, in one regard, has been plain: having
sworn to support the Constitution of the United States,
I have striven to keep the oath. The way of obvious
duty was, in my judgment, the way, the only way, of
wisdom and safety for the country.

It was the prayer of New England's greatest states-
man, that, when his eyes were turned for the last time
to behold the sun of heaven, he might not see him shin-
ing on the broken and dishonored fragments of a once
glorious Union. Have we ever repeated to ourselves
these words, ^^ once glorious," '•'^ once glorious Union"?


Then with tears let us wash out, or with fire burn out,
the word, and write '■^for ever glorious," born out of
tribulation into a nobler life. When our eyes shall
turn to behold for the last time the sun in heaven, may
we see his rays kindling every star and every stripe of
that banner, which, like the robe of our divine Master,
was woven without seam !

If we save this Union, generation after generation
will rise up to bless us. If we lose it through divisions,
through party strifes, through supineness, in seeking
other ends, our memories will rot evermore.




Mr. Speaker, — Whatever other differences of opniion
there may be between members of this Honse, we all
recognize the great importance of the principles and
policy mvolved in the resolutions before us. There are
certam facts that are not contested. It is not contested
in the report of the Committee, or in the arguments of
the members of the Committee of Elections who did not
sign the report, that the persons who are elected to this
House are loyal men. It is not contested, that they
were elected by loyal citizens of Louisiana. It is not
contested, that they were elected without military dicta-
tion or controL There is nothing developed in the report
or in the arguments presented to the House to show that
there was any military dictation or control or influence in
the election.

What are the relations which these electors, and the
persons who claim these seats, hold, at this moment, to
the Government of the United States? They are citi-
zens of the United States, subject to all the duties imposed
by the Constitution and laws of the United States. They
are subject to taxation. Since the ordinance of secession
was passed, they have been taxed, in conformity to the
provision of the Constitution (art. 1, sect. 2) which appor-


tions direct taxation. They are subject to your revenue-
laws. Your collector is there to-day collecting duties
imposed by the Government. They are subject to your
excise-duties. Your law passed at the last session applies
to and includes them. They are subject to military ser-
vice. Some four thousand of loyal residents of New
Orleans are already engaged in the military service of
the Government.

Now, Mr. Speaker, before .the act of secession, these
men had aU the political rights that are correlative to
these political duties. They had the right of representa-
tion, which, from the earhest history of this Government,
has been indissolubly connected with the right of taxa-
tion. Subject, in war or peace, to all the duties and
burdens of the Government, they are entitled to the
corresponding rights and privileges that Government had
conferred upon them, unless m some legal way deprived
of them. These propositions are too plain for argument.

I proceed, then, Mr. Speaker, to consider whether
these rights have been in any way modified or impahed
by the act of secession. Were they impau'ed by the
ordinance passed by the convention of Louisiana "? It is
conceded on all hands, that that act was nuU and void,
and that it did not change the relations which the State
of Louisiana sustained to this Union. Is that act of
secession, in itself null and void, rendered operative and
effective by the use of physical power or armed force ?
Or, to state the proposition in another form, is the
ordinance of secession rendered effective because armed
treason is behind it ? Very clearly, no. An act, void m
itself under the supreme law of the land, cannot be


made to affect or impau: the legal rights of any, the
humblest citizen, because armed treason seeks to en-
force it.

Mr. Speaker, this doctrine is, I know, contested; but
I venture to say, that there is no form in which the pro-
position, that the seceded States have committed either
suicide or treason, can be put, in which its absurdity is
not transparent. That I may do no injustice to the advo-
cates of this doctrine, I will read the statement of it made
by my distmguished colleague [Mr. Eliot] ; and I beg
the House to mark the force and effect of his words. He
is speaking of the ordinance of secession ; and he says,

" But being of no effect by law, yet operative and vitalized by false
form of law, and by effective and controlling force in fact, it followed
inevitably, that, while the rebel State had renounced its allegiance
and cast off the protection of the Government, its territory remained
within the Union ; and its loyal men thereupon residing were entitled
to protection in their persons and in their property, and in all their
rights, as soon as the military power of the Government could be
exerted there, and a new civil government within the State could
be created."

That is to say, the proposition of my colleague is, that,
although the act of secession is void by law, " it is vital-
ized by a false form of law," and by the force beliind
that false form of law. I may be very obtuse; but I
prefer the plainer and simpler proposition, that an act
which is utterly void by the supreme law of the land
cannot be vitalized or made effective by armed treason,
but is void still. And I beg leave, with all due deference
to my distmguished colleague, to say, that, if that is the
proposition which he told us the other day a majority of
the sensible men of Massachusetts believe in, they have


done great injustice to the foolish men of Massachusetts
[laughter] ; for they have robbed them of their appro-
priate food, and of the most absiu'd proposition they
could find to believe in [laughter].

Mr. Eliot. Will my colleague yield to me ?

Mr. Thomas. With pleasure.

Mr. Eliot. Mr. Speaker, I was somewhat surprised
the other day to observe how very sensitive my distm-
guished colleague was at the use which I then made of
the word " sensible." But, when a gentleman states that
a majority of sensible men are of a certain opinion, it
does not by any means follow, that those who hold the
adverse opinion may not also be sensible. My learned
colleague must not suppose that I intended at all to place
him in the category of those who were not sensible,
certainly not; but only among the mmority of sensible
men [laughter]. My learned colleague is as sensible
as any of those who differ from him. I should be the

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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 11 of 15)