John A. (John Adams) Dix.

Letter from John A. Dix to the War Democracy of Wisconsin online

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LETTER



JOHlSr ^. DIX



Wat; ^enwajwi of ^mmm.



'■^Patriotism emanates from the heart, fills tJie soul, infuses itself into
the lohole man, and spea'ks and acts the same language. A friend of his
country in tear will feel, speal; and act for his country; revere his
country''s cause and hate Ms country^ enemies. America wants no
friend, aclcnoicledges the fidelity of no citizen, who, after war is declared,
condemns the justice of her cause and sympathizes with the enemy.
All such are traitors in their hearts.''''

STEPHEN A. DOUGLAS, Mat 13, 1S46.



New York, Sejyt. 10th, 1863.

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TO THE WAR DEMOCRACY OF AYISCONSIN.



Gentlemei-t :

I roceivGd, the day before yesterday, yours of the
31st August, inviting me to attend a Mass convention of the
lo3"al democracy of "Wisconsin, on the ITth inst., at the city
of Janesville. I have not seen the platform, embracing the
Ilyan address, put forth by the democracy of Wisconsin at
Madison, on the 5th of August ; but it is enough for me to
know that you are in favor of " the resolute prosecution of
the war," and of "unconditionally su])porting the govern-
ment in its efforts and credit in upholding its laws and re-
plenishing its armies until the supremacy of the constitution
shall be established over every State and upon every spot of
our domain," This is my own purpose; and T have seen,
with the deepest regret, manifestations of a determination on
the part of a portion of the democracy of the country to
withhold its support from the government in carrying on the
war, on account of certain errors of policy, thus giving aid to



the public enemies, who are in arms against the Union and
the national life. This determination, if persevered in, will
inevitably betray the democratic party into a course of
action which will be fatal to it by leaving it. at the close of
the war, now not far distant (if M'e are united), in the same
relation to the country in which the fedei-al party was left
at the close of the war of 1S12.

I cannot accept your invitation to address you. M}^ pub-
lic duties demand my constant presence here ; and I believe
I can be most serviceable to the country by confining myself
strictly to the discharge of those which are devolved on me
by my military command. But I take pleasure in respond-
ing to your request to write to you.

In a great national struggle for existence, what is the duty
of all good citizens ? Manifestly, to sustain the government
with all their strength. If it is weak, we should rally around
it and try to make it strong. If it is guilty of errors of con-
duct, we should not, for that reason, rush into an opposition
which may disqualify it for the great end it is laboring to
accomplish ; but we should still sustain it, and trust for their
correction to the recurrence of the popular ordeal, through
which every administration is, after a brief period, to pass.

The measure which lias produced, perhaps, more dissatis-
faction tlum any other is the President's emancipation Pro-
clamation. I certainly should not have advised it. I be-
lieved tliat it would prove })ractically inoperative : — that it
would only reach negroes who came witlun our control, and
they were, by the laws of war, if we chose so to regard them,
free witliout it. It was purely a war measure; and if the
war should cease to-morrow, it would cease to be practically
operative, excepting so far as it has been executed. This is,



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liow'Gver, a question of interpretation for the courts, and it
does not become -me to anticipate their decision.

Bat putting another construction on it — that it was, as
has been charged, the index of a radical change in the
policy of the war — of the intention of the administration
to make it a war for the abolition of slavery, and not for a
reconstruction of the Union on the basis of the constitution,
the only basis, as I think, on which reconstruction is possible ;
— is it wise or patriotic to withdraw our support from
the Government on. account of it? In a war for the na-
tionality of the country there can be but two sides. The
neutral may, it is true, clog the movement of the govern-
ment by liis dead weight, as the vis inertlce oi matter impedes
its motion. But he, who by assuming an attitude of hostility
to the government embarrasses it in the ]>rosecution of the
war, is an auxiliary of the public enemy. The question is,
whether war with the emancipation Proclamation shall be
maintained against the rebellion, or whether the rebellion
shall be allowed to go on unresisted on account of the Pro-
clamation ? In other words, whether aid shall be given to
the administration of Abraham Lincoln or the usurpation of
Jefferson Davis.

Great dissatisfaction has also been created by permitting
arbitrarj' arrests by military authority in States which are
loyal, and in which the machinery of the Courts is in fuL
operation. Condemnation of these in speech or through the
press is one of the prerogatives of free discussion. But when
opposition is carried to the extremity of withholding support
from the government in carrj^ing on the war, or rushing into
open resistance to it, a crime is committed and the public
enemy is aided and encouraged.

This is now the imminent danger which threatens the



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democratic party. Opposition to the measures referred to
has degenerated into opposition to the war. The law
authorizing a draft of men to replenish the ranks of the army
has been virulently condemned by leading members and lead-
ing presses of the democratic party y and every eifort has been
made to defeat its execution and to prevent the government
from getting men under it. It has been denounced as un-
constitutional, arbitrary, unprecedented, and a measure of
tyranny to which the Anglo-Saxon race has never submitted.
These misrepresentations, sustained in many instances by
high authority, have done much to render the measure
odious and to defeat its purpose.

Of the necessity of the act I have nothing to say, except-
ing what all know, that it was found impracticable to keep
up the numerical force of the army to the proper standard by
voluntary enlistment. It was passed by Congress under a
sense o<f the respo-nsibility which the members owe to the
people, and in view of the exigencies of the military service.
It is a law, and obedi&nce is a public duty. Obedience to
it is more than an ordinary duty imder existing emergencies.
It is the dictate of patriotism, of the sense of honor, and of
the high instinct, which impels every man who is worthy of
his country, to obey her call v/hen the government is in peril.

In seasons of ])ublic danger compulsorj^ military service,
of which the draft is the mildest and the most equitable form,
has been resorted to in England, for the army as well as the
navy, in nearly every eventful reign from the time of William
the Conqueror down to George the Fourth. It has been en-
fu-ced by the King's prerogative, and by statute law: it was
regulated by the Parliament under Charles the First and by
the rarliament under Oliver Cromwell after Charles was
beheaded. One of their acts elicited an encomium from



//cT



Hallam, in his coi>stitutional History of England. It was
adopted in Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia, under
the colonial regime, and continued after they had thrown
off their allegiance to the British crown. It had the leading
features of tlie present draft — substitutes and pecuniary
contribution as a commutation for personal service. It was
continued by the United States, under the Articles of Con-
federation, till Congress, under the Constitution, was invested
with the unlimited power to " raise and support armies." It is
peculiarly and preeminently an Anglo-Saxon method^of j)ro-
viding for great public emergencies : but in the heat of party
strife men become as untrue to history as they are to the
duties of citizenship.

In this State the denunciations hurled against the present
draft by the press, and by men high in position, led to the
most disgraceful riot known to the history of the country, in
which hundreds of lives were lost, and delayed the execution
of the measure for a period, which will not fall short of two
months. If the law had been cheerfully obeyed ; if those who
have been busy in denouncing it had been as earnest in
their appeals to the patriotism of the people to carry it out, a
great public dishonor would probably have been averted,
and Lee's army, the last dependence of the insurgents,
might ere this have been hopelessly crippled or dispersed.

From the period of the Confederation, this mode of re-
plenishing the army has been called a draft, and the men
enrolled for service drafted men. The federalists in 1814
gave it, in order to render it odious, the name of conscrip-
tion. The same course is adopted by its enemies now. Some
who are supporters of the law have, it is true, with a looseness
of expression by no means creditable to them, applied to it
the term by which it was stigmatized by the enemies of the



8

democracy, in the war of 1812 : but it is unknown to tlie
law and to tlie instructions of the government, and a persist-
ence in the use of a term which suggests the severe French
system of compulsion, and keeps out of view the compara-
tively mild Anglo-Saxon draft, cannot be dictated by a pat-
riotic motive.

In 1814, after the desperate contests on the Niagara fron-
tier, when it became necessary to fill up the ranks of the
army, and when volunteering, as now, had become an un-
certain reliance, Mr. Monroe, then acting Secretary of State
and Secretary of War, and afterward President of the United
States, proposed several plans, one of which, and the most
prominent, was a draft. Mr. Madison, w]io was President,
referred to it in terms of approval in his message to Con-
gress.

Mr. Monroe, in his letter to the Committee of the House
of Pepresentatives, defended the measure in a clear and un-
answerable argument, from wliich tliere is room only for tlie
following extracts :

" In proposing a draft as one of the modes of rcaising men in case of
actual necessity in the present great emergency of the country, I have
thought it my duty to examine such objections to it as occurred, partic-
ularly those of a constitutional nature. It is from my sacred regard to
the principles of our Constitution that I have ventured to trouble the
Committee with any remarks on this part of the subject."

" Congress have a riglit by the Constitution to raise regular armies,
and no restraint is imposed in tlie exercise of it, except in the provisions
which are intended to guard generally against the abuse of power, with
none of which does this plan interfere."

" An uncjualified grant of power gives the means necessary to carry it
into effect. This is a universal maxim, which admits of no exception."

" The commonwealth has a right to the service of all its citizens, or
rather the citizens composing the commonwealth have a right collec-
tively and individually to the service of each other to repel any danger
which may be menaced."



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' " The plan proposed is not more compiilsive than the militia
service."

These extracts indicate the tone of tlie argument in favor
of the constitutionality of the measure, as well as its neces-
sity, its propriety, and its justice.

The measure was immediately assailed as unconstitutional
by the leading federalists in Congress, It was denounced
as an odious conscription, and in much the same language
as its opponents denounce it now. Jeremiah Mason, of New
Hampshire, admitted to have been the ablest federal sena-
tor in Congress at that time, spoke against it.

Mr. Goldsborough, a federal senator from Maryland,
said :

" A few years past, and the name of conscription was never uttered '
but it was coupled with execration. Last year it found its way into a
letter from the Secretary at War to the Chairman of the Military Com-
mittee, and it was then so odious that it was but little exposed to view.
This year we have conscription openly recommended to us by the Secre-
tary at "War [Mr. Monroe] in an official paper; and worst of all, it finds
champions and advocates on this floor."

In the House of Eepresentatives, Mr. Cj-rus King, a fed-
eral member from Massachusetts, said :

" James Madison, President of the United States, is the father of this
system of conscription for America, as his unfortunate friend Bonaparte
was of that of France : this he announced in his message, before referred
to, as follows : ' I earnestly renew, at the same time, a recommendation of
such changes in the system of militia as, by classing and disciplining for
the most prompt and active service the portions most cai)able of it, will
give to that great resource for the public safety all the requisite energy
and efficiency.'

"His plans, therefore, substantially embraced by these conscription
bills, were afterward submitted to Congress by his Secretary of "War,
James Monroe, and by him attempted to be recommended to the Ameri-
can people by the plea of necessity :

' So spake the flend, and with necessity,
Tlie tyrant's plea, excused his devilish deeds.'



10

"Yonr President further says in the same message: 'We see the
people rusliing Avith enthusiasm to the scenes where danger and duty
call. lu offering their blood they give the surest pledge that no other
tribute will be withheld.' If this be true, sir, where is the necessity of
violating the Constitution to impose on the people a military despotism
and French conscription!"

Mr. Morris S. Miller, a distinguished federal member
from Utica, said :

" The plan which gentlemen wish adopted is conscription. They call
it classification and penalty —classification and draft. Sir, there is poison
in the dish : garnish it as you please, there is poison still. You call it

classification The times demand that things should be

called by their right names — this is conscription, and with features more
hideous than are to be found in the exploded system of our unfortunate
cousin of Elba."

" What are the plans by wliich you intend, to fill your army? I object
to them all as unconstitutional and inexpedient. They all look to force,
and you have no right to raise an army except by voluntary enlist-
ment."

"Mr. Chairman: This plan violates the Constitution of your country.
It invades the riglits of State Governments. It is a direct infringement of
their sovereignty. It concentrates all power in the General Government,
and deprives the States of their necessary security."

" Much less can I forget that the Governor of NewYork (Mr. Tompkins),
who has lent himself to the Administration as the pioneer of conscription,
did pardon a horse-thief on condition that he should enlist."

"I have followed four children to the tomb. Under present circum-
stances ought I repine their loss? When I see the attempt to fasten this
conscription on ns, ought I to regret that they have gone to heaven?
My daughters, had they lived, might have been the mothers of conscripts:
my sons might have been conscripts themselves."

"I have carefully examined this conscription question with all the
seriousness and attention required by the solemnity of the occasion. I
have exercised that small measure of talent which it has pleased the
Almighty to bestow upon me, and I have arrived at this conclusion : the
plan of conscription violates the Constitution : it trenches on the rights
of the States, and takes from them their necessary security ; it destroys
all claim to personal freedom ; it will poison all the comforts of this peo-
ple. In this belief I have no hesitation to say that I think it will be re-
sisted, and that it ought to bo resisted."



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Leading men of the democratic party have carried into
this war the same hostility to the draft tliat Judge Miller
and his federal associates in Congress carried into the war
of 1812. Thereis this difference,h owever, and one by no
means favorable to the opponents of the draft of the present
day. Judge Miller's hostility to it was before it became a
law; and his was a legitimate opposition, having for its pur-
pose to prevent the adoi>tion of the measure. On the other
hand, those who follow in liis footsteps resist the draft with
all the moral power they can exert in order to defeat the exe-
cution of a law definitively passed by both houses of Congress.
Judge Miller, as a member of Congress, and a part of the law-
making power, had a perfect right to oppose the measure in
debate and by his vote. But those who resist it when it has
become a lav/, not only viohite one of the first duties of clti-
zensliip, but array themselves against the war by attempting
to defeat the execution of a measure so essential to success
as the recruiting of our armies.

While it is the highest duty of the citizen in time of war
to sustain the government against the public enemy, there
has been no epoch in the history of the Eepublic, in which
this obligation was more imperative than it is at the present
moment. Not only is our national existence threatened by
the Southern insurrection, but our enemies abroad have been
busy, while domestic discord has bound our hands, in violat-
ing the time-honored policy of the country. Spain has
appropriated to herself another of the fertile islands of the
Gulf France has overthrown the authority of a neighboring
Eepublic, and is seeking to place an Austrian monarcli on
an American throne. Great Britain, forgetful of her history
and her good faith, and reckless of international obligations,
has become a secure base for naval enterprises by rebel-



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lions citizen's, to ravage, our commerce and insult our flag.
In view of these public wrongs, and of the day of reck-
oning which must come, it is no. time for our citizens to
relax their ties of allegiance, or to inculcate theories which
strike at the foundation of the military power of the govern-
ment. On the contrar}^, it is the duty of the statesman, Avho
loves his country, and would resent her wrongs, to cherish
and keep alive that spirit of devotion wdiicli will enable us
to present against all foes, whether domestic or foreign, an
• unbroken front ; to proclaim and to exemplify in his conduct
the only doctrine worth}' of a patriot, that in time of war
the government is entitled to the hearty and zealous support
of the whole people against the common enemy.

Let me return a inoment to the year 1814. Previous to
the debates in Congress referred to, important movements
were in progress in the State of New York. At a special
session of the Legislature, called in the month of September
by Governor Tompkins, before Mr. Monroe presented his plan
for a draft, Mr. Van Burcn, then a young member of the
Senate, brought forward several measures to infuse new
vigor into the prosecution of the war. The most prominent
was a bill to place at the disposal of the general govern-
ment 12,000 men for two years, to be raised by a classiflca-
tion of the militia of the State.

This measure encountered the most violent opposition
from the federal members of the Legislature ; but it passed
both houses, and became a law on the Slth of Oct. 1814,
nine days after Mr. Monroe's plan was submitted to Con-
gress. Of this bill Col. Benton, in a letter to the Mississippi
Convention in 1840, said, that it was " the most energetic
war measure ever adopted in this country."

Mr. Niles (sec his "Ilcgister," Vol. 7, Nov. 2G, 1814)



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says : " The great State of New York lias taken a stand that
says [to the Hartford Convention] thus far shalt thou go
and no fartlier;" and at page 123, same volume: "The
LegisLature adjourned on the 24th of Oct. after passing sev-
eral acts of great importance. Among them is an "act to
raise 12,000 men to be paid, fed, and subsisted by the
United States. The men are to be raised by an equal clas-
sification, and are intended as a permanent force to relieve
the militia," &c.

Thus it will be seen that the draft, which was proposed in
Congress and adopted in New York, and which was denounced
by the federalists as a conscription, as unconstitutional, ar-
bitrary and tyrannical, had the support of Madison, Monroe,
Tompkins, Yan Buren, and other great men of the demo-
cratic party; and had not the treaty of peace, concluded at
Ghent in Dec. 1814, put an end to the war, there is little
doubt that this mode of replenishing the army would have
been adopted in Congress as it was in New York.

The course of those who are denouncing and resisting the
measure now, in nearly the same manner and the same lan-
guage as that in which the federalists denounced it and its
authors, Madison, Monroe, and Tompkins, is in great danger
of placing the democracy of the country in a position of open
hostility to the government and to one of its leading war
measures. If this course is persisted in and sustained by the
great body of the party, its downfall is certain. Tlie danger
can only be averted by an honest and unqualified support of
the war. It is not enough to pass patriotic resolutions and
declarations of principle. These are a mere deception un-
less they are followed up by consistent acts, and by putting
forward as representative men those, who have given evi-
dence in their conduct that their hearts are in the great



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struggle, in wliicli the country is engaged for tl\e preserva-
tion of its life. If tliis be not done, the democracy will in-
evitably draw down upon itself the popular distrust, Avhich
fell upon the federal party at the close of the war of 1812,
and rendered its resuscitation impossible. Into tliis abyss I
will not consent to be dragged down. I have been all my
life a member of the democratic party. Its principles as
proclaimed by Jefferson, Madison, and Jackson, have always
been, and ever will be my guides ; and while I do not deem
it compatible with my military duties to take an active part
in political contests, I shall do all in ray power, to rescue
the part}', from the destruction with which it is menaced by
the impolicy, the partisan spirit, and the want of patriotism
by which some of its leading men are actuated, and to rally
it, so far as my humble efforts avail, to the support of tiie
government and the preservation of the Union. If it cannot
be saved, I will not be an agent in its downfall. But if it
is doomed to succumb to the influence of unfaithful leaders
and pernicious counsels, my hope still is, that the great body
of its members will, before it is too late, re-assert its ancient
principles, and combining with the conservative elements of
the country, will resume its proper influence in the conduct
of public affairs, and guide us, as in the better days of the
Kepublic, under the sacred banner of constitutional liberty
and law, in our majestic nuirch to prosperity and power.

I am, very respectfully,

Your obedient servant,

JOHN A. DIX.

Messrs. Matt II. Carpenter,
Lkvi IIuBiti:Li>,

C. J). liolilNSOX.



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Online LibraryJohn A. (John Adams) DixLetter from John A. Dix to the War Democracy of Wisconsin → online text (page 1 of 1)