Lyman Abbott.

Christianaity and social problems online

. (page 17 of 25)
Online LibraryLyman AbbottChristianaity and social problems → online text (page 17 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Napoleon the Great, " is the trade of barbarians."
" You think that war is all glory," said Sherman ;
*' I tell you it is all hell." " There is nothing more
horrible than victory," said the Duke of Welling-
ton, " except defeat." Nor are its evils to charac-
ter buried with its corpses on the battle-field. As
they leave ofttimes pestilence in the air, so war
itself leaves moral pestilence in the nation. Even
the most just and righteous wars are followed by
periods of demoralization and corruption, against
which the conscience of the nation struggles seem-
ingly in vain. In America such political corrup-
tion followed the Revolutionary War ; in France,
the Napoleonic wars ; in Germany, the Franco-
Prussian war ; and, in our own time and our own
country, the Civil War. The pernicious principle
that justice between nations can be settled by
armed conflicts, under regulations prescribed by
international law, necessitates the pernicious prac-
tice of preparing for war in time of peace. This
means a standing array and a considerable navy ;
and these involve three perils to the nation which
possesses them. Their mere possession incites in
the nation an ambition to use them. The army
wearies of its inactivity ; enforced idleness be-
comes monotonous ; the private soldier desires war
because his pay is increased, the officer because he
has a better chance of promotion, the contractor


because to him war means increased business, even
the farmer because he hopes for an immediate sale
of his wheat and corn, and does not make account
of the counterbalancing losses of the future. The
nation, thus inciting itself to war by its very prepa-
ration therefor, incites its neighbor also. In the
West, the unarmed cowboy is the safest, because,
if a controversy arises between cowboys who are
armed, each one endeavors to shoot first and so
anticipate the shot of his neighbor. The arma-
ment of one nation incites its neighbor to arm
also ; and each increase of military equipment
incites the suspicions and stirs the latent combat-
iveness across the border. Thus the armed nation
by its very armament provokes to war, and the
unarmed nation by its pacific disposition secures
its own peace. France, Russia, Germany, Austria,
and Italy, living in perpetual encampment, live
also in perpetual apprehension of war : but Swit-
zerland, Holland, Belgium, Norway, and Sweden,
practically unarmed, are free alike from the bur-
dens of war and its apprehension s.^ Greater than
these perils is that to liberty by the very existence
of a standing army. History records not a single
instance of a nation armed which has remained a
nation free. The army is necessarily autocratic,
and autocracy and democracy cannot live side by
side in the same country and under the same flag.
The army, organized to be the servant of the
nation, speedily becomes the servant of its com-

1 J. M. Beck, The Distress of Nations, p. 10.


mander-in-chief. Even if the form of liberty re-
mains, its reality disappears ; but even the form
does not long remain. The president becomes
first consul, the first consul emperor. Even Puri-
tan England ceased to be a free commonwealth as
Ions: as Cromwell remained commander-in-chief of
the Puritan army. The dangers to America from
a great navy and a considerable army would be far
greater than the dangers from all foreign nations.
It would be safer for us to be without a fortifica-
tion from the Penobscot to the Mississippi, and
without any other armed force than such militia
as might be called into requisition when occasion
should arise, than to follow the example of Euro-
pean nations, and, under guise of protecting our-
selves from imaginary enemies, create an army and
navy which would be liable to become, in the
hands of an unprincipled leader, far more danger-
ous than any foreign foe.

These perils might well make us hesitate to ac-
cept war as a method of establishing justice be-
tween nations even were it ever so efficacious. But
it is not efficacious. It does not establish justice.
We no longer believe that God is preeminently the
God of battles, and that in every controversy He
gives protection to feeble innocence against armed
oppression, and victory to right against might.
This superstitious faith which underlay wager of
battle is equally superstitious as the basis of public
war. In fact the superstition is no longer enter-
tained, and the appeal in war is not to the God of


battles but to the force of arms. Might does not
make right ; and the history of Europe is writ
with many a page on which is recounted injustice
triumphing in wager of public battle. Nor does
war really determine the question submitted to its
arbitrament. There is one question, and only one,
which war settles, — the question of authority.
Force must necessarily be employed in the last
analysis when legitimate authority is defied by
force. When the States of a great Union have
agreed to submit all their questions to the decision
of the people, and a portion of those States refuse
to submit to this final tribunal, then either that
tribunal must abnegate its authority and the na-
tion be dissolved, or that authority must be en-
forced at the cannon's mouth. An army thus
enforcing the authority of law is simply performing
police duty upon a great scale. The use of force
is legitimate in two cases, and only two, — when
there is no law to which appeal can be made, and
when the law, though it exists, is defied. But no
other question than the authority of law is ever
settled by appeal to arms. Waterloo was thought
to determine for all time that France should be a
monarchy, but France is a republic. Sebastopol
was thouo-ht to determine for all time that Russia
should have no port upon the Mediterranean Sea,
but Russia was never so near an open port on that
sea as she is to-day.

There are in our time two arguments suggested
in favor of the perpetuation of war. It is said


that war is glorious, and that a nation without war
is without heroism. It is true that war affords op-
portunities for heroism, and thus opportunity for
deeds truly glorious. It is true that something
resplendent would be lacking in American history
if there were no Bunker Hill, no Valley Forge, no
Paul Jones or General Jackson, no Antietam or
Gettysburg. Shall we, then, maintain a restless,
burdensome, demoralizing, and inefficient method
of securing justice, because under such a method
men exhibit heroic qualities ? Shall we retain bur-
dens of which we might be relieved, because men
proved themselves patient in bearing them ? Shall
we retain sin because if there were no sin there
could be no redeeming love ? Pestilence in a city
brings glory with it, the glory of nurse and physi-
cian sacrificing themselves in self-denying service
to save the lives of others. Shall we introduce
pestilence into our cities ? A great conflagration
gives opportunity for glory in the firemen who fight
the flames and rescue the imperiled. Shall we
touch the torch to our homes, and wrap the city in
a great conflagration, for the sake of giving oppor-
tunity for such glorious heroism ? But neither pes-
tilence nor conflagration brings with it a tithe of
the perils, the suffering, the moral distress, which
war inevitably entails.

The other argument for war is that it is neces-
sary to promote patriotism. It is true that pa-
triotism is often deepened by war, but it is not
true that patriotism depends upon war. A strange


inversion of the natural order is this doctrine
which teaches us, not that we fight for our country
because we love it, but that we love it only because
we fight for it. A strange reversal of the Sermon
on the Mount is this doctrine which says to us, It
hath been said to them of olden time, Thou shalt
love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy, but I say
unto you that you cannot love your neighbor unless
you hate your enemy. A strange contradiction of
the very axiom of Christianity is this doctrine that
love can be nourished only at the breast of hate.

Christianity has done much to mitigate the hor-
rors of war, and something to lessen the incentives
to it. It has itself created some of those regula-
tions of international law to which I have briefly
adverted. It has forbidden the torturing and the
killing of captives ; it has discouraged and finally
abolished the practice of reducing them to slavery.
It has made war, when undertaken for the avowed
purjiose of plunder, illegal, and in Christendom
well-nigh impossible. It has created a spirit of
humanity and justice which has provided on the
one hand some 23rotection for non-combatants, on
the other some alleviation for the wounded and the
captive ; and it has inspired a spirit of chivalry
which, surviving the Crusades, has given to civil-
ized warfare a character in important respects dif-
ferent from that of ancient paganism.^ And it has

1 "The chang-es Christianity effected in the rights of war
were very important, and they may, I think, he comprised under
three heads. In the fiist place, it suppressed tlie gladiatorial


taught continuously, tlirougli its great prophets,
though certainly not always consistently by the
voice of all its representatives, that war is righteous
only when it is inevitable, that Jesus Christ is the
Prince of Peace, and that Christ's disciples should
constantly seek to hasten the time prophesied in
Isaiah when "men shall beat their swords into
ploughshares and their spears into pruning-hooks ;
when nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more." ^

The movement gathering force in England and
in the United States for the settlement of inter-
national controversies by Christ's method of rea-
son, in lieu of the pagan method of brute force,
has eighteen centuries of progress behind it.
Though the world moves slowly, still it moves.

shows, and thereby saved thousands of captives from a bloody
death. In the next place, it steadily discouraged the practice of
enslaving' prisoners, ransomed immense multitudes with chari-
table contributions, and by slow and insensible g'radations pro-
ceeded on its path of mercy till it became a recog-nized principle
of international law that no Christian prisoners should be re-
duced to slavery. In the third place, it had a more indirect but
very powerful influence by the creation of a new warlike ideal.
The ideal knig-ht of the Crusades and of chivalry, uniting- all the
force and fire of the ancient warrior with all the tenderness and
humility of the Christian saint, sprang- from the conjunction of
the two streams of religious and of military feeling- ; and, al-
though this ideal, like all others, was a creation of the imagina-
tion, although it was rarely or never perfectly realized in life,
yet it remained the type and model of warlike excellence, to which
many generations aspired ; and its softening influence may even
now be largely traced in the character of the modern gentleman."
W. E. H. Lecky, History of European Morals, vol. ii. p. 274.
1 Isaiah ii. 4.


The impatient reader must remember that once
revenge was both a sacred right and a sacred duty.
He who had been wronged was regarded under an
obligation to revenge the wrong. Such vengeance
was wreaked not only on the offender personally,
but on the family to which he belonged. The first
restraint in history upon this perpetnal warfare
was that imposed in the Mosaic law, which, in
case of murder, limited the right of vengeance to
the nearest relatives of the murdered man. ^ Out
of the right of personal vengeance grew what is
known in history as "private war." From the
ninth to the fifteenth century Europe was deso-
lated with this species of w^ar, waged between
nobles and private citizens, rival cities and hostile
communities, often arising from the most insignifi-
cant causes. A merchant imprisoned for debt
demanded indemnity, and made war upon the city
in which he had been imprisoned ; a nobleman,
counting himself insulted because a lady had
broken her promise to dance with his cousin,
made war upon the city in which she resided. In
France the relatives of the one making war could
be called on to render him assistance up to the
seventh degree. The suffering and desolation re-
sulting from this private war surpass the powers
of description. One wari-ioi', the Margrave of
Brandenburg, boasted that he had burned one
hundred and seventy villages.

At length the Church set itself against such war.

1 Numbers xxxv. 9-34 ; Deut. xix. 1-13 ; Joshua xx. 1-6.


Pilgrims preached through Europe the duty of
peace. Missionaries from country to country acted
as peacemakers. Associations formed to collect a
fund to compensate sufferers from violence. Peace
was imposed as a sacred duty during Lent, and
then at other specified times ; finally, four days in
the week were declared days of holy truce. Finally,
courts of arbitration were organized by the barons
and the bishops, founded on the teachings of Christ
and of the Apostle Paul. ^

This right of personal vengeance, this obliga-
tion of enforcing it, continued to be recognized
far down into the Middle Ages. The wager of
battle which I have already described grew out
of an endeavor by a humane and partially Chris-
tian spirit to surround this right and duty with
certain legal restrictions and safeguards. The
time came when open attack was not permitted
within the immediate demesne of the king, and
the peace which there prevailed was known as the
" king's peace." Little by little this king's peace
extended over the highways, and finally over the
whole country, and every act of personal violence
was deemed a wrong, because it was a violation of
the king's peace and an insult to him.

Thus Christianity, first ameliorating and re-
straining and finally abolishing private contro-
versy, and substituting therefor courts of law,
then ameliorating and abolishing private war, and
substituting therefor laws of war recognized by all
1 Matt, xviii. 15-17 ; 1 Cor. vi. 4-7.


civilized nations, prepared the way for what is
known as the " Great Design " of Henry of Na-
varre. This was nothing less than the establish-
ment of a United States of Europe, composed of
all its great powers excepting Russia, who were to
combine in maintaining one standing army to
keep peace between the states and to repel in-
vasions of barbarians. The tragic death of Henry
the Fourth by the assassin's knife, in 1610, pre-
vented the consummation of the Great Design,
though we may well doubt whether Christian in-
fluences had at that time sufficiently dominated
the mind and heart of Europe to make this design
practicable, nor was it wholly free from a ruthless
character intermingled with its Christian purpose.^
A little less than a century later, William Penn
reproduced in a different form a similar scheme
for the settlement of international difficulties by a
great court of arbitration. But not until a century
after that was Christ's method of settling contro-
versies introduced practically and on a large scale
as a means of securing justice between nations.
At the close of the last century, by treaty between
the United States and Great Britain, negotiated
by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John
Jay, it was declared that certain disputes between
the United States and Great Britain should be

1 For account of the Great Design, see Memoirs of the Duke de
Sully ^ book iii. ; The Huguenots and Henry of Navarre, hj Professor
Baiid, vol. ii. p. 41)1 ; and " The United States of Europe," by
Edward Everett Hale, in The Old and New for March, 1871.


ndjusted by arbitration. Inspired by this prece-
dent, and " under the beneficent working of this
]n'inciple/ nearly one international case a year
has been settled during the past eighty years." ^
Only four or five are known to most people, for
one war makes more noise than a hundred arbi-
trations, and costs more than a thousand times as
much.^ In accordance with its own spirit, in peace
and quietness, international arbitration has been
displacing war.

Yet, in this movement for the substitution of
reason in the place of force for the determining
of justice between nations, the progress has always
been pathetically slow. There is something at
once painful and humorous in the dread which
mankind has shown of a change so rational and
so beneficent. An illustration of this spirit al-
most worthy of a comic opera is afforded by our
treaty with Mexico of 1848. Art. XXI., provid-
ing: for arbitration between the United States and

1 Chauncey M. Depew, address before the New York State
Bar Association, January 21, 1896.

2 We have arbitrated about forty cases, she (Great Britain)
not less than thirty : the United States has settled difficulties in
this way with sixteen nations, thirteen of which are weak powers ;
Great Britain with eleven, six of which are weak powers. The
two countries have settled thirteen disputes between themselves, —
thirteen of the most difficult, delicate, and far-reaching in conse-
quences of all the cases ever adjusted by arbitration. — "The
United States, Great Britain, and International Arbitration," by
Benjamin F. Trueblood, LL. D., New England Magazine, March,

^ Benjamin F. Trueblood, LL. D., Report of the Lake Mohonk
Conference, 1895, p. 6.


Mexico, is such a curious piece of literature that
it deserves insertion in full : —

"If, unhappily, any disagreement shall hereafter
arise between the governments of the two republics,
whether with respect to the interi3retation of any stipu-
lation in this treaty, or with respect to any other par-
ticular concerning the political or commercial relations
of the two nations, the said governments, in the names
of those two nations, do promise to each other that they
will endeavor, in the most sincere and earnest manner,
to settle the differences so arising, and to preserve the
state of peace and friendship in which the two nations
are now placing themselves, using for this end mutual
representations and pacific negotiations. And if by
these means they should not be enabled to come to an
agreement, a resort shall not on this account be had to
reprisals, aggression, or hostility of any kind by the one
republic against the other, until the government of that
which deems itself aggrieved shall have maturely con-
sidered, in the spirit of peace and good neighborship,
whether it would not be better that such difference
should be settled by the arbitration of commissioners
appointed on each side, or by that of a friendly nation.
And, should such course be j^roposed by either party, it
shall be acceded to by the other, unless deemed by the
other incompatible with the nature of the difference or
the circumstances of the case." ^

The court has taken the place of the pistol and
the bowie knife for the settlement of individual
controversies ; international law, regulating- war,
has taken the place of private and unregulated

1 Treaties of the United States, p. 690.


war in Europe ; arbitration has taken the place
of even regulated war in the adjustment of con-
troversies between Great Britain and the United
St ates ; and law, interpreted and applied by a
permanent tribunal, has been established on this
continent, — the fitting though long-delayed con-
summation of this slow progress out of barbarism.
The organization of the Supreme Court of the
United States is recognized by all political writers
as the greatest contribution which the founders of
the American Constitution have made to national
life. This nation is composed of forty-four States,
each independent, and in its own legitimate domain
sovereign. Questions have again and again arisen
between these sovereign States which in olden times
would have precipitated war ; under the Constitu-
tion of the United States, they are submitted to
the arbitrament of a permanent tribunal, and the
decision of that tribunal no State thinks of ques-
tioning. A splendid illustration of the value of
such a method of the settlement of a great contro-
versy has been afforded by recent history. An
income tax was passed. Half the nation thought
it unjust and unconstitutional ; the other half
thought it entirely constitutional, and most just
and essential. Pecuniary interests amounting to
millions of dollars were at stake. Party, class, and
sectional passions were inflamed. Great nations
have often gone to war with one another, civil
war has often broken out within a single nation,
for causes far less than that furnished by the


income-tax law. The question was submitted to
the Supreme Court. It was settled in the first
place, not by the decision, but by the indecision,
of the Supreme Court. Because a majority of
the court could not be found to declare this act
unconstitutional, the great body of the citizens,
with a few insignificant and dishonorable excep-
tions, prepared to pay the tax. The question was
then re-submitted to the court ; one of the judges
changed his mind, and concluded that the act was
unconstitutional, and all the citizens submitted to
his judgment, and the country went on in peace
without the tax, despite an inadequate revenue,
and a treasury which would be bankrupt but for
repeated loans. The United States of America
is itself a great Peace Society, and its prosperity
is a magnificent witness to the wisdom of Christ's
counsel. We are a prosperous people, partly be-
cause we have untold and before-undiscovered
wealth, but for the most part because the energy
which Europe puts into military armaments we
put into the plow, the spade, and the harrow. The
forces which on the one continent are directed
to destruction, on the other are directed to con-
struction. It is not difficult to understand the
reason for the difference in public welfare which
the two policies have produced. The American
who attempts to beat the plowshare into a sword,
and the pruning-hook into a spear, is the enemy of
his country. He sets himself against its splendid
history in the past, against its magnificent pros-
perity in the future.


This history of civilization indicates with suffi-
cient clearness the next step to be taken : it is
the establishment of a permanent tribunal for
the settlement of all international controversies
between Christian nations.^ This is not interna-
tional arbitration ; it differs therefrom in impor-
tant respects. A court of arbitration is not organ-
ized until the dispute arises and passions are
inflamed. Ordinarily each party selects one arbi-
trator, and those thus selected choose a third ; thus
the court itself is not non-partisan, but bi-partisan,
with an arbitrator to judge between the factions.
Submission after the controversy has arisen is
always more difficult than the anticipation of con-
troversy, and the prevention of it by an agree-
ment to submit before the controversy arises.
The court of arbitration decides nothing but the
specific questions submitted to it, and is neither
governed by precedents in the past, nor makes
precedents to prevent contentions in the future.
In these respects the permanent tribunal differs
from the court of arbitration. It is an impartial
tribunal. It is relatively unaffected by the pas-
sions of the hour. It not only settles the special
questions submitted to it, but it declares authori-
tatively principles which prevent future questions
from arising. And controversies, when they do

1 See address of Edward Everett Hale, D. D., in the Report of
the First Annual Lake Mohonk Conference on International Arbi-
tration for 1895, p. 21 ; and the entire report of the Second Annual
Conference, and especially its platform ; this report is g-oing- to
press at the same time with this volume.


arise, do not become passionate if both the con-
testants know beforehand that an honorable and
jnst method of arbitrament has been provided.

There are no insuperable legal difficulties in
the way of the establishment of such a permanent
Supreme Court of Christendom. Such constitu-

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 17 19 20 21 22 23 24 25

Online LibraryLyman AbbottChristianaity and social problems → online text (page 17 of 25)