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it is not perfect. And after explaining and defending it, I shall be willing to listen to, and adopt any better plan which shall be proposed by gentlemen of greater experience than myself.
The course of the remarks which I propose to make will lead me briefly to delineate what, in my judgment, the militia system ought to be; to consider the evils and defects of the present system, and to state the manner in which I suppose the plan contained in my amendments is calculated to correct and remedy those evils and defects.
What the militia system was designed and ought to be is to be learned from a consideration of the objects of its establishment, and the provisions in the Constitution concerning it. The provisions of the Constitution show that the framers had in view the possible exigencies following:
1st. The attempt by the government or its officers to exercise tyranny over the people;
2d. Resistance to the government and laws;
And, in some way, the Constitution intended to provide by a national militia for the public safety and individual security, in the event of one or all of the exigencies I have mentioned.
There is no doubt that the framers of the Constitution intended to secure, as two fundamental principles of government :—The right of the people, at all times, to keep and bear arms; and, secondly, the principle-That a portion of the people (not limited) should be enrolled, organized, armed, and to some extent disciplined. These principles were the basis of the militia system.
Having reference, then, to the objects of its establishment, it needs little argument to show that the militia system was intended to be, and should be such an one as
1st. Should embody the necessary force, and no more.
The necessary force, in order to answer its purposes; and no more than the necessary force, because an augmentation beyond the necessity would be oppressive to the people, and would tend to embarrass and defeat the whole system.
2d. Such as should insure the advantage of that force, being well and sufficiently armed, which is expressly derived from the language of the Constitution.
3d. Such as should insure some degree of discipline, if not a
rigorous and perfect discipline, at least such as would preserve the integrity of the system.
4th. Such as should insure such an organization of the force thus to be embodied, armed and disciplined, as would render it susceptible of being called by the government into action, and directed, in the event of any of the exigencies contemplated by its founders.
If I was asked what are the defects of the existing system, I should answer-and I submit to the committee whether the answer would be too broad-that the defects consist in a destitution of every one of the qualities which I have mentioned as requisites of the system, as it was intended to be.
The militia force is too great and unwieldy. By the laws of the United States and this state, a force is embodied, or attempted to be embodied in this state, consisting of more than 186,000 troops, and the whole militia of the United States must be about 1,600,000 on paper-an army more numerous than followed in the train of the Persian invader, the Macedonian or the Roman conqueror; more numerous than the swarms of the Crusaders, the legions of the Corsican, or the hordes of the Autocrat of all the Russias. In a country so situated as to be removed beyond almost the possibility of invasion by foreign enemies, in a land where the laws and the government were maintained, not by the sword and the bayonet, but by the virtue and intelligence of the people, it would be preposterous to admit the possibility of any exigency which could require the action of so vast a military force.
I know of but one advantage to be derived from maintaining the organization of a force so immensely disproportioned to the possible demands of the state in even its most troublous and perilous times—which is that the division of military duty in actual service would render the duty less oppressive to the citizen. But surely this advantage cannot be so great as to justify, in order to secure it, a defeat of all the other objects of the organization. That this immense expansion, if I may so apply the word to the militia force, does tend to defeat all the other objects of the system, will follow from the considerations that: 1st. It is known. and felt by the militia themselves to be unnecessary; hence, arise clamor and disgust. 2d. The drilling of the militia is enormously expensive, without the possibility of corresponding improvement.
The equivalent provided in this state for neglect to perform military duty is four dollars for each individual, and all experience proves that this equivalent is about equal to the actual expense of the performance of the duty. Here, then, is in an odious shape a poll-tax greater, in very many if not in most instances, than the citizen upon whom whom it falls falls pays for the support of government. 3d. It prevents not only improvement, but checks all military pride, and is destructive of all subordination. The necessary subdivision of it, and the consequent multiplication of militia offices, render those offices valueless. Consequently, they are frequently sought and filled by men incompetent to their duties; and it is a notorious fact, which speaks loudly on this subject, that militia commissions are sought, held for a week, a month, or a year, and then resigned, for the purpose of obtaining exemption from military duty.
But the numerical force is even greater than is necessary to secure the advantage before mentioned of an equal division of military service. Let us suppose a case to have happened in this state, requiring the militia to be called into actual service. 10,000 troops would be as large a force, I think, as would be required on any such occasion. By a law of the United States, the same militia-men cannot be retained longer than three months, at any one time, in actual service. If you make a new levy of 10,000 men every three months, it will be four years and six months before your whole 186,000 shall have been called into service.
Again, 50,000 of the United States militia would be as large a number as the general government could on any emergency require, at a given time, in actual service. If you make new levies of 50,000 each, at the expiration of every successive three months, your militia will not all share in the duties, privations, and perils, in a period less than eight years.
Again, experience has proved that, owing to the defective organization of this immense force, it cannot be called upon even to the limited extent contemplated by the Constitution. While I admit and glory, as does every true citizen, in the achievements of portions of the militia during the last war, it still is a matter of history that the government, for a vigorous prosecution of the war, at almost all points, relied upon the regular or enlisted troops. The second object which, as I before stated, was had in view in
the organization of the militia, was that the force embodied, whether great or small, should be well and sufficiently armed. Has this object been secured? Look at the arms exhibited at any regimental muster, and you will perceive that they have but one of the qualities requisite, that is, the variety of warlike weaponsguns, blunderbusses, rifles, fusils, muskets, with flints and without them, some wanting locks, some wanting stocks, and some wanting barrels, to say nothing of the arms of the elite-walking-canes, whip-stocks, and umbrellas. I believe I have seen sixty muskets in a company, of which not ten would speed a bullet.
The next great defect of the system is the want of discipline. The officers command without skill, the men obey with reluctance and evasion. The whole business of a day solemnly and with pomp and ceremony set apart for military inspection, exercise and review, consists in a hasty tossing the musket from the soldier to the inspector, and back again, a march into the field, and forming crookedly upon a straight line, the troops passing once in front of the general, the general passing once in front of the troops; and it is a day of uncommon achievement, if, before the sun has set, there is found time to march out of the field, with the same military order observed in marching in. There is no improvement, no subordination, and what renders the case still worse is, that often, very often, public opinion discountenances alike a desire of improvement and attempts at discipline, and even encourages insubordination.
The last defect to which I have occasion to refer, is, that the organization is such that the militia, or any considerable portion of it, cannot, without great and almost insurmountable difficulty, be called into actual service. The men hardly know the officers, and the officers, with the aid of their muster-rolls and rosters, can hardly find their men. I remember, though I was very young at the time, that, during the last war, a portion of the militia in that part of the state in which I then resided, were drafted for the defence of the city of New York. Of those who were drafted, those who were pleased to go, went; those who were pleased to remain, did not go. Occasionally a sergeant and guard patrolled the country in search of the delinquents, but those delinquents either were not found, or escaped on their march to quarters. At the close of the war, if I recollect right, a court-martial imposed a fine upon those of the delinquents who could be found, to be served with
process; those who had no means to pay the fines, escaped by their insolvency-and those who had means, resorted to higher tribunals, which abolished the court-martial and its sentences.
Such are some of the prominent defects of the militia system as it now exists. It gives me no pleasure to describe them-and especially in this place. But when the public mind has become disgusted with the system, and public opinion will no longer sustain it, I deem it an imperative duty to know the defects, in order, if possible, to devise a remedy, and, failing to do so, then to decide whether the system thus irremediably defective, shall, with all its errors and imperfections, be abolished.
In the course of my remarks, if it has become necessary to state the causes of these defects in the militia system, I will, to avoid repetition, barely recapitulate them. They are the unnecessary extension of the system. The consequent irksomeness of the duty imposed; the want of skill and experience in the officers; the want of uniform, and discipline, and subordination in the ranks, and as a consequence of all these, the almost entire destitution of military spirit. By all classes it is felt to be burdensome and unprofitable. All classes, even the Friends, who being so small a portion of the whole population, and who, otherwise, by their enterprise, and industry, and economy, might well be allowed to purchase indulgence to their conscientious scruples against the acts of war, are not unfrequently seen lying in jail to expiate the offence of refusing, for conscience sake, their quota of contribution to the expense of this system, so fair in theory and on paperso useless and oppressive in operation.
It is next in the order of my remarks, to speak of the plan which I propose as a remedy for the evils I have mentioned; which is
1st. To reduce the number of the militia who shall be required to perform military duty, to some much smaller number-say 50,000, 60,000, or 70,000; the last being, I believe, about the number of uniformed troops, in the present organization, and I would, I confess, prefer to sustain those whose public spirit and military ardor has induced them to assume their present organization.
2d. To make the performance of military duty voluntary, as far as practicable.
This force, if it consist of but 50,000 men, may be subdivided into 5 divisions, 10 brigades, 50 regiments, and 500 companies.