« PreviousContinue »
THE SENATE OF NEW YORK.
THE MILITIA SYSTEM.*
FEBRUARY 11, 1831.
I AM aware that the amendments I have submitted are such an innovation upon the existing militia system, as to require if not an apology for offering them, at least an explanation of the necessity for a change of some kind. Complaints long and loud. have been made of the defects of the system, and the oppressive burden it imposes upon the people; these complaints have, at length, reached the executive ear, and have drawn from the governor a recommendation to the consideration of the legislature. I do not know that I should have ventured to suggest the amendments, had not the committee of the Senate, after mature deliberation, reported a bill which can be regarded in no other light but as going immediately to change the whole system, and, in the result, to abolish it. This bill originates in the deep conviction, I doubt not, of the committee, that some law must be proposed to relieve the people from the trouble of military duty under the present organization. I confess that it is not my object to destroy the system; but, at the same time, that I would relieve the people from the burden it imposes-I would, if possible, preserve and improve the militia, and would elevate it so that it might be what it ought to be the ornament of the country, and the safeguard of the rights and liberties of the people. Whether the plan which I have proposed is the proper one to effect so desirable an object, is a question for the consideration of the committee. I confess that
* This appears to have been Mr. Seward's first parliamentary effort.-ED.
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