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however villainous. It is not easy to understand, how the act of a King or a Congress can dissolve those obligations of truth, justice, and mercy which the Creator has imposed upon all his creatures. Yet the violation and contempt of those obligations, for the supposed interests of the public, seem by many to be regarded as the test of patriotism.
Few virtues are more universally professed, few are more imperfectly apprehended, and few are more rarely practised, than PATRIOTISM. From the time of Absalom to the last electioneering meeting, patriotic professions have been the cheap materials from which demagogues have attempted to construct their fortunes.
Counterfeits imply an original. There is such a virtue as patriotism, acknowledged and inculcated by both natural and revealed religion ; and it is but a development of that benevolence which springs from moral goodness. To do good unto all men as we have opportunity, is an injunction invested with divine authority. Generally our ability to do good is confined to our families, neighbors, and countrymen ; and the natural promptings of our hearts lead us to select these in preference to more distant objects, for the subjects of our kind offices. Our benevolence, when directed to our countrymen at large, constitutes PATRIOTISM ; and its exercise is as much controlled by the laws of morality, as when confined to our neighbors or our families. A voice from Heaven has for
“to do evil that good may come.” The sentiment, "our country right or wrong," is as profligate and impious as would be the sentiment, “ our church, or our party, right or wrong.” If it be rebellion against God to violate his laws for the benefit of one individual, however dear to us, not less sinful must it be to commit a similar act for the benefit of any number of individuals. If we may
not, in kindness to the highwayman, assist him in robbing and murdering the traveller, what divine law permits us to aid any number of our own countrymen in robbing and murdering other people ? He who engages in a defensive war, with a full conviction of its necessity and justice, may be impelled by patriotism, by a benevolent desire to save the lives, and property, and rights of his country
But, if he believes the war to be one of invasion and conquest, and utterly unjust, by taking part in it, he assumes its guilt, and becomes responsible for its crimes.
But soldiers, it is said, are bound to obey orders, without inquiring into their morality. Where enlistments are voluntary, this obligation is assumed, not imposed, and it may well be questioned, whether any man is at liberty to promise unqualified obedience to others. But the obligation of the soldier, does not affect the duties of the citi
The latter is free from the promises of the former. The Government has declared a war of invasion and conquest, one which the citizen believes to be most iniquitous—is he required by duty, that is, by the commands of God, voluntarily to aid the Government in prosecuting such a war, by the offer of his money and services ? If he is, then all people are under a divine obligation to aid their respective Governments in all their wars, however piratical, and waged for any purpose, however detestable. Such indeed, is the sentiment advanced in the following lines.
“Stand thou by thy country's quarrel,
Be that quarrel what it may ;
Who shall greatest zeal display”
“ Our country right or wrong,” is rebellion against the moral Government of Jehovah, and treason to the cause of civil and religious liberty, of justice and humanity.
Actions springing from mere selfishness, rarely command the respect of mankind, and the patriotism that is self-denying and costly, is more likely to be genuine than that which is lucrative. Tried by this test, there is comparatively but little patriotism in the world. The demagogue, who echoes the clamor of the mob, and thus opens to himself an avenue to wealth and power, gives a very inconclusive proof of his patriotism; while he who, in promoting what he believes to be the public weal, exposes himself to obloquy and loss, may reasonably be regarded as governed by disinterested motives.
One of the most universal of popular delusions, is that which awards patriotism to the soldier. But soldiers frequently engage in wars in which their country has no interest whatever; and, although military skill, and valor of a high order, have often been displayed by mercenary troops, they are surely not entitled to the meed of patriotism.
It is well-known, that multitudes adopt the military profession as a livelihood, with the expectation of pay, promotion, and distinction. It is not obvious that in selecting this profession, they are more influenced by a desire to do good to their country, than the lawyer, physician, divine, or mechanic. No class of men have in the history of the world, been more ready instruments of oppression, cruelty, and tyrany, than soldiers ; and scarcely ever have the liberties of a people been destroyed, but through their agency. Rarely, indeed, have the representatives of a people convened in Senates or Parliaments, surrendered their rights to an usurper, except
when overawed and compelled by military force. That soldiers have been governed by a high sense of patriotism it would be folly to deny, but still greater folly to affirm that such is generally the case.
We are fond of dwelling on the patriotism of the soldiers of the Revolution ; and yet we have high authority to prove that, in many instances, their claim to this virtue was exceedingly equivocal. Washington, in a long letter to Congress, 24th September, 1776, gives a melancholy picture of the demoralization of the army: “Thirty or forty soldiers will desert at a time, and of late a practice prevails of a most alarming nature, and which will, if it cannot be checked, prove fatal both to the country and the army. I mean the infamous practice of plundering; for under the idea of Tory property, or property that may fall into the hands of the enemy, no man is secure in his effects, and scarcely in his person. In order to get at them, we have several instances of people being frightened out of their houses, under pretence of their houses being ordered to be burned, and this is done with a view of seizing the goods; nay, in order that the villainy may be more effectually concealed, some houses have already been burned to cover the theft. I have used my utmost endeavors to stop this horrid practice; but under the present lust after plunder, and want of laws to punish offenders, I might almost as well attempt to move Mount Atlas.” He then goes on to detail the difficulty he had, in getting a court-martial to convict an officer for stealing. Again, on the 3d May, 1777, he writes to Congress : “The desertions from ourarmy of late have been very considerable.”
The same year, Adjutant-General Reed, writes to Congress : “When the hurry of retreat or action made it difficult to go through the forms of trial, all restraints seemed to be broken through. A spirit of desertion,
cowardice, plunder, and shrinking from duty, when attended with fatigue or danger, prevailed but too generally through the whole army.
It is true, a soldier perils his life; but other men do the same for money, without any reference to the good of their country. Says Washington, writing to Congress, February 9th, 1776 : “Three things prompt men to a regular discharge of their duty in time of action-natural bravery, hope of reward, and fear of punishment. The two first are common to the uninstructed and the disciplined soldier; but the latter most obviously distinguishes the one from the other. A coward, when taught to believe that, if he breaks his ranks and abandons his colors, he will be punished with death by his own party, will take his chance against the enemy.” Washington was too well acquainted with human nature, and too much devoted to truth, to attribute martial valor to patriotism. The patriotism of our soldiers in Mexico, is a never-failing topic of eulogy with our political aspirants ; but from a report of the Secretary of War, made 8th April, 1848, it appears that the desertions in Mexico, up to the 31st December, 1847, so far as they could be ascertained from confessedly very imperfect returns, amounted very nearly to five thousand, about one-sixteenth of the whole number of troops employed. The newspapers represent the desertions, in the early part of 1848, as very numerous.
The records of history, as well as daily observation, teach us, that patriotism is as rarely the virtue of politicians as it is of soldiers. “ To the victors belong the spoils,” now the avowed maxim of American parties, reveals the true object of multitudes who are vociferous in their professions of devotion to the public interest: An active politician, who is not the possessor or the
* Life of Reed, I. 240.