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ART. I. — Message from the President of the United States
to the two Houses of Congress, at the commencement of the Second Session of the Twenty-ninth Congress, Dec. 8th, 1846. Washington. 1846.
THERE is a period in history when war is thought to be the natural state of mankind; when, certainly, it is the common state, and peace an exception to the general rule. Labor is hated, and war honored. In such a time, no reason need be given for going to war; rather perhaps is a reason required for ceasing from battle and plunder. In the early period of Rome, the senate now and then made a truce, but never a peace. Peace was only an armistice for a limited period. Says Homer, “ It is the business of a man to fight; of a slave to till the ground.” He represented the general opinion of the “Heroic Age.” But now things are somewhat changed. War is the exception; public opinion is against it. Merchants and mechanics dislike it, for it interferes with their productive operations; thinking men abhor it as unreasonable ; and good men look on it as wicked. In all European countries, the thinking men demand of their rulers a good reason for disturbing their relations of peace. The old talk about national honor has diminished not a little amongst intelligent men, who think the national honor which is gained or lost by a battle is of no great value. Indeed, so far have matters gone, that many men hold the opinion, and some have even a sober and settled conviction, that war between nations is no more reputable and manly, no more likely to establish justice, than trial by battle in courts of law; no better than duelling between
men of honor,” or a bout with fists between two Irish beggars partially drunken. They think that war is nothing but murder, murder in the first degree, with malice aforethought, and what is wrong for one man is equally wrong for twenty millions — that injustice is not the less so for being a great injustice. Then again there are some religious men who think that Christianity actually forbids war. It is true the various churches of the world have taken little pains to say so, but a good deal of pains to say the opposite. We never yet have seen the creed, the litany, or the catechism, which gave us the smallest hint that Christianity and war were incompatible. Still there are religious men who think the religion of which
God planted the germs in human nature, is thoroughly hostile to all war.
All of these men united may be few in number — Theorists, Philanthropists, Philosophers, and the like. Still they are not idle nor ineffective ; they have already produced a change in public opinion ; and in this city and its neighbourhood, a very great change within a few years. Then, too, there are sound, sober, practical men, who look little at first principles, it may be, and the nature of things, but much at modes of operation, and effects. They see that war is costly; that it costs money; that it costs men; that it is not productive. In short, they see that all which a nation consumes in its army and navy is a bad investment, stock which does not pay. Still further : there are humane men, aboriginal democrats, who think that Man is of more account than the Accidents of a man toms, institutions, property, and the like; they think that all government should be designed for the good of all men, and therefore that it must accord with the principles of absolute justice, which God has written on the heart of mankind. They see that war tramples all these principles under foot, and therefore, and in the name of the people, they obstinately refuse to promote, to favor, or even to tolerate a war.
Now, by means of these small parties of original thinkers, the Theorists, Philosophers, the Économists, and the Philanthropists, it has come to pass that war is getting sadly out of favor. True there are men, and enough of them, in the name of Religion, of Philosophy, Economy, and Democracy, who defend the old usage. They think that war now and then is a good thing; “it invigorates the people” –“ it kills off the rabble, and, for the latter purpose, is better than the jail and gallows, as well as swifter.” These men have a great many newspapers at their command, and sometimes occupy seats deemed more sacred than an editor's chair. Doubtless they retard the progress of true ideas, and so add to the misery of mankind. Yet they no longer govern public opinion ; their influence yearly becomes less, for man naturally loves justice, and is a human being, not a brute, nor a fool. It has now come to pass, that in all civilized countries the mass of men look on war as a terrible evil, and one not to be lightly incurred by the government of the nation.
It surprises no one when two savage tribes quarrel ; the cause is seldom inquired after, for it is known that in such a stage of progress war is to be looked for and expected. But when a civilized nation pauses in its career of productive exertions, and, turning its art, its science, its strength of hand and head, its natural activity, from their creative work, seeks to destroy the property of its sister State, to burn her towns, to butcher her men, and with the soldier's invading foot pollute her soil - it is a serious and a dreadful thing. Sober men look for the cause of such madness. The physical evil is monstrous — the waste of property, the havoc of life. But this is the smallest part of the mischief. The savage spirit excited in the soldier, which he carries home to his village ; the hunger after booty, the thirst of blood, which successful war wakens in the conqueror's throat; the desire of revenge which defeat kindles in the heart of the discomfited, — these long retard the progress of mankind. Take the foremost of civilized nations: the mass of men have not yet forgotten the savage ; the thin garment of civilization is easily torn asunder and stripped off; you break the skin of the gentleman and behold a cannibal; the peasant of England or France becomes the fierce Saxon, or the savage Gaul, whose deeds you shudder to think of.
Every war in this age retards the progress of mankind. The United States, having outgrown their mother, refused her burthens, resisted her stripes, and at last separated from her, after a long and hearty quarrel. The effects of that quarrel still survive, and centuries of peace will hardly remove the jealousy and hatred felt by the most ignorant men of both nations, as well as by their political leaders. If two countries are united by a war, as Poland and Russia, the spirit of intense and national hatred remains yet longer, and is still more violent.
It is a great wrong for a powerful and civilized people to attack a nation that is barbarous and feeble. The indignation of honest statesmen is justly aroused against France for her conduct towards Algiers. Doubtless she had her provocations, but between the Weak and the Strong every body knows where the provocation commonly begins. The old fable of the wolf and the lamb is not likely to be forgotten. The conduct of England towards the various nations in India, towards China, towards Ireland — fills the world with indignation. The history of her achievements in Asia is the history of her shame. Honest men in England know it as well as we. Austria is powerful and Rome is weak; the emperor is of the middle ages, while the new pope is a son of the nineteenth century, and of course a reformer. He loves his church, loves his people, loves mankind; founds institutions which the Austrian despot cannot relish, or even tolerate ; which endanger the “ peculiar institutions” of that despotic monarch. The middle ages and the nineteenth century are mutually hostile. Institutions which ought to be separated by hundreds of years quarrel at first touch. If Ferdinand should therefore invade the States of the Church, attempting to re-annex the March of Ancona to his possessions in Lombardy — the advance from Ferrara to Bologna would raise a cry of shame in every country of Europe, and find a manly echo even in America. Justice takes sides with the party most in the right; Humanity against the strong oppressor.
The present war against Mexico is entitled to a serious examination. The Mexicans are few, poor, weak, half-civilized ; they lack the elements which give a people strength. They have no national unity of action. Imitating the example of the United States, they separated from the mother country, and tried the experiment of a liberal constitution. They have been in a quarrel among themselves ever since, and have perhaps shown themselves unfit for a republican government. The people cannot go alone ; they are weak, distracted, inefficient, but possessed of a wide and rich territory, valuable and attractive. The Americans are numerous, patriotic, enterprising, hardy, united, and of course powerful, — the most energetic and executive nation ever developed on the earth. Besides this, they have established a form of government which harmoniously balances individual freedom with national unity of action ; a government which of all others is the best fitted to develop energy, hardihood, and enterprise ; one most powerful of all to direct and animate a conquering army. We know this is not the common opinion, but the military man who is also a statesman, and familiar with the history of States -- if such a military man can be found amongst us will see the truth of this judgment.
The strong nation is at war with the weak. America has the example of France and England to sustain her, and other examples not quite so reputable, but which shall presently be cited. No doubt the English nation — we mean the portion thereof who trade in politics, on the one extreme, and, on the other, the brute portion of the people — would justify the American invasion of Mexico ; would think more highly of us for the undertaking, and the success of it. It is plainly following the example of England herself — a copy of her treatment of the Irishman and the East Indian. Here, too, the men who trade in politics and the brute portion of the people like the war. It matters not which party they belong to; they call it patriotic ; they go for the country however bounded, and the country right or wrong. Before such men we lay our finger on our lips, and say nothing. Let Time teach them.
But there is another body of men in all lands, and powerful in this Philosophers, Economists, Philanthropists, who are not satisfied with a war merely because they are engaged in it; who think it no better because waged against a miserable opponent, or because it is fought by their own country ; who know that successful wrong is no better than when defeated. To such men it is necessary to offer a reason for disturbing the peace of the continent. The President of the United States, in his message at the opening of the second session of the last Congress, has himself undertaken to justify the war. In his statement there is a certain doubleness of purpose quite apparent. He makes a special plea, with a compound issue, thus : — The Mexicans began the war, and we acted only on the defensive ; but then there were a great many reasons why we might ourselves have begun the war, without waiting for the Mexicans to take the initiative. Thus is he doubly armed. If the major weapon of argument fail and it is shown that the Mexicans did not commence the war
then he holds fast by the minor, that we had a just reason for beginning it ourselves. But let us examine this matter more nicely. We extract from Mr. Polk's message of Dec. 8th, 1846. The italics are our own.
“ Such has been our scrupulous adherence to the dictates of justice, in all our foreign intercourse, that we have given no just cause of complaint to any nation, and have enjoyed the blessings of peace for more than thirty years. From a policy so sacred to humanity we should never be induced voluntarily to depart.” But “ Mexico commenced hostilities, and forced the war upon
p. 3. But even if it were not so, “ long before the advance of our army to the left bank of the Rio Grande, we had ample cause of war against Mexico.” But some, he adds, have represented the war as unjust and unnecessary, and as one of aggression on our part upon a weak and injured enemy. Such erroneous views,