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In other words, the Laws of War are essentially humane, and not to be changed by any spasm of barbarism in an enemy.
A debate of several days ensued, in which Mr. Wade and Mr. Howard argued earnestly for the resolution of the Committee, and they were sustained by Mr. Gratz Brown, of Missouri, Mr. Howe, of Wisconsin, Mr. Harlan, of Iowa, Mr. Clark, of New Hampshire, Mr. Wi!kinson, of Minnesota, Mr. Chandler, of Michigan, and Mr. Lane, of Indiana. On the other side were Mr. Cowan, of Pennsylvania, Mr. Hendricks, of Indiana, Mr. Henderson, of Missouri, Mr. Foster, of Connecticut, Mr. Davis, of Kentucky, Mr. Reverdy Johnson, of Maryland, Mr. Richardson, of Illinois, Mr. McDougall, of California, and Mr. Doolittle, of Wisconsin. Mr. Chandler especially condemned the position of Mr. Sumner. Here he said :
"Sir, the Senator from Massachusetts [Mr SUMNER] has brought in a sublimated specimen of humanitarianism that does not apply to these accursed Rebels at this time. They do not appreciate that kind of humanitarianism. I expected those men who desire that the Rebellion should succeed to oppose retaliation, and to oppose it to the bitter end; but I did not expect the Senator from Massachusetts to come in here and say that it was inexpedient to protect our suffering prisoners."
MR. SUMNER. "I have not said so."
Mr. Wilson, of Massachusetts, moved as a substitute for Mr. Sumner's amendment a simple resolution requiring the President "to appoint two commissioners to confer with the Confederate authorities, with a view of devising some practicable plan for the relief and better treatment of our prisoners of war." Mr. Clark, of New Hampshire, offered still another substitute, to be considered when in order :
"That Congress earnestly calls the attention of the President to the condition and treatment of our prisoners of war in Rebel prisons and camps; and if, for reasons satisfactory to or controlling the Executive, they cannot be exchanged, desires that he should employ every means in his power, embracing retaliation to such a degree as may be proper and effectual, to prevent the continuance and recurrence of such barbarities, and to compel the insurgents to observe the laws of civilized warfare."
Mr. Wade, who was urging the original resolution, also gave notice of an amendment, to strike out all after the word "retaliation," and insert as follows:
"That the executive and military authorities of the United States are hereby directed to retaliate upon the prisoners of the enemy in such manner and kind as shall be effective in deterring him from the perpetration in future of cruel and barbarous treatment of our soldiers."
Mr. Wade recognized the change so far as to say, "Now, if a Senator is for retaliation, if he is for the principle of it, he cannot have it in a milder form than it is there." Mr. Morrill proposed to strike out the words "and kind," and insert, instead, "in conformity to the Laws of Nations," which amendment was accepted by Mr. Wade.
January 28th, in the course of the debate, Mr. Sumner said:
MR. PRESIDENT,- Listening with interest to this debate, and noting the various propositions to modify the original resolution of the Committee, especially that of the Senator [Mr. WADE] who has urged it so vehemently, and then again the modification even of this modification, I have been reminded of the story told by Byron1 of Mr. Fox, afterwards British minister at Washington, and now sleeping in our Congressional burial-ground, who said of himself, after an illness in Naples, that he was "so changed that his oldest creditors would hardly know him.” But no illness could work a greater change than is promised in the resolution of the Committee. In the form it is about to assume, its oldest supporter will hardly know it. The ancient legend of the ship of Theseus is revived. That famous ship, which bore the Athenian hero on his adventurous expedition to Crete, was piously preserved in the arsenal of Athens, where its decaying timbers were renewed, until, in the lapse of time, every part of the original ship had disappeared, and nothing but the name remained. Are we not witnessing a similar process, to end, I trust, in a similar disappearance?
1 Letter to Mr. Murray, Rome, May 9, 1817: Moore's Life of Byron (London, 1847), p. 355.
In its original form, the resolution so earnestly maintained by my friends from Ohio and Michigan called for retaliation in kind,-eye for eye, tooth for tooth, cruelty for cruelty, freezing for freezing, starvation for starvation, death for death. The President was commanded to imitate Rebel barbarism in all respects, point by point. This command I felt it my duty to resist. I said nothing against retaliation according to the laws and usages of civilized nations, for that I know is one of the terrible incidents of war; but I resisted a principle which civilization disowns. The resolutions I offered as a substitute were intended as a sort of "earthwork" in support of this resistance. Perhaps they have already accomplished their purpose, inasmuch as Senators have evacuated their original position.
The question is solemn enough, and yet, as I recall the original resolution, I am reminded of an incident, more comic than serious, which occurred at Paris, while occupied by the conquering Prussians, in 1814. A Prussian soldier was brought before the Governor, charged with unmercifully beating a Frenchman, at whose house he was billeted, for not supplying a bottle of Berlin weissbier, which the Prussian insisted upon. drinking. The Governor spoke of unreasonableness in the demand, and declared that he should be obliged to inflict severe punishment, when the Prussian soldier set. up the Law of Retaliation. "I was a little boy," said he, "when a French dragoon beat my father because he was unable to find a bottle of claret in our whole village, and I then swore, that, if ever I reached France, I would beat a Frenchman for not getting me a bottle of weissbier. Am I not right?" This was retaliation in
kind, and retrospective in operation, like that of the original resolution.
Much as this resolution is changed, so that it no longer requires retaliation in kind, I think it might be changed still further. It is not enough, on such an occasion, and especially after avowals made in this Chamber, to say that retaliation shall be according to the principles of Public Law. Montesquieu, in his "Spirit of Laws," exhibits the uncertainty of this language. These are his words:
"All nations have a Law of Nations, even the Iroquois, who eat their prisoners. They send and receive ambassadors; they know the Laws of War and Peace. The evil is, that their Law of Nations is not founded on true principles." 1
The resolution, therefore, for the sake of certainty, and to give double assurance that humanity shall not suffer, ought to be still further amended, by limiting the retaliation to the usages of civilized society. This amendment becomes the more needful since Senators argue that by the principles of public law the intolerable cruelties of the Rebellion may be retaliated.
I desire to repeat my unalterable conviction that these cruelties cannot be retaliated in kind. And here I call attention to the opinions of an illustrious citizen, only recently removed from the duties of this world. I refer to the late Edward Everett, who, in a speech at Faneuil Hall, a few days before his lamented death, thus testifies in what may be called his dying words:
"I believe the best way in which we can retaliate upon the South for the cruel treatment of our prisoners is for 1 De l'Esprit des Lois, Liv. I. ch. 3.
us to continue to treat their prisoners with entire humanity and all reasonable kindness,—and not only so, but to seize every opportunity like the present to go beyond this. Indeed, it is no more than our duty to treat the prisoner well. The Law of Nations requires it. The Government that refuses or neglects it does not deserve the name of civilized. Even inability is no justification. If you are yourself so exhausted that you cannot supply your prisoner with a sufficient quantity of wholesome food, you are bound, with or without exchange, to set him free. You have no more right to starve than to poison him. It will, however, be borne in mind, that, while the hard fare of our prisoners is defended by the Southern leaders, on the ground that it is as good as that of their own soldiers, at the same time they maintain that their harvests are abundant and their armies well fed. There is no merit in treating a prisoner with common humanity; it is simply infamous and wicked to treat him otherwise." 1
You will not fail to observe how positive is his opinion on the limits of retaliation, and its character when carried beyond proper limits. And here it is proper to remark, that Mr. Everett was not only a patriot, who, in the latter trials of the Republic, devoted himself ably, purely, and successfully to the vindication and advancement of the national cause, but he was a publicist, who had profoundly studied the Law of Nations. Few in our history have understood it better. His last labors were devoted to this important subject. At the time of his death he was preparing a course of lectures upon it. Therefore, when, in the name of Public Law, he speaks against any imitation of Rebel barbarism, it is with the voice of authority.
1 Speech in Faneuil Hall, January 9, 1865: Boston Daily Advertiser, January 10, 1865; Orations and Speeches, Vol. IV. pp. 757, 758.