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retaliation, precisely as the barbarism of roasting or eating prisoners is always rejected by civilized powers.
'Resolved, That the United States, filled with grief and sympathy for cherished fellow-citizens who, as officers and soldiers, have become the victims of Heaven-defying outrage, hereby declare their solemn determination to end this great iniquity by ending the Rebellion of which it is the natural fruit; that, to secure this humane and righteous consummation, they pledge anew their best energies and the resources of the whole people; and they call upon all to bear witness that in this necessary warfare with barbarism they renounce all vengeance and every evil example, and plant themselves firmly on the sacred landmarks of Christian civilization, under the protection of that God who is present with every prisoner, and enables heroic souls to suffer for their country."
Mr. Sumner addressed the Senate in support of his resolutions. After analyzing the resolution of the Committee, and exhibiting its character, he proceeded :—
OW, Sir, I believe that the Senate will not venture, in this age of Christian light, under any inducement, under any provocation, to counsel the Executive Government to enter into such open competition with barbarism. Sir, the thing is impossible; it must not be entertained. We cannot be cruel, or barbarous, or savage, because the Rebels we now meet in warfare are cruel, barbarous, and savage. We cannot imitate the detested example. We find no precedent for such retaliation in our own history nor in the history of other nations. We find no precedent, I say, in our own history. This question was one of the earliest presented to General Washington after taking command of the American forces at Cambridge. From his headquarters there, under date of August 11, 1775, he addressed a letter to General Gage, commander of the British forces in Boston, which, as I believe, contains the full extent to which a nation can honorably go; and I must say, that, as I read it, I felt new pride in
that commander who thus early in the discharge of his great duties showed such insight into their proper limits and responsibilities. Addressing General Gage, he
"SIR, I understand that the officers engaged in the cause of Liberty and their country, who by the fortune of war have fallen into your hands, have been thrown indiscriminately into a common jail appropriated for felons; that no consideration has been had for those of the most respectable rank, when languishing with wounds and sickness; and that some have been even amputated in this unworthy situation."
Then, reminding the British commander of the cause in which he was engaged, Washington continued:
"My duty now makes it necessary to apprise you that for the future I shall regulate all my conduct towards those gentlemen who are or may be in our possession exactly by the rule you shall observe towards those of ours now in your custody. If severity and hardship mark the line of your conduct, painful as it may be to me, your prisoners. will feel its effects; but if kindness and humanity are shown to ours, I shall with pleasure consider those in our hands only as unfortunate, and they shall receive from me that treatment to which the unfortunate are ever entitled."1
Senators about me say, "That is sound." I am glad they say so; and if they can find in this correspondence any sanction of the savage system now inaugurated in Rebel prisons, let them point it out. The correspondence has its own limitations in the statement of facts on which it proceeds, which you will please observe. Prisoners had been thrown indiscriminately into a com1 Writings, ed. Sparks, Vol. III. pp. 59, 60.
mon jail for felons, and with no consideration for those of the most respectable rank, even when languishing with wounds and sickness; and some of them had limbs amputated in this unworthy situation. But there is, Sir, no such painful suggestion as that in our resolution: they had not "been subjected to treatment unexampled for cruelty in the history of civilized war, and finding its parallels only in the conduct of savage tribes,
a treatment resulting in the death of multitudes by the slow, but designed, process of starvation": no such thing appears in the case; and the judgment of Washington was applied strictly to the facts before him.
This is not all. Search the history of our country, and you find that the practice is fixed, while the rule has received an accuracy of statement from which there can be no escape. I have before me the words of Chancellor Kent, in his valuable Commentaries:
"Instances of resolutions to retaliate on innocent prisoners of war occurred in this country during the Revolutionary War, as well as during the War of 1812; but there was no instance in which retaliation, beyond the measure of severe confinement, took place in respect to prisoners of war."1
There you have the authoritative testimony of that great expounder of our history and of our jurisprudence, the late Chancellor Kent. I add also the testimony of another American writer, whom I have quoted more than once in this Chamber, General Halleck, who, in his work on International Law, thus expresses himself:
"Retaliation should be limited to such punishments as may be requisite for our own safety and the good of society; 1 Commentaries on American Law, Vol. I. p. 94.
beyond this it cannot be justified. We have no right to mutilate the ambassador of a barbarous power because his sovereign has treated our ambassador in that manner, nor to put prisoners and hostages to death, and to destroy private property, merely because our enemy has done this to us; for no individual is justly chargeable with the guilt of a personal crime for the acts of the community of which he is a member."1
I said, Sir, the practice proposed was without precedent in the history of other nations. I believe that I am right. I am confident that no authentic record can be shown where such savage treatment has been imitated in retaliation by a Christian power. One of the most learned writers on the Law of Nations, Vattel, dealing with this very subject, aptly puts the following question:
"By what right will you cause the nose and ears of the ambassador of a barbarian to be cut off who shall have treated your ambassador in this manner?"2
That question strikes at the heart of this whole subject. What right have you to adopt any barbarous conduct because the barbarous enemy with whom you deal has set the example? This same eminent publicist, in another place, says :
"The Roman Senate held it as a maxim, that war was to be carried on with arms, and not with poison. . . . . The Senate, and Tiberius himself, thought it not permissible to employ poison, even against a perfidious enemy, and as a kind of retortion or reprisal.'
1 International Law, p. 296.
2 Le Droit des Gens, Liv. II. ch. 18, § 329.
& Ibid., Liv. III. ch 8, § 155.
Why is it Because it is
That statement covers the whole case. unlawful in retaliation to adopt poison? barbarous. And for the same reason it is unlawful for us to adopt starvation, to adopt all that cruel system of treatment so emphatically set forth in the preamble to this resolution. And while, Sir, I concede that by the Laws of War retaliation is permissible, yet it has its limits; and those limits, as I venture to say in the resolutions sent to the Chair as a substitute, are at least twofold: first, the retaliation must be useful, it must reasonably promise some practical result; and, in the second place, it must be in harmony with the usages of civilized nations. The retaliation now proposed is useless, for it can have no practical result; and it is not in harmony with the usages of civilized nations.
I have said that the Laws of War recognize retaliation, as appears in the recent most formal and explicit declaration to be found in the very elaborate "Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States in the Field,"1 prepared since this war began, under the direction of a learned commission, and by the pen of one of the ablest and most accomplished publicists of our age. I refer to Dr. Lieber, for many years professor in South Carolina College, and now professor in Columbia College, New York. In these Instructions the general law of retaliation is affirmed.
"The Law of War can no more wholly dispense with retaliation than can the Law of Nations, of which it is a branch. Yet civilized nations acknowledge retaliation as the sternest feature of war. A reckless enemy often leaves to his opponent no other means of securing himself against the repetition of barbarous outrage."
1 General Orders, Adjutant General's Office, 1863, No. 100.