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since the general exchange ceased. It will be furnished to the House of Representatives as soon as completed.
"The last communication of General Grant gives reason to believe that a full and complete exchange of all prisoners will speedily be made. It also appears from his statement that weekly supplies are furnished to our prisoners, and distributed by officers of our own selection." 1
Let these instructions be followed, and it is difficult. to see what remains to be done. Exchange, retaliation, and every other agency "right and proper," are fully authorized in the discretion of the commanding general. There is nothing in the arsenal of war he may not employ. What more is needed? But this brings me again to the proposition before the Senate.
The Committee, not content with what has been done, distrustful, perhaps, of the commanding general, — propose that Congress shall instruct the President to enter upon a system of retaliation, where we shall imitate as precisely as possible Rebel barbarism, and make our prisons the scenes of torments we here denounce. Why, Sir, to state the case is to answer it. The Senator from Michigan, who advocates so eloquently this unprecedented retaliation, attempted a description of the torments making the Rebel prisons horrible, but language failed him. After speaking of their "immeasurable criminality," and "the horrors of those scenes," which he said were "absolutely indescribable," beggaring even his affluence of language and of passion, he proceeded to ask that we should do these same things, that we should take the lives of prisoners, even by freezing and starvation, or turn them into living skeletons, by Act of Congress.
1 Executive Documents, 38th Cong. 2d Sess., H. of R., No. 32, pp. 1, 2.
Sir, the Law of Retaliation, which he invokes, has its limits, and these are found in the laws of civilized society. Admit the Law of Retaliation; yet you cannot escape from its circumscription. As well escape from the planet on which we live. What civilization forbids cannot be done. Your enemy may be barbarous and cruel, but you cannot be barbarous and cruel. The rule is clear and unquestionable. Perhaps the true princiciple of law on this precise point was never better expressed than by one of our masters, William Shakespeare, natural jurist as well as poet, when he makes Macbeth exclaim,
"I dare do all that may become a man;
Who dares do more is none."
So with us now.
We are permitted to do all that may become men, but nothing more.
Surely nobody will argue that the "barbarities of Andersonville," and all those tortures we deplore, can behoove men. As well undertake, by way of retaliation, to revive the boot and thumb-screw of the Inquisition, the fires of Smithfield, "Luke's iron crown and Damien's bed of steel," or to repeat that execrable crime pictured by Dante, in one of his most admired passages, where Ugolino and his children were shut up in a tower, without food or water, and left to die slowly, cruelly, wickedly, by starvation:—
"Thou modern Thebes! what though, as Fame hath said,
Count Ugolino did thy forts betray?
His sons deserved not punishment so dread." 1
Thanks to the immortal poet who has blasted forever this sickening enormity, and rendered its imitation impossible! Thanks to that mighty voice which has given
1 Inferno, tr. Wright, Canto XXXIII. 85-87.
new sanction to the mandate of Public Law. And yet in this terrible case there was retaliation, and the famished victim is revealed as ferociously gnawing the skull of his tormentor. But this was not on earth.
It is when we consider precisely the conduct of the Rebels, as represented,-when we read the stories of their atrocities, when we call to mind the sufferings of our men in their hands, when we look on the pictures introduced into this discussion, where photographic art has sought to exhibit the living skeletons, when the whole scene in all its horror is before us, and our souls are filled with unutterable anguish, that we confess how difficult, how absolutely impossible, it is for ust to follow this savage example. And just in proportion. as this treatment of our soldiers transcends the usages of civilized society must the example be rejected. Such is the law you cannot disobey.
Nor am I to be considered indifferent to the condition of those unhappy prisoners. I do not yield to the Committee, or to any Senator, in ardor or anxiety for their protection. Whatever can be done I am ready to do. But, as American citizens, they have an interest that we should do nothing by which our country shall forfeit the great place belonging to it in the vanguard of nations. It cannot be best for them that our country should do an unworthy thing. It cannot be best for them that the national destiny should be thus darkened. Duties are in proportion to destinies, and from the very heights of our example I argue again that we cannot allow ourselves, under any passing passion or resentment, to accept a policy which history must condemn. There is not a patriot soldier who would not cry out, "Let me suffer, but save my country!”
Even if you make up your minds to do this thing, you cannot. The whole idea is impracticable. The attempt must fail, because human nature is against you. "Nemo repente turpissimus." A humane and civilized people cannot suddenly become inhuman and uncivilized. Conscience, heart, soul and body, will all rise against you. From every side will be repeated that generous cry which comes to us from the darkest day of French history, when the courageous governor said to the monarch who ordered the massacre of St. Bartholomew, "Sire, I have under me good citizens and brave soldiers, but not a single executioner"; or that other later cry, when the French Convention, under the lead of Barère, decreed that all English prisoners should be shot,-"We will not shoot them," said a stout-hearted sergeant; "if the Convention takes pleasure in killing prisoners, let members kill them and eat them, like savages as they are." But the citizens and soldiers of the armies of the United States are not less generous. They, too, would cry out, "Let members of Congress do this work, if it is to be done; but do not impose it upon a fellow-man."
Mr. President, with pain I differ from valued friends whose friendship is among the treasures of my life. But I cannot help it. I cannot do otherwise. It is long since I first raised my voice in this Chamber against the "Barbarism of Slavery," and I have never ceased to denounce it in season and out of season. But the Rebellion is nothing but that very barbarism armed for battle. Plainly it is our duty to overcome it, not to imitate it. Here I stand.
January 31st, on motion of Mr. Sumner, it was still further amended so as to read, "in conformity with the laws and usages of war among civilized nations,"-Yeas 27, Nays 13. Mr. Sumner then withdrew his substitute, remarking that he did so because the original resolution had undergone such modification as to be in substantial harmony with the resolutions introduced by him. After other amendments, the original resolution was passed by the Senate; but it was never acted on in the House of Representatives.
This effort against Retaliation attracted attention and sympathy at the time.
Hon. Israel Washburn, formerly a Representative in Congress from Maine, being in Washington, wrote:—
"I shall not see you again before leaving the city, but I will not go without thanking you from my heart's heart for the glorious resolutions upon Retaliation which you offered in the Senate yesterday. Our country must live in the atmosphere of those resolutions, or bear no life worth having."
John B. Kettell wrote from Boston:
"I have read in the papers of this morning a telegraphic report of the proceedings of the Senate on the resolution in relation to retaliation upon Rebel prisoners for cruel treatment to Union prisoners, and especially the resolutions offered by you as a substitute for the resolution before the Senate. Although not approving the policy of the Administration, and therefore conscientiously opposed to most of its measures, allow me to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the manly tone and lofty Christian sentiment which pervade the resolutions offered and so ably defended by yourself."
Hon. Daniel W. Alvord wrote from Greenfield, Massachusetts:
"I wish also to thank you for your resolutions on Retaliation. I am the more impelled to do this because I think it probable that some of our friends in the State will remonstrate with you for having offered them. I have heard retaliation in kind vehemently advocated by good men in Boston. But it seems to me that it would be an indelible blot upon our fame, if, in a war with savages, we should imitate their savage cruelties. I know that retaliation by inflicting death for death may sometimes be necessary in war. But the torture of prisoners nothing can justify. If they may be tortured by hunger or cold, so they may, as well, by fire, or by the rack."
M. T. Johnstone, of the United States Coast Survey, wrote from Washington :
"A copy of your speech on the treatment of prisoners of war has just fallen into my hands. I think the country under deep obligations to you for that speech, and for saving it from either acknowledging or practising the principle of retaliation."