Sunday, August 28, 2016

Major-General John A. Dix to the Citizens of New York, August 17, 1863

Head-quarters, Department of the East, New York City,
August 17, 1863.
To the Citizens of New York:

The draft of men in this city to replenish the ranks of the army, in order to complete more speedily the suppression of the insurrection in the South, having, in consequence of forcible resistance to the execution of the law, been placed under my direction, as commanding officer of the forces of the United States in this Military Department, I have thought it not out of place to present to you some suggestions for your consideration as friends of the Union and of the good order of society.

The law under which the draft is to be made is for enrolling and calling out the National forces. It is founded on the principle that every citizen, who enjoys the protection of the Government and looks to it for the security of his property and his life, may be called on in seasons of great public danger to take up arms for the common defence. No political society can be held together unless this principle is acknowledged as one to which the Government may have recourse when its existence is in peril. There is no civilized country in which it is not recognized.

The law authorizing the draft has been persistently called a conscription law by those who desire to make it odious and defeat its execution. It is in no just sense a conscription like that which was put in force in the sixth year of the French Republic, and abandoned on the restoration of the Bourbons, on account of its oppressive exactions. It is a simple law for enrolling and calling into the service the arms-bearing population of certain ages, and differs in no essential principle from the law authorizing the Militia to be called out, excepting that in the latter case complete organizations are brought into the field. The object of the very provisions of the law which are most beneficial to individuals has been most grossly perverted. If a drafted man finds it inconvenient to serve, he is allowed to furnish a substitute, or to purchase his exemption from service by paying the smallest sum of money for which substitutes are ordinarily obtained. Both these provisions have the same purpose — to provide for cases of hardship; and if either were stricken out, these cases would be proportionably increased in number.

The draft about to be made is for one-fifth part of all persons between twenty and thirty-five years of age, and of the unmarried between thirty-five and forty-five. The entire class between eighteen and thirty-five was long since drafted in the seceded States; and the draft has recently been extended to embrace nearly the whole arms-bearing population. Compared with the burden they are sustaining ours is as nothing. The contest on our part is to defend our nationality, to uphold the institutions under the protection of which we have lived and prospered, and to preserve untarnished the proud memories of our history — brief, it is true, but full of high achievements in science, in art, and in arms. Shall we, in such a cause, shrink from labors and sacrifices which our misguided brethren in the seceded States are sustaining in the cause of treason and social disorganization? For the honor of New York let us take care that the history of this rebellion, more vast than any which has ever convulsed a nation, shall contain nothing to make our children blush for the patriotism of their fathers.

Whatever objection there may be to the law authorizing the draft, whatever defects it may have, it is the law of the land, and resistance to it is revolt against the constituted authorities of the country. If one law can be set at defiance, any other may be, and the foundations of all government may be broken up. Those who, in the history of political societies, have been the first to set themselves up against the law have been the surest victims of the disorder which they have created. The poor have a far deeper interest in maintaining the inviolability of the law than the rich. Property, through the means it can command, is power. But the only security for those who have little more than life and the labor of their own hands to protect lies in the supremacy of the law. On them, and on those who are dependent on them, social disorder falls with fatal effect.

The constitutionality of the law authorizing the draft has been disputed. Near the close of the year 1814, when the country was engaged in war with Great Britain, a similar law was recommended to Congress by the Government, to draft men to fill the ranks of the army, which was gallantly battling, as our armies are now, for the nation's honor and life. Madison, one of the great expounders of the Constitution, which he took a prominent part in framing, was President. Monroe, his successor, then acting both as Secretary of State and Secretary of War, addressed to the House of Representatives a lucid argument in support of the right of Congress to pass such a law. Alexander J. Dallas was Secretary of the Treasury; William Jones, Secretary of the Navy; Return J. Meigs, Postmaster-general; and Richard Rush, Attorney-general. The measure could not well have received a higher party sanction. All laws passed with the established legislative forms are valid until declared otherwise by judicial tribunals of competent jurisdiction. What would become of a people in critical emergencies if no law could be carried into effect until it had passed the ordeal of the courts? or if State or municipal authorities could arrest its execution by calling in question its conformity to the provisions of the Constitution? The President has promptly consented to have it tested by judicial interpretation; but while the car of victory is moving on, and treason is flying before it, God forbid that the State of New York or its constituted authorities should attempt to stay its progress until the judicial process can be consummated.

The accuracy of the enrolment in the city districts having been impeached, a revision was immediately ordered by the President, on a representation from the Governor of the State. But as the men are needed for immediate service, and as the correction of the returns requires time, the quota was ordered to be reduced in all the districts — in some more than half the whole amount — leaving the account for future adjustment. The reduction in the quota exceeds in proportion the alleged excess of the enrolment; so that no personal injustice can possible occur.

Under these circumstances no good citizen will array himself, either by word or deed, against the draft. Submission to the law in seasons of tranquillity is always the highest of political duties. But when the existence of the Government is in peril he who resists its authority commits a crime of the deepest turpitude. He is the voluntary instrument of those who are seeking to overthrow it, and becomes himself a public enemy. Moreover, resistance to the Government by those who are living under its protection, and arc indebted to it for the daily tenure of their property and their lives, has not even the palliation under which those who lead the insurrection at the South seek to shelter themselves—that they are acting under color of authority derived from Legislatures or conventions of the people in their respective States. With us resistance to the constituted authorities is both treason and lawless violence; and if there are any who thus combine to re-enact the scenes of cruelty and devastation by which this city has recently been dishonored, and to defeat by force of arms the execution of the paramount law of Congress, they will be treated as enemies of the country and mankind.

Returning among you from a distance, fellow-citizens, after more than two years of military service in the cause of the Union, to uphold which this city has, in all emergencies, stood forth with a manly patriotism worthy of her high position—having no feeling but to see her good name preserved without blemish, no wish but that she may continue, as she has ever been, the most Orderly of the great commercial towns of the age — I have ventured to address to you these suggestions, to exhort you to the maintenance of order, to obedience to the laws, and to the quiet pursuit of your accustomed avocations, while the draft is in progress.

Should these suggestions be disregarded by any among you, and renewed attempts be made to disturb the public peace, to break down the barriers which have been set up for the security of property and life, and to defeat the execution of a law which it is my duty to enforce, I warn all such persons that ample preparation has been made to vindicate the authority of the Government, and that the first exhibitions of disorder or violence will be met by the most prompt and vigorous measures for their repression.

John A. Dix, Major-general.

SOURCE: Morgan Dix, Memoirs of John Adams Dix, Volume 2, p. 88-91

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