Page images
PDF
EPUB

insult and aggression.—But is this plea founded on facts and experience? Does it accord with what is well known of human nature? Who are the persons in society that most frequently receive insult and abuse? Are they the meek, the benevolent, and the forbearing? Do these more commonly have reason to complain, than persons of quick resentment, who are ready to fight on the least provocation? There are two sects of professed Christians in this country, peculiar in their opinions respecting the lawfulness of war, and the right of repelling injury by violence,the Quakers and the Shakers. Now, does it appear from experience, that their forbearing spirit brings on them a greater portion of injury and insult than is experienced

by people of other sects ? Is not the reverse of this true in fact? There may indeed be some instances of such gross depravity, as a person's taking advantage of their pacific character to do them injury with the hope of impunity ; but in general, their pacific principles and spirit command the esteem even of the vicious, and operate as a shield from insult and abuse. How seldom, too, do children of a mild, forbearing temper experience insult or injury, compared with the waspish who will sting if touched ? The same inquiry may be made in respect to persons of these opposite descriptions of every age, and in every situation of life; and the result will be favorable to the point in question.

Should any deny the applicability of these examples to national rulers, we will produce one example undeniably applicable. When William Penn took the government of Pennsylvania, he distinctly avowed to the Indians his forbearing and pacific principles, and his benevolent wishes for uninterrupted peace with them. On these principles the government was administered, while it remained in the hands of the Quakers. What then was the effect? Did this pacific character in government invite aggression and insult ? Let the answer be given in the language of the Edinburgh Review of the Life of William Penn. Speaking of the treaty made by Penn with the Indians, the Reviewer says:—“Such indeed was the spirit in which the negotiation was entered into, and the corresponding settlement conducted, that for the space of more than seventy years, so long indeed as the Quakers retained the chief power in the government, the peace and amity which had been thus solemnly promised and concluded, never was violated; and a large though solitary example afforded, of the facility with which they who are really sincere and friendly in their views, may live in harmony with those who are supposed to be peculiarly fierce and faithless."

[ocr errors]

Some of the evils of wars have already been mentioned; but the field is almost boundless. The demoralizing and depraving effects of war cannot be too seriously considered. We have heard much of the corrupting tendency of some of the rites and customs of the heathen; but what custom of the heathen nations had a greater effect in depraving the human character, than the custom

currences.

of war? What is that feeling usually called a war-spirit, but a deleterious compound of enthusiastic ardor, ambition, malignity and revenge, a compound which as really endangers the soul of the possessor, as the life of his enemy! Who, but a person deranged or deluded, would think it safe to rush into the presence of his Judge with his heart boiling with enmity, and his brother's blood dripping from his hands! Yet in time of war, how much pains is taken to excite and maintain this blood-thirsty disposition as essential to success!

The profession of a soldier exposes him to sudden and untimely death, and at the same time hardens his heart, and renders him regardless of his final account. When a person goes into the *army, it is expected of him that he will rise above the fear of death. In doing this, he too commonly rises above the fear of God, and all serious concern for his soul. It is not denied that some men sustain virtuous characters amidst the contaminating vapors of a camp, and some may be reformed by a sense of the dangers to which they are exposed; but these are uncommon oc

The depravity occasioned by war, is not confined to the army. Every species of vice gains ground in a nation during war. And when a war is brought to a close, seldom, perhaps, does a community return to its former standard of morals. In time of peace, vice and irreligion generally retain the ground they acquired by a

As every war augments the amount of national depravity, so it proportionably increases the dangers and miseries of society.

Among the evils of war, a wanton undervaluing of human life ought to be mentioned. This effect may appear in various forms. When a war is declared for the redress of some wrong in regard to property, if nothing but property be taken into consideration, the result is not commonly better than spending five hundred dollars in a law-suit to recover a debt of ten. But when we come to estimate human lives against dollars and cents, how are we confounded! “ All that a man hath will he give for his life.”

If by the custom of war rulers learn to undervalue the lives of their own subjects, how much more do they undervalue the lives of their enemies! As they learn to hear of the loss of five hundred or a thousand of their own men with perhaps less feeling than they would hear of the death of a favorite horse or dog; so they learn to hear of the death of thousands after thousands on the side of the enemy, with joy and exultation. If their own men have succeeded in taking an unimportant fortress, or a frigate, with the loss of fifty lives on their own side, and fifty-one on the other, this is a matter of joy and triumph. This time they have got the game. But, alas! at what expense to others! This expense, however, does not interrupt the joy of war-makers. They leave it to the wounded, and the friends of the dead, to feel and to

war.

mourn,

This dreadful depravity of feeling is not confined to rulers in time of war. The army becomes abandoned to such depravity.

*

They learn to undervalue not only the lives of their enemies, but even their own, and will often wantonly rush into the arms of death, for the sake of military glory. And more or less of the same want of feeling, and the same undervaluing of human life, extend through the nation in proportion to the frequency of battles, and the duration of war.

If any thing be done by the army of one nation, which is deemed by the other as contrary to the modern usages in war, how soon do we hear the exclamation of Goths and Vandals ! Yet what are Christians at war, better than those barbarous tribes ? And what is the war-spirit in them, better than the spirit of Goths and Vandals? When the war-spirit is excited, it is not always to be circumscribed in its operations by the refinements of civilization. It is at best a bloody and desolating spirit. What is our boast of civilization, or Christianization, while we tolerate, as popular and justifiable, the most horrid custom which ever resulted from human wickedness ? Should a period arrive when the nations “ shall learn war no more," what will posterity think of our claims, as Christians and civilized men? The custom of sacrificing men by war, may appear to them as the blackest of all heathen superstitions. Its present popularity may appear as wonderful to ages to come, as the past popularity of any ancient custom now does to us. What they may exclaim, could those be Christians, who could sacrifice men by thousands to a point of honor, falsely so called, or to obtain a redress of a trifling wrong in regard to property? If such were the customs of Christians, what were they better than the heathens of their own time?

Perhaps some apologist may rise up in that day, and plead, that it appears from the history of our times, that it was supposed necessary to the safety of a nation, that its government should be quick to assume a warlike tone and attitude, upon every infringement of their rights; that magnanimous forbearance was considered as pusillanimity, and that Christian meekness was thought intolerable in the character of a ruler.

To this others may reply-Could these professed Christians imagine, that their safety depended on displaying a spirit the reverse of their Master's ? Could they suppose such a temper best calculated to insure the protection of Him who held their destiny in his hands? Did they not know, that wars were of a demoralizing tendency, and that the greatest danger of a nation resulted from its corruption and depravity? Did they not also know, that a haughty spirit of resentment in one government, was very sure to provoke a similar spirit in another? That one war usually paved the way for a repetition of similar calamities, by depraving each of the contending parties, and by fixing enmities and jealousies which would be ready to break forth on the most frivolous occasions ?

That we may obtain a still clearer view of the delusions of war, let us look back to the origin of society. Suppose a family, like that of Noah, to commence the settlement of a country. They multiply into a number of distinct families. Then in the course of years, they become so numerous as to form distinct governments. In any stage of their progress, unfortunate disputes might arise by the imprudence, the avarice, or the ambition of individuals.

Now, at what period would it be proper to introduce the custom of deciding controversies by the edge of the sword, or an appeal to arins ? Might this be done when the families had increased to ten ? Who would not be shocked at the madness of introducing such a custom under such circumstances ? Might it then with more propriety be done when the families had multiplied to fifty, or to a hundred, or a thousand, or ten thousand ? The greater the number, the greater the danger, the carnage and calamity. Besides, what reason can be given, why this mode of deciding controversies would not be as proper when there were but ten families, as when there were ten thousand ?

And why might not two individuals thus decide disputes, as well as two nations ?

Perhaps all will admit that the custom could not be honorably introduced, until they separated, and formed two or more distinct governments. But would this change of circumstances dissolve their ties as brethren, and their obligations as accountable beings? Would the organization of distinct governments confer a right on rulers to appeal to arms for the settlement of controversies ? Is it not manifest, that no period can be assigned, at which the introduction of such a custom would not be absolute murder ? And shall a custom which must have been murderous at its commencement, be now upheld as necessary and honorable?

• But, we must consider what mankind are, and not what they would have been, had wars never been introduced.'— True, we should consider both; and by what ought to have been the state of society, we may discover the present delusion. If it would have been to the honor of the human race, had the custom of war never commenced, it must be desirable to dispel the present darkness, and exterminate the desolating-scourge. The same objection might have been made to the proposition in the British Parliament for the abolition of the slave-trade; the same may now be made against any attempt to abolish the custom of human sacrifices among the Hindoos; yea, the same may be urged against every attempt to root out pernicious and immoral customs of long standing.

Let it then be seriously considered, how abominably murderous the custom must have been in its origin; how precarious the mode of obtaining redress; how often the aggressor is successful; how small a part even of the successful nation is ever benefited by the war; how a nation is almost uniformly impoverished by the contest; how many individuals are absolutely ruined as to property, or morals, or both; and what a multitude of fellow-creatures are hurried into eternity in an untimely manner, and an unprepared state; and who can hesitate a moment to denounce war as the effect of popular delusion ?

Let every Christian seriously consider the malignant nature of that spirit which war-makers evidently wish to excite, and compare it with the temper of Jesus; and where is the Christian who would not shudder at the thought of dying in the exercise of the common war-spirit, and also at the thought of being the instrument of exciting such a spirit in his fellow-men? Any custom which cannot be supported but by exciting in men the very temper of the devil, ought surely to be banished from the Christian world.

The impression that aggressive war is murderous, is general among Christians, if not universal. The justness of the impression seems to be admitted by almost every government in going to war. For this reason, each of two governments endeavors to fix on the other the charge of aggression, and to assume to itself the ground of defending some right, or arenging some wrong: Thus each excuses itself, and charges the other with all the blood and misery which result from the contest. But these facts, so far from affording a plea in favor of war, afford a weighty reason for its abolition. If the aggressor is a murderer, and answerable for the blood shed in war; if one or the other inust be viewed by God as the aggressor; and if such is the delusion attending war, that each party is liable to consider the other as the aggressor ; surely there must be serious danger of a nation's being involved in the guilt of murder, while they imagine they have a cause which may be justified.

So prone are men to be blinded by their passions, their prejudices, and their interests, that in most private quarrels, each of two individuals persuades himself that he is in the right, and his neighbor in the wrong. Hence the propriety of arbitrations, references, and appeals to courts of justice, that persons more disinterested may judge, and prevent that injustice and desolation which would result from deciding private disputes by single corbats, or acts of violence.

But rulers of nations are as liable to be misled by their passions and interests as other inen; and, when misled, they are very sure to mislead those of their subjects who have confidence in their wisdom and integrity. Hence it is highly important that the custom of war should be abolished, and some other mode adopted to settle disputes between nations. In private disputes there may be cause of complaint on each side, while neither has reason to shed the blood of the other, much less to shed the blood of innocent family connections, neighbors and friends. So of two nations, each may have cause of complaint, while neither can be justified in making war, and much less in shedding the blood of innocent people who have had no hand in giving the offence.

It is an awful feature in the character of war, and a strong reason why it should not be countenanced, that it involves the innocent with the guilty in the calamities it inflicts, and often falls with the greatest vengeance on those who have had no concern in the management of national affairs. It surely is not a crime to be born in a country which is afterwards invaded ; yet in how

« PreviousContinue »