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INEFFICACY OF WAR,
THE SWORD A SUICIDAL RESORT.
BY HON. WILLIAM JAY.
The only avowed aim of war is the removal of some present, or the prevention of some future evil; and, could we even be sure of success, its wisdom would still depend on the proportion between its cost, and the value of the object to be gained. But war, as Jefferson well said, is an instrument wholly uncertain in its operation, and frequently, if not generally, occasions more evil than it cures or prevents.
It is customary for nations to appeal to heaven for the justice of their cause. Such appeals are rarely sincere, and too often are more likely to repel than invite Divine assistance; but, whether sincere or not, the justice of the cause affords little, if any, ground for anticipating the favorable interposition of heaven. Both sacred and profane history teach us, that base and perfidious men have often waged with success most iniquitous wars; and that conquerors, like other instruments of wrath, are but agents in executing Divine judgments. Nations are all more or less deserving of punishment; and it frequently comports with the providence of God to inflict that punishment by permitting them to be the prey of lawless violence.
If the result of war, then, is wholly independent of the justice of its orign, on what is it dependent? To this the common reply is, the relative strength and skill of the parties; but the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. A powerful nation has often been foiled in its attempts upon a weak one, and numerous are the instances in which unexpected revolutions and alliances have turned the tide of war. Indeed, the very existence of war is owing to the uncertainty of its result; for it is obvious that, if success could be distinctly foreseen, the party doomed to defeat would refuse to contend.
The folly of war is also apparent from the fact, that the object for which it is waged, could almost always be obtained by other and less hazardous means, and that, when obtained, it is rarely worth the blood and treasure lavished in its acquisition. Cicero long since declared the worst peace preferable to the best war; and the sagacious Franklin remarked, “ whatever advantage one nation would obtain from another, it would be cheaper to purchase such advantage with ready money, than to pay the expense of acquiring it by war.” Only eight days after this illustrious patriot had placed his name to the treaty of peace which acknowledged he independence of his country, he wrote to a friend, “may we
never see another war; for, in my opinion, there never was a good war, or a bad peace.” Both reason and experience bear their testimony to the correctness of these sentiments. The chance of defeat, which is always great, of course lessens the value of the object for which we contend, for the same reason that, when the result of a lawsuit is doubtful, a prudent man will accept a compromise rather than hazard his whole demand. The value of the object is also lessened by the prodigious expense at which alone it can be obtained.
Let us test these principles by an appeal to history. Great Britain claimed the right of raising a revenue from her colonies by taxation, and made war upon them for the purpose of collecting this revenue. The colonies, on the other hand, took up arms to establish, not their independence as a distinct nation, but simply their exemption from taxation by the British parliament, instead of their own colonial legislatures. To human view the contest was unequal, and the success of the mother-country beyond a doubt. Yet in her attempt to extort a few thousand pounds from her feeble and defenceless colonies, she drew upon herself a seven years' war, in which she found the power of France, Spain and Holland arrayed against her, and after sacrificing, as is estimated, 200,000 of her subjects, and adding $500,000,000 to her national debt, she was compelled to purchase peace by the severance of her empire. Had she condescended to limit her demand on the colonies, and to offer equivalent privileges and immunities, her blood and her treasure would have been spared, and her power would have been augmented instead of being impaired.
But it may be said, that this war, though disastrous for Great Britain, was glorious and happy for the colonies. Let it, however, be recollected that this glory and happiness consisted, not in exemption from British taxation, the sole object of the war on the part of the colonies, but in the establishment of a great confederated republic; an incident of the war, as unwished for as it was unexpected. As this assertion may startle many, it may not be amiss to correct the prevailing error on the subject by an appeal to indisputable authorities. The Congress of 1774, specified the acts of Parliament which infringed upon the rights of the colonies, and in their petition to the king, after setting forth their grievances, remarked, “ these sentiments are extorted from hearts that would much more willingly bleed in your Majesty's service. We wish not a diminution of the prerogative, nor do we solicit the grant of any new right in our favor; your royal authority over us, and our connection with Great Britain, we shall always carefully and zealously endeavor to support and maintain.” The Congress of 1775, after the commencement of hostilities, and the capture of Ticonderoga, ordered an inventory of the royal stores taken in the fort to be made, in order that they might be returned " when the restoration of the former harmony between Great Britain and the colonies, so ardently wished for by the latter, should render it prudent and consistent with the overruling law of self-preservation.”
Even after organizing the army, Congress published a declaration, in which they affirm, “we mean not to dissolve that union which has so long and so happily subsisted between us, and which we sincerely wish to see restored. Necessity has not yet driven us into that desperate measure ; we have not raised armies with ambitious designs of separating from Great Britain and establishing independent states.” But the pertinacity of the British ministry prevented the colonists from laying down their arms, and they soon found it impossible to use them with efficiency in the character of loyal subjects, and hence the necessity which, in 1776, drove them into the “ desperate measure” of a declaration of independence. The New York Convention, on receiving this declaration, resolved, “ that while we lament the cruel necessity which has rendered this measure unavoidable, we approve the same.” Should it be pretended that these official asseverations were hypocritical, and the subterfuges of state policy, we appeal to the following individual testimonies :-Franklin, in 1775, said, “I never heard in any conversation from any person, drunk or sober, the least expression of a wish for separation, or a hint that such a thing would be advantageous to America.” “During the course of my life,” says John Jay, “and until after the second petition of Congress in 1775, I never did hear any American express a wish for the independence of the colonies." “ That there existed a general desire of independence of the crown in any part of America before the Revolution," John Adams avers, “is as far from truth as the zenith is from the nadir. For my own part, there was not a moment during the Revolution, when I would not have given every thing I possessed for a restoration to the state of things before the contest began, provided we could have had a sufficient security for its continuance.” “ Before the commencement of hostilities,” Thomas Jefferson adds, “I never had heard a whisper of a disposition to separate from Great Britain ; and after that, its possibility was contemplated with affliction by all.”
Now, had the war been continued by the colonies, as it commenced, only in resistance to British taxation, and had the peace of 1783 guaranteed them from all future taxation by Parliament, the-object for which they had appealed to arms, would have been obtained; and we may fairly ask, if they would not have obtained it at a price incalculably beyond its value? Let us endeavor to form some estimate of the amount of taxation which the colonies imposed upon themselves, rather than pay the stamp and other duties claimed by Great Britain. It appears from official documents, that so early as September, 1779, the money borrowed by Congress for carrying on the war, independent of the proceeds of taxes, amounted to 197,682,985 dollars; and other large loans, it is well known, were afterwards made both at home and abroad. If to the amount expended by Congress, we add the contributions of the several States, and the losses sustained by individuals, we cannot resist the conviction that the mere interest of the aggregate sum would greatly exceed any taxes the British ministry had. ever contemplated imposing upon the colonies
But pecuniary disbursements formed as usual but a secondary item in the cost of the war. The slaughter of their fellow-citizens, (287,954 were called into service, the capture of their cities, and the devastation of large portions of their country, together with the depreciation of morals always consequent on a long war, are to be included in the price paid by our fathers for their exemption from British taxation. And can we doubt that Britain would have rejoiced to have sold that exemption at a trifle compared with what we actually paid for it? What an accumulation of human misery would such a contract have prevented! To the colonies it would have secured without a groan all the independence they desired; and to England, and to Ěurope, it would have saved the lives and happiness of multitudes.
A later period of our history furnishes a still more striking illustration of the folly of war as a mode of redress. In 1812, the United States declared war against Great Britain on account of certain orders in council destructive of neutral commerce, and on account of the right claimed and exercised by Great Britain of impressing her native subjects from the merchant vessels of other nations when on the high seas.
The obnoxious orders were revoked before the news of the war reached England, and the contest was continued solely on account of impressment.
“ The impressment of seamen," said our government, “ being deservedly considered a principal cause of the war, it ought to be prosecuted until that cause is removed. The omission of it in a treaty of peace would not leave it on its former ground; it would in effect be an absolute relinquishment, and the United States would have appealed to arms in vain.”
Now, the greatest number of American seamen ever officially alleged to have been compulsorily serving in the British navy, was about 800 ; and to suppress this abuse, we drew the sword, and formally threw away the scabbard. To prevent the impressment of a few seamen, the whole country was subjected, for about three years, to the burdens, hazards and vicissitudes of war. merce was swept from the ocean, our citizens oppressed with taxes, the villages on the Canadian frontier laid in ashes, and the very metropolis of the republic captured, and its public edifices fired by foreign troops.
Great Britain at length found herself, by the overthrow of Napoleon, at liberty to direct her fleets and armies exclusively against the United States; and our government, in despair of extorting from her a relinquishment of the obnoxious claim, and foreseeing only an accumulation of calamities from an obstinate prosecution of the war, wisely directed their negotiators, in concluding a treaty
“ to omtt any stipulation on the subject of impressment." The instruction was obeyed; the treaty contained not the most distant allusion to the subject of impressment; nor did it provide for the surrender of a single American sailor detained in the service of the British navy; and thus, by the confession of our own government, “ the United States had appealed to arms in vain."
Our comBut was the conduct of Great Britain more consistent with true wisdom ? Although she must be regarded as the victorious party, not having surrendered the claim on account of which the war was waged, yet at what an immense cost did she avoid the surrender? To retain the privilege of taking from American merchant vessels a few straggling seamen, she encountered a three years' war in which nearly 3000 of her vessels were captured by the Americans; more vessels probably than all the seamen she had ever recovered by impressment! In return for these losses, for the cost of the war, and the consequent additions to her debt and taxes, she retained a claim which, for the last twenty-six years, (1841,) she has chosen not to enforce.
The last fifty years have been fruitful in wars, and also in proofs of their exceeding folly. The impetuous and frantic proceedings of the French Legislative Assembly, struck Europe with awe, and her monarchs trembled on their thrones, while witnessing the indignities cast upon the unfortunate Louis. It was supposed that the permanency of all monarchical governments was involved in the future fortunes of the French king; and hence the declaration at Pilnitz, August, 1791, by which Austria and Prussia virtually invited the other powers of Europe to unite with them in breaking the fetters with which the French people had bound their sovereign. The invitation not being accepted, the emperor of Austria, and the king of Prussia, resolved to hasten alone to the rescue of their royal brother, and as a preliminary step, submitted to France such demands as plainly intimated an intention to resort, if necessary, to force. These demands probably hastened the fate of him in whose behalf they were made. They were answered by a declaration of war, and in a few months Louis was led to the scaffold. The allied army invaded France, and were soon compelled to retreat. They were followed by the enemy, who spread dismay through Germany, and wrested the Netherlands from the sway of Austria.
Great Britain, on the execution of Louis, recalled her ambassa- ' dor from Paris, refused any longer to acknowledge the French minister at her court, and was preparing to join in the melee, when her intentions were anticipated by the energetic leaders of the new republic. An English army was sent to the Continent, and driven from it with disgrace.—Prussia, wearied with defeat, sought for peace, and obtained a treaty which, instead of re-establishing the French monarchy, transferred to the regicides a portion of her dominions.-Austria, after a disastrous war of six years, saw a victorious army approaching her capital, and joyfully accepted peace as a boon, although purchased at the expense of the Netherlands, and a portion of her Italian possessions.—England, deserted by her allies, continued the war with an obstinacy that no experience of its futility could shake, and with a pride that disdained to inquire for what object it was waged.
France, triumphant over every enemy accessible to her arms, resolved, in her wantonness of power, to plant her standards on