April 1, 1862: Richmond Dispatch in favor of the draft

Jefferson Davis

Late in March, Jefferson Davis had asked the Confederate Congress to institute a draft. There was opposition on the grounds that it violated states’ rights, but the Richmond Daily Dispatch came out in favor of conscription. After all, if the Union won, the Confederate states’ rights would be moot.

The proposed conscription.

On the 28th of March,President Davis sent in to Congress a message, in which he recommended “the passage of a law declaring that all persons residing within the Confederate States, between the ages of 18 and 35 years, and rightfully subject to military duly, shall be held to be in the military service of the Confederate States, and that some plain and simple method be adopted for their prompt enrollment and organization, repealing all the legislation heretofore enacted, which would conflict with the system proposed.” The plan here proposed is what is called “conscription” in Europe, and in the terrible shocks to which every country on that continent has been exposed, it has always been found the most efficient, if not the only mode of bringing out the whole strength of the country. Various objections have been made to it in Congress, where, we are sorry to see, a disposition prevails to waste time in discussion, while the promptest and most vigorous action is demanded. We are told, for instance, that it abrogates “State-rights.”

If the Yankees overrun and subjugate us, they will leave us no rights at all, either State or personal — We shall be the veriest slaves in all Christendom. We shall be stripped of our property, and made the subjects of the vilest race on the face of the earth. Others tell us that it may be a formidable weapon in the hands of a man disposed to play the despot. If we are to have a despot, had he not better the one of our own people than a Yankee!–While gentlemen are struggling for a shadow, they are losing the substance.

England, it is said, never had a conscription. England has never been invaded, so far as we recollect, since the reign of King John and his son.–She raises men by enlistment for foreign service, a slow and tedious process, as was found in the late Sepoy war. Were she invaded by 700,000 men, she would not hesitate to adopt the conscription, or any other mode of raising soldiers; for she is the most practical of all nations, and she is well aware that it is use less to talk about infringements of the Constitution when the enemy is on hand, ready to destroy it.

Washington, it is further said, never resorted to the conscription, to which we may answer, that Washington never had to contend with 700,000 men, and a fleet of several hundred iron gunboats. It were to mistake the character of that most practical of men, to suppose that he would not have resorted to any scheme whatever, however obnoxious, to prevent the subjugation of his country.

We tell gentlemen, whatever they may think, this is no time for talking about rights and privileges. If we do not beat these Yankees, we shall soon have not the vestige of a right, not the shadow of a privilege, left We must adopt the means to do this, let them be what they may, even to the appointing of a dictator with absolute power. This is the first thing to be thought of, it is the first thing to be done. It is vain to talk about liberty and law in such circumstances. In war there is neither liberty nor law. “Leges silent inter arme,” said one of the greatest men that the world ever saw. We must make a temporary surrender of our privileges, that they may be permanently secured.

We entrust Congress not to imitate the National Assemblies of revolutionary Germany in 1848, and waste time in discussing abstractions while the enemy is thundering at our gates. Nero while Rome was burning. Let the Roman tyrant find no imitator in the Confederate Congress. The people are thoroughly roused. Their energy is sufficient to redeem our affairs in a short space of time, if properly directed. We must have soldiers — good soldiers, not raw militia — and there is no time, while the enemy is pressing upon us to drill new regiments and brigades. The new levies must be drafted into the old regiments, where they will mix with the veterans and in a few days become as good as they.

We are as much devoted to all rights, State and personal, as any man can be. But we see them in the most imminent peril from a foreign enemy, and we can see but one way of warding off the danger within a short space of time. We believe that we can be conquered under no circumstances; but the war may be indefinitely protracted if our states men do not rouse to the height of the situation.

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