February 20, 1863: Conscription in the North

Claiming exemption from the draft

New York Times backs the conscription law. It needs some help, because it was rather unpopular, especially among northern Democrats.

The National Conscription A New Pledge of Success.

The Conscription Act, which has just passed the Senate, is the grandest pledge yet given that our Government means to prevail, and will prevail. It is really the nation’s first assertion of a purpose to command the means for its own preservation. Hitherto these means have all been contingent and precarious. Our military strength was all dependent on individual good will in volunteering, and upon the good will of State officials in heeding, and adequately carrying out the calls of the Government for their just proportions of soldiers. The results have astonished the world. They will go into history as the most extraordinary manifestation of public spirit in all time. But, in their very nature, they were unsuited to a long war. There never was such a war, however just or necessary, that did not beget faction and opposition in its progress; and there never will be, so long as there is any wickedness or weakness in human nature. To throw the burdens of the war upon those only who shall remain true to it, would be rewarding unfaithfulness. To trust in any degree to its opponents for the means to carry it on, would be to make calculation impossible, and to hazard everything. If it be the supreme duty of the Government to save itself, it follows that it should have a supreme control over the means. It now prepares to assume that control; and therein, we say, is the best of all guarantees of its final success.

The measure is for the enrollment and the mustering into service, if need be, of all the ablebodied people of the United States, between the ages of twenty and forty-five. The only exceptions are, Governors of States, Judges, the only sons of poor widows, and a very few others. Substantially, it is putting all of the active, able-bodied population of the loyal States at the service of the Government, for a period of three years. This, making a large allowance for those not able-bodied, between the ages specified, would give a military force exceeding three millions. The immense body is to be enrolled by officials appointed by, and directly accountable to, the President of the United States. It is to be called forth by draft in such numbers, and assigned to military duty in such places, as he pleases. No State functionary has anything to do with the business. A Provost-Marshal is to be appointed for every Congressional District, whose duties are minutely specified, and who will have the entire responsibility for the completeness of his work. Heavy penalties are imposed for all resistance, or counseling of resistance, to the draft; and, in fact, every part of the bill bristles with provisions insuring its efficiency. We published it yesterday in full; and we venture to say that our loyal readers have not read two more inspiring columns since this rebellion began.

It is now for the first time plain that we have a Government strong enough for its work — strong enough in power, and strong enough in will. The Confederate Executive, from the outset, has had a prodigious advantage in its practical supremacy over everything within its range. The Confederate Congress has given it a power which is practically unlimited. That body has indulged in no stickling about State Rights, though it is full of those who used to be known as the extremist State Rights men. The authority of JEFF. DAVIS has been made perfectly independent of all action outside of itself. It has not been obliged to trust State discretion any more than individual discretion. It has done all its work by its own agents, and it has not only not asked but it has positively repelled all cooperation by State authorities. Its constant principle has been, that its only chance of success lay in its sovereign disposal of every right, as well as of every interest, within its jurisdiction. The marvelous energy and readiness and straightforwardness which have characterized the rebel Government, is mainly due to this unrestricted power. We are not advocates of investing President LINCOLN with any authority above the Constitution. There is no necessity for a Dictatorship like that which JEFF. DAVIS practically exercises. But we hold that President LINCOLN should have the advantage of every power obtainable from the most liberal construction of the Constitution; and there should be no limitation to the means intrusted to his hands. It was well said by a great English statesman, that “the State which is resolved to hazard its existence rather than to abandon its objects, must have an infinite advantage over that which is resolved to yield rather than to carry its resistance beyond a certain point.” The Confederacy has virtually put every dollar and every drop of blood within its limits at the command of JEFF. DAVIS. If experience has not prepared us to make a similar submission, if need be — with the simple qualification that it shall be through constitutional forms — we might as well make up our minds at once for infamous and ruinous discomfiture. But, thank Heaven, it is not so. The National Currency and Loan bills will pledge every dollar, and the National Conscription bill will pledge every drop of blood to the National cause.

Now, for the first time, we shall have the Power of the nation pitted fairly against the Power of the rebellion. The Confederate conscriptions are nearly exhausted; ours are but just to begin. Nothing theirs can do hereafter can possibly increase the present rebel army to two-thirds of a million. Our proposed new law will easily increase our present army to two or three times that figure. Hitherto, hardly a great battle has been fought in which the rebels have not had an advantage in numbers, as well as position. Hereafter, though of course the choice of positions will still remain with them — acting as they do on the defensive — we may have a preponderance in numbers far overbalancing that advantage. We shall be in a condition to carry out practically what hitherto has been but a vain, and, in fact, considering the power we have actually brought to bear, a ridiculous, figure of speech — the crushing out of the rebellion. This Conscription act supplies means whose proper use would just as certainly pulverize the Confederacy, as any physical effect follows a physical cause.

It will, too, enable us to repel the armed intervention of NAPOLEON III., if he shall prove so infatuated as to undertake it. With it, we can safely defy any power he may send to our shores. This bill is in fact a caveat to all the nations of the earth. It certifies that we are not exhausted, as too many of them imagine, either in power or in spirit — that we are both able and determined to maintain the national sovereignty against all enemies, whether domestic or foreign. The measure has indeed brought closer home to our own senses the fact of our gigantic power. What has heretofore been a mere rhetorical flourish, it makes a palpable outstanding reality. We can now realize, as never before, our strength and our work; and, for the first time, will make our actions justly correspond with both. Herein is to be found our only sure promise of ultimate triumph.

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