The Conscription Idea
MAY 01, 1955 by DEAN RUSSELL
“The principle of voluntarism should not be compromised.” That policy on civilian manpower was recommended to the National Security Council in a May, 1954, report from the Office of Defense Mobilization.
The report suggests an extensive program of voluntary incentives as the best method to secure the most effective use of civilian manpower in time of war. Would not the principle of voluntarism work just as well for soldiers as for civilians? Would not present-day Americans volunteer to defend their country as our ancestors did in the earlier history of our nation? An increasing number of influential persons, including men who have devoted their lives to military affairs, are again beginning to think so.
Among them is Liddell Hart, the distinguished British military authority and military advisor to Encyclopaedia Britannica, who says: “Twenty-five years spent in the study of war . . . changed my earlier and conventional belief in the value of conscription. It brought me to see that the compulsory principle was fundamentally inefficient.”
While the present Administration is now taking long-overdue steps to make military service more attractive to volunteers, it still depends on conscription to supply the bulk of its troops. In fact, the President has recommended to Congress a system of universal military training which is based squarely on the old German, Russian, and French tradition of compulsory military training for all young men as a matter of routine.
The principle of conscription is now fearfully close to becoming a permanent American institution. Before it becomes completely “accepted and non-debatable,” let us briefly review the past performance of compulsory military service, consider its future possibilities, and examine some of the fundamental ideas behind it.
While many sincere and patriotic Americans have been quick to advocate conscription in almost every real or imagined emergency, it was generally considered an un-American and undemocratic idea in the United States until 1917.
It is true that conscription was tried for a time in the Civil War, but it seems to have done far more harm than good. The Draft Act became law in March of 1863 and the first call-up was made the following July. The resulting “draft riots” in New York, Boston, and other places necessitated the calling of regiments from the battlefields of Gettysburg to shoot American citizens who were rebelling against the then un-American idea of conscription.
Pitched battles raged in the streets of New York City for several days. Hundreds of people were hanged or shot, and property damage was enormous.
Some historians claim that one of the reasons General Meade didn’t follow up his advantage over the retreating army of General Lee after Gettysburg was because so many of his soldiers were engaged in suppressing the “draft riots” behind his own lines. Still other regiments had to be held in readiness in case they were needed.*
* Richard B. Morris, Encyclopedia of American History.
The Draft Act was so unpopular that it garnered fewer than 50,000 soldiers, or less than three per cent of the total forces, in four draft calls! It hurt morale, encouraged favoritism and graft, and may well have actually lengthened the war.
The confederacy also had a Draft Act—a year earlier and more extensive than that of the North. In fact, contrary to popular belief among us Southerners, the Confederacy had to draft most of its soldiers. This only multiplied the loss of life and the bitter consequences of a cause that became hopeless on the day it was subjected to the test of force. Our Southern leaders who showed such wisdom in most respects should have known that conscripts and slaves are not assets in building a sound civilization.
The idea of conscription was discussed—and rejected by the central government—in both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. After it was tried toward the end of the War Between the States—with such unfortunate consequences—it was rejected again. But with our entry into World War I, this form of involuntary servitude began to receive the popular support necessary to establish it as a permanent tradition in America.
Of all reasons, the idea of conscription was reactivated in 1917 in the name of freedom and as a means “to make the world safe for democracy”! Apparently our leaders believed that it was also the only way they could raise a large enough army to send abroad to fight in a war that didn’t concern the territorial, trade, defense, or humanitarian interests of the United States.
Since that statement—as well as most of this entire article—runs contrary to many popularly accepted beliefs by the American people, on what facts and ideas does this writer base his conclusions? What are his qualifications to speak in these controversial areas?
Unquestionably, my qualifications as a military strategist are minor—so much so that I hesitate to discuss strategy at all. It is true that I am a strong advocate of an Air Force adequate for the defensive needs of our nation, including retaliation if our country is invaded or bombed. And I am also convinced that the Atomic Age has made obsolete any possible need or excuse for huge armies of foot soldiers for defense. But I may well be prejudiced in favor of air power because of my five years with the Air Force, at home and abroad, during World War II.
At any rate, there is no good reason why our duly qualified strategists can’t practice their profession with volunteers as well as with conscripts! In fact, there are compelling reasons why they should prefer to do so.
For example, it seems to me axiomatic that a person who wants to do a thing has a far better chance of doing it more efficiently and more effectively than a person who is forced to do it against his will. One of my grandfathers honestly believed that slavery is cheaper than paying wages determined by a free market. But in spite of the seeming plausibility of his argument, he was wrong economically as well as morally. Actually, as any student of human actions and motivations in a free market can understand, the slave owners could have made more money by freeing their slaves and paying them wages.
For the same reason, conscripts and conscription are less effective and less efficient than volunteers and voluntary action. The Navy, the Air Force, the Marines, and the Seabees have always worked on the principle that volunteers are more effective than conscripts in war as well as in peace. I have no reason to suppose that the Army actually prefers conscripts to volunteers. The average conscript will always cost more and do less than the average volunteer. And when the war is over, he will also be first in line for benefits, preferences, and bonuses “for defending his country.” This doesn’t deny, of course, that many individual conscripts are hard workers and heroes, just as many individual slaves worked hard and even defended the system which held them in bondage.
I have every reason to believe that more than 90 per cent of all Americans will voluntarily defend their country when it is invaded or when they think that there is any danger of invasion by a foreign foe. For example, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, what percentage of the American people do you believe stood ready to volunteer in some capacity to help repulse any further onslaught against peace-loving Americans and their legitimate territory? I say more than 90 per cent.
There may be a few thousand persons—or even a few hundred thousands—who wouldn’t voluntarily defend themselves or their countrymen under any circumstances. If so, toleration of them is merely a part of the price we must pay to keep our own freedom; for when—even for a good cause—we force peaceful persons to do things contrary to their wishes and judgments, then upon what moral grounds could we ourselves object to being forced to commit acts which are against our consciences and better judgments? If we rely on mere numbers—the majority—to determine our actions, the ideas of conscience and personal responsibility have no meaning.
Anyway, while most draftees might actually face the enemy rather than be imprisoned or shot by their own countrymen, they could never be relied upon in any real defense emergency. In this connection, we might speculate a bit more deeply as to why so few only one out of four—of our drafted soldiers used their weapons even when under actual enemy attack in Korea.*
* Associated Press, May 16, 1951, reported in most daily newspapers.
While I am no more a psychologist than I am a military expert, I can still stand positively on the axiom that no person can be relied upon to do that which he is forced to do against his will. The alleged American attitudes sneeringly summarized in the phrase “ice cream and momism” are not the fundamental reasons a soldier doesn’t measure up when he is drafted and sent thousands of miles from home to shoot other drafted soldiers in a war he doesn’t understand or want to fight. The hundreds of thousands of mental cases and deserters among our drafted soldiers in World War II—plus the additional loss of the manpower required to attend or guard them—are strong proof of the idea that conscription is inefficient as well as immoral.
Actually, I can see no more logic in conscripting privates than in conscripting cadets for West Point. The reasons which would cause a person to reject the one are the same reasons which should cause him to reject the other. It is true that conscripted troops under voluntary commanders—like slaves under masters—may offer surface appearances of strength and efficiency. But since it is organized on a wrong principle, the inherent weakness in the system will eventually betray the people who are foolish enough to trust in it.
Someone might say that only our best and most intelligent people would volunteer while the worst would stay home in safety—that all the casualties of war would be from the flower of our manhood.
I doubt that “worst” and “best” can be determined merely by the act of volunteering for military duty; many murderers and thieves in our prisons always request the privilege of fighting for their country—even if they must return after the war and complete their sentences.
Does anyone wish to claim that Quakers and other similar groups are our worst or least intelligent people?
The act of volunteering in itself offers no conclusive proof of character one way or the other. The fact that I volunteered for World War II doesn’t necessarily make me morally better or more intelligent than my college roommate who was sentenced to 15 years in a federal penitentiary because he chose to follow his belief that conscription is wrong. The person who can still hold to his principles when his friends and neighbors revile him and his family has a courage which is probably superior to that which most of us need when we face enemy fire.
One of my two Virginia grandfathers fought for the Confederacy. The other one chose to remain on his small farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Even when he was drafted, he still refused to fight in a war which he considered unnecessary. His countrymen who thought differently arrested and courtmartialed him, and sentenced him to be shot as a coward and a draft dodger.
I doubt that my grandfather was an undesirable or unintelligent person because of his belief that principles come from a source higher than the opinions of the majority of one’s neighbors. Does anyone believe that such a man is a coward?
It seems to me that the arbitrary dividing of persons into categories such as this is evil in itself. I am not at all willing to concede that the persons who hold such an arrogant viewpoint are themselves any more intelligent or good than those they condemn.
While many of the advocates of conscription tend to agree with me “in principle” that it is morally wrong to compel some persons to kill other persons, they always point out that we probably wouldn’t have been able to raise a sufficiently large army to send to Europe in 1917 if we had relied on volunteers. Then they add: “And since we had to fight in World War I, we had no choice but to draft enough soldiers to do the job.” This same general argument—that is, circumstances demanded and justified conscription—is advanced for World War II and Korea. This is merely another way of saying that the end justifies the means.
There is no doubt in my mind that if the means used to accomplish an objective are based on a wrong principle, the end cannot be good when all factors are considered. The exceedingly difficult and purely personal problem of distinguishing between right principles and wrong principles is task enough for anyone. Why make it more difficult by accepting the absurd proposition that good ends can result from evil means? Such a concept is the equivalent of attempting to save immortal souls by means of a state church with compulsory attendance and support.
In the sense that anything is the sum of its parts, it is a truism to state that the means are the end. It cannot be otherwise because the end is merely the summation and resultant of all the means used to achieve it. As Emerson phrased it: “Cause and effect, means and ends, seed and fruit, cannot be severed; for the effect already blooms in the cause, the end pre-exists in the means, the fruit in the seed.”
In the continuing sequence of cause and consequence—means and ends—any consequence immediately becomes the “cause” of another consequence; for example, the announced goal of our entry into World War I was “to end all wars”! But no one can control the consequences of his decisions; he can control only the means he uses. The goal of abolishing war couldn’t possibly succeed when the method selected to achieve the goal was war itself.
This idea that war can be used as a weapon to end war—“We’ll have peace even if we have to fight for it!”—is a fallacy that has led millions of sincere persons to the slaughter fields. Victory or defeat in war is never a complete end; it is only an arbitrarily selected point in a series of continuing actions and reactions. The only certainty is this: The use of force in the present against any peaceful person will cause increased hatred and opposition and conflict in some degree or form in the future. In human relationships, the result of the use of violence against peaceful persons may be delayed or obscured, but the law of action and reaction works in human relationships as well as in the physical sciences.
The fact that an announced goal may be reached by a mixture of good and bad means (as is so often the case) doesn’t deny this principle; it merely misleads the person who fails to see that the goal was attained in spite of—not because of—the evil means employed. If a thief contributes some of his loot to the fund for building a hospital, does that good end either depend on or justify his evil means?
But since the advocates of compulsory military service contend that moral arguments against conscription “aren’t practical”—and since they offer as proof our military victories abroad since 1917 -it seems necessary to explore briefly the results of our entry into those conscript wars.*
* The background for many of my admittedly brief statements on World Wars I and II come from reading the works of Charles A. Beard, Charles C. Tansill, Frederic R. Sanborn, and others among the so-called “revisionist” historians. Their facts and ideas generally strike me as more logical and complete than those advanced by the so-called “court historians.” Both groups or “schools of thought” are represented in any adequate library.
I am well aware that many persons still believe that the Kaiser and Hitler both planned all along to invade the United States and enslave its people. And I readily admit that if we had to choose between fighting in Europe and fighting at home, military strategy should have determined the best time and location for our defense. But that big if must first be considered.
As nearly as I can judge, Germany and England and their allies were faced with the military necessity for a truce with no victor in the fall of 1916, or even before. Without outside help, neither appeared capable of defeating the other. If the United States couldn’t wait for them to work out their own truce, then, as a peace-loving nation, we could at least have offered our “good offices”—not just a conventional gesture but an impartial and sincere offer to arbitrate without prejudice or favor.
For those who claim we couldn’t have succeeded, or that we tried and failed, I suggest a study of our procedure in 1905 in mediating the cessation of hostilities between the stalemated Russians and Japanese. In that case, we actually wanted a truce. Did we in World War I?
Does anyone really believe that a nation with sufficient manpower and materiel to determine the victor in World War I couldn’t have used its moral and strategic positions to end the bloodshed by negotiating a truce with no victor? In my opinion, the United States didn’t do it because its leaders didn’t want to do it.
Instead, our leaders chose sides and decided to use violence “to make the world safe for democracy” by conscripting our young men at home and forcing them to fight in Europe. That decision probably added two years to the conflict. The continuation of the war caused a reluctant but desperate Germany to send Lenin into Russia to start a revolution and to establish communism. Our entry into the war led directly to Versailles and a vindictive “peace” which set the stage for Hitler. The United States itself was the advocate of the plan to fragment Europe into small nations whose intense nationalism—expressed in the form of tariffs, passports, quotas, and other such personal and economic restrictions—could only be steps toward more bloody conflict.
Our armed intervention added additional millions to the casualty lists, established the reactionary Old World idea of compulsory military service as a permanent tradition in America, saddled our own country with a centralized bureaucracy, and paved the way for permanent conflict as a way of life.
When the consequences of World War I finally arrived in the form of World War II, a few persons in positions of power had already committed the United States to one side well before Pearl Harbor.* There are those who say we had to choose. Actually, did we have to choose between Hitler and Stalin? If so, do many persons believe that a triumphant Germany without any aid from us would have posed as serious a problem as has our “firm friend and ally” Russia, whom we possibly saved from utter defeat? And for those who may claim that this is hindsight, I recommend a rereading of the prewar warnings of Robert Taft, Herbert Hoover, Charles Lindbergh, and other persons of high standing.
* There are several history books which offer documentary evidence that the United States was irrevocably committed to war against Germany and Japan long before December 7, 1941, and that the “surprise attack” was not unduly surprising or displeasing to some of our top leaders. There are also many other history books which offer proof that we were attacked because the Japanese and German people are innately evil and wanted to destroy the good people of Russia and the United States. Take your pick, but keep this unquestionable fact well in mind: When two enemy armies clash for any reason, it is only human that each will claim to be defending itself against the other and to be marching under the banner of God, of justice, of peace, of freedom. The only thing surprising about this fact is that it should surprise anyone. History is an interpretation, not a mere chronology, of events. It is composed of what people believe and feel, as well as what actually happened. Who expects the partisan survivors of any war to say, or even to believe, that they and their dead comrades fought and died for nothing or an evil cause?
At the same time that we were choosing Stalin over Hitler, we were also choosing China over Japan—long before Pearl Harbor. When Japan was defeated, we then somehow managed to undermine our ally in China, Chiang Kai-shek, and to set the stage for Mao Tse-tung and more communism. I doubt that we have any reason for pride in the results of our unnecessary interference. And the fact remains that the decisions which were made by our leaders before and during World War II were based squarely on the idea of conscripting unwilling persons to enforce those decisions.
That strikes me as unquestionable evidence that the American people in general wanted no part of it. When the people instinctively reject a proposition—when they will not voluntarily participate with their lives and their property and their sacred honor—who among us has any mandate from God to say that they are wrong and must be coerced against their wills? That is the heady stuff from which dictators are spawned.
There have been some especially bitter arguments about Korea one of the several probable wars to which we seem to have committed ourselves by our intervention in World War II and by our continuation of conscription and compulsory military training. Usually the advocates of compulsory military service claim that if we hadn’t fought in Korea, we would have to fight in San Francisco. Apparently, they have given no consideration at all to the problem of logistics and the difficulty faced by the enemy who would have to transport ten million or so men with full equipment for a distance of from 3,000 to 5,000 miles through hostile seas and air.
Sometimes these sincere but emotional advocates of conscription and foreign wars leave me with the distinct impression that what they mostly have in mind is to fight to the last drop of Russell’s conscripted blood and confiscated property.* Of course, the supporters of compulsory service usually add: “I’m willing to take my chances if called” or “I did my part in the last war” or “I pay my taxes” or “I have a family to support” or “I’m willing to work in a defense plant” or offer some other reason why they shouldn’t volunteer for duty in a war they allegedly approve and consider necessary to their safety.
* While this article is confined mostly to the military phase of conscripting persons to fight, the same basic ideas also apply to the conscripting of property and labor. When the dictator of communist Russia, Joseph Stalin, was once challenged on his idea of conscripting all the property of all the pep-pie for state use, he is alleged to have asked his questioners why they considered it more immoral and illogical to conscript lifeless property than to conscript life itself, as all the capitalist countries were doing. His challengers were unable to give him a convincing answer.
To me, the question is both harsh and simple: What will I do? It may be great sport to indulge in speculating about what other people should be forced to do, but it is quite another question when a person sits down to decide what he himself will do. As we used to say in our poker games overseas when a fairly large bet was made: “This will separate the men from the ribbon clerks.”
Would I voluntarily sacrifice my own life—or, for that matter, even two or three years of it—in Korea in an attempt to prevent the North Koreans and the Chinese from conquering South Korea? After listening to all the experts and thinking about all the reasons, my answer is a point-blank “No.” If my answer had been “Yes,” you may rest assured that I would have volunteered for duty in Korea. If necessary, I would have arranged for my own passage at my own risk just as many Americans voluntarily and individually fought in the Spanish Civil War and the Arab-Israeli War, just as thousands of our forefathers fought the Indians, French, Spanish, Dutch, English, and other Americans who they thought were infringing on their rights.
From the vantage point of some Korean battlefield, I may have felt that I was entitled to write to my countrymen and try to explain why I thought it might be to their advantage to join me or, at least, voluntarily to support me with their own honestly acquired property. I didn’t volunteer because I can see no point at all in traveling several thousands of miles from home to fight the victims of the conscriptive programs of foreign governments. I doubt seriously that many, if any, of my fellow countrymen would have gone to Korea voluntarily, or even have voluntarily supported that war with their own resources. And I have no reason at all to assume it would be different with Formosa or Indo-China.
Suppose a foreign enemy were actually attacking a peaceful United States which had withdrawn its military forces from the various foreign nations all over the world. Suppose we had thus left no opening at all for charges of militarism, imperialism, and colonialism. I am confident that we would not be attacked under those circumstances, but let us suppose we were attacked or directly threatened with attack. Again, what would I do? I would (in fact, will) volunteer for the duration and for any assigned duty, and I would willingly subject myself to the leadership of the duly appointed or selected experts. There is no doubt whatever in my mind that almost all other Americans would be hastening to join me in whatever capacities they were assigned.
The advocates of conscription seem necessarily to be taking the position that I and most other Americans are too stupid to recognize a danger and to act in behalf of our own welfare. Either that, or they look upon us as unpatriotic cowards. Whatever the reason, they show no hesitation in advocating the use of compulsion upon us “for our own good.”
“But this time it’s different,” I’m often told. “You may possibly be right about World Wars I and II, but this time we truly have no choice but to fight the communists in Europe and Asia or to surrender to them at home. And we would far rather have our freedom conscripted from us temporarily by our own governmental and military authorities than to lose it permanently to the Russians.”
This argument is, of course, the old “either-or” proposition which can be true or merely a gimmick to mislead foolish or unwary persons. In this instance, the “either-or” approach is completely spurious.
If I had to choose, I too would prefer a democratically elected or appointed American master rather than a conquering Russian master or, for that matter, any other foreign master. But no such choice is necessary. Those who advocate the”temporary loss” of our freedom in order to preserve it permanently are advocating only one thing: the abolition of liberty. In order to fight a form of slavery abroad, they advocate a form of bondage at home! However good their intentions may be, those people are enemies of your freedom and my freedom; and I fear them far more than I fear any potential Russian threat to my liberty. These sincere but highly emotional patriots are clear and present threats to freedom; the Russians are still thousands of miles away.
“But you don’t understand,” the advocates of compulsory military service continue to argue. “Unless we have conscription, and unless we station our troops all around the communist borders to contain communism, the communists will surely conquer the United States and enslave us all with their evil philosophy.”
Actually, those sincere people aren’t talking about the dangers of communism itself, which is “any system of social organization involving common ownership of the agents of production, and some approach to equal distribution of the products of industry.” Over the past fifty years, that philosophy of government ownership and government controls has steadily gained favor in the United States by vote of the majority who claim to be against communism. What my opponents really fear is the Russian army and the plans of the Russian leaders “to conquer the world by revolution and armed intervention.”
Let us concede that the Russians are even more determined that the world shall follow their way of life than we Americans are determined that our way of life is best for the world. Our history of armed intervention all over the globe—beginning with our occupation of the Philippines and lasting through both World Wars and continuing with our vast global commitments into the future—won’t prove this, but let us concede it anyway.
Can the russians start a revolution in the United States? Categorically, they can’t. And every American citizen, including the few who have pledged their allegiance to Russia, probably knows this. There will never be a successful revolution in America unless the majority of the people want it or refuse to oppose it. In either instance, it will be an American decision, not Russian. If the United States finally adopts the economic policies of communism, it will be because the people want communism or don’t care one way or the other. If we finally go completely totalitarian at home in order to fight totalitarianism abroad, we will have done it to ourselves.
Can the Russians and their conquered “allies” invade and successfully occupy the United States? Again categorically, they can’t, now or at any conceivable time in the future. I have yet to hear a responsible person offer any evidence that they could.
Even if the Russians can’t successfully invade us or start a revolution, this question still remains: Will they drop hydrogen bombs on our cities?
They might try it for either of two reasons: fear of our intentions or retaliation to our acts. If those two possibilities are ruled out, I can think of no reason at all why the Russians would attempt to bomb New York and other cities and slaughter millions of Americans merely for the fun of killing them.
It is true that the Russians’ fear of our intentions—like our fear of their intentions—could be responsible for almost anything, including a surprise bombing raid. Fear is such a powerful and unreasoning emotion that it even causes many Americans to advocate a “preventive war” against Russia! It would hardly be surprising to discover that their opposite numbers in Russia are advocating a “preventive war” against the United States and for exactly the same reasons.
Since the russians can’t occupy America any more than we Americans can occupy Russia, can you think of one reason why the Russians would drop bombs on American cities—or why we Americans would drop bombs on Russian cities except hideous fear of the intentions of each toward the other? This fear could be eliminated by either side. For example, our fear of the Russians would largely disappear if they pulled all their troops back into Russia proper and kept them there. Likewise, would not the Russians’ fear of our intentions toward them evaporate if we pulled our troops and military commitments back into the Western Hemisphere and kept them here? If either were done, need there any longer be this horrible fear of hydrogen bombs wiping out millions of people in New York and Moscow? At any rate, this much seems certain: As long as we keep troops in countries on Russia’s borders, the Russians can be expected to act somewhat as we would act if Russia were to station troops in Guatemala or Mexico—even if those countries wanted the Russians to come in!
True, if we pulled our troops and military commitments back into the Western Hemisphere, the Russians might attempt to occupy all of Germany or, more probably, to establish a German government of their own choice. Could anyone blame them for that any more than they could blame us for establishing in Japan a “friendly” government under a constitution of our own design?
The Russians might also desire to extend their sphere of influence over various other countries—just as the imperial predecessors of the present Russian leaders did, and just as their successors under any political arrangement will probably continue to do. Every powerful nation in history—including the United States—has attempted the same thing in one way or another. I can see no more logic in fighting Russia over Korea or Outer Mongolia, than in fighting England over Cyprus, or France over Morocco, or well, take your pick of any one of hundreds of similar cases. The historical facts of imperialism and spheres of influence are not sufficient reasons to justify the destruction of freedom within the United States by turning ourselves into a permanent garrison state and stationing conscripts all over the world. We are rapidly becoming a caricature of the thing we profess to hate.
I have more faith in myself and in my fellow Americans than do these politicians and humanitarians who desire to defend my freedom by depriving me of it. Obviously, it would be easy enough to hire good and patriotic men to devote their lives to the task of planning and maintaining defenses against any possibility of invasion from abroad. And I am convinced that the rest of us would be available for voluntary duty whenever an invasion occurred or seemed imminent.
A mania for compulsory equality has swept this nation. It now applies to how we shall die or face death, as well as to how we shall live, work, and be educated. It is as illogical in the one instance as in the other. This compulsory equality disease is undermining our heritage of freedom. The overwhelming majority of our founders and early patriots were opposed to compulsory military service, even under such desperate circumstances as Valley Forge; most of them rejected the conscription idea as a direct violation of the freedom for which they were fighting and which they wanted to pass on to their posterity. They also warned us to stay out of foreign squabbles and to fear the persons who desire authority over other persons.
“Times have changed,” of course. But the principles haven’t. They never do. If we continue to ignore them, it is at our peril.
At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it? Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant to step the ocean and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest, with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years.
At what point, then, is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men we must live through all time, or die by suicide.
Abraham Lincoln, Lyceum Address, January 27, 1837.
In Virginia a draft was ever the most unpopular and impracticable thing that could ever be attempted. Our people . . . had learned to consider it as the last of all oppressions.
Thomas Jefferson, Letter to John Adams, 1777.