October 30, 1862
I notice in your issue, of the 25th inst., an editorial with the above caption, which contained many good suggestions and some wise counsel. It is but too true that many are skulking and hiding, hatching excuses to avoid conscription. I will admit for the sake of argument that their reason is as you assign it a fear to contend on the field of battle. But as to the justice of the clause of the Exemption Bill to which you refer, I must say that your ideas of justice and equity are quite different from mine. I cannot for my life see how it is, that because the institution of slavery elevates the social position of the poor man, that therefore the poor should fight the battles of our country, while the rich are allowed to remain at home and to enjoy ease and pleasure. You say that it is proper and right for some persons to remain at home. I grant it. But is it just that each conscript, who happens to own ten negroes of certain age should be exempt from military duty?–Why sir, what say you to the poor white man who has ten children all dependant upon him for succor and support? Shall he be exempt? No, you answer, “go fight for the negroes of your neighbor, because it elevates you in society.” You say that the negroes must work to support our army. Why sir, have you not learned that of all men left at home, the man who owns ten negroes or more is the last to help either the soldier or his family.
It is but too true. I tell you that the worst enemy our young republic has is the spirit that pervades our land to an alarming extent of extorting from the poor and needy to build up the rich and powerful. Our army is composed of poor men–men who listened to that old cry, “We pay the taxes, we are the bone and sinew of the country. Our business is too large and complicated to leave. You go; you have nothing to leave but your family and they will be taken care of.”
It is easy to be a soldier, to leave home and its endearments, on paper. But when the reality is tested it is something different. I have seen the soldier in the heat of battle and in the monotony of camp. I have seen him in pleasure and in melancholy; in prosperity and in adversity, but the source of most trouble and anxiety to his mind, is the ill treatment of his family by the very men who are, by the clause referred to, exempt from duty. The soldier can meet the enemy of his country in dreadful battle, but the thought that his family are suffering at the hands of the rich for whom he is fighting, unnerves the strongest arm and sickens the stoutest heart. The men of wealth are erecting new mills, tan-yards, shoe-shops, &c., and are filling them with their sons. This will be done and other means will be resorted to until the army will be composed of poor men exclusively. Their families will be left to the scanty charities of Extortion and Speculation. Then, sir, you may well ask, “Shall we be whipped?” The answer then would not be difficult. Sir, I have already heard it argued that the poor man could not be injured by Lincoln’s proclamation. Say they, “it is true, we might lose our negro or two, but what is that to life, to continued exposure, to prolonged absence from wife and children.” If poor men must fight, the rich ought to pay the expenses of the fight. The poor men who are now in the army are patriots. They deem no sacrifice too great to be made; no privation too severe to be borne for liberty. They leave home and friends for country’s sake. Let the appeal be made to their patriotism, to the justice of our cause, but for God’s sake don’t tell the poor soldier who now shivers in a Northern wind while you snooze in a feather bed, that it is just and right that the men, whom Congress has exempted, should enjoy ease at home, amassing untold riches, while he must fight, bleed, and even die, for their ten negroes. If we are ever whipped, it will be by violations of our own constitution, infringements of justice and right. When burdens are borne equally, dangers must be also. People’s eyes may be closed by glaring newspaper pleas of necessity and right, but they will at some time be opened. Then, if ever, we will be whipped.