Debate: Army Appropriations Bill (1878)—Part III

American Debate

Following the nation-wide riots in 1877, Congress debates appropriating money for the Army. Rep. William Kimmel (D., Maryland) argues for funding the militia, Rep. Herman L. Humphrey (R., Wisconson) for funding the Army.

In some of the States where these disorders occurred, as in West Virginia, where no police existed and the militia had decayed, the civil authorities were powerless. But it must be remembered that that State had not recovered from the disorganization consequent on the war.

riotmartinsburgwvMartinsburg, West Virginia—The Mob Assaulting a Member of the Militia.

Second Session.

MONDAY, May 20, 1878.

Pt. IPt. IIPt. IIIPt. IV — Pt. V —

(Continued from Pt. II.—Mr. Kimmel Continues.)


The use of the standing army and the increase of it as practiced and advocated by the administration of Mr. Hayes and its friends lead to a review of the events which gave rise to that argument.

The reckless extravagance ever engendered by civil strife culminated in the crash of 1873. The contraction which ensued compelled reduction in the wages of many of the working people and the discharge of many others. The high rate of taxes caused by increased debt and the high price of bread and meat, caused by large exports of the necessaries, worded hardship. The masses became discontented and sought redress through strikes.

Associated capital, burdened by responsibilities incurred during inflation, attempted to maintain its dividends on extravagant investments by transferring those burdens from the corporations to their servants, and further reductions ensued. These servants inquiring as to the necessity for these hardships were surprised to learn that not only was it sought to maintain those dividends on the original stock and on the stock created out of the earning of these corporation, known as watered stock, but that the amount of those dividends in excess of the legal interest of the States in which these corporation were located would in some cases, if applied to the pay-roll, admit and increase of wages of more than 30 per cent. This knowledge intensified the discontent. These faithful servants could not consent that unmarried men should be induced to accept the wages which hungered their own families, and disorder ensued. Unfortunately for themselves, the corporations, and society, these men overstepped the limits of the law, which indiscretion resulted in what Mr. Secretary McCrary describes “as uprising of idle, suffering, desperate men for the redress of grievances, real of fancied, having the sympathies of the communities in which the occur,” and for the suppression of which he asks an increase of the standing army to police the States, meaning thereby to transfer the terror of his bayonets from the South to the North.

In some of the States where these disorders occurred, as in West Virginia, where no police existed and the militia had decayed, the civil authorities were powerless. But it must be remembered that that State had not recovered from the disorganization consequent on the war. Moreover, militia organization at the South might have been misconstrued.

In Pennsylvania, where the greatest disorder existed, political interest had subordinated public safety and blinded the civil authorities to the growing lawlessness of sworn associations, until immediate restraint by the militia, inadequately officered, became impossible. In New York, New Jersey, Ohio, and Indiana the civil authority and its subordinate, the militia, preserved or soon restored the peace.

In Baltimore City, the metropolis of Maryland, a police force of five hundred men, composed of the best possible material, organized and disciplined and led by officers whose capacity, courage, fidelity, and humanity commanded the respect of the most lawless, by temperate and judicious exercise of their power checked the violence of the misguided men whom the ill-judged policy of associated capital had exasperated to madness. This triumph of the civil authorities by means of the police, a citizen soldiery, is the highest evidence of the capabilities of a well-trained militia for suppression of domestic violence.

Unfortunately that same capital became needlessly alarmed at imaginary dangers in a distant part of the State and demanded military aid. The military alarm was sounded. Less than five hundred militia, the entire force of the city, and more than five thousand exasperated men answered that call. It is much and deeply to be regretted that some of the members of the less disciplined regiment, without orders, but in self-defense, fired on the mob, and loss of life ensued. The better-disciplined regiment marched, amid the most exasperating demonstrations, with the courage and precision of veterans to the depot of the railroad company, then threatened by countless numbers, protected the endangered property, and guarded the prisoners captured by the police without the loss of a single life. Thus five hundred police and three hundred militia, all citizen soldiery, held at bay the turbulent element of a city of four hundred thousand inhabitants, proving themselves efficient conservators of the peace, in a violent conflict between labor and capital, until the body of the people were enrolled to prevent a recurrence of the disorder and the passions of the mob had cooled. Soon the sober second thought set in. To their credit be it spoken many of those very men whom exasperation had driven to the front of the strike were foremost at the restoration of the order they had so inconsiderately disturbed. An acknowledgment of the sufficiency of the citizen soldiery of Baltimore, its police and militia is to be found in the modest assumption of the Secretary of War in his report before referred to.

This incident attests the wisdom of “our fathers who framed the Constitution” in assigning to the militia the high function of executing the laws and suppressing insurrection. Nor can the advocates of the use of a standing army or policing the States nor of the despotic government which that army is intended to establish, whether they be high functionaries of the government or not, break the force of these examples by proclaiming the insufficiency of the militia, except in those instances where it has been Weakened by political demagogues or neglected and repressed by the national administration.

It will not be maintained that the militia has always been equal to every occasion. What soldiers have? But he has read the history of his country in vain who has not learned that its military character has been formed on the achievements of its militia.

The colonist, whether of English, Celtic, or German blood, brought with him the love of liberty and hatred of tyranny that marked his life in the elder land. Life in the wilderness cultivated these virtues. Want compelled labor, labor gave strength, strength courage, so that whether he landed at Jamestown, Plymouth, or Saint Mary’s he became the militia-man of freedom. The pioneer, of whatever period, has been the militia-man of the frontier. His was the mission to subdue, not only the wilderness, but its savage inhabitant. The rifle was his means of subsistence and defense. To the hunter, the woodsman, the plowman, it was his constant companion. His house became his fort—the defense of his wife and children and the object of his utmost vigilance. The minute-man of his home was well trained to become the minute-man of the State. The Indian wars of two hundred years prove the efficiency of his education. King Philip, Tecumseh, Black Hawk, and their dusky following, yielded by slow but sure retreat a continent to their prowess. The militia won the liberties of their country. They fought the battles of the Revolution. Every field from Lexington to Yorktown attests their devotion. Sometimes reluctant, sometimes in panic, but through all suffering and through all disaster triumphant, and the world breathes freer or their sacrifice. The war of 1812 was fought mainly by the militia. The most brilliant of its victories were won by militia alone over the best regulars the world has ever seen, the soldiers of Wellington, commanded by the ablest of his generals. Plattsburgh and New Orleans will live forever. Washington and Greens, Jackson and McComb, and their hero comrades were militia all, whose glories are bright and enduring as those of the ablest mercenary that ever fought for pay.

The militia-man is part of his country; he is identified with it by all his interests, feelings, and ambitions; his home, wife, and children are among its treasures; he rests in its peace and thrives in its prosperity; he finds protection under its Constitution, assists at its government, and abides by its laws; he contributes to its support and offers his life in its defense; its history is the record of the achievements of his fathers; he shares its glory and its shame. If he survives the danger that called to the field he returns to the body of the people, resumes the duties of civil life, and again contributes to the taxes he does not consume. Such is the militia-man this Government, the agent of the people, refuses to organize, arm, and discipline for the execution of the laws and the suppression of insurrection.

“Our fathers who framed the Constitution” thought the militia had been “the natural defense of a free State,” whether as Roman citizen, member of a European guild, or of a train band of London-town; or whether as a Swiss mountaineer, a Saxon forester, or an English yeoman, king, or baron, had found in him a friend when king or baron was friend of freedom. But the militia has none of the personal inducements that tempt the administrators of government to assist at its support, therefore it has been neglected or repressed and a standing army raised on its ruins.

A regular is the reverse of all this. He is a soldier by trade; he lives by blood! His is a business apart from the people. His condition works a severance of interest. He consumes what they create. He seldom marries; nor does he accumulate property, nor form and continue social relations; his habits unfit him for the relations of civil life; he enlists and re-enlists, becomes a permanent part of the military establishment of the country, and looks to its bounty for pension or asylum as the refuge of his old age. The order of his superior is his only law. At the command of that superior he fights for or against the laws, the constitution, the country under which or in which he lives, in turn its master or its slave. He sacks, desecrates, indulges when and where he dares. He serves, obeys, destroys, kills, suffers, and dies for pay. He is a mercenary whom sloth, luxury, and cowardice hires to protect its ease, enjoyment, and life. Such is the soldier whom “our fathers who framed the Constitution” refused to intrust with the execution of the laws and the suppression of insurrection. “Our fathom who framed the Constitution’ thought him “dangerous to public liberty” and dreaded and detested him, and declared he ought not to exist. The danger of standing armies they learned both from their own experience and from the lessons history taught; whether as Roman legions, pretorian guards, or janizaries they oppressed the people; whether the instruments of German or Russian emperors or of French or Spanish kings they riveted the chains of nations. Whether great or small the fathers sought to avoid their existence and restrain their use. Mr. Madison said, “If small they are inconvenient, if large they may be fatal.”

Yet despite the dread, the detestation. and warnings of “our fathers who framed the Constitution,” a standing Army exists, and it has its uses too; albeit neither the Army nor its uses were contemplated by them. Cadetships for sons, employment for dependents, commands for friends, contracts for retainers, pensions for the disabled, retired lists for the superannuated, the pomp and circumstance of war, the pride and power of social intercourse, and the intermarriage that constitutes a governmental aristocracy, and hence the munificence of the appropriations—all these constitute the standing Army, the creation, the favorite, the instrument of the Government, and explain why the militia has been neglected or repressed and this dangerous power erected on its ruins. The future Gibbon, pondering our past from this early present, as he writes the decline and fall of this vast Republic, will fail to find an adequate reason why the descendants of Otis and Henry, Mason and Gerry, should, within so short a time, have substituted a dangerous Army for a safe militia, and will start at the rapid strides so young a people had made from the principles of liberty as taught and practiced by the administration of George Washington to the principles of despotism as taught and practiced by the administration of Rutherford B. Hayes. Let it never be forgotten that it was the velvet foot of the politic Augustus which softly stole from the tribune to the throne, nor that the pretorian guard, the standing Army of Rome, sold and resold that gorgeous throne. Well will it be for the future if in this lull of party strife, not long to be continued, we, the Representatives of the people, dignified by their confidence and responsible for its abuse, examine the fearful progress we have made and retrace our steps to the paths we have left.


In order to approximate sound conclusions as to the number of troops necessary to repel Indian invasion it is important to review as fully as time will permit, the defense of the frontier from the early period.

In 1789, the first year of the administration of President Washington, the territory of the United States consisted of somewhat more than eight hundred thousand square miles, containing less than four million inhabitants—about five to a square mile. The whites occupied a territory along the Atlantic, extending less than two hundred miles inland, being about one fifth of this area and less than twenty-five persons to a square mile, the great majority of them living near the Atlantic coast. The remaining four-fifths of this territory was inhabited by nearly two hundred thousand Indians, the most warlike on the continent. Except at some forts in the Northwest, a few missionary stations, and trading posts, the white man was unknown. It was a trackless wilderness. The Spanish possessions on the south and west extended from the mouth of the Saint Mary’s on the Atlantic westerly along the northern boundary of Florida to the Mississippi River, thence northerly along the river and across the land to the Lake of the Woods on the Canada line. The English possessions, then as new, extended from the Lake of the Woods to the southeast corner of what is now the State of Maine, making a frontier thirty-five hundred miles long.

These two powerful nations, hating democratic institutions, struggling for commercial supremacy, traded with the Indians within and without the United States, and supplied them with arms, munitions, and whisky, and instigated them to depredations, arson, and murder

Sustained by them and allied with kindred tribes, these Indians were formidable foes. War between them and the whites was unremitting and merciless. The war-whoop was heard even east of the Blue Ridge; and the settler often found the family he left a few hours before, brained and scalped, and his house in ashes. No time, no place, no condition was safe.

Exposed to the attacks of these formidable foes, open and secret. the infant Republic emerged from an exhaustive war and entered upon an experimental government with neither money nor credit. The trackless wilderness extending from the Alleghenies to the Mississippi was known only to a few daring hunters and trappers. Undismayed it met and overcame every difficulty. Without roads, without any but the most cumbrous means of transportation, without any but such rude rafts or boats as could not be made to ascend the streams; for fourteen years, until the period of the cession of Louisiana, hardy pioneers pushed on the settlements. Every advance was defended with stubborn courage, the frontiersmen being their own militia, aided at times by the few enlisted men whom Congress could be induced reluctantly to employ. The number of these enlisted men, according to such information as can now be obtained, did not average for the fourteen years more than twenty-five hundred men.

In this connection I have read with great attention the very able and elaborate argument in support of this large standing Army made by the distinguished soldier and statesman, late a governors the State of Texas and now an influential member of this House. I have derived much information from the great array of statistics he presents; but I confess to great surprise when he attempt to justify this large standing Army by an exhibition of its proportion to the number of his fellow-citizens. In how far he can measure the necessity for a standing Army by the number of the citizens of his country, I am utterly at a loss to comprehend, unless he proposes how to use that army against those citizens. Has that distinguished soldier on statesman, heretofore the proclaimed friend of liberty, become a convert to the published theory of Mr. Hayes’s Secretary, the war minister of the crown, Hon. George W. McCrary, that “it must now be accepted as a fact, which experience has demonstrated, that Federal troops may be required, not only to protect the frontiers, but also to preserve peace and order in our own more populous interior?” If so distinguished a friend of liberty, whose home is so far removed from the corrupting influences of the Capitol, has become a convert to such doctrines, then this House may take warning of the danger impending by the facility with which this doctrine of centralization promulgated here has found echo from the frontier. It was the Gallic legions Caesar led to Rome.

The only foe against which “our fathers who framed the Constitution” intended the standing Army, if it existed, should be used was a foreign foe. The only foreign foe these United States will ever have to meet is the Indian, if foe the poor Indian may be called. Therefore I prefer to measure the Army, not as against my fellow citizens, but as against the Indian. To do this I propose to exhibit the strength of the Army at those periods when neither apprehension of foreign war, existing war, nor the result of war increased its strength.

During the fourteen years extending from 1789 to 1803, the period of the cession of Louisiana, the standing Army of the United States did not exceed an average of twenty-five hundred men. During the same period the Indians, men, women, and children, south of the Saint Lawrence and east of the Mississippi, were variously estimated at upward of one hundred and eighty thousand. These Indians had the secret aid of England and Spain and the open aid of all the Indians within communication. As 2,500 soldiers Were to 180,000 Indians so was 1 soldier to that proportion of Indians, which was 1 soldier to 72 Indians. The cession of Louisiana added more than a million of square miles to the United States, more than doubling the size of its territory. The Indians who roamed that immense domain increased the number of Indians within the United States largely beyond the original number. Yet the American State Papers exhibit that the average strength of the standing Army from 1803 to 1809, inclusive, did not exceed 2,726 men; certainly no increase in the proportion of soldiers to Indians.

In 1820, when after the war with England the Army was adjusted to a peace establishment, it numbered 6,000 men; estimating the Indians at a mean between the 180,000 of 1759 and 200,000 of to-day they number 230,000, making the proportion of soldiers to Indians about 1 soldier to 40 Indians.

In 1830, twelve years after the peace with Mexico, which added another million of square miles to the United States and its proportion of Indians, the Army was 13,000 strong. Assuming that the Indians have not decreased since then the proportion of soldiers to Indians was 1 801(1qu to 22 Indians.

In 1878 the Army is 25,000 strong. The Indians, men, women, and children, after deducting 60,000 civilized, are only 230,000, making the proportion of soldiers to Indians 1 soldier to 9 Indians.

This mode of adjusting the size of the Army to the number of its foes has, I believe, been the usage of all the great captains, albeit the result of the process is not very flattering to the capacity of the Army of to-day.

This comparison of the past with the present shows that in 1818 1 soldier was equal to 70 Indians, and that in 1876 1 soldier is equal to only 9 Indians.

And although economy is not exactly the object of this argument, I may be pardoned for showing that in 1808 it cost less than $5 to keep one Indian in subjection, and that in 1878 it cost $137 to effect the same object; although modern invention has converted the mobilized soldier into a migratory citadel and multiplied indefinitely his death-dealing power.

It does seem to me that with the money appropriated for the Indian Bureau, to be applied to the irritation of poor Lo by withholding his Supplies, and the money appropriated for the War Department, to be applied for his pacification by the distribution of powder and ball he might be accommodated at our comfortable hotels and thus avoid all excuse for maintaining the Army, which Mr. Hayes’s amiable Secretary, Mr. McCrary, proposes to apply to the suppression of the “uprisings of large masses of idle, suffering, and desperate men, sympathized with by the communities in which these occur.”

The expenditures for these humane purposes have been enormous. For the twenty-eight years from 1851 to 1878, inclusive, the appropriations for the Indian Bureau amount to about ………………………………………………………………………………………..


For the ten years before the war, 1851 to 1860, inclusive, the appropriations for the Army, including rivers, harbors, and fortifications, amounted to ………………………………………………………


For ten years after the war, 1868 to 1678, inclusive, appropriations for the Army, exclusive of rivers, harbors, and fortifications, amounted to ………………………………………………………


Making the total for irritation of the Indian by the bureau and his pacification by the Army ………………………………………………………….


To which add for that part of the Army employed in observing the India from 1861 to 1868, inclusive, at the rate only which the Army cost from 1851 to 1860, say $14,000,000 for eight years …………………………………………………………………………………………


Making a total for the irritation of the Indian by the bureau and his pacification by the Army for twenty-eight years ………………


about one-third of the amount of the great national debt. Certainly the Indian has proved to be a very extravagant luxury.

The analysis of these figures shows another condition not altogether unworthy of notice:

The cost of the Indian Bureau for the ten years from 1851 to 1860, inclusive, under democratic administration, amounted to something more than ………………………………………………………..


The cost of the Indian Bureau for ten years from 1869 to 1870, inclusive, under republican administration, amounted to something more than ……………………………………………………………..


being thirty-four millions or 170 per cent. more under republican than democratic rule for the same number of years. The cost of the Army, including river, harbor, and fortifications, for the ten years from 1851 t0 1860, inclusive, under democratic rule, amounted to nearly $142,000,000.00

The cost of the Army, exclusive of rivers, harbors, and fortifications, for ten years from 1809 to 1878, inclusive, under republican rule, amounted to more
than ………………………………………………………………………………………….


being one hundred and fifty-five millions or about 112 per cent. more under republican than under democratic rule for the same number of years.

Making the cost of ten years of republican administration over the cost at ten years of democratic administration of these two Departments, the Indian Bureau and War Department, both periods of profound peace, the enormous sum of $189,000,000—or more than 116 per cent. more than it cost under democratic rule—a loss of $180,000,000 to the labor of the country.

Courtesy of Democratic Thinker