Debate: Army Appropriations Bill (1878)—Part IV

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.

I offer the following amendment: Provided, That from and after the passage of this act it shall not be lawful to use any part of the land or naval forces of the United States to execute the laws either as posse comitatus or otherwise, except in such cases as may be expressly authorized by act of Congress.

Baltimore—Sixth Maryland Regiment Firing on the Rioters.


Second Session.

MONDAY, May 20, 1878.

Pt. IPt. IIPt. IIIPt. IV — Pt. V —


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


That the people of this country, who within one hundred years have increased its area from eight hundred thousand to thirty-six hundred thousand square miles, its population from four millions to forty-eight millions, its States from thirteen to thirty-eight; who have organized governments over all its territory, bridged its broadest rivers and ascended to their highest sources, leaped its valleys, crossed its deserts, pierced, cleft, and climbed its mountains, compelled the earth to yield from its surface food for distant millions and from its bowels precious stores for their use and in a frenzied revelry sent millions of brothers to meet in mortal strife—that they should permit two hundred and thirty thousand Indians, men, women, and children, without the means to conduct or prolong an earnest war, to compel them to maintain an army of twenty-five thousand soldiers, at a cost of nearly $32,000,000 per annum, seems to be an incomprehensible absurdity, and indicates such utter indifference to the affairs of the Government as to make it possible for its administrators to perpetuate any condition for purposes not too broadly seen. That practices existed in connection with the Indian Bureau and War Department by which immense sums were squandered was well understood; but these little extravagances were of too small consequence to rouse the facile servants of a too prosperous people. Besides, it was good for trade! But now that other practices and recent declarations indicate worse purposes of the greatest magnitude, public safety demands a change of system for the management of this stupendous business—that we return to the ways whereby our fathers set us free.

If this army of twenty-five thousand soldiers be enough for war, then it is too much for peace. In peace the only use for soldiers is to care for the forts. If twenty-five thousand soldiers are necessary to care for the forts, then there are none for the field and the Indians may depredate unchecked, unless the militia be called out. If from twenty-five thousand men troops can be spared for the field, then there are too many for the forts and the excess ought to be discharged. In the days of our fathers, when Indians threatened invasion the militia were called out, and such men as Harrison and Johnson taught these Indians that war was made to secure peace, and peace was secured. No Sitting Bulls escaped from them! When peace was secured the militia returned to their homes and the little army returned to the forts. No Indian Bureau and War Department demanded the cultivation of the Indian that the bureau and Department might have excuse to exist. War meant war. Peace meant peace; compliance or annihilation. Immeasurably better that no Indian roamed the forest or no white man intruded on his range, than the frontier he used as an apology for maintaining an army which, according to recent practices and declarations, may be let loose upon the people at the demand of a class or whenever popular sentiment disputes a usurper’s will.

Let the Indian be compelled to make war or keep the peace. Let the Indian Bureau do justice or cease to be. “Our fathers who framed the Constitution” devised the way and set the example; wise will it be to follow in the one and imitate the other. Eleven millions of white people live west of the Mississippi. These afford one million militia, brave, hardy, willing. Twenty thousand of these in the field will in a single campaign settle the peace forever. The interest of militia is peace. The society of their families and homes demands peace, and peace they will have. Let the representatives of the people take care that they have the opportunity to compel it. The expense of a single soldier is more than $1,200 a year; of 5,000 soldiers six millions a year; half of this sum three, millions a year will give to each of the three hundred congressional districts $10,000 each; $10,000 will be $20 a piece for 500 militia-men ; $40 will arm and equip a man. In two years 150,000 militia-men will be ready for discipline ; $20 per man each year will pay all expense of disciplining this force. West Point can educate more than the necessary officers. By this means the States and the General Government will have 150,000 militia identified with the peace, order, and liberty of the country. The facility and certainty with which this may be done is attested by the condition of the militia in most of the old States north of Mason and Dixon’s line, whose efficiency was so clearly demonstrated during the late disorders.

By this means the purpose of “our fathers who framed the Constitution” will be effected, $3,000,000 will be saved to the public Treasury, and a force constituted upon which to formulate, drill, and discipline the great body of the militia, so that no public enemy, be it white or red, one man or thousands, regulars or mobs, will attempt to obstruct the operation of law. Thus every citizen of whatever condition, secure in all his rights, may peacefully await the correction of every evil subject to amendment by the ballot. This is the theory of this Government as declared by the men who won the liberty of the country and framed the organic law on which it rests. The experience of the present attests their wisdom, and the immediate future commands us to profit by its lessons. They knew the safety of the militia and the anger of standing armies. Large or small, they knew and dreaded their power. They knew that Caesar conquered the liberties of Rome with five thousand legionaries; that the pretorian guard which sold and resold the Roman throne number not more than eight thousand men. They knew that Cromwell, in the sacred name of liberty, with republican soldiers, dispersed the Parliament of England, and as Lord Protector governed what he was pleased to call the commonwealth without assembling the legislative power of the realm; that Monk, a republican general, restored the monarchy he had aided to overthrow with only six thousand troops; that standing armies sustained thrones, compelled conscience, and enslaved the people; and we, their degenerate and irreverent sons, know that, shielded by the power of standing armies, tyrants have reconstructed the governments of States, imposed constitutions on unwilling people, obstructed the ballot by soldiers at the polls, protected minorities in their usurpations, taxed the people without representation, encouraged and defended extortion, maintained thieves and plunderers of the public Treasury, placed soldiers in the capitols of States and excluded the representatives of the people, empowered a corporal to vise the credentials of members of a Legislature, constituted returning boards whereby elections are made void, encouraged and facilitated false returns of an election for President and Vice-President of the United States, conspired to count the electoral votes of the States for these high offices in a manner violative of the Constitution, law, and usage, overawed the House of Representatives so that it consented to postpone the rights of nearly five millions of freemen and seated a man, without color of title, as President of the United States, who is assisted in the administration of the allies by the men who aided and abetted the unlawful means by which he obtained unlawful possession. And we know, too, that the General of the Army declared that without a standing army the citizens of the United States are a mob, and that the Lieutenant-General announced his desire to treat the citizens of a State as banditti, and that they have permitted the use of their Army as a posse comitatus to invade the homes, seize the property, imprison the person, and take the lives of citizens. And we know that this war minister of this intruding President, encouraged by the supineness of the people, promulgates the doctrine that a strong Federal force is to be stationed in the neighborhood of the large cities to repress the uprisings of “idle, suffering, and desperate” men for the redress of grievance, well knowing that the vote of these large cities control the political power of such States as New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, and Maryland, where resides one-third of the political power of the country, thus erecting a military despotism under the arm of but upon the ruins of the Republic.

Disorder, or the fear of disorder, is necessary to the success of this despot scheme for the establishment of a stronger Government as it is mildly called. The dormant violence of the party must be aroused in order to assure disturbance among the people. Anarchy is the tyrant’s opportunity. Born of a false construction of the Constitution, nurtured into artificial existence by measures at war with the laws of trade, nursed by statesmen who aspired only to success, sustained in its youth by vigorous fanaticism, made corpulent by the spoils of war, enfeebled by too long possession of power, its appetite pulled by indulgence, this late powerful republican party languishes for want of stimulating food. Restoration of self-government has given to the South peace, contentment, prosperity. The races live in the harmony which springs from memory of kind association, and sense of mutual dependence. This unwelcome change of condition compels the republican party to look elsewhere for the excitement necessary to its life, other subjects in other localities. The distressed condition of the work people at the North supplies opportunity for the experiment. The isms which sprang, ready-armed, from the brain of republicanism are concentrating for a feverish existence in communism. This monster seeks to force or rend its mother. Alarmed at its frantic folly, the immense wealth of the party trembles at its rage, while the subtle leaders laugh at their fear and magnify the danger in justification of this demand for an increase of the Army. Hence the quickening cry of commune. That this vulture is made to gnaw at the vitals of our liberty is shown by the haste with which dupes echo the voice of the incendiaries directed to alarm capital by this senseless cry, and by the persistency with which the pensioned press misrepresents the assemblages of “idle, suffering, desperate men,” supplicating for work, at almost any price, as organizations for the destruction of society. Disturbed at imaginary danger, every goose gabbles an alarm for the safety of property, as though communism could exist in a country where the people make the laws and land is to be had on credit at one dollar and a quarter per acre. Communism is the distorted offspring of hopeless oppression, suffering, and want. It sickens and dies in the presence of free institutions.

Thanks to “our fathers who framed the Constitution,” the people have peaceful means for the redress of grievance. By intelligent exercise of the ballot at the frequently recurring elections they may change both the law-making and law-executing power. Thanks to their intelligence, the work-people awake to their sense of this power. The action of their late most important convention indicates that they comprehend the situation; that they have learned that peace, not violence, is the condition and means of their triumph; that lawful power is their weapon and shield; that theirs is not only the “might that slumbers in the peasant’s arm,” but the force that acts through a freeman’s vote; that by an intelligent exercise of the ballot they may reduce the cost of the Government to the lowest possible cent by reduction of salaries and abolishment of sinecures, enforce just taxation, repeal and prevent class legislation, remove imposts from raw material, establish ocean lines to profitable ports, so that by reducing the cost of American manufactures, without reducing American wages, the products of American labor may compete for the markets of the world and thus revive the languishing industries of the land. Imperious want compels the study of their interests. Organized power will compel official obedience and make their ballots the flats of their will. They will not be induced, instigated, or provoked to check by violence the sure but slow return of better times by those whose lust for power prompts them to evoke disorder that they may other to property the protection of force.

Fear of the people is the chronic cowardice of luxurious civilization. It seeks to be saved from the just burdens of government. It prefers bullets to ballots, mercenaries to militia, and demands for a class the protection of a throne. For this to-day it raises or echoes the cry of commune, that out of the dread disorder, felt or feigned, it may find the opportunity to retain, strengthen, and consolidate the power it has usurped. Disguise it as we may, this one great truth is indisputable: the man who holds the Presidency of the United States against the will of the people, clearly expressed according to law, is as surely a monarch as he who by birth or force holds a throne, sways a scepter, or wears a crown. Republicans may fret and democrats may fawn, but so long as the usurper holds his power he is master and they are slaves. _

By whatever name history may describe the electoral commission, its birth, life, and death, the motives, conduct, and benefits which governed, characterized, or attached to the actors and beneficiary of that most solemn farce, it will forever debate whether submission to its finding was the result of the most heroic patriotism or of the most abject cowardice the world has ever seen. This one fact, however, it will never deny. The silent soldier who commanded the standing Army riveted the chains which the people drag along in lengthening disgrace.

I know we cannot hope to do more now than to assist at the reduction of the Army, and, at the passage of the amendment I offer, to restrain the Army so that it may not be used as a posse comitatus without even the color of law. I trust, however, at the next session we may obviate all necessity for any but a very small standing Army by the passage of a law to organize, arm, and discipline the militia to be used to execute the laws of the Union and suppress insurrection as was intended by “our fathers who framed the Constitution.”

Men of New England, the history of whose fathers glows bright with the love of liberty, ye who are next of kin to James Otis, Samuel Adams, and the rightful inheritors of their immortal renown, hearken to the echo of the mighty past:

Standing armies are dangerous to liberty and ought not to be maintained.

I offer the following amendment:

Provided, That from and after the passage of this act it shall not be lawful to use any part of the land or naval forces of the United States to execute the laws either as posse comitatus or otherwise, except in such cases as may be expressly authorized by act of Congress.

Before the conclusion of Mr. KIMMEL’s remarks his hour expired and the hammer fell.

Courtesy of Democratic Thinker