Debate: Army Appropriations Bill (1878)—Part V

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.

To determine the question whether a standing army such as any we are likely to have in this country is dangerous to our liberties, we have only to address the question to our own hearts. All of us have friends, many of us have relatives in the Army, and we have only to ask ourselves this question if we were called upon today to leave civil life and take part in repelling any foreign foe, would not our love of country be as strong, would not our hearts in that hour of national trial beat in unison with the demands of our country just as much as if We were in civil life?


riot chicago turner hallChicago—The Fight at Turner Hall, Arrival of U. S. Artillery.

Second Session.

MONDAY, May 20, 1878.

Pt. IPt. IIPt. IIIPt. IV — Pt. V —


(Continued from Pt. IV.)

Mr. HUMPHREY obtained the floor.

Mr. BANNING. I ask unanimous consent that the time of the gentleman from Maryland be extended.

Mr. FOSTER. I dislike very much to object, but the arrangements are such that if the gentleman’s time is extended other gentlemen will be precluded from an opportunity to address the committee

Mr. HUMPHREY. I must object.

Mr. SINGLETON. There is but half an hour remaining before the business of the District of Columbia will come up, and the gentleman from Maryland might as well be allowed to occupy that time.

Mr. WHITE, of Pennsylvania. I hope there will be no objection to the extension of the time of the gentleman from Maryland.

Mr. KIMMEL. I want only ten minutes

Mr. HUMPHREY. I cannot yield from the fact that the District of Columbia business comes up at two o’clock, and I have only this half hour in which I can speak.

The CHAIRMAN. The Chair would state that the gentleman from Wisconsin [Mr. HUMPHREY] has a right to speak in the time of the gentleman from Pennsylvania, [Mr. SMITH] and this is the only time under the rules that he will be entitled to speak, and if he yields the floor now there will be no time which the Chair can assign to him for debate upon this bill.

Mr. HUMPHREY. Mr. Chairman, I am sorry to have to take from the gentleman from Maryland any time that he desires upon this question. If I had been in a position to make my remarks without giving them in an extemporaneous manner I should have gladly yielded to him; but it is understood that there are very few of us who get an opportunity to speak upon these bills and upon questions that come before the House unless we do it at an opportune moment; and as I have had no opportunity to put in writing what I desired to say in the short time I have, I am obliged to occupy that time which is conceded to me.

It is not my desire, Mr. Chairman, to antagonize in any manner the bill that has been presented to the committee. It has many features that are exceeding in advance of the law as it stands at present. There are many excellent features connected with the bill; but I desire, before proceeding further, to meet an idea that has been so often advanced upon the floor of this House, that a standing army is a menace to the liberties of the people.

I desire for a few moments to call the attention of the House to the time when the first standing army sprung into existence, and the causes and the masons given in the history of the time for that which resulted in the Old World in having what is now understood to be a standing army. It is a well known matter of history that the first standing army recognized by any law in England was in the commencement of the reign of William and Mary.

It is also a well known fact of history, that prior to that time the very small standing army which was organized in the time of Charles I was never recognized as a standing army, but was nothing more than the trained bands or militia of the nation; and after the revolution of 1745, when an attempt was made and carried into effect to organize a national militia, the popularity of that measure, brought forward by the statesmen at that time, was exceedingly great; but they lived to see the day when the national militia fell into ridicule, and a standing army became the rule in England.

I desire now to call attention to why this was. Before the time of the restoration, before the time of the revolution, long back to the days of Henry V, when the feudal tenure existed in England, there could have been no such thing as a standing army. The tenant in capite, or the lord of the fief, owed vassalage and service to the monarch, and was called upon to furnish a quota of men. When thus called out he could not be compelled to leave the country nor to remain in the service more than ninety days at one time, so that unless the tenant in capite or lord of the fief was in unison with the spirit of the monarchy, which was absolute at that time I may say, there could be no rule of action by which the king himself could bring about that state of things which would lead to the establishment of an army. No such thing as a standing army was known; and why? Because under the feudal tenure it could not exist.

We come down now to the time when all such service was commuted to the Crown, and when troops were put in action by the Crown by means of commutation made by the inward in capite or the owner of the fief who owed service to the lord or service to the Crown. And when that service came to be commuted, then was the first idea entertained that a standing army could be maintained in place of those trained. bands, in place of that vassalage which the vassal owed to the tenant in capite or the owner of the fief which he owed to the monarch. Then the idea of a standing army sprang into existence, because the old service was commuted by the payment of money, which was used for the purpose of supplying the army with its regiments and battalions.

We now come down to the time to which I referred a few moments since, when Charles I raised the seven thousand men, and when it was said, as it is to-day, that a standing army was a menace to the liberties of the country. Mind you, Mr. Chairman, I do not stand here to-day to argue that a standing army must necessarily exist for the purpose of protecting our liberties; I am not here to urge that. I am here simply to withstand the idea that even in the case of a constitutional monarchy a standing army is necessarily a menace to the liberties of any people.

I desire to call attention to the difference between those times and the present. When the standing army was first organized in England, which is provided for in the mutiny bill passed yearly by the commons, providing that no man shall be court-martialed unless the mutiny bill should be passed annually and until the passage of the bill, no man who committed a crime in the military service could be punished except by civil power. They have passed that bill every year, and appropriations for the army are made every year. This provision of the British constitution we have taken for our model, making appropriations for the Army every year. When such was the rule of action in England the danger had passed, it there ever was any arising from a standing army under a constitutional monarchy; for the history of England since that day shows conclusively that under her constitution the largest liberty and pure freedom are compatible with the existence of a standing army.

The national militia, as it was called, and which it was supposed would bring about a state of things in England that would save the necessity of a standing army—the national militia fell into disuse, for the very reason which we saw in this country last summer, when it was found that the militia was not fitted to take the place of the regular troops. Those who form the national militia are born and live among those with whom they are to contend; they are organized for certain purposes in case of emergency. They never are in such a position that they can have the drill, the experience, and the training which will fit them, when the emergency arises in the history of the nation, to withstand the onset required of them, when they had to fight on the continent under the banner of William or the Duke of Marlborough. For, adverting to the difficulties of last summer, it was then clearly proven that regular troops were much more effectual, and their duties more respected, than the State militia. They knew no country except the Union of these States; they fought under no flag but the “Stars and Stripes.” No State boundaries constrained them, or limited their duties. They were soldiers of the Republic, and nobly sustained their reputation as such.

Recurring to British history, as the prerogatives of the Crown were yielded by William and Mary a standing army sprung into existence which had certain limits recognized by the constitution of England as that constitution was perfected during the reign of William. From that day to this England has stood first as a nation of prosperity, a nation that has supported a standing army from 1588 until to-day, and which has never in any instance found occasion to fear that her standing army would forswear its allegiance to the country or the Crown.

The trouble is we forget that England the moment she began to assume that shape under her constitution which she has at present, the moment that her institutions became molded into permanent form, the moment there was such a change in the constitution and manners of her people—because her constitution was written in the hearts and the lives of the people—that moment the change in her constitution led England to stand forth as a nation whose liberties were guarded by her Magna Charta and were not to be treaded upon in any case by any danger that could arise from a standing army.

It may be answered that France, in her great system of national militia, for the last three centuries has presented a case where a national militia in the hour of difficulty and emergency was able to withstand the onset of a foreign or a domestic foe. But I would call your attention to the fact that in France the monarchy was absolute; and where a monarchy is absolute and the militia is under the eye and guidance of the emperor, whose power and whose word is law it may well be that in such case a national militia for the national defense might have its power and its strength uncrippled through all ages.

But how is it in the case of a constitutional monarchy or of a republic? I take, for instance, our own land. We have, as has been stated by the gentleman from Maryland, [Mr. KIMMEL,] provided in our Constitution that no appropriation shall be made for a standing army except at stated times, as therein enumerated. We have made provisions in our Constitution as stringent as those in the constitution of England; so that at all times, except in one emergency, the standing army is in subordination to the civil power. And if in that emergency the civil power stands aside for the military power experience has shown that in a country like ours there is no danger. Experience has shown that when our citizen soldiery shouldered their knapsacks and took their muskets in hand and came to the front they lost none of their patriotism, none of their allegiance and fidelity to the Government, which they had when they enlisted ; because it was patriotism and love of country and love of law and order that induced them to throw aside their hoe, their plow, and their pursuits of civil life and shoulder the knapsack and step forward in the defense of their country.

In 1868 what was the footing of the Pentarchy on the continent? France had 1,200,000 men, and this was in time of peace. Austria had 800,000 men; Italy, 500,000; Russia, nearly 1,000,000; Prussia, about 1,000,000. Thus we see that in time of peace here were nearly 5,000,000 men in the military service under the Pentarchy in Europe, saying nothing about the 300,000 men that England at that time had in her regular army.

I do not bring forward these considerations as any reason why we should augment our Army. It was at that time a fact, (and as Motley says no epigram could be terser than the fact,) it was in 1868 a fact that the United States had an Army of but 40,000 men, while that European Pentarchy had nearly 5,000,000. Could there be a greater contrast between monarchical and republican institutions? Our Republic, with this small military force, had a border extending thousands of miles, that border infested by savages, liable at any time to break forth into a state of war. But with us, relying upon the intelligence and virtue of our people, an Army of 40,000 men sufficed. It is upon popular intelligence and political virtue that we must over rely, for when these die out in a republic nothing is left to take their place. So long as the citizen of the Republic feels within his breast the love of country and the determination to do his duty honestly and fearlessly, we need never apprehend that an Army of 30,000 or 40,000 men is dangerous to our liberties.

Why, Mr. Chairman, during the last year we had a standing Army of twenty thousand or twenty-five thousand men. During a part of the year this Army was without any appropriations for its support. If there was ever a time when we might expect the men and officers of our Army to show insubordination or want of patriotism it was then when proper appropriations had not been made for their support, and when they were called upon to travel from the Rocky Mountains to the cities of the East and the West to protect property and life from violence during the “strikes.” But no truer patriotism, no stronger love of country, no sweeter incense upon the shrine of liberty was ever poured out than during that time when the soldiers’ certificates for their pay had to be cashed by Drexel & Co., the soldiers paying the interest thereon because the Government had failed to make the necessary appropriations. Though their necessities had to be provided for in this irregular and uncertain way they stood their ground bravely, nobly, and did not even murmur.

To determine the question whether a standing army such as any we are likely to have in this country is dangerous to our liberties, we have only to address the question to our own hearts. All of us have friends, many of us have relatives in the Army, and we have only to ask ourselves this question if we were called upon today to leave civil life and take part in repelling any foreign foe, would not our love of country be as strong, would not our hearts in that hour of national trial beat in unison with the demands of our country just as much as if We were in civil life?

Why, sir, the republic that existed longest in history was the Republic of Sparta, which endured eight hundred years; yet no such thing as constitutional monarchy or anything else than civil rule obtained in those times. The German historian informs us that when at the close of the Roman republic the German youth who had been brought under subjection by the Romans entered Rome (and at that time the Roman civil law obtained all over the continent of Europe) they saw meanness by the side of avarice; they saw nothing to attract the eye of a man who loved liberty in his native home. This was one reason why Germany threw off the yoke and regained her liberties, detaching herself from that empire. It was because Rome had lost her political virtue; because she had nothing left except her army, and that had become corrupt for the reason that no love of country could survive in any people who had become the slaves of absolute power which had been fastened upon them.

Turn to France in her early days; and in this connection I desire to meet the argument of the gentleman from Maryland [Mr. KIMMEL] who states that a standing army must inevitably be a menace to the liberties of any country. Take a rapid glance at the history of France from the eighth to the fourteenth or fifteenth century. The feudal tenure had been fastened upon France, as it then prevailed in Germany and in Italy. But that system did not extend to Spain. It is a remarkable fact; that Spain in the eighth century be greater freedom than she has in the nineteenth. In the eighth century Spain stood forth as a nation in which the freedom of every man was kept intact by that power which gentleness and truth will always give. Spain, before the invasion of the Moors, had a military and a civil government fully constituted and her liberties were better guarded than those of any other nation on the face of Europe.

I now call particular attention to France, when the Dukes of Burgundy were at the height of their power and figured brilliantly upon the page of history. When those dukes were called upon by the king to aid in suppressing insurrection or to resist the invasion of a foreign foe, Burgundy stood like any separate State of this Union; the army of the dukes, if you please, was like the militia of the States, and the dukes yielded to the demand of the king or not, just as it suited them, for their power was such that they could even resist the monarch of France. In one instance, which all will remember, the Duke of Burgundy sided even with the King of England against the King of France. We read that on the banks of the Rhine a Duke of Anjou plucked the plant which gave the name of Plantagenet to the holders of the English crown; and long the royal house of England bearing that name shed a. luster over the English monarchy by the brightness of its coming. I say that in that day and generation the French monarchy was powerless by reason of these fiefs held by the powerful Dukes of Burgundy and Anjou, held from the French crown, but in reality at times more powerful than the crown itself, for they refused to yield to the demand of the king to join in the war against his enemies. I speak of this to show in that day and in that time there was no love of union, no love of country; there was consequently no power which was able to cement the nation irresistibly against its enemies foreign or domestic. It was through the disintegration of the Empire of France, because of the defection of the Dukes of Burgundy and others, that England was able to secure unquestioned grasp of power over France and elsewhere throughout Europe for so many centuries.

My argument, Mr. Chairman, is that in a country like this, a Union composed of sovereign States, the power of the General Government being defined by the Federal Constitution—I say, and say it respectfully, in answer to the objections of the gentleman from Maryland, [Mr. KIMMEL] that if our Constitution contemplated anything it contemplated a standing Army; because one, in fact, existed under the articles of confederation. We had the common law of England as our guide. We had heard and seen the efforts of Walpole, Pitt, and the great men of that day to bring the finance into proper order and condition, and we had beheld the power to which England in consequence had risen. We had all that light shed upon us at the time our Constitution was framed by the fathers. We had the whole example of England before us, and we had seen she had a standing army from 1688 to the very hour in which our Constitution was framed. Our Constitution was framed exactly with a view of providing for a standing army, so that the General Government should not be compelled to depend altogether at all times and in all emergencies upon State militia alone. We have recognized that fact for the last century. We have never yet seen any evil to flow from it. We have never yet known the liberty of a single citizen invaded by it. And let me say, Mr. Chairman that I would rather have our liberties to-day protected upon the deck of an American ship with the old flag floating over it, even though the citizen whose rights were to be protected had merely declared his intention to become a citizen of the United States, I would rather risk them upon an American ship, under the American flag, commanded by an American officer, than in any State of the United States; because the General Government has shown when the rights of an American citizen were threatened it would put forth its entire power to protect them at every hazard. It can never be forgotten that such was the course pursued in the case of Louis Koszta, who, although he had merely declared his intention to become a citizen of the United States, was, by the exhibition of the power and energy of an officer of the Government, freed from a prison-hold in the Adriatic and restored to all his rights.

I am in favor, therefore, of granting to the General Government whatever share of power may be necessary. I am not afraid of a certain degree of centralization being accorded to the General Government. I am not afraid of granting to it the regulation of suffrage or of national banking, or indeed any power necessary for the maintenance of a strong and successful Government. The sovereignty of the States will not be lessened, but on the contrary the people will rise to bless and not to curse. I say that it is just as much the duty of the Government to provide and care for the people of the country as it is the duty of a father to preserve, protect, and care for his children. If a father brings up his children in idleness he must expect nothing but “tramps,” he must expect nothing but to fill the penitentiaries; and if this Government shall pursue the same policy, if it shall not provide labor for its citizens, if it shall not see to it that the wants of the millions who are crying for bread to-day and who are willing to work are supplied by giving them employment, it must expect the sad results which most inevitably follow. It must expect that if it sows to the wind it must reap the whirlwind, and that consequently “tramps” will infest the country, idleness will beget crime, and the Government will but reap the necessary result of those crimes for which it is in a certain degree responsible.

Other nations recognize this principle. Germany educates her citizens for war and for peace. She sees to it that her youth imbibe habits of industry, are trained in the schools to perform intelligently the duties which she expects them to assume on reaching manhood, in middle age, and to the end of life. And she is not ashamed to copy from any nation, be it a monarchy or a republic, any principle or idea which will add to her social order, to the well being of her people, to rebound to the honor and the glory of a united Germany. Consequently she is constantly, since her unification and the formation of her parliament, copying from the rules and modes of procedure of our American Congress.

Mr. Chairman, I have called attention to these historical facts for the purpose of showing that one of our dangers may be that in guarding too closely the rights of the States, as distinguished from the rights of the central Government, and by too narrow a construction of our Constitution we may fasten upon ourselves as a Republic, a modern feudalism more dangerous to the people of these United States than any benefit that can possibly flow to the individual citizen of a State. If we insist upon reducing our Army until in fact nothing shall remain but the militia in the States, we shall then have placed ourselves in the position of claiming to exist; as a Union of States with no central power to exert itself when the whole of this Republic shall be menaced by a foreign foe. It is true we are now only looking for quietness on our borders; but one of the great States of this Union is constantly in a condition of ferment to-day, her citizens in fear, with nothing at hand to stay an invasion daily apprehended on her borders; and in the face of the fact that the pioneers of Texas are constantly menaced, we are contemplating a reduction of our Army.

As I have said, there are many good features in the bill brought forward; but in my judgment, in view of what I have just stated, and the extent of our borders, our Army should be kept on a footing of at least thirty thousand men. In fact, Mr. Chairman, I would utilize as far as possible in the present depressed state of the country all the idle, unskilled labor of the country. I would repair our posts and our fortifications wherever needed. I would favor the carrying on of a system of public works in addition, to utilize the skilled labor of the country, and thus provide bread for the hungry and clothing for the needy. I would make the waste places to rejoice, and the wilderness to blossom as the rose. It is economy, Mr. Chairman, in this Government or any government to do this, and thus prevent a repetition of those disgraceful outbreaks which not only menace the peace of the whole country but foster a feeling alien to the Government and to the prosperity of the nation.

The spirit of our laws, the spirit of our Constitution, and the spirit of our civilization, which is a civilization peculiarly American in its character, would dictate that at this day and age, when the mind of this country is struggling for supremacy in popular education, in general intelligence, and in inventive genius, we should not allow ourselves to be drawn away from the grand destiny which awaits us in the dim distance, if not in the near future. For certain it is that if the spirit of the laws is any indication of the march of a people, we must fully realize the fact that for social order and the means of life being easily produced, this Republic furnishes an instance without parallel of a nation that can cultivate the arts of war and the arts of peace, without the slightest menace or danger to the liberties of the Republic.

In fact of all the petitions that have been placed before the present Congress not one has been found asking for a reduction of the Army. On the contrary within the last year more than one “sovereign State” has called for help, has petitioned the central Government for regular troops because she was unable to restrain domestic violence within her borders. Even “Maryland, my Maryland,” within the last year, has sent frantic dispatches invoking the national power to repress that unwonted enthusiasm resulting from the very causes I have been detailing. While so many petitions are being laid before both Houses of Congress asking for relief by an amelioration of the condition of the masses asking for succor, setting forth the dangers that menace us and the evil that lies before us, while not one petition has been laid before either House intimating that our standing Army is endangering the rights and liberties of the people, or that the people are suffering or will suffer, or can suffer from an Army of even forty thousand men, why not then let well enough alone and turn our attention to those petitions which lie before us, and give, so far as we can do so under the Constitution and the laws, that aid and succor to the people which shall take distress from their minds and famine from their doors!

Mr. SINGLETON obtained the floor.

Mr. WILLIAMS, of Michigan, moved that the committee rise.

The motion was agreed to.

The committee accordingly rose; and the Speaker pro tempera having resumed the chair, Mr. SPRINGER reported that according to order the Committee of the Whole on the state of the Union had had under consideration a bill (H. R. No. 4867) making appropriation for the support of the Army for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1879, and for other purposes, and had come to no resolution thereon.

Courtesy of Democratic Thinker