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Speech on Conscription,
June 27, 1864, in Congress


    Mr. Stevens. Mr. Speaker, I will now explain briefly the points of the substitute which I have offered, and my reasons for offering it. In the first place I do not think the time has come when it is absolutely necessary, arbitrarily, without recourse, to sweep our whole population into the Army as is done in the South. I believe that by voluntary action, if we are sufficiently liberal and wise, we can obtain sufficient money to raise an army and to supply all the deficiencies that may arise between this year and a year hence. Hence it is that I oppose, and shall continue to oppose, the repeal of the commutation clause; but I desire that a bill shall be passed that shall be so effective, so seductive if you please, as that within the shortest possible time a large army of five hundred thousand men can be raised.

    I believe, sir, that two of the chief reasons why we have not been able to raise volunteers as we did at first are there: in the first place, the Government has refused to put enlistments under the supervision of the Governors of the States, who should appoint recruiting officers and regimental officers. Our people cannot be got to go to recruiting offices and enlist to be sent they know not where, among associates whom they do not know; whereas if they knew the officers to be their neighbors they would much more ready to enlist. I am entirely certain that such is the case in my neighborhood. I admit that raw recruits are not quite so useful in new regiments as they would be if placed in the old regiments. But you must get recruits before you put them anywhere. And if you can get them for two years you will soon have them so mingled that they will be as useful as the old soldiers. The nine month’s men, long before their term of service expired, were equal to any.

    Now, what does my bill provide for? I will explain it. The first section provides for the calling out of five hundred thousand men for two years, if so long needed, and that if they are not obtained by the other means provided for in the other sections of the bill before forty days from this time, a draft shall be ordered for the purpose of obtaining them.

     It provides that any man who is enrolled and liable to draft may, at any time between this and ten days before the draft, purchase exemption from that draft, or from service for two years, unless the roll shall sooner give out, when all shall be put in again, and the draft repeated. Any man by paying $300 before the draft can purchase exemption; but if he stands the draft, if he takes his chance of being hit and is hit, he must pay $500 for the purpose of buying the same exemption.

    Now, sir, there are something more than three million of national forces borne on our enrollment list. Of these three millions and upwards, it is proposed to draft one sixth, with fifty per cent additional, making seven hundred and fifty thousand men to be ordered to be drafted. It seems to me that a large proportion of those who wish to escape the draft will pay their $300 before the day of the draft, and I have no doubt that out of the three million enrolled men, at least half of them will pay the $300 bounty before the day of the draft. There may be some who will take the chance and pay the $500.

    But suppose the whole million and a half pay for their exemption before draft, that will produce $450,000,000; and suppose that enough of them pay after draft to yield $50,000,000 more, there will be a fund of $500,000,000 raised, not by general taxation, but by a levy on those who are eager to pay their money, and that fund will be devoted by this bill to paying volunteers.


    Mr. Wilson. I desire to ask the gentleman whether he provides in this bill that the payment of $300 before the draft shall be exempt for the term of two years?

    Mr. Stevens. Unless the roll shall be sooner exhausted. That is added to my substitute, although it is not in the printed copy. They are to be exempted for two years, or until everybody else whose name is in the box has been drawn out; if the box is exhausted, the names of the men thus exempted are to be put into the box again, should another draft be needed.

    I provide then that there shall be paid out of this fund, which I estimate at $500,000,000, a bounty of $500 to every man who will voluntarily enlist, one half when he shall be mustered into the service and the other half when he shall be discharged, or if he be killed, then to those who represent him. Now, sir, let us see how that will operate. In the first place, the bounty of $500 will be a great inducement to men of moderate means to enlist – men who may be anxious to buy a little home for themselves, and to leave a little money with their families, and who may wish to escape the chance of being drawn; for, if drafted, their bounty will be but $100 under the existing law, while if they volunteer their bounty will be $500. Now, I put it to common sense of all around me whether a provision of that kind held out to the community would not bring flocks of volunteers to our standard? I have no doubt that it would.

    But it is further provided that if you do not obtain a sufficient number of volunteers in this way and a sufficient number of drafted men to serve, then within ten days after the draft shall be completed you shall go on and draft again to fill up the quota of five hundred thousand men, and so on toties quoties (repeatedly), until the whole number is drawn. In my judgment, forty or fifty days would be a long time for it to take, under such circumstances, in which to raise the number of men provided for in this bill. I believe that this great inducement of $500 will lead men of moderate means to leave their homes for two years, and this secure exemption from compulsory service for two years, and especially when in so enlisting they would be under the command of their own neighbors, and in companies composed of their own neighbors. It is a great inducement to men who are called upon to go forth to fight these battles that they can go with their friends and associates and neighbors. Everybody who has noticed what has taken place in the community knows that that is very often a great inducement to a man to enlist when he would not do otherwise do it.

    I have provided further, that when the President deems that old regiments are exhausted, he may consolidate them and send back the supernumerary officers into their neighborhoods to raise new companies and regiments, and thus large number of drilled and disciplined officers will be retained in the service.

    Mr. Wilson. I would ask gentleman why it would not be as well to enlist men in the neighborhoods where their original companies went from to be placed in the same companies, and this keep up the old regiments?

     Mr. Stevens. I have already said that I believe that if you send officers into a neighborhood to recruit men, without the men knowing by whom they are to be commanded, or with whom they are to be associated, you cannot get them to go, and I have seen it tried over and over again.

    Mr. Wilson. My suggestion is that if sent home to recruit, they shall recruit men for old regiments – that is, the regiments in which they hold commissions – so that the old regiments may be kept full. All your troops have a pride in the old regiments, and desire to keep up those organizations. It seems to me better to provide that men enlisted in neighborhoods from which the old companies went shall go into those companies.

    Mr. Stevens. There may be differences of opinion about these minor points. I do not expect that we can all agree about the question as to how we can raise an army in such a way as will do it quickest and do it most consistently with the genius of our Government, the feelings of our people, and with a support of the Administration. I have done the best I could in pointing out in this bill what I verily believe is the best policy that can be adopted for securing these great objects. I believe that if the men are raised so that they shall be under the command of the officers who may raise the companies or regiments, they will take a pride in it, and many of those who have been from service will reenlist. For instance, there are the Pennsylvania reserves, many of whom are in my district. There are colonels and captains there, and they would at once set to work and raise companies and regiments as they did before from the same neighborhoods, adding, of course, many others to them. If there can be a better system suggested, and one which does not savor of the tyranny that our people do not like, I shall be willing to adopt it. I do not say how much the people would bear; but I fear they would bear but illy the harsh measures, as it seems to me, which are proposed in the original bill.

     Now, sir, I have explained nearly all the provisions of my substitute. I have added a new feature to it which I have submitted with great deference to the House; and I should have felt a good deal less confidence in it if I had not seen the same principle contained in the amendment proposed by my friend from Vermont, (Mr. Morrill.) It is this, that the President shall be authorized to accept fifty thousand men between the ages of forty-five and fifty-five, who are to receive a bounty of $100, and are to be called the “Old Guard,” and be employed or garrison and post duty. I know there are a great many men within my own knowledge, sound, hearty, good men, very nearly as young as I am, (laughter,) who would be very willing to serve on those conditions, and who, I think, would take pride in it. Perhaps they would be able to march; some of them may be a little defective in some limb, and yet they are active for all the common purposes of life, and for garrison purposes, I venture to say, would do as well as any man could. This, however, is left optional with the President; and if he thinks it a prudent measure, I think it will be very useful.

     I provide still further by an amendment, which is in manuscript only, and therefore gentlemen may not have seen it, that when men are drafted and come to be examined for physical disability, the surgeon shall examine as to the degree of their disability, and although he may pronounce them unfit for field duty, for marching, yet if he deems them fit for garrison duty, if they have that kind of disability only which makes them unfit to march, he shall so certify, and without regard to their ages they are to be placed in the “Old Guard” to serve with those who are laboring under the weight of years. I think in that way that a great many men may be made available who have been discharged, who are every day about their business as actively as any man, but who have yet some blemish about them invisible to the naked eye, and never known until they were drafted. They might be very serviceable in places of this kind, and if they do not choose to serve they ought not to be allowed to escape without paying commutation.  

    I think, sir, that in this way an army may be raised in less than forty days, certainly in less than sixty days, which will be all that is required, and swell our Army above half a million.

    I know, sir, that between now and next spring the term of service of a great many men will expire. I do not know how many, and perhaps if I did it would not be prudent to state the number. It will be necessary between then and now to fill their places for another year. If there be anything in this substitute of mine which is harsh or improper I should be glad to have it amended. I am so much opposed to raising an army at the trigger or at the point of the bayonet that I am very solicitous that this plan should be tried. There is another very important consideration connected with this matter, and that is that you should so conduct the raising of this army as not to alienate the affections of the people or provoke their hostility. I am not going to say there would be anything like actual resistance to this law. That is a matter about which there may be difference of opinion. In some localities there would be ill feeling created and I should fear in other localities something worse. But so long as it is unnecessary to try this experiment, I beseech you not to put the people to the trial. It may be that even this measure of mine, with these high bounties, may fail to secure the requisite number of men. I do not so believe. I believe that you can get the men quicker and more satisfactorily in this way than in any other. If the number of men should pay commutation that I estimated in the first instance, then after you had paid $500 to every man of the half million, amounting to $250,000,000, you would still have $250,000,000 in the Treasury to be applied as a fund for further volunteering. I believe that the commutation money raised under the last drafts, although the Secretary of War has been using the money profusely, paying $300 bounties and in some instances $400 bounty, there yet remains, after paying all the bounties, over five million dollars of that money in the Treasury.

    Now, sir, I have submitted, candidly I trust, and as clearly as I can, my ideas upon this subject. It is an important question, and one upon which I hope no man will act factiously. I believe no man will. I believe all who are here will act with a sincere desire so to recruit our Army and so to sustain our Government as if possible to suppress this terrible rebellion and stop the bloodshed.

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