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Speech on War Legislation, March 11, 1863
Delivered in Lancaster, Pennsylvania

 

    Doctor and Fellow Citizens:  Accept my hearty thanks for this kindly demonstration. If there is anything more gratifying than all others to a public man, it is to know, as I have been told by the worthy gentleman who represented you, that his conduct meets the approbation of those whose servant he is (Applause.) For the past several months I have been separated from you, and to meet my old friends and neighbors in this unexpected way, is most grateful to me. Perhaps I am expected to say a few words as to the manner in which I have attempted to discharge my duty in the three sessions of Congress that has just expired. When we were first called together in the 37th Congress, the country was in a most perilous condition; the great rebellion with which we are now contending was in full operation already the traitors had seized many of our forts, arsenals, mints, most of the arms and one-half of our territory was in the hands of those whom your orator well designated as traitors. The rebellion was caused without reason; these men had never suffered from any act of the Government; it was designed to perpetuate an institution hateful to man and abhorrent to God to establish upon the ruins of our republic, a government whose foundation should be human bondage alone. It was never attempted to interfere with their institution where it existed, for we has no right to do so; but we did declare that it should not extend over free territory, but remain within existing limits. But this was not enough for them slavery must extend over the whole North, until, as expressed by one of their best orators, the roll of his slaves should be called at the foot of Bunker Hill monument. When they found that the people would not abide this, they fell back upon their next object the destruction of the Republic, and with it human liberty, and the hopes of mankind throughout the world. The extra session was called to devise means of putting down this rebellion. It met, and authorized the Executive to call out a million men. It found the country without means, the banks and the Treasury having suspended specie payments, and no loans to be secured; and the Committee over which I have the honor to preside could devise only one mode of relief the issue of Government notes, and making them a legal tender. (Applause) It was an experiment, forced upon us by necessity; I never doubted that it would operate, and experience has shown the correctness of my views. The bill did not pass exactly as I wished; when it left the Committee, it provided for no payments in specie, but made everything bearing the name of the United States a legal tender. It thus passed the House, but in the Senate it was so altered mangled, as I think as to demand payments in gold; hence its monstrous appreciation, not only reaching as high as I said it would, in a speech made at the time, but even rising to a considerably higher figure. So the bill, as it stands, though not what we wanted, was the best we could get. That congress also formed a tariff which, in my opinion, saved the nation. Had the old one been allowed to stand, the present high prices would have been paid to foreigners while now, if we do pay more, we pay it among ourselves (Applause), and Europe is kept at home with her labor; and no man, strange as it may sound, ever saw the country, with rebellion in its midst, more prosperous than we are today. We, found, too, that we must frame a tax law, in order to pay the expenses of the Government, or its credit would sink. The duty was an arduous and unpleasant one, but the burden was laid upon us by the villainy and treason of the rebels. The duty was forced upon us; there was no alternative but disgraceful submission. No loyal man would hesitate none objected but men who call themselves Democrats, but are really traitors and secessionists, of whom we have enough everywhere some of them no opposite, throwing eggs, whom our friends might take care of. (A voice the Mayor will take care of them.) The measure is cheerfully submitted to by all loyal men. The bill has been in some points misconstrued and in others erroneously framed; we could not tell until it went into operation. (Representative Stevens here instanced a number of cases in which these faults and misconstructions had been remedied, with which our readers are familiar; in relation to the tax on lager beer, he said:) I owed no gratitude to this class of dealers, as I do not know one of them who voted for or supported me at the last election; (Laughter) still, in justice to them the tax was reduced from $1 to .60 per barrel. The last session, I would say, has this distinction that every bill of a public nature reported to the House, everything asked for by the Government was passed before adjournment something which cannot be said of any previous session for many years. The labor was severe, especially upon those in charge of leading committees; but I am thankful that health was accorded me by Providence to attend every day and every hour of the sessions of the House and my Committee whether the result has proved for ill or for good, the country must judge. A Banking Law had been passed, by which a uniform currency may be established throughout the length of the land, without danger of losing as we did by some of the banks here. We were obliged also to provide for the enrollment of the national militia. This was necessary on account of the action of those who style themselves Democrats, in discouraging volunteering and counselling those drafted not to obey. Though I reported the bill for the enlistment of colored soldiers, which would have rendered the draft unnecessary, and which passed the House, when it reached the Senate they were frightened from passing it by the howls of this same class of Democrats not such as my friend who has spoken (Cassidy), and many others among them, but traitors and Secessionists, of whom we have too many some within the sound of my voice. As these men will endeavor to make this bill a political engine in their villainous schemes, I will explain in a few words its main features: The enrollment is in two classes; first from 18 to 35, then from 35 to 45 the first class, however, includes single men up to 45. There are also many wholesale exemptions, in addition to those physically disqualified: The only son of a widow or of aged parents is exempt; the only brother of a family of children under 12 years is exempt; when two have been drafted from a family, no more are liable I knew five of one family who were drafted in Lancaster County, and inserted this provision. Another good feature in this bill is that it fixes the amount of commutation for men who will not attend. At the last draft many men who are conscientious whom we know to be truly religious, and could not bear arms, because there was no sum fixed became the victims of substitute brokers, to the amount of $800 to $1200 now, the highest sum any man must pay is $300. This bill, too, is not exactly as I had wished. I offered an amendment, exempting none except the conscientious without furnishing a substitute; not thinking that a rich man ought to go free for $300, while the poor man is obliged to go to war. (Applause.) But Congress thought differently, and the amendment was voted down. Thus, fellow citizens, I have sketched briefly a few things which we have done. Perhaps you look for my views as to the further continuance of this war. Were we united, did the Democracy give the Government their united support, we could put down the rebellion in six months; as it is, as they talk secession and rebellion everywhere, it will take longer, unquestionably; but that it will be done, and the Government more firmly established, there can be no doubt God grant it may be soon! I again thank you all for this mark of your friendship.

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