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Obituary Notice of the late JOHN W. WILLIAMS, ESQ.
AMERICAN QUARTERLY REVIEW.
Art. 1.-Dissertation on the subject of a Congress of Na
tions, for an adjustment of international disputes without recourse to arms. By a Friend of Peace. « Force to brutes --to men reason." New York : 1837. 12no. pp. 156.
All rational, religious people now look upon war and duelling as cruel, barbarous, and unnecessary. They consider them both in the same light—the one but a battle wherein two are engaged, the other as a battle between great numbers. Both the warrior and the duellist march to the ground to destroy their adversary; and where, therefore, is the difference in the crime?
We send our soldiers to make war on others for the purpose of avenging ourselves for injuries done to our own national honour, or to an ally.
A duel is fought to avenge an attack on the honour of one of the parties, or it may be to resent an injury done to a friend.
In war, the battle ends in the murder of thousands of innocent men ; and it is not until their blood is shed that terms can be made.
In a duel a man can oblige his antagonist to retract his calumnies, or run the risk of losing his life.
The warrior who has killed the greatest number in battle obtains enviable distinction, and is crowned with honour.
But here the parallel ceases, for if one duellist kill another, he must suffer death on the gallows as a murderer !
In the eye of reason and religion the practice of fighting with murderous weapons, between man and man, singly, or between men and men, in battalions, is strictly analogous. How is it that we grow accustomed to the death of thousands who are VOL. XXII.-NO. 43.
murdered on the field of battle, and shudder with horror when one of the victors—Hushed with success, and whom we have covered with glory for assisting in the carnage--kills one more man in single combat !
Most horrible and repugnant to a mild and Christian nature are both these crimes, alike in all their consequences, with only a less degree of cruelty and barbarity in duels than in war. But although the punishinents which the law inflicts on duellists fall on all alike, yet he who suffers the anguish of bullet wounds is carefully attended, and his death-bed watched by the tender eye of friends. He is lifted from the bloody field and carried home, where his mother, his wife, or his sister, can close his dying eyes and give him the decent rites of burial. We stop not to speak of broken hearts, nor of the misery thus brought on whole families, nor of the soul which goes to eternity unprepared—this is not the present object of discussion, much as it might enforce the argument-we speak only of the death by single combat.
In war, how different! The many millions of poor soldiers and sailors who are butchered and fall on the battle ground, die like dogs and are buried like carrion! War, therefore, is the more brutal practice of the two; although both are execrable and abhorrent to our nature, and utterly at variance with the merciful principles of our blessed religion.
The law of nations and municipal law operate very differently on the same individual—and why should this be? A man's honour is nearest and dearest to him, and the value he attaches to it can only be appreciated by himself; we know that it is of vital importance to hins by the willingness with which he lays down his life for it. It is the business of the municipal law to assist him in preserving this honour inviolate, more particularly as he always holds himself in readiness to resent an affront offered to his country. A man is as fully bound to guard his own honour as he is that of his country ; and he must guard it in such a way, too, as to be satisfactory to others as well as to himself.
But does the civil or municipal law give him the power of protecting his honour? No, it does not-when he is driven to the wall it leaves him to his own resources. The civil law neither gives him ample redress, nor does it prevent him from sacrificing his own life, or from destroying that of a fellowcreature. Much as we desire the extinction of the horrible crime of duelling, we see no law that can reach it—there is no law sufficiently strong either to prevent or punish-not even the threat of an ignominious death can reach the evil. The laws profess to condemn a man to the gallows for murdering another in single combat, but they cannot prevent him from
incurring the punishment—a punishment which he never would have braved if the laws respected his rights. Let us place the subject in a new light.
If one of our ministers or officers abroad were to be publicly insulted, we should require an apology or redress from the foreign court; and an apology of such a nature as should not only satisfy the injured person himself, but his country likewise. If this were not done he would soon be sufficiently avenged. The law of nations would warrant us in declaring war for such an indignity, and this war would end in the slaughter of thousands of innocent men, who were in no way interested in the quarrel. The common soldiers and sailors, who fight by rule and are killed by rule, have no distinct notions of national honour. They fight to get bread for the support of themselves and their families; and many-very many of them do not even know the cause or origin of the war.
It is wonderful--most wonderful--that with all our persevering and strenuous efforts to shake off the coarseness, the grossness, the inconveniences, as well as the brutalities of savage life, we should not only retain and cherish the very worst portion of it—bloody, murderous war--but actually incorporate it into a system-reducing it to a science--and teaching it in our national schools ! Do we call this a Christian land-dare we pretend to the name of Christian-when we violate the most sacred—the strongest of all the injunctions of Christianity? It is a mockery to atlach ourselves to a sect which owns Christ for its head, and indulge ourselves in the savage, heathenish practice of murdering one another under the flimsy pretext of national or personal honour. Do we think that the AlmightyHe who thought fit to make us after his own image—will pardon those who so wantonly and inconsiderately destroy his work? We were placed here to work out a great purpose, and shall we dare frustrate it? We hold that man to be no true Christian, who, in these enlightened times, advocates the necessity of shedding human blood-either in wars or duels.
That we may readily obtain redress, we are compelled to maintain schools for the purpose of teaching the art of fighting -the art of killing each other scientifically. The whole nation is laid under contribution to support these establishments, not even sparing the tender conscience and the religious scruples of a large and valuable portion of the community--a class that detests war and bloodshed. The innocent, misguided youth of this Christian country are instructed in all those matters which may make them expert in their trade. We raise them step by step according to their aptitude to learn, and to their prowess when called to the field of battle and carnage. We teach them the savage art of murdering their fellow creatures,
that they may resent a slight or an affront to a public officer abroad, or an insult to the country. If this savage spirit, fostered by military and naval discipline, had for its object the defence of our homes and our altars—if it were solely to repel invasion-some apology might be offered to posterity for this wholesale destruction of human life. But when they learn that the slightest pretext induced a government to send a large army to an enemy's country, merely to appease the ardent longings of those who had been in training, they will give us but little credit for our professions of the Christian faith. Another century must elapse before the truth will burst upon our senses, that the shedding of human blood is not essential to the preservation of our character, either as a nation or as an individual. We shall discover that there is no excuse—no necessity for war, either for offence or defence.
As society is now constituted, a young man who is educated to fight for national honour, considers himself as belonging to a government that is to protect him both abroad and at home alas ! how little is he aware of the mistake into which he has fallen. Let him yield a moment's attention, and he will see how cruelly he has been deceived.
It has been shown that if a public minister, or even a private citizen, were insulted abroad, he would be amply revengedthat the whole nation would assume his quarrel. But if, while at home, he should receive a personal insult, either from a blow or by having his honour called in question, what then would be his situation—from which quarter would redress come? The law of nations, which justified his country in so ably defending him when abroad, can do nothing for him now. He has to look for sympathy and assistance elsewhere-must he go to the civil law in the hope that it will protect him ?does the municipal law sympathize with him and wipe out the stain that is cast on his honour and integrity? It does not.
It is an incontrovertible fact, that if a man is insulted on shore, his enemy can triumph over him; for what does a lowminded, vindictive miscreant care for the slight punishment which the civil law inflicts on him ? Are we aware of the inadequacy of the punishment to the offence? The aggressor, through envy, malice, or jealousy, has slandered the fair name -he has perhaps grossly insulted the person-of one who hitherto has been caressed and esteemed; he has taken away his character and destroyed his peace of mind !
The commonwealth, to be sure, institutes a suit against the assailant for a personal assault, but the extent of punishment which the laws inflict, is a short imprisonment and a small fine -an imprisonment with the liberty of partaking of every luxury and indulgence which his associates can procure him.