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[687]

This assembly, composed of men who did not deceive themselves regarding the difficulties of their task, unhesitatingly adopted a measure of a most radical character. On the 16th of April it passed a law, which placed at the disposal of the government all the able-bodied population of the Confederacy, and which was called the conscription law, in the broadest application of that term, seeing that it provided not for a draft by lot, but for a levy en masse. In thus forestalling their adversaries in the use of this powerful engine, the Confederates secured a great advantage, for they found themselves in possession of numerous and well-organized troops when the North, taught too late by her reverses, was vainly mustering into her service inexperienced soldiers, and there was a time when the superiority acquired at the cost of this opportune sacrifice seemed destined to end the war in their favor.

So severe a law could not fail to challenge sharp opposition. The statesmen who had imposed it upon the people of the South, as a cruel consequence of the venture in which they had embarked their fellow-citizens, were exposed to the most severe attacks. This law clashed, in fact, with all the ideas of liberty and independence conceived under the equitable and peaceful government of the United States. Mr. Brown, governor of Georgia, placed himself at the head of this opposition, and was sustained by the legislature of his State. But the Confederate government finally broke down all opposition; and the struggle being prolonged, the law of April 16th was gradually applied to those who by their age or other causes had at first been exempted from its provisions. As this law was made the basis of all the military legislation of the Confederacy, it is necessary that we should explain its principal clauses. It declared as soldiers all white men above the age of eighteen and under thirty-five years residing within the limits of the Confederacy, with certain exemptions, to be subsequently defined; their time of service was fixed at three years or during the war, if the war should not last so long. This measure, comprising sixteen classes, reached a large portion of the twelvemonth volunteers, whom it was important to keep in the field, and whose original term of service was thus forcibly prolonged by two years. Most of them having already accepted the offer

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