The substitute question.
The substitute question will doubtless be raised at an early day in the Congress
which assembles early next month.
The Governor of Georgia
in his message to the Legislature devotes a considerable space to the consideration of this question.
We make some extracts from his views:
That portion of the conscript act which authorizes those within conscript age to employ substitutes has, in my opinion, been productive of the most unfortunate results.
If conscription is right, or if it is to be acquiesced in as a matter of necessity, it is certainly just that it act upon all alike, whether rich or poor.
With the substitution principle in the act, its effect has been to compel the poorer class, who have no money with which to employ substitutes, to enter the army, no matter what may be the condition of their families at home, while the rich, who have money with which to employ substitutes, have often escaped compulsory service.
This is not just as between man and man. While I trust I have shown that the poorest man in the Confederacy
has such interest at stake as should stimulate him to endure any amount of hardship or danger for the success of our cause, it cannot be denied that the wealthy are under as great obligation to do service, as they have, in addition to the rights and liberties of themselves and their children, a large amount of property to protect.
If every wealthy man would do his duty and share his part of the dangers of the war, but few complaints would be heard from the poor.--But if the money of the rich is to continue to secure them from the hardships, privations and dangers to which the poor are exposed, discontent, and more or less demoralization in the army, must be the inevitable result.
He who has paid two or three thousand dollars for his substitute has often made it back in a single month by speculation, and it has not unfrequently happened that the families of those in service at eleven dollars per month have been the most unfortunate victims of his splenization and extortion.
A very large number of stunt, able-bodied young men between 18 and 45 years of age, ace now out of the army, and in their places the Government
has accepted old men over 45, who have, in most cases, been unable to undergo long marches, privation, and fatigue.
Thousands of these have sunk by the way, either into the hospitals or into the grave.
It is also understood that much the larger number of deserters and stragglers from the army have been substitutes, who have entered it for hire, and after receiving the stipulated price have sought the first opportunity to escape, which they have in some instances been permitted to do with the acquiescence and encouragement of officers, who have been their partners in guilty speculation.--Thus the same individual has been accepted as a substitute for each of several able-bodied young men, who have been left at home to seek for gain and enjoy comfort, while our enemies have gained advantages on account of the weakness of our armies.
If we expect to be successful in our struggle the law must be so changed as to place is service the tens of thousands of young men who are now at home.
This would reinforce our armies so as to enable us to drive back the enemy upon every part of our borders.
After this change in the law the Government
could provide for the protection of the most important interests at home, by making proper details of such persons as are indispensably necessary.
This would be much better than the extension of the conscription act up to 50 or 55, as it would bring into the field young men able to endure service, in place of old men who must soon fail when exposed to great fatigue and hard ship, many of whom are as competent as young men to overseer plantations and attend to other home interests.
But it may be dented that the Government
can now so change the law as to make those who have furnished substitutes liable to service, as it is bound by its contract to exempt them, and they have acquired vested rights under the contract which it is not in the power of the Government
Let us examine this for a moment.
Purchase a lot of land from the State of Georgia
, and pay her one thousand dollars for it, and she conveys it to me by grant under her great seal.
The contract is as solemn and binding as the Government
can make it. My fee simple title is vested and complete.
But while I have the grant in my pocket and the State
has my money in her treasury, it is discovered that public necessity requires the State
to repossess herself of the land; I refuse to sell to her; she may pay me just compensation and take the land without my consent, and she violates no fundamental principle, as all our private rights must yield to the public good, and if we are injured we can only require just compensation for the injury.
Again, suppose I have labored hard and made upon my land a surplus of provisions which are my own right and property, and I refuse to sell them to the Government
, when the army is in need of them; it may take them without my consent and pay me just compensation, and I have been deprived of none of my constitutional rights.
The right of a person who has employed a substitute to be exempt from military service can certainly stand upon no higher ground.
The Government has extended to such persons the privilege of exemption upon the employment of a proper substitute, but if the public safety requires it the Government
certainly has as much right to revoke this privilege as it has to take from me my land, or my provisions, or other property, for public use; and all the person who employed the substitute could demand would be just compensation for the injury.
The measure of damage might be the amount paid by the principal for his substitute, less a just prorate for the time the substitute has served, and upon the payment of the damage or the just compensation for it, the Government
would have the right to retain the substitute as well as the principal in service, as the substitute has been paid by the principal for the service, and the principal has been compensated for the damage done by him by ordering him into service.
It would be competent, however, in estimating the damages in such case, to take into the account the interest the principal has in the success of our cause and the establishment of our independence, as necessary to the perpetuity of his liberties and the security of all his rights.
It would also be competent to inquire whether he has indeed suffered any pecuniary loss.
If he has paid three thousand dollars for a substitute, and has been kept out of the army for that sum for one year, and during that time he has made ten thousand dollars more, by speculation or otherwise, than he would have made had he been in the army, at eleven dollars per month, the actual amount of compensation due from the Government
to him might be very small indeed, if anything.
Believing that the public necessity requires it, and entertaining no doubt that Congress possesses the power to remedy the evil, without violating vested rights, I respectfully recommend the passage of a joint resolution by this General Assembly requesting Congress to repeal that part of the conscript act which authorizes the employment of substitutes; and, as conscription is the present policy of the Government
, to require all persons able to do military duty, who have substitutes in service, to enter the military service of the Confederacy
with the least possible delay, and to provide some just rule of compensation to those who may be injured by the enactment of such a law. I also recommend that said resolution instruct our Senators
, and request our representatives in Congress, to vote for and urge the passage of this measure at the earliest possible day.