War of the Rebellion: Serial 125 Page 0351 UNION AUTHORITIES.

Search Civil War Official Records

to another portion of the same rises to the grandeur of a great measure, involving not only the peace, but the national existence, of the power which proposes to confiscate. This could only occur when, as in the present instance, these claims constitute the basis of a vast labor system endangering domestic tranquillity and imperiling the national unity and life.

A case so unique might well be regarded as demanding the establishment of a precedent. The courts might well be called upon to decide it on the broad principle that whatever is essential to the preservation of the national life the Government may lawfully do; just as an individual, without imputation of murder, may take the life of an assailant, when such killing is necessary to save his own life. But it is satisfactory, to reach the conclusion that the right to adopt this great measure of national self-defense can be justified even on technical grounds, as involving a confiscation never before exercised, perhaps, by a belligerent on so grand a scale, but in strict conformity to the law of nations in the premises.

It is, therefore, in every view of the subject, lawful to seize or confiscate and cancel that large class of enemies" debts known, in the language of the Constitution, as "claims to service and labor." It is lawful by the proper authority to confiscate these not only when the debtor is within our own lines, but in whatever portion of our country he may happen to be.

What is the proper authority in this case? By whom can these claims be legally canceled? Evidently by the same authority which may legally seize and appropriate any other property of the enemy. Primarily, then, by the sovereign or law-making power of the Government; and secondly, when the exigencies of war demand, it by the duly constituted military authority.

But the chief military authority of the United States is vested, by the Constitution in the President:

The President shall be Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States and of the militia of the several States, when called into the actual service of the United States. a

The President, then, is a proper authority; not, indeed, as President, but as Commander-in-Chief. As such he has legal power, by himself or through his subordinate officers, to take and to destroy, or to use personal property belonging to the enemy. As such he is sole judge of the exigencies which render necessary such taking and such destruction or use.

In the exercise of this discretion he is not amenable under any provision of the Constitution. The Constitution in making him Commander-in-Chief neither designated nor restricted his powers as such, but it conferred upon him, by implication, all the powers appertaining, by the usage and law of nations, to that office. Strictly speaking, the only constitutional question which can be raised in this connection is as to whether the person so taking and destroying enemies" property was at the time legally Commander-in-Chief.

He is responsible for the manner of exercising this power under the law of nations; and, as the law of nations is to be construed in the interests of humanity and civilization, he is responsible in case his acts should outrage these great Christian principles. Humanity forbids us to lay waste a country, to sack towns and villages, to burn or pillage dwellings, to destroy public edifices not military. Humanity bids us

---------------

a Article II, Sec. 2.

---------------