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Well stated arguments as to proposed law exempting clergymen from the draft - or finding a substitute, or paying $200 in lieu of going. Wonders if government willing to risk anger of Irish Catholics or of Protestant Christianity?
letter, McIlvaine, Chase, draft, clergy
McIlvaine, Charles Pettit, "Letter to Salmon P. Chase" (1863). Charles Pettit McIlvaine Letters. 93.
Cincinnati, Nov. 25/63
My dear Mr. Chase,
In view of expected changes of the law of Congress as regards institutions for drafted men, I beg to ask your consideration of the case of clergymen now be able to draft.
It is supposed that the new measure probably will be to do away with the present commutation of $300, either to raise the sum demanded by Govd. to a much higher mark, or require the drafted man to serve, unless he can procure a satisfactory substitute at whatever price.
At the present commutation price, it is either the ability of almost any clergyman, either by himself or with the aid of friends to meet the demand; although in some cases ^ of clergymen ^ of my diocese, as well as in others, it is two thirds of their living, + in others one half. But if the price demanded by Govd. be raised, say to 600 or 800, as has been predicted; or if an actual substitute is to be bought at the cost which the present wages of labour + reduced number of able bodied men, will certainly create, many a clergyman drafted will have to institute the question whether to go to the war, or incur the penalty of refusing obedience to the law-
And thus we get to the main point[:]
Do it right, is it wise, if it be right to make clergymen liable to draft?
I believe I am correct in saying that never before the present law, was it done by any nation. It was never done, because the universal sense of a Christian community was against the propriety of compelling men of such a vocation + duty to engage in the awful strife of war- + in favour of their being treated as exempted by the very nature of their office. It is very conceivable that clergymen having at least an equally high estimate of the sacredness of their office, should not only participate in such views, but entertain such a conscientious sense of the incompatability [sic] of their office with the work of a soldier, as to be unable, without a violation of conscience, to engage in the latter, no matter what the law or the penalty, + that too without the impeachment of this courage or loyal devotion to their country’s present cause. I can conceive of cases of extreme emergency when they would be justified in taking arms, just as they would defend their houses when attacked by robbers. I can also readily imagine cases of clergymen , whose conscientious scruples would require them to refuse obedience to a draft + submit to imprisonment or death, rather than engage in the work to which it would take them.
Now suppose a case of this sort should arise - + it is by no means improbable - is the Govd. prepared to meet it? Will they shoot or imprison as a deserter the clergyman who refuses to join the ranks, + cannot furnish a substitute or pay the commutation? I believe such cases will arise. They will be found among R. Catholic Priests, if not among Protestant Ministers. We know the hostility which has sprung up among Irish R. Catholics to the draft. Suppose a Romish Priest drafted + for the sake of helping the hostility of the Irish + embarrassing the Govd he refuses to find a substitute or go himself, is the Govd prepared to treat him as a deserter? Would it be wise thus to inflame the Irish Catholic population? Or if a Protestant clergyman were in the like position, pleading conscience as he well might, + as the universal sense of Christian [nations] would justify him in doing, would the Govd sentence to visit him with the penalties of the law, like any other so called deserter, at the expense of the indignation of the Christian feeling in this country + everywhere else? There are scruples + conscientious views of duty which no Govd ought to attempt to coerce; + there are men entertaining them who cannot be coerced, + the Govd should consider before any new coercive law affecting clergymen is made, what it would [?] in case such instances as I have described should arise.
In my judgement [sic], a good clergyman, staying at home + faithfully discharging his official duties in a congregation - sustaining + urging among his people all the sympathies + work which provide for the wants of bereaved soldiers’ families, + comforts for soldiers in the field, + which feed the common spirit out of which come voluntary recruits for the army, as the clergy notoriously do almost every where in the loyal states, is doing far more for the country + the men, than if he could multiply himself into a dozen soldiers. I believe also that a law exempting clergymen, or at least those in charge of congregations, however it might arouse the hostility of a part of the people, would meet with the cordial approbation of those who constitute the moral strength of the nation + where approval is most important to the Govd.
I know there are difficulties. Who shall be considered a clergyman? Let the law require regular ordination, according to the rules of some established religious denomination, thus excluding mere licentiates + unordained preachers. Let it require also the actual exercise of the ministry - such as that of a parochial or sexted minister ^ or of a University - Let evidence, such as certificates of Bishops + Presbyters, + other Church authorities in different denominations be demanded. The difficulties can be met.
I have written the above at the urgent request of clergymen of standing, who with myself are concerned in this matter out of loyal regard for the honour [sic] of the Govd as well as people [sic] consideration of their brethren.
May I beg you, my dear Sir, to allow the above views an opportunity of consideration when the question of a change in the law shall come before Congress or its Committee.
Your obedd. servant
Chas. P. McIlvaine
Bishop of the Prot. Ep. Ch. in the Diocese of Ohio.
Hon. S.P. Chase.