Benjamin Rush's Peace Office

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It sounds like a radical idea today, just like it must have sounded like a radical idea when it was first proposed over two hundred years ago. We certainly need it more today than we have needed it at any time in U.S. history. And no, it’s not a balanced budget, campaign finance reform, or term limits for members of Congress.

One of the first three departments created in 1789 in the new executive branch of the government of the United States was the War Department. This department, which contained the army, existed side by side with the Department of the Navy (created in 1798) until both departments were reorganized in 1947 as the Department of Defense (DOD), along with the newly created Department of the Air Force. Judging from the interventionist and aggressive actions of the U.S. military since then, the DOD was certainly misnamed, and should more accurately be known as the Department of War.

If the DOD was not so busy providing security, guarding borders, patrolling coasts, and training troops in other countries, then perhaps it could have defended the country on September 11, 2001, or at least its headquarters, the Pentagon. It is obvious that the current purpose of the DOD is to fight those foreign wars that Jefferson warned us against. If the DOD is supposed to defend the country, then why do we need a Department of Homeland Security? According to one of the forgotten Founding Fathers, Benjamin Rush (1745—1813), who died on this date 193 years ago, we don’t need either one.

Known as the Father of American Psychiatry, Rush (not to be confused with that conservative windbag Rush Limbaugh) was a noted physician and Professor of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. But he was also a member of the Continental Congress and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Near the end of his life, he served as Treasurer of the National Mint.

Rush was also a prolific author. In 1798 he collected twenty-five of his previous writings and published them in a volume he titled Essays, Literary, Moral, and Philosophical (Philadelphia: Printed by Thomas & Samuel F. Bradford, 1798). One of the essays had been previously published in Banneker’s Almanac. This was the work of Benjamin Banneker (1731—1806), a noted black scientist, astronomer, and surveyor who published an almanac from 1792—1797. Rush’s radical essay was called “A Plan of a Peace-Office for the United States.”

A PLAN OF A PEACE-OFFICE FOR THE UNITED STATES

Among the defects which have been pointed out in the Federal Constitution by its antifederal enemies, it is much to be lamented that no person has taken notice of its total silence upon the subject of an office of the utmost importance to the welfare of the United States, that is, an office for promoting and preserving perpetual peace in our country.

It is to be hoped that no objection will be made to the establishment of such an office, while we are engaged in a war with the Indians, for as the War-Office of the United States was established in time of peace, it is equally reasonable that a Peace-Office should be established in the time of war.

The plan of this office is as follows:

  1. Let a Secretary of the Peace be appointed to preside in this office, who shall be perfectly free from all the present absurd and vulgar European prejudices upon the subject of government; let him be a genuine republican and a sincere Christian, for the principles of republicanism and Christianity are no less friendly to universal and perpetual peace, than they are to universal and equal liberty.
  2. Let a power be given to this Secretary to establish and maintain free-schools in every city, village and township of the United States; and let him be made responsible for the talents, principles, and morals, of all his schoolmasters. Let the youth of our country be carefully instructed in reading, writing, and arithmetic, and in the doctrines of a religion of some king: the Christian religion should be preferred to all others; for it belongs to this religion exclusively to teach us not only to cultivate peace with men, but to forgive, nay more — to love our very enemies. It belongs to it further to teach us that the Supreme Being alone possesses a power to take away human life, and that we rebel against his laws, whenever we undertake to execute death in any way whatever upon any of his creatures.
  3. Let every family in the United States be furnished at the public expense, by the Secretary of this office, with a copy of an American edition of the BIBLE. This measure has become the more necessary in our country, since the banishment of the bible, as a school-book, from most of the schools in the United States. Unless the price of this book be paid for by the public, there is reason to fear that in a few years it will be me with only in courts of justice or in magistrates’ offices; and should the absurd mode of establishing truth by kissing this sacred book fall into disuse, it may probably, in the course of the next generation, be seen only as a curiosity on a shelf in a public museum.
  4. Let the following sentence be inscribed in letters of gold over the doors of every State and Court house in the United States.

THE SON OF MAN CAME INTO THE WORLD, NOT TO DESTROY MEN’S LIVES, BUT TO SAVE THEM.

  1. To inspire a veneration for human life, and an horror at the shedding of blood, let all those laws be repealed which authorize juries, judges, sheriffs, or hangmen to assume the resentments of individuals and to commit murder in cold blood in any case whatever. Until this reformation in our code of penal jurisprudence takes place, it will be in vain to attempt to introduce universal and perpetual peace in our country.
  2. To subdue that passion for war, which education, added to human depravity, have made universal, a familiarity with the instruments of death, as well as all military shows, should be carefully avoided. For which reason, militia laws should every where be repealed, and military dresses and military titles should be laid aside: reviews tend to lessen the horrors of a battle by connecting them with the charms of order; militia laws generate idleness and vice, and thereby produce the wars they are said to prevent; military dresses fascinate the minds of young men, and lead them from serious and useful professions; were there no uniforms, there would probably be no armies; lastly, military titles feed vanity, and keep up ideas in the mind which lessen a sense of the folly and miseries of war.
  3. In the last place, let a large room, adjoining the federal hall, be appropriated for transacting the business and preserving all the records of this office. Over the door of this room let there be a sign, on which the figures of a LAMB, a DOVE and an OLIVE BRANCH should be painted, together with the following inscriptions in letters of gold:

PEACE ON EARTH — GOOD-WILL TO MAN.
AH! WHY WILL MEN FORGET THAT THEY ARE BRETHREN?

Within this apartment let there be a collection of plough-shares and pruning-hooks made out of swords and spears; and on each of the walls of the apartment, the following pictures as large as the life:

  1. A lion eating straw with an ox, and an adder playing upon the lips of a child.
  2. An Indian boiling his venison in the same pot with a citizen of Kentucky.
  3. Lord Cornwallis and Tippoo Saib, under the shade of a sycamore-tree in the East Indies, drinking Madeira wine together out of the same decanter.
  4. A group of French and Austrian soldiers dancing arm and arm, under a bower erected in the neighbourhood of Mons.
  5. A St. Domingo planter, a man of color, and a native of Africa, legislating together in the same colonial assembly.

To complete the entertainment of this delightful apartment, let a group of young ladies, clad in white robes, assemble every day at a certain hour, in a gallery to be erected for the purpose, and sing odes, and hymns, and anthems in praise of the blessings of peace.

One of these songs should consist of the following lines.

Peace o’er the world her olive want extends,
And white-rob’d innocence from heaven descends;
All crimes shall cease, and ancient frauds shall fail,
Returning justice lifts aloft her scale.

In order more deeply to affect the minds of the citizens of the United States with the blessings of peace, by contrasting them with the evils of war, let the following inscriptions be painted upon the sign which is placed over the door of the War Office.

  1. An office for butchering the human species.
  2. A Widow and Orphan making office.
  3. A broken bone making office.
  4. A Wooden leg making office.
  5. An office for the creating of public and private vices.
  6. An office for creating a public debt.
  7. An office for creating speculators, stock jobbers, and bankrupts.
  8. An office for creating famine.
  9. An office for creating pestilential diseases.
  10. An office for creating poverty, and the destruction of liberty, and national happiness.

In the lobby of this office let there be painted representations of all the common military instruments of death, also human skulls, broken bones, unburied and putrefying dead bodies, hospitals crowded with sick and wounded soldiers, villages on fire, mothers in besieged towns eating the flesh of their children, ships sinking in the ocean, rivers dyed with blood, and extensive plains without a tree or fence, or any object, but the ruins of deserted farm houses.

Above this group of woeful figures, — let the following words be inserted, in red characters to represent human blood,

“NATIONAL GLORY.”

The Founding Fathers of the United States, even with all of their blemishes and inconsistencies, were miles ahead of the vermin called politicians we are presently cursed with. Contrary to George WMD Bush, who insists that he is “a war president” who makes “decisions with war on my mind,” the other Founding Fathers often echoed Benjamin Rush’s sentiments on the evils of war:

“Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other.” ~ James Madison

“There was never a good war or a bad peace.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

“Preparation for war is a constant stimulus to suspicion and ill will.” ~ James Monroe

“While there are knaves and fools in the world, there will be wars in it.” ~ John Jay

“The fiery and destructive passions of war reign in the human breast with much more powerful sway than the mild and beneficent sentiments of peace.” ~ Alexander Hamilton

“My first wish is to see this plague of mankind, war, banished from the earth.” ~ George Washington

It is both a grave injustice and a great display of ignorance that those who speak out for peace and against the evils of war are often labeled by blind Republican Bush apologists, crazed conservative armchair warriors, and wannabe-writer, e-mail debater, Christian warmongers as hippies, peaceniks, Quakers, traitors, leftists, anti-Americans, or anti-war weenies. Although their support for this war may eventually wane, they can be counted on to support the next one — to their “shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2).

[Benjamin Rush's "Plan of a Peace-office" was quoted in its entirety from The Selected Writings of Benjamin Rush (New York: Philosophical Library, 1947, pp. 19—23.]

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