The Anti-War Tradition – the Health of Liberty
of the great Anglo-American libertarians who dissented.
war, as one American radical once warned, is the health of the state,
then the health of liberty is the logic of peace.
one can be a true friend of liberty who is not an enemy of war,
nationalism and huge, permanent military establishments. That's
because all of them are inimical to liberty and free markets, which
come out of an anti-militarist tradition older than our nation.
Lenin argued that imperialism was the essence of capitalism. Actually,
it is the opposite. War is the opposite of free markets. It is bad
capitalism penetrated," wrote the economist Joseph Schumpeter, "peace
parties of such strength arose that virtually every war meant a
political struggle on the domestic scene."
short paper will examine the thoughts of a few of the Anglo-American
critics of war and of military establishments. The inspired opposition
of these libertarian critics in their day is relevant to our time,
a time in which the traditional American principles of limited government
are being eroded and forgotten. War, a great philosopher once warned,
is never just about victory and defeat. Americans should remember,
in this time of supposed victory, that the evils of war, like a
plague, inevitably hurt everyone from the victor to the vanquished.
long war," Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America,
"almost always reduces nations to the wretched alternative of being
abandoned to ruin by defeat or to despotism by success." De Tocqueville
was influenced by the Anglo-American classical liberal tradition,
a tradition that always has been ardently anti-war.
of our guides through this tradition will include Richard Cobden,
an English radical and critic of the British Empire, Senator Robert
Taft, who believed America's commitments abroad could threaten liberty
at home, and Lambdin Milligan, a lawyer who risked his life in Civil
War America to protect endangered civil liberties.
with its frequent wars, war preparations and imperial presidencies,
is on the road to empire and has been for sometime. Thankfully,
there have been philosophers of liberty who opposed war and spoke
for an embattled tradition of liberty.
in waging war in Iraq, and threatening to do so in many places around
the globe, America's leaders are betraying a Anglo-American tradition
that is older than the United States. It is a classical liberal
tradition that dates back to at least 16th century Britain,
a nation that grappled with two tyrants, King Charles I and the
so-called Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell. Both tried to use their
armies to impose their will on the nation. England suffered through
two civil wars because of these enemies of liberty. Charles I illegally
levied taxes and forced loans on his subjects. He sent troops into
parliament to arrest his critics.
"the savior" of the nation with his New Model Army, was said to
have made England "great," a power to be feared in Europe. But at
what cost? He eventually became as bad as the tyrant he had destroyed.
and his generals closed down parliament, carved up England into
military districts and rampaged through Ireland, creating hatreds
between England and Ireland that persist to this day. Britain's
experience with tyrants, of living under them, was seared into her
historical consciousness. After the second civil war, the Glorious
Revolution, the parliamentary settlement called for tight controls
on the monarchs and the military.
army was to be kept at rather modest levels compared with other
European nations. What could a large army be used for other than
to intimidate domestic opponents or launch foreign adventures, thought
free Englishmen in this island nation.
suspicion of standing armies, this legacy of liberty, was a prejudice
inherited by colonial Americans. Once the threat of France was removed
after the British victory in the French and Indian War in the 1760s,
the logic of a large British military presence in North America
began to be questioned. Even before the tensions of the 1770s that
led to the American Revolution, colonists made many of the same
objections to the costs and the dangers to liberty of a large standing
army headquartered in the colonies.
troops in the Colonies now in this time of profound peace would
be an unnecessary expense," wrote the governor of Connecticut in
1768, "and have an unhappy tendency to produce uneasiness among
the people, hurt their morals and hinder industry." Again, free
Englishman had not forgotten the lessons of two civil wars in the
to the Standing Army kept among us in time of Peace without the
consent of our Assemblies, I am clearly of the Opinion that it is
not agreeable to the Constitution," declared Benjamin Franklin.
Franklin wrote in the tradition of Cato's Letters, which sought
to justify the Glorious Revolution, which had topped James II and
his illegal use of the army.
is as certain, that James II, wanted no Army to help him preserve
the Constitution, nor to reconcile the People to their own Interest:
But, as he intended to invade and destroy both, nothing but Corruption
and a Standing Army could enable him to do it…"
the first decades of our early republic, there were frequent battles
over military establishments. The peacetime military of the United
States was usually quite modest until the buildup before American
entry into World War I, when Woodrow Wilson set out to build an
American navy second to none. Wilson, who earlier in his first administration
had proclaimed himself against a buildup, was not only reversing
himself, he was a reversing an American anti-militarist tradition
that had been strong throughout most of the 19th century.
Richard Cobden and the Little Englanders.
anti-war tradition spanned the Atlantic. It inspired a group of
radicals in the British parliament in 1850s and 60s. Richard Cobden
was the leader of this group. Cobden (18041865) admired the
United States because its military expenditures and taxes were a
fraction of Britain's. It also had no far-flung empire. Britain's
empire, he noted, inevitably drew it into various wars around the
early as 1836, a young Cobden was writing that, "Our history during
the last century, may be called the tragedy of British intervention
in the politics of Europe; in which princes, diplomatists, peers
and generals, have been the authors and the actors – the people
the victims; and the moral will be exhibited to the latest posterity
in 800 millions of debt."
United States, he pointed out, had no empire to draw it into wars.
It had little debt and insignificant armed forces. This gave it
a tremendous advantage. The talents of its people and its resources
were not thrown away. He warned that, although Britain was the number
one industrial nation in the world in the 1840s and 50s, its debts
and imperial responsibilities would so burden it that it would lose
ground to the Americans in the race for industrial supremacy.
and huge military establishments were ill-moral burdens that would
eventually bankrupt the nations that pursued them. Aristocratic
ruling classes, Cobden held, gained from empire – from the huge
government expenditures generated by them as well as the military
appointments. But the vast majority of people – both those who paid
for the empire and those who suffered under the abuses of the empire
– were the victims of empire. One of Cobden's associates in parliament
called the British Empire a vast "system of outdoor relief" for
a middle-class businessman who had raised himself up from poverty,
was suspicious of the welfare efforts of the British ruling classes.
He wrote that "The middle and industrious classes can have no interest
apart from the preservation of the peace. The honours, the fame,
the emoluments of war belong not to them; the battle plain is the
harvest field of the aristocracy…"
different is the Manchester School analysis from the expensive military-industrial
complex that Americans have lived under for generations?
Cobden, who was not a pacifist, but opposed every war in his lifetime,
war and a huge peacetime military were not only wrong, they were
a matter of bad economics that would pull down every nation that
pursued these bellicose policies.
is a monster," wrote Cobden, "whose appetite grows so fast by what
it feeds on that it is quite impossible beforehand to measure its
capacity for consumption, and the only safe way is to be provided
with far more than at any given time seems likely for its support."
Americans might take that comment into consideration as we estimate
the potential costs of the war in Iraq. America is already stuck
in a deep recession. This war and its expanding costs could extend
this recession into something even worst.
had gained fame in the 1830s and 1840s as the leader of the free
trade movement. He, and most of the members of his small group,
which was also known as the Little Englanders, were driven from
parliament in the 1850s. That's because they insisted their nation
should never have fought the Crimean War (185455), an attempt
on the part of the British to prop up the Ottoman Empire as a counterweight
to the Russian.
war took longer than expected. This messy war, in which many Englishmen
died because of bad medical services and various military disasters
that included the famous Charge of the Light Brigade, brought down
the Aberdeen government. Cobden, who had become a popular leader
for his successful efforts to establish free trade, eventually became
an unpopular public figure because of his opposition to the war.
At the height of the war, in a comment that many Americans today
would understand, he complained that Britain was "suffering under
the war madness."
his opposition to the Crimean War and the Opium War, Cobden was
turned out of parliament. But a few years later he returned to parliament.
His withering criticism of war and military establishments also
resulted in several victories for the Little Englanders. After he
returned to parliament, he helped prevent war with France in 1860
through the negotiation of a free trade treaty, a treaty that Chancellor
of the Exchequer Gladstone encouraged him to hammer out with Napoleon
III as a way of diffusing tensions between the two nations.
also worked to keep his country out of the American Civil War –
a war whose slaughters revolted Cobden. He also, suffering from
the illness that would eventually kill him, led a movement in parliament
in 1864 that would stop a British government that had intended to
intervene in the Schleswig-Holstein War.
accomplishments were many. His commentaries on the nature of war
and militarism are as relevant today as when Cobden thundered against
the Crimean War, the Opium Wars or the frequent wars of the British
Copperhead Critic of Lincoln's War: Lambdin Milligan.
Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people,
equally in war and in peace, and covers with the shield of its protection
all classes of men, at all times, and under all circumstances."
United States Supreme Court, 1866)
Patriot Act I and II have re-opened a debate that happened several
times in American history. One such instance occurred some 140 years
Milligan was an Indiana lawyer who opposed the U.S. Civil War. Milligan
feared that the constitution was being destroyed by a president
who ignored the U.S. Supreme Court. Lincoln was trampling on the
constitution, his critics in the North charged. He was allowing
military rule in parts of the country that were not in a war zone.
If this were allowed to continue, critics such as Milligan asked,
what freedoms would remain?
argument over trying alleged terrorists in special military tribunals
that would be created by the executive branch – of hauling civilians
into military courts when civil courts are open and in areas that
are not under martial law – is an old debate. Charles I, for example,
had set up special courts, Star Chamber courts, to try his opponents.
In these courts, as in military courts, the rules were weighted
in favor of the prosecution.
the American Civil War there would frequent debates over civil liberties,
including the use of arbitrary arrests and the suspension of the
writ of habeas corpus by President Lincoln. On September 24, 1862,
he issued a proclamation aimed at those who were giving comfort
to the enemy.
therefore, be it ordered," Lincoln wrote, "first, that during the
existing insurrection, and as a necessary measure for suppressing
the same, all rebels and insurgents, their aiders, and abettors,
within the United States, and all persons discouraging the volunteer
enlistments, resisting military drafts, or guilty of any disloyal
practices affording aid and comfort to the rebels against the authority
of the United States, shall be subject to martial law and liable
to trial and punishment by courts martials and military commissions;
second, that the writ of habeas corpus is suspended in respect to
all persons arrested, or who are now or hereafter during the rebellion
shall be imprisoned in any fort, camp, arsenal, military prison,
or other place of confinement by military authority or by the sentence
of any court-martial or military commission."
remarkable proclamation raised questions about the effectiveness
in wartime of the fourth, fifth and sixth amendments to the U.S.
Constitution. It also led to the Ex parte Merryman decision, a decision
rendered by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney, the author
of the famous Dred Scott decision. Merryman, a secessionist arrested
by military authorities, asked for intervention by civil courts,
which were still operating in Maryland. He requested a writ of habeas
held that the president didn't have the right to suspend the writ.
He called Lincoln's position unconstitutional. In this case, Lincoln
simply defied the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, who said
the Lincoln government didn't have that power to try civilians in
Lincoln simply invoked the American president's prerogative. The
use of the prerogative had been invoked many times by Charles I
and had been one of the causes of the first English Civil War. Lincoln's
act is a hallmark of an imperial wartime presidency. Lincoln, in
a special message to Congress, agreed that he was sworn "to take
care that the laws be faithfully executed." However, he argued,
with the support of his attorney general, that the president, along
with Congress, had the right to suspend the writ of habeas corpus.
use or abuse of these extraordinary presidential powers led to the
prosecution of dissenters in military courts. A courageous American,
Milligan was convinced of the rightness of his cause, risked his
life in opposition to the war policies of a popular president. Milligan,
after the Civil War, was vindicated by the U.S. Supreme Court. The
story is one with many parallels to today's America, also in the
midst of another, seemingly popular, war.
was part of a movement sneeringly called Copperheads, a broad, diverse
group of mostly Democrats who favored a negotiated settlement of
the war with the South. They were outspoken in their opposition
to the methods and goals of Lincoln's government, fearing the constitution
would not survive it. The unprecedented amounts of death and destruction
sickened many of them. Many classical liberals feared that government
under law would be destroyed by the war. Copperheads generally believed
the South should be allowed to go its own way and that the constitution
was a pact of equals in which a state should be allowed to opt out.
of the targets of Copperhead criticism were the draft – which caused
riots in many Northern cities – Greenbacks, the debased paper currency
that the federal government used to finance the war, and the extra-constitutional
policies imposed by military governors in the North. War policy
critics thought that General U.S Grant was "a butcher" because,
despite his victories, his casualty numbers were shocking. Besides
many supporters of the war viewed all criticism as ad hominem
attacks on the government. They thought their opposition as tantamount
these critics of the war believed they were patriots who wanted
to save constitutional government. At the State Democratic Party
Convention of Illinois of 1863, delegates adopted a resolution warning,
"That the further offensive prosecution of this war tends to subvert
military governors were angered by these persistent criticisms.
Some were ready to subject citizens to harsh measures that even
President Lincoln often regretted, but felt compelled to support.
For instance, in Ohio, General Ambrose Burnside, the general whose
egregious leadership had led to a disastrous Union defeat at Fredericksburg
in 1862, issued orders that brought civilians into military courts
even though the civil courts were open, functioning and capable
of trying alleged traitors.
by strictures of Copperhead leaders against the administration of
the war, the general (on April 13, 1863) on his own responsibility
ordered the arrest of anyone guilty of seditious utterances likely
to obstruct recruiting. This was followed by the arrest, trial before
a military court, conviction and sentence to imprisonment until
the end of the war of former Congressman Vallandigham." Lincoln
wrote Burnside that, "All the cabinet regretted the necessity of
arresting…Vallandigham, some perhaps, doubted that there was a real
necessity for it – but, being done, all were seeing you through
Laird Vallandigham was probably the most notorious Copperhead. A
former Congressman and an unsuccessful candidate for governor of
Ohio, he was tried before a military court, not on whether he had
committed treason or some other high crime, but merely on the basis
on whether he had violated Ambrose Burnside's order.
challenged the right of the court to try him. At his trial before
a military court, the judge conceded that he had no power to decide
the jurisdiction issue. Vallandigham was quickly convicted and ordered
jailed for the duration of the war. Vallandigham petitioned to the
U.S. Supreme Court. But, on a technicality, it decided not to hear
the case. Federal courts, given the circumstances of Ex parte Merryman
and the controversy with Chief Justice Taney, were becoming docile.
They were not going to challenge the president during the war, even
if he was engaging in unconstitutional actions.
arrests of civilians by military commissions were also put in effect
in Indiana. Edward Bates, attorney general in Lincoln's administration,
would write in the fall of 1863 that there was, "a general tendency
of the military, wherever stationed, to engross all power."
Milligan was not nearly as famous in his time as Vallandigham, but
his case would become more important.
was a lawyer who had lived in Ohio and had been an officer in its
National Guard. He later moved to Huntingdon County, Indiana. A
minor Democratic Party official and failed gubernatorial candidate,
he had been a counsel to some of those prosecuted for alleged disloyalty.
Milligan could be described as a Jeffersonian and a strict constructionist.
was also a fierce critic of the war. He argued that the South could
not be subjugated. The loyalty and sympathies of Southerners, Milligan
held, could never be won by a campaign of total war that would be
waged by Northern generals who burned and sacked the South. He argued
for negotiation and charged the, "President and the Cabinet with
doing more to prolong the war than the rebels themselves, and consequently
were worse than the rebels."
are the kind of comments, once a war was underway, that could subject
an American to public scorn in Civil War America or today. Milligan
believed that government under law was not possible when rulers
ignored the intent of those who drafted the constitution.
a Democratic Party convention in Indiana in 1861, Milligan helped
write a resolution that said the party had sympathy for neither
the cause of secession nor for Lincoln or abolitionists. But the
resolution warned, "That neither written Constitutions, nor official
oaths afford any guarantee against the licentiousness of the administration,
and that in the wanton and palpable violations of the Constitution
of the United States, in the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus,
in depriving citizens of liberty and property without due process
Milligan was becoming more than a lawyer and an obscure Democratic
party official. He was about to enter into a controversy that remains
a vital part in the history of liberty. On October 5, 1864, General
Alvin Hovey, the commander of one of the military districts of Indiana,
ordered the arrest of Milligan for his August 1864 public speech
in which he had opposed Lincoln's conduct of the war. He was tried
in Indianapolis along with a group of others for supposedly conspiring
to commit disloyal activities.
was judged by a group of officers from the Indiana Volunteers. The
proceedings took on a Star Chamber quality. The Judge Advocate,
Major H.L. Burnett, stated at the trial that, "The civil rights
of the citizen become dead for the time being, if necessary to preserve
the life of the nation." This is an echo of the comments made by
so many other wartime patriots; zealots who brooked no opposition
and who viewed every critical comment as tantamount to treason.
who was sick during much of the trial, refused to compromise. He
invited the harshest penalty because he believed that he would be
vindicated once the case was taken to a civil court.
military commission judged him to be part of a conspiracy to destroy
the nation. He was ordered to be hanged. Others were pardoned by
Lincoln. But soon after the Milligan military trial, Lincoln was
assassinated. His successor, Andrew Johnson, a war Democrat, signed
the documents to have Milligan executed. But Milligan's execution
was delayed by friends in both the Republican and Democratic parties.
of War Edwin Stanton, an acquaintance, was able to delay the execution
of the sentence until Milligan had a chance to appeal it and seek
a writ of habeas corpus. Finally, with the end of the war in the
spring of 1865, and the expiration of the suspension of the writ
of habeas corpus, Milligan would have one more chance to escape
Indiana Circuit Court, asking the U.S. Supreme Court for an opinion,
received a unanimous decision in what was to be a landmark case.
The decision was written by Justice David Davis. He had been appointed
to the high court by President Lincoln and had been his friend.
However, Davis ruled that Lincoln and his government had clearly
acted illegally. First, Davis held that, even if the writ of habeas
corpus is rightfully suspended, civilians committing crimes must
still be handed over to civilian courts, with the exception of invasions
or other exceptions provided for in the constitution.
law, unjustly used by governments, Davis held, "destroys every guaranty
of the Constitution, and effectively renders the military independent
of and superior to the civil power – the attempt to do which by
the King of Great Britain was deemed by our fathers such an offense,
that they assigned it to the world as one of the causes which impelled
them to declare their independence."
Davis laid down a standard for how and when military law can operate.
"Martial rule can never exist where the courts are open and in the
proper and unobstructed exercise of their jurisdiction. It is also
confined to the locality of actual war."
was released from prison on April 10, 1866. Many Radical Republicans,
who wanted a military administration of the reconstruction, were
angered by the decision. However, after nearly hanging him for his
belief in the principles of trial by a jury of peers, the right
of free speech and the idea of a government under law, even in wartime,
there are still many who would grant our imperial president absolute
power in time of war or even near war.
for those advocates of an imperial presidency, there are the words
of Justice Davis, speaking of the guarantees of the Bill of Rights
in wartime: "No doctrine, involving more pernicious consequences
was ever invented by the wit of man than that its provisions can
be suspended during any of the great exigencies of government. Such
a doctrine leads directly to anarchy or despotism, but the theory
of necessity on which it is based is false; for the government,
within the Constitution has all the powers granted to it which are
necessary to preserve its existence…"
is relevant today to the Anglo-American anti-militarist tradition,
or what is left of it. Americans for the past several generations
have been discussing a difficult question. Can the president legally
take on the powers of a Caesar, claiming more and more power because
of the demands of war? In general, the answer of the courts and
the lawmakers – including those who passed the National Security
Act of 1947, which created the CIA and gave the government tremendous
powers to act secretly – is yes.
Laissez-Faire Opponent of Internationalism: Robert Taft.
American leader of the mid 20th century who would have
had trouble answering yes to the metamorphosis of American presidents
into Caesars was Robert Taft, a Republican senator from Ohio in
the 1930s to the 1950s. He was an unusual figure. A critic of the
New Deal in the 1930s. He said it was based on the premise that
"American money and charity shall solve every problem." He questioned
the legitimacy of the Nuremberg war crimes trials; of the victors
– who included Stalin and his thugs who at the outset of the World
War II were Hitler's allies – trying the losers. Taft was on the
right, but it was a right very different from today's right. The
latter has allied itself with huge military budgets and interventionist
prevailing trend of the "Old Right," wrote Murray Rothbard, was
"a principled and trenchant opposition to war and its concomitant
destruction of life and liberty and all human values." Taft was
a Republican maverick who believed there could "be no greater tragedy
than war." He warned that, "We could destroy our liberty by a military
and foreign expenditure in time of peace so great that a free economic
system cannot survive."
he supported U.S. intervention in the Korean war, he later argued
that President Truman had acted illegally because he had never sought
the approval of Congress for making war, a presidential war policy
that has been repeated many times since Korea.
the same as a generation of Americans later reviewing the record
of their country in Vietnam, became embittered by the waging of
a distant war without a national consensus. He wrote of the Korean
War, "we have spent billions of dollars of taxpayer money. Altogether,
no directors of foreign policy have ever made such stupid mistakes
in judgment which have been made by those who still control our
foreign policy." But Taft's critique extended beyond the mistakes
and the waste of the Korean War. Taft also warned of the damage
that war would do to constitutional government.
the President and his advisers claim the right to take the United
States into war without approval by Congress, which makes their
continuation in power exceedingly dangerous." Indeed, most subsequent
presidents have claimed the same almost unlimited power to wage
war, making a mockery of the constitutional limitation requiring
that Congress declare war.
was an opponent of Nato. This alliance was the centerpiece of the
so-called internationalism of Dewey/Eisenhower wing of the Republican
party. I say so-called because internationalism called for America
to turn away from its non-interventionist traditions and enter into
peacetime alliances as well as huge, permanent military establishments.
The latter policies, since the 1940s, have been wrongly branded
"isolationism." That's even though proponents of this view call
for trade and good relations with most nations.
triumphed at the 1952 GOP presidential convention. The defeated
Taft, who had battled with Ike for the presidential nomination,
was to die shortly thereafter in July 1953.
even after playing the role of good Republican and endorsing the
presidential nominee of his party, Taft warned that internationalism
would fail. He said that it could lead the United States to become
the British Empire of the 20th century. That would mean
that America would take on endless commitments and fight endless
wars, he argued
fingers will be in every pie. Our military forces will work with
our commercial forces to obtain as much of world trade as we can
lay our hands on," he warned during a World War II address in which
he attacked those who wanted the US to enter into a permanent military
alliance after the war.
these permanent alliances were entered, Taft argued several years
later in the debate over Nato, it could easily lead the US into
another war because "it is almost impossible for Congress to have
much effect on it (foreign policy). The power is all in the president's
voted against Nato, which originally was a pact of about a dozen
Western European nations as well as the US and Canada. Taft said
the Nato treaty ultimately went too far.
obligates us to go to war if at any time during the next twenty
years anyone makes an armed attack on any of the twelve nations,"
Taft said. He said that such an alliance would be more likely "to
produce war rather than peace."
comments should be taken into consideration at a time when nations
such as Poland and the Baltic republics were recently admitted to
the Nato. Traditionally these nations have been the enemies of Russia,
whether under Czarist or Communist rule. Russia today, once again,
has hostile nations on her doorstep, despite promises made by American
leaders to the dying Soviet Union in the 1980s.
the event of another potential war between one of these former Soviet
satellite nations – perhaps by its membership in this alliance –
and Russia, what would be the position of the United States, the
lead member of Nato? This is a difficult question that has neither
had widespread examination or debate.
is a question that Robert Taft, as well as others in the Anglo-American
tradition of anti-militarism, would no doubt be asking today.
Bresiger, [send him
managing editor of Traders Magazine, is a business writer
and editor living in Kew Gardens, New York. He recently presented
this paper to a meeting of the Libertarian Party of Queens County.