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The Life and Public Services of Henry Wilson
Chapter IV.


BY nature Mr. Wilson possesses the endowments requisite to success, not only as a political, but also as a military leader. Rapid in his combinations, quick to discover the weak point in an opponent, fertile in expedients, fearless and far-seeing, he has elements both of mind and body for a commander. His thoughts were early turned towards military life; and, during his minority, he took delight in reading the history of the campaigns of Marlborough, Wolfe, Washington, Wellington, Napoleon, and other eminent generals. He drew in his mind the plans of celebrated battles, and criticised, as he could, the movements of distinguished leaders in the field. He first appeared upon the training-field in Farmington, where he was appointed to an inferior military office. On coming to Natick, he continued to take a lively interest in military affairs. He abominated war, viewed simply as a means of attaining personal glory; but he felt that it was sometimes indispensable to self-protection, and that the military system of Massachusetts needed revision and support.

This opinion he privately and publicly expressed as opportunity occurred. In the State Senate, 1844, he was appointed chairman of the Military Committee, and made a strong speech on the 14th of February of that year in favor of increasing the pay of soldiers doing military duty.

In 1843, without his knowledge or consent, he was elected major of the first regiment of artillery, of which William Schouler was then colonel. He knew nothing of his election until he saw the announcement of it in the public papers. His duties as a major he faithfully discharged, and thereby won the confidence and respect of the soldiers under him. In June, 1846, he was elected as colonel of the same regiment; and, six weeks later, brigadier-general of the third brigade of the Massachusetts volunteer militia, in which office he continued for the next five years. During this period he studied military tactics carefully, and by his skill and industry brought his brigade up to an admirable state of discipline. His soldiers loved him and obeyed him, carrying out his orders with alacrity, and priding themselves upon the bearing and ability of their commander. He had the reputation of drilling his brigade with greater thoroughness than any other officer in the State, and of being, at the same time, highly popular with his men. By his strenuous exertions in the legislature, much was done to revive the military spirit in Massachusetts, and to put her into position for a struggle which some prophetic eyes discovered even then to be impending. In a defence of the integrity of the soldiers at the polls, Mr. Wilson, referring to his own connection with the militia of the State, said in the Convention of 1853, -

"I may speak from some little experience, having been a member of the volunteer militia of Massachusetts for nine years, and having during these years held the offices of major, lieutenant-colonel, colonel, and brigadier-general. I held the command of a brigade of more than eight hundred men for five years; and during these nine years I made many acquaintances and formed many friendships I shall ever fondly cherish. Not one unkind word ever passed between me and any officer or private of the brigade during my nine years of connection with it. I received from many of my comrades many acts of kindness I hope never to forget. During these years I was five times a candidate for senator of Middlesex, the county where the members of my brigade resided ; and I can truly say that I do not know or think that I ever received a single vote owing to my connection with the brigade. Four of the five gentlemen who were members of my staff were of a different political faith from mine; and I have no reason to think they ever sacrificed their opinions on account of our personal relations as members of a military family. The members of the volunteer militia of Massachusetts are generally men of intelligence and character, who are not won from their political allegiance by the plume and epaulet."

So in the same speech he thus eloquently expresses his views of peace and war -

"I am not one of those men who cry peace when there is no peace without slavery, injustice, and wrong. I may be in error; but I have sometimes thought that the song which the peace-movement has hymned into the ear of Europe during the past five years has made far easier the march of the legions of Russia and Austria upon Hungary and Italy, and the march of the legions of France - of apostate republican France - upon Rome. While the people have listened with softened hearts to the songs of peace, their masters have disarmed them, and sent forth their increasing standing armies to crush every manifestation of freedom, progress, and popular rights. When tyranny is overthrown, and freedom established; when standing armies are disbanded, and the people armed for their own protection against arbitrary power, - then I would write 'Peace' on banners of the people, and send them forth to make the tour of the world. My motto is, 'LIBERTY first; PEACE afterwards.'"

By these faithful military services in his own State, Mr. Wilson was unconsciously making preparation for the intelligent performance of the important duties which devolved on him as chairman of the Military Committee of the United-States Senate during the Rebellion. For that post, not only comprehensive views, and industry that fears no task, but large experience and information gained by actual practice, were demanded; and these Mr. Wilson had.

In regard to temperance Mr. Wilson's record has ever been clear, decided, and consistent. With profound sorrow he early saw the havoc produced among his fellow-men by the use of stimulating drink; and with unwavering steadiness he has ever used his tongue, his pen, and his vote, to dissuade and to restrain them from the sale and from the use of any thing which intoxicates the brain. Next to slavery, he has considered intemperance as the tremendous evil of this nation; and therefore, as a friend of humanity and a lover of his country, he has ever striven most earnestly to arrest its progress. His views on this question in 1845 appear in an animated address delivered on behalf of the Young Men's Temperance Society in Natick on the presentation by a lady of a beautiful banner to that body. It will be read with interest:

"MADAM, - In receiving at your hands this beautiful banner from the ladies of the Martha Washington Society, permit me, in return, in behalf of my associates, to tender to you, and the ladies whose organ you are, our sincere and grateful acknowledgments for this expression of your favor. For this evidence of zeal in our cause, and regard for our success, you have the thanks of many warm and generous hearts, that will ever throb with grateful recollection of your kindness till they shall cease to beat forever. We receive, madam, with the deepest and liveliest sensibility, the kind sentiments you have expressed in behalf of our society. Be assured that these sentiments are appreciated and reciprocated by us.

"You have this day, ladies, consecrated and devoted this banner to the great moral movement of the age. We accept its guardianship with mingled feelings of pride, hope, and joy. It is indeed a fit and noble tribute, an offering worthy of the cause and of you. May its fair folds never be stained or dishonored by any act of ours! Tasteful and expressive in design and execution, we prize it highly for its intrinsic worth; but we prize it still higher as a manifest and enduring memorial of your devotion to principle and duty. Ever proud shall we be to unroll its gorgeous folds to the sunshine and the breeze; to gather round it, and rally under it, and guard and defend it, as we would defend from every danger its fair and generous donors. It was not intended that the eye should feast alone on its splendor, but that, so often as the eye should gaze upon it, a quick and lively appreciation of the transcendent magnitude of the cause to which you have devoted it should live in our understanding, and affect our hearts.

"Ours is a peaceful reform, a moral warfare. We are not called upon to leave our homes and the loved ones that cluster around our domestic altars to go to the field of bloody strife on an errand of wrath and hatred. Our battles are bloodless; our victories are tearless.

Yet the contest in which we are engaged is a fearful one; for it is a struggle with the vitiated and depraved appetites and passions of our fallen race, —foes that have triumphed over earth's brightest and fairest, over all that is noble in man and lovely in woman. These foes have gathered their victims from every clime and every age. No age, sex, or condition, has escaped. Heroes who have led their mailed legions over a hundred fields of glory and renown, and planted their victorious eagles on the capitals of conquered nations; statesmen who have wielded the destinies of mighty empires, setting up and pulling down thrones and dynasties, and stamping the impress of their genius upon the institutions of their age; orators who have held listening senates in mute and rapt admiration, and whose eloquence has thrown a halo of imperishable light and unfading glory over their age and nation; scholars who have laid under contribution the vast domains of matter and mind, grasping and mastering the mighty problems of moral, intellectual, and physical science, and left behind them monuments of toil and wisdom for the study and admiration of all ages, - have been the victims, the slaves, of these foes, - foes which we have pledged ourselves to conquer. In this fearful contest we will bear aloft this banner and when the conflict thickens, when trials, doubts, and temptations come around us like the floods, may it glitter through the gloom like a beacon-light over the dark and troubled waste of waters, a sign of hope and promise, to which may come, in the hour of loneliness, sorrow, and penitence, some erring and fallen brother! You can sustain us by your prayers, and cheer us by your approving smiles. You can visit, as you have done, the drunkard's home of poverty, destitution, and misery, and by offices of kindness and charity and something to dry up the tears and alleviate the wants of its neglected and sorrowing inmates.

"Every great struggle for humanity has been blessed by woman's prayers, and aided by her generous toil. The history of our country, of our own renowned commonwealth, is full of the noblest instances of her constancy and devotion. She trod with our fathers the deck of 'The Mayflower.' She sat beside them in unrepining and uncomplaining constancy as they gathered in council, houseless and homeless in mid-winter, to lay in prayers and tears the foundations of a free Christian commonwealth. In the long, perilous struggles with the wild sons of the forest, she shared without complaint their privations and dangers; and, in the great struggle for independence, she counselled the wise, infused courage into the brave, armed fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers, and sent them to the field where freedom was to be won by blood. In the great struggle in which we are engaged to free our native land from the blighting, withering, soul-destroying curse of intemperance, our fair country-women have shown that they inherit the virtues of our patriotic mothers.

"Ladies, you have this day given up substantial evidence of your friendship, sympathy, and co-operation. May we not, then, indulge the hope that our societies will move along in union and harmony, each in its appropriate sphere of duty, laboring to hasten on the day when every drunkard shall be redeemed, and restored to his manhood and to society?

"Friends and associates, we shall doubtless, in the changes and mutations of life, be called to separate. Wherever we may go, on the land or on the sea, in our own or other climes, may a deep and abiding sense of duty go with us! May the influences of this hour be ever upon us! May this banner, the gift of those near and dear to us, ever float in our mind's eye, inciting us to duty, and guarding us in the hour of temptation! And when life's labors are done, its trials over, and its honors won, may each of us have the proud consciousness that we have kept the pledge inviolate; that we have done something in our day and generation for our race, - something that shall cause, our names and memories to be mentioned with respect and gratitude when 'the golden bowl shall be broken and the silver cord loosed,' when our 'bodies' shall have mouldered and mingled with the dust, and 'our spirits have returned to God who gave them'"!

Thus at home, among his own immediate friends and acquaintances, Mr. Wilson's words and example were from the outset unchangeably on the side of sobriety, civil order, social progress, and reform. If any thing beneficent was to be attempted, his friends knew where to find him. His hand and heart were ready. On the young people of the village his influence was ever salutary and inspiring. His friendly counsel was ever given for a higher, nobler course of life. In the social circle, in the shop, the lecture-room, or in the street, he was always on the right side. Very many of his companions can trace their success in life mainly to the elevating influence he exerted over them. The steady vote of Natick in his favor, and the public demonstrations of joy which that town has made on his advancement to political power, evince the estimation in which he is held as a townsman, friend, and neighbor at home. Those who know him best appreciate him most highly as a citizen and as a man.

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