Article 1, Section 8, Clause 14

Document 2

House of Representatives, Army Regulations

Jan. 1806Annals 15:326--27

The House went into a Committee of the Whole on the bill for establishing rules and articles for the government of the Armies of the United States.

The bill was taken up by sections.

On reaching the eighth article, which authorizes a court martial to punish with death or otherwise any one "who, being present at any mutiny or sedition, does not use his utmost endeavor to suppress the same, or coming to the knowledge of any intended mutiny, does not, without delay, give information thereof to his commanding officer," Mr. G. W. Campbell moved to strike out the words "death or otherwise."

Messrs. Varnum and Nelson opposed the motion, which was disagreed to without a division.

In a subsequent article, Mr. G. W. Campbell moved to strike out that part, which authorizes a court martial to punish with death any one who offers violence to his officer.

In support of this amendment, Mr. Campbell reprobated the idea of the lives of citizens being in the power of a court martial. He compared soldiers to mere machines, from the severity of the military law; he said almost every article in the bill was stained with blood; he drew a parallel between them and the civil penal laws; and that when men know how small offences subjected them to death, they would be deterred from or disgusted in serving their country.

Mr. Southard and Mr. Cook followed with similar observations and arguments, in favor of the amendment.

This was strenuously opposed by Mr. R. Nelson, Mr. Smilie, Mr. Macon, and Mr. Tallmadge.

These gentlemen represented the necessity of the bill standing as it had hitherto done in this respect. They drew a picture of the Army without discipline, where every soldier might think himself at his own disposal--of an army being ordered to attack the enemy, and an officer refusing, and drawing his sword on his commanding officer. The necessity of a code of laws for the military differing from the civil law was demonstrated; and having, by the law as it stands, gone through the Revolutionary war with success, and in peace found no ill consequence arising therefrom, they thought it neither prudent nor safe to adopt the amendment.

Mr. Tallmadge said, that in the Revolutionary war, the disobedience of soldiers to their officers' commands, had, at one time gone to such a length as threatened a mutiny. The Adjutant General, Lee, was struck by a soldier on being ordered to do his duty. The commander ordered him to be tried by a general court martial. He was found guilty and sentenced to be shot. The army was drawn up, to attend the execution; upon the spot appointed for that purpose General Lee interceded in behalf of the soldier, who was, in consequence pardoned. This, however, produced a good effect in the army. Mr. Tallmadge, brought forward other instances of danger, when soldiers were not subject to severe laws. Soldiers, he observed, were a description of men that must be ruled with severity--and though officers were invested with this authority, they were ever careful in exerting it. So far from it, that an officer had an esteem for the soldiers he commands--while the soldier himself, acting up to the tenor of his duty, respected his officer.

The question being now called for on Mr. Campbell's amendment, was lost. The affirmative only 20.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 3, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 14, Document 2
The University of Chicago Press

Annals of Congress. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States. "History of Congress." 42 vols. Washington, D.C.: Gales & Seaton, 1834--56.

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