Alexander Campbell’s Address on War
In our Wednesday evening class on Christian ethics, we have spent the last couple of weeks looking at the issue of war and violence more generally. It comes as a surprise to most people to learn that, historically, there was a strong pacifist current of thought in churches of Christ up until the World Wars. More specifically, nearly all of the first generation of leaders in the Restoration Movement—including both Barton W. Stone and Alexander Campbell—were opposed to war and violence. This is the conclusion to Campbell’s “Address on War” which he delivered in 1848, in the aftermath of the controversial US-Mexican War. It’s presented here simply as food for thought on a subject many of us probably have not considered much. BP
To sum up the whole we argue:
- The right to take away the life of the murderer does not of itself warrant war, inasmuch as in that case none but the guilty suffer, whereas in war the innocent suffer not only with, but often without, the guilty. The guilty generally make war and the innocent suffer from its consequences.
- The right given to the Jews to wage war is not vouchsafed to any other nation, for they were under a theocracy, and were God’s sheriff to punish nations; consequently no Christian can argue from the wars of the Jews in justification or in extenuation of the wars of Christendom. The Jews had a Divine precept and authority; no existing nation can produce such a warrant.
- The prophecies clearly indicate that the Messiah himself would be “the Prince of Peace,” and that under his reign “wars should cease” and “nations study it no more.”‘
- The gospel, as first announced by the angels, is a message which results in producing “peace on earth and good will among men.”
- The precepts of Christianity positively inhibit war – by showing that “wars and fightings come from men’s lusts” and evil passions, and by commanding Christians to “follow peace with all men.”
- The beatitudes of Christ are not pronounced on patriots, heroes, and conquerors but on peacemakers, on whom is conferred the highest rank and title in the universe: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.”
- The folly of war is manifest in the following particulars:
- First. It can never be the criterion of justice of a proof of right.
- Second. It can never be a satisfactory end of the controversy.
- Third. Peace is always the result of negotiation, and treaties are its guaranty and pledge.
- The wickedness of war is demonstrated in the following particulars:
- First. Those who are engaged in killing their brethren, for the most part, have no personal cause of provocation whatever.
- Second. They seldom, or never, comprehend the right or the wrong of the war. They, therefore, act without the approbation of conscience.
- Third. In all wars the innocent are punished with the guilty.
- Fourth. They constrain the soldier to do for the state that which, were he to do it for himself, would, by the law of the state, involve forfeiture of his life.
- Fifth. They are the pioneers of all other evils to society, both moral and physical. In the language of Lord Brougham, “Peace, peace, peace! I abominate war as un-Christian. I hold it the greatest of human curses. I deem it to include all others – violence, blood, rapine, fraud, everything that can deform the character, alter the nature, and debase the name of man.” Or with Joseph Bonaparte, “War is but organized barbarism – an inheritance of the savage state,” With Franklin I, therefore, conclude, “There never was a good war, or a bad peace.”
No wonder, then, that for two or three centuries after Christ all Christians refused to bear arms. So depose Justin Martyr, Tatian, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, and so forth…
On reviewing the subject in the few points only that I have made and with the comparatively few facts I have collected, I must confess that I both wonder at myself and am ashamed to think that I have never before spoken out my views, nor even written an essay on this subject. True, I had, indeed, no apprehension of ever again seeing or even hearing of a war in the United States. It came upon me so suddenly, and it so soon became a party question, that, preserving, as I do, a strict neutrality between party politics, both in my oral and written addresses on all subjects, I could not for a time decide whether to speak out or be silent. I finally determined not to touch the subject till the war was over. Presuming that time to have arrived, and having resolved that my first essay from my regular course, at any foreign point should be on this subject, I feel that I need offer no excuse, ladies and gentlemen, for having called your attention to the matter in hand. I am sorry to think – very sorry indeed to be only of the opinion – that probably even this much published by me some three years or even two years ago, might have saved some lives that since have been thrown away in the desert – some hot-brained youths –
“Whose limbs, unburied on the shore,Al
Devouring dogs or hungry vultures tore.”
We have all a deep interest in the question; we can all do something to solve it; and it is everyone’s duty to do all the good he can. We must create a public opinion on this subject. We should inspire a pacific spirit and urge on all proper occasions the chief objections to war.