A Statement of Principle

An excerpt from William Greene’s 1864 letter to Maj. Gen. Benjamin Franklin Butler about an offer to command a regiment of ex-Confederate troops in the Civil War:

“You are aware, General, that I have no politics, that I was originally a Democrat, that I became a radical anti-slavery man when the fugitive slave law was passed, and that my Democratic and anti-slavery principles have prevented me, for many years past, from voting, and that I shall probably refrain from voting hereafter, so long as slavery is, in any way whatever, guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States. I think my political record is, if not wise and judicious, at least consistent. Nevertheless I am a subject of the United States, the United States is endeavoring to put down an inexcusable rebellion, the Government of the United States is (with all its faults) the best in the world, and my allegiance is due to that Government. I would not, on any consideration, at the present time, after the experience I have had, volunteer my services; but if my services as a soldier are asked for, I do not feel at liberty to decline serving my country in a military capacity. Nevertheless, General, if anything happens to prevent me from receiving the commission, it will be a matter of rejoicing to me, since I have little to gain and much to lose by re-entering the service. I have bought me a house, with several acres of land around it, am engaged in superintending the education of my children, am now favored by Providence beyond the ordinary lot of men, am happy and contented, and shall be grateful to the country if it will leave me where I am. In the matter of accepting the commission, I will do my absolute duty, and nothing more. I had rather not have it than have it.”

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