Essay: DIVIDED WE STAND: The Unpopularity of U.S. Wars

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As to the mode of terminating the war and securing peace, the President is wandering and indefinite. First, it is to be done by a more vigorous prosecution of the war in the vital parts of the enemy's country; after talking himself tired on this point, the President tells us that with a people divided by contending factions, we may fail to obtain a satisfactory peace.

ARKANSAS' Senator William Fulbright sounding off against L.B.J.? Not by more than a century. It is Illinois Congressman Abraham Lincoln speaking during the Mexican War. To Lincoln, that war was both "unnecessary and unconstitutional," and his vehement protests were repeated by scores of other prominent critics. Lincoln's argument echoed an attitude that is as old as American history. For Americans have always looked upon war as an evil to be avoided whenever possible. Thus in 1846 there were those who wholly disapproved of the hostilities against Mexico—just as today there are those who wholly disagree with the U.S. stand in Viet Nam. With the exception of World War II, every war in U.S. history has stirred the uninhibited opposition of a sizable segment of the population. Even the Revolutionary War, which made a nation out of 13 colonies, was flatly opposed by a large number of American settlers.

War of Independence

The struggle that spawned the U.S. was, in fact, as much a civil war as anything else. As late as the spring of 1776, delegates from six of the 13 colonies came to the Continental Congress under instructions to vote against separation from Britain. Merchants, officeholders, landowners, cobblers, farmers—Tory Americans by the tens of thousands were hostile to the rebels. Virtually the entire Anglican clergy of the middle and northern states were solidly behind the British King. In New York City, Philadelphia, and parts of the Carolinas and Georgia, the loyalists outnumbered the patriots.

Some Tories were recklessly outspoken in their opposition to independence. "Damn the rebels!" cried one Massachusetts Tory. "I wish they were all scalped; damn the Congress to hell." Like a latter-day emissary to Hanoi, a Pennsylvania Tory named Samuel Shoemaker made his way to Windsor Castle and emerged after an interview to proclaim the kind of admiration for George III that occasional U.S. visitors have felt for Ho Chi Minh: "I wished some of my violent countrymen could have such an opportunity. They would be convinced that George III has not one grain of tyranny in his composition. A man of his fine feelings, so good a husband, so kind a father cannot be a tyrant."

Loyalists supplied the redcoats with food when George Washington's men were desperately hungry; they circulated counterfeit Continental currency to weaken the rebel economy, and they distributed handbills urging wavering patriots to switch to the British side. Some 50,000 actually took up arms and joined British regiments. In 1780, when Washington's troop roster numbered a mere 9,000, there were 8,000 Americans fighting in redcoat units.

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