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DEAR SIR, My time was so constantly engaged during the hist session of Congress in meeting the incessant calls on the War Department for information, and since the adjournment, in bringing up the portion of business, which I was compelled to neglect, and in reorganizing the army, that my private correspondence has been almost wholly suspended. Among my unanswered letters, I find your esteemed favour of the 26th Dec'r , and tho' late, you will permit me to express the great satisfaction, which I experienced from your approbation of my report on the reduction of the army. The approbation of the wise and virtuous is what I court; and I trust, that on all occasions, that my conduct shall evince, at least a desire, to deserve it. To speak the truth boldly, tho' not always pleasant, is, I conceive, one of the first of the duties of a publick officer, and in performing that, which you have been pleased to approbate, I was determined to adhere rigidly to that duty. It is mere deception to place our militia on the footing of regular troops, and the reference to the militia of Rome, or Switzerland to establish the superiority of ours is an unworthy sophism to maintain that deception. I n our sense of the word, they were not militia. These countries ought to be considered as cantonments, and their inhabitants the garrison. This state of things could only be produced, or continued by that constantly impending danger to which you so justly refer, as its cause. No nation occupy a situation so much the opposite, as ourselves; and if we think soundly, we must expect the opposite effect. It is true, that much space, great personal freedom and plenty give to our people individual valour; but they cannot give organization, or discipline, which are the elements of military power. In coining to this conclusion,I am by no means disposed to set the militia aside. Let them be armed and organized into companies and regiments; let them be mustered, to see that their arms are in a good condition; and let the use of fire arms be proved, where necessary, by the awarding of premiums to the best marksman. This may be done; beyond it, in the present state of our country, it will be difficult to proceed. A militia thus prepared will answer all of the purposes for which they ought to be intended, either for the defence of the country, or the preservation of our liberty. The country would thus be taught to look to their real use, instead of assigning duties to them, to which they are wholly inadequate; and in which the only results, which can be justly anticipated, are defeat and an enormous augmentation of the public expenditure.
On the defence of the eastern portion of our northern frontier, I substantially concur, with the exception of works to command lake Champlain. After I came to the Department, the works on that frontier, with the exception of those at Rouses point, were stoped. Those have been since suspended, from the belief, that they would fall on the Canadian side of the line. I felt disposed to give some importance to those works, under the idea, that lake Champlain ought to be considered in the light of a canal, and that the cheapest mode of preserving its entire and unmolested use, was by fortifying its northern extremity. The completion of what is called the northern canal in New York, connecting the waters of the Hudson with this lake, gives to this channel of communication great importance; and would justify a very considerable expense to close it wholly against our neighbour. In addition to this, I am inclined to think the military road from Plattsburgh to the St Lawrence, from the peculiar character of that portion of the frontier, not without its importance. In addition to the labour of the troops, it will cost but little.
Doubtless our attention ought to be drawn mainly to our maritime frontier. For its defence, we must unquestionably look first to the navy, and next to a judicious system of fortifications. Both of these have, and continue to claim, much of the attention of the government; and .if persevered in steadily and judiciously must, in a few years, greatly increase our capacity either to defend ourselves, or to assail an enemy.
I hope that you continue to enjoy good health, and I pray you to accept of the assurance of my respect and esteem.
- John C. Calhoun
- Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1899, Calhoun Correspondence.