British Prison Conditions
The writer is not certain but that the cause of humanity would be promoted by writing out a detailed statement of the sufferings of American prisoners in South Carolina during the period of the Revolutionary War and sending it over as a compliment to Queen Victoria, her House of Lords and Commons. It is stated upon good authority that the jail in Camden was literally crammed with men from the time of the defeat of Gen. Gates until the following spring; that for a considerable time in the autumn of 1780 not a morsel was given them to eat save pieces of pumpkins gathered from the troughs where horses had been fed. These remnants of horse feed were brought in baskets once a day and thrown into the jail among the prisoners, and it often occurred that some of them failed in getting a single morsel even of this fare. It is to be remembered that many of these persons were men of the purest morals and highest respectability. All of them prisoners of war, and of course many of them murdered by this process of ‑‑ shall I call it slow torture?
For all actions there is a responsibility somewhere. Is a government answerable for the doings of its agents? Is a people in any sense responsible for the acts of those to whose government they submit, and whose authority they sustain? Who were responsible for the immense chain of frauds, cruelties, &c., practice by the agents of the British Government in the vain attempt to subdue this country? It appears to the writer that not only were the immediate agents responsible but that the Government and all who sustained its authority and measures must be held accountable. A government nominally Christian may decree a day of thanksgiving for victories achieved and multitudes repair to the House of God with hymns of praise for battles won, yet the hands lifted up may be stained with blood. A day of swift vengeance may be in reserve for a nation ringing with acclamations of joy and apparent gratitude.
Much may be said in regard to the laws of nations, by way of extenuating the moral turpitude of the events growing out of the prosecution of war. But what are the laws of nations? Are they of any higher origin than the laws of honor, falsely so called? Who enacted the laws of nations? Who enforces obedience to their precepts? If the laws of honor were in vented by people of fashion to regulate their intercourse with each other without any regard to morality what ever, the laws of nations express nothing more than the usages of civilized nations in their intercourse with each other. Things usual may he a violation of the most obvious principals of morality, no less among nations than a single community. We never can make vice a virtue, nor a virtue vice. Use may blunt the moral perception of men and overcome our natural horror at atrocious cruelty, it may with many pass as a safe rule of conduct, but it can never determine a thing to be right or justify a man or a nation in the sight of the Creator.
Hence the robberies and murders justified by the laws of nations and the laws of war are still robberies and murders. If war is ever justified it must be waged either under the immediate command of God, or to sustain the obvious principles of justice. And if the end be right it does not follow that all the means employed must be right also.