Harrison County, West Va.
April 18th, 1864.
As your very excellent paper is conducted with more ability, and wields more influence than any other published in our new State, I have thought it might not be unseasonable to obtrude some views upon you relative to a matter which is giving our people more uneasiness than any other which has transpired for a long time, and which views, I trust, will meet your approval to such an extent as will enable you to aid in their maintenance and support.
In your paper of the 13th inst., you publish an abstract of a military order, requiring all persons, loyal or disloyal, living on or south of the Balt. & Ohio Railroad, to deliver their arms of every character and description, to the nearest commanding officer or provost marshal, with the names of the owners attached thereto, which arms are to be sent to Cumberland, Harper's Ferry or Charleston, until such time as the public safety will admit. An exception, however, is made in favor of those belonging to the armies of the United States, and those who are enrolled in the militia who may obtain a permit from a commanding officer. The order has created intense and universal alarm. Let us look at it. The loyal men of this country over forty five years of age are not enrolled in the militia, and consequently cannot retain their arms. Many of them have sons fighting the battles of the country, or lying sick in hospitals, or perchance in death: these men, therefore, to whom their wives and infant children alone look for protection, are called upon to deliver up their arms, and stand defenseless against incursions of marauding parties, horse thieves, robbers and plunderers, who, knowing they are disarmed, will have no fears to restrain them from indiscriminate outrage and violence. This devoted country south of the railroad is thus to be made the fierce arena of all manner of offences, because a premium is thus offered for their commission with impunity. Nor is this a vain imagining. Already in nearly every neighborhood throughout the country, offences against life, persons and property, are of nightly occurrence, most of the restraint arise; from the knowledge that the firing of a gun or pistol at night is the signal for neighbors to come to the rescue, who, though over forty five and not enrolled in the militia, are ready to defend each other's homes from outrage and violence as long as they are permitted to retain the means of doing so. Nor will this reasoning only apply to the lawless who are in these times especially found in all communities. The rebels finding out that the country is defenceless, after they run the blockade of the outposts, can in squads of two or three, (nay, one armed man alone would be sufficient,) capture and drive before him or them, any reasonable number of our unarmed citizens, to swell the lists of Libby, there to be held as hostages.
But what danger exists to the State or country, by suffering the people, who constitute the bone and sinew Of the State, to keep their squirrel rifles, pistols or shot guns? Shall a man, because he is so unfortunate as to be forty-five years of age or upwards, be deemed less worthy of confidence than one of eighteen or twenty? If there is any difference, I maintain that the man who is over the age of military duty is more identified with the interests of the State and more worthy of confidence, because he has anchored here, for weal or woe, and cannot tear himself away from his home and his country as the young man may. Is it for fear that some may give aid to the enemy? Why, sir, when Jones, of the rebel army, passed through our country last May, he made no distinction between loyal men and sympathizers. If any thing, he took more horses and property from those who are called Secessionists than any others, upon the ground, as he alleged, "that if they were Secesh they ought to help the cause."
The Secessionists, therefore, fear the rebels as much as the most loyal, because the country is already plucked to the bone: They failed to give aid when they were comparatively in easy circumstances, and it is not to be supposed that they would do so at a time when want and famine stare rich and poor alike in the face.--Again, it is well known, that not a rifle or shot gun was captured in that raid, and
that the rebels feared these guns as much as they did the muskets of the soldiery. In fact, at various points they, were fired upon by parties of farmers, not in the military service, who "bushwhacked" them from inaccessible [v]astnesses in the woods skirting the high ways.
But, sir, ours is a law-abiding, constitution loving people. They have learned from their fathers that no people have ever been deprived of their arms except the Russian serfs, the down trodden Irish, the Mexican peasant, and the Southern negro. They have been told by their fathers that so important did they consider this bulwark of liberty, this great right of self-defence, that the very second article of the amendments to the Constitution of the United States solemnly declares "that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."
The military order fills us all with dismay. When we lay down at night we feel that we will have no security for our own lives or those of our wives and children, if it is carried out. We feel that bad men who otherwise would suffer death, hold us at their mercy, to outrage or destroy. We feel notwithstanding all we have suffered, notwithstanding all the devotion to country we have manifested, that because we are too old to be enrolled, the military look upon us with distrust. We ask when they have shorn as of our strength, and our means of defence, what answer shall we make when they cry aloud and say, "Sampson, the Philistines be upon thee?" No sir, give the people, one and all, the right to hold on to their arms, 'tis their best security from invasion, from home or abroad; 'tis the best security for the morals and domestic peace of the country; 'tis the best security for maintaining the patriotic sentiment of the people, and to keep them from wildly fleeing from every threatened danger, thereby demoralizing the trust they repose in the government to protect them. It will be the best evidence they can have that the government does not intend to violate that great compact of our liberties, the deliberate compact of great and good men, the Constitution of the United States, which says in language not to be misinterpreted or misunderstood:
"Article 2d. A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."