On Napoleon: Brief Remarks by a Friend of Peace (1822)

Note: I hold in my hands a book printed in 1822 by Philo Pacificus (Noah Worcester) containing his “Solemn Review of the Custom of War” and several issues of the “Friend of Peace” journal. The third number of the journal begins with a lengthy review of “The Horrors of Napoleon’s Campaign in Russia” in the which the following section is inserted, titled:


In the Russian campaign we have a view of the effects of war on a large scale. It was not a war of “small states in close neighborhood,” which Lord Kames censured as “brutal and bloody;” but it was a “war for glory” between two large empires, remote from each other:–Such a war as his lordship styled “the school of every manly virtue,” in which “barbarity gives place to magnanimity, and soldiers are converted from brutes into heroes.”

Let Christians then reflect on the scenes which have been exhibited, and ask themselves, whether they wish their children to be educated in such a “school;” whether such a school is adapted to form disciples of Jesus Christ; and whether robbers and pirates were ever chargeable with more flagrant violations of the principles of reason, religion and humanity.

Let it not be said that war in Russia was of a peculiar character, that French soldiers are worse than the soldiers of other nations, or that Napoleon was the worst of all military men.

Wars are generally terrible proportional to the numbers actually engaged. The same spirit uniformly prevails in war. Similar scenes of havoc and horror, similar outrages and distresses, have been witnessed in other wars, but commonly on a similar scale. Every war, like that in Russia, is on one side or the other a war of aggression. Every war is carried on by violence, rapine and injustice. The innocent, the aged and infirm–females old and young, and innocent children, fall a prey to the savage vengeance of unprincipled officers and soldiers. In thousands of instances the soldiers of other nations have conducted as bad, according to their numbers, as the French did at Moscow. The people of invaded territories alway complain of the violence and rapacity of invaders; and never have they been without reason for complaint. The cry of “Goths and Vandals!” has been commonly raised, and commonly just.

It may indeed be true, that Napoleon has caused the death of several millions of his fellow beings; but this does not prove that he is worst of military men. He has been more successful than many others, but not more than others have wished to be. Ambition for military fame is insatiable and never says, “it is enough.” Any man who will sacrifice a single life to his own ambition, is brother to Cain, and to Napoleon; and any man who will excite war to advance his own fame or wealth, is brother to the highway robber.

It is proper that we should reflect on the righteous retributions of Providence in the Russian Campaign. After the French army had wantonly massacred the people of Moscow—filling the city with distress, murder and violation—and had loaded themselves with plunder, they were compelled to retreat. But the vengeance of God pursued them, overtook them, and overwhelmed them. Those who without mercy had distressed and destroyed others perished without mercy.—Distressed for food, they were compelled to eat their famished horses; and what is still more revolting, they fed on the flesh of their famished and dead brethren. The sword, the famine and the frost, sweeps them off by multitudes, till their terrific army was reduced to a twentieth part of its original number. Such was the terror, frenzy and despair, that they, murdered one another; and “thousands and thousands” plunged themselves headlong into the Beresina.

Now, what have the French nation gained by all their wars and conquest since their violation? Their wars have been a continual source of misery at home, as well as abroad; and in their turn they have been inundated, harassed and distressed by foreign troops. Such are the genuine fruits of the war spirit and a thirst for military fame.

The distress of the Russian empire was indeed terrible.—But that empire, like others, had been formed by war, and cemented by blood. In past ages the Russians were a ferocious and bloody people. Their invasion of Poland and their storming of Warsaw, were as unjust and cruel, as the conduct of the French towards them.—Similar complaints may be brought against all the allied powers.

The people of Great Britain have a tremendous account lying against them. The history for ages is filled with records of blood. They have indeed become a powerful nation; but they are in the hands of God, as clay is in the hands of the potter; and except they repent and abandon the custom of war, their sins will surely find them out. As by war their empire has been widely extended; so by war it will probably be diminished and overthrown—unless they shall awake to righteousness and adopt the path of peace. Above all other nations they now possess the means to give peace to the world. But if they shall refuse to employ their influence for this purpose, their long arrears of blood will probably involve them in ruin. Their pecuniary debt is indeed enormous, but it is nothing compared with their debt of blood. The former may be a means of binding them together for some years to come; the latter is a tremendous millstone about the neck of that nation, from which nothing but reformation and divine mercy can ever relieve them.

Note: at this point the narrative turns to “An Estimate of Human Sacrifice in the Russian Campaign”

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