Benjamin L. Staples
August 25, 1862
Houlton Selectman Benjamin Staples thought that the federal government’s proposed military draft was flawed. Knowing that he could not correct it, he asked for help. With two other Selectmen and 34 additional Houlton residents, Staples asked Governor Israel Washburn to review the draft orders and amend them.
The Houlton townspeople worried that applying regional quotas for the draft should a town or area fail to have enough militia volunteers or army enlistees.
The quotas would be figured from the 1860 census, which would show too many men to be potentially eligible to serve. The requirements for eligibility did not specify that everyone must speak English, but, as a practical matter, soldiers were expected to share a common language.
"A draft is not practicable in the Northern section of this County because its inhabitants speak a different language from ours, and have not to any considerable extent been enrolled in the militia," Staples writes.
He reminds Gov. Washburn that "the Northern portion of the County, commonly called the French Plantations, constitute more than one fourth part of its entire population, the population of the County according to the last census being 22449 and that of these Plantations 5630."
By Staples’ logic, the French-speaking men would not be accepted into the army, which would place a greater likelihood that the remaining English-speaking men would be drafted.
"Our reply is that if they are not eligible as soldiers," Staples argues, "then they should not be counted as a part of our population from which a draft is to be made. The rest of the County which has done more than its duty already should not be charged with their deficiencies."
The voluntary response by Houlton’s men had already surpassed any quotas, Staples adds, and he suggests that perhaps the town could be exempt.
"Surely if there is a town in Maine which might be excused from the draft it is the town of Houlton. We claim to be the banner town of Maine," he writes.
- Staples was only 42 years-old. Could he have had a personal reason to try to exempt his town from the draft?
- Should Governor Washburn have accepted Houlton’s requests?