The barracks occupy the top and brow of a very high hill. They are free from bog, have four springs which seem to be plentiful, one within twenty yards of the picket, two within fifty yards, and another within two hundred and fifty, and they propose to sink wells within the picket. Of four thousand people, it should be expected, according to the ordinary calculations, that one should die every day. Yet, in the space of near three months, there have been but four deaths among them; two infants under three weeks old, and two others by apoplexy. The officers tell me, the troops were never before so healthy since they were embodied.

… Is an enemy so execrable, that, though in captivity, his wishes and comforts are to be disregarded and even crossed? I think not. It is for the benefit of mankind to mitigate the horrors of war as much as possible. The practice, therefore … of treating captive enemies with politeness and generosity, is not only delightful in contemplation, but really interesting to all the world, friends, foes, and neutrals.

—Thomas Jefferson. Letter to Patrick Henry, Albermarie, March 27, 1779.

The condition in which the Americans kept British prisoners of war, as described by Jefferson, is the benchmark for emulation. When a soldier’s surrender has been accepted or a civilian is interned, he must be treated with all the comfort and consideration reasonably possible under the circumstances.

This article is an extract from the book ‘Principles of Good Government’ by Matthew Bransgrove