Short Stories
All Titles

In Association with Amazon.com

Home > Authors Index > Browse all available works of Samuel Johnson > Text of Debate Respecting Officers On Half-Pay

A non-fiction by Samuel Johnson

Debate Respecting Officers On Half-Pay

Title:     Debate Respecting Officers On Half-Pay
Author: Samuel Johnson [More Titles by Johnson]


Mr. SANDYS this day moved for an humble address to his majesty, that, for the future ease of his majesty's subjects, all officers now subsisting upon half-pay, etc. might be employed in the army, and supported it to the following effect:

Sir, though I have often known motions opposed without any just objections, or at least without any proof of such inconveniencies likely to arise from them, as were equivalent to the advantages which they would have produced, yet I cannot but confess, that any opposition to this will be unexpected and surprising; for it is, in my opinion, supported by every law of justice and humanity. If we regard the publick in general, it cannot but produce some alleviation of the national expense; and if we consider the particular persons to whom it immediately relates, they have certainly a just claim to that regard which it is the tendency of this motion to procure them.

To burden with superfluous officers, and unnecessary expenses, a people already overwhelmed with taxes, and overrun with the dependents on the crown, is, surely, to the highest degree cruel and absurd. And to condemn those men to contempt and penury, who have served their country with bravery and fidelity, to prefer unexperienced striplings to those commissions, which would gladly be accepted by men who have already tried their courage in the battle, and borne the fatigues of marches, and the change of climates, is surely not only to oppress the deserving, and scatter promotion without just distinction; but, what is yet more enormous, it is to wanton with the publick safety, and expose us to our enemies.

Nor does it appear to me sufficient, that the veteran officers be restored to the commissions which they formerly enjoyed; they ought, upon an augmentation of our troops, to be recompensed by some advancement for their services and their sufferings; the ensign ought to become a lieutenant, and the lieutenant be exalted to a captain; stations which they will surely fill with more dignity and greater abilities, than boys newly discharged from school, and intrusted with unexpected authority.

If it be reasonable, sir, that expense should be spared in a time of general poverty, if it be politick to carry on war in the manner most likely to produce success, if it be just, that those who have served their country should be preferred to those who have no merit to boast, this motion cannot be rejected.

Sir William YONGE answered to this purpose:--Sir, to the motion now made, it will not, I believe, be objected, that it is unreasonable, or unjust, but that it is unnecessary, and that it is not drawn up with sufficient consideration.

It is unnecessary, because his majesty is advised by it to no other measures than those which he has already determined to pursue; for he has declared to me, sir, his intention of conferring the new commissions upon the officers who receive half-pay, before any other officers shall be promoted.

The motion appears to me not to be very attentively considered, or drawn up with great propriety of expression; for it supposes all the half-pay officers fit for the service, which cannot be imagined by any man, who considers that there has been peace for almost thirty years; a space of time, in which many vigorous constitutions must have declined, and many, who were once well qualified for command, must be disabled by the infirmities of age. Nor is the promotion of one of these gentlemen considered always by him as an act of favour; many of them have, in this long interval of peace, engaged in methods of life very little consistent with military employments, many of them have families which demand their care, and which they would not forsake for any advantages which a new commission could afford them, and therefore it would not be very consistent with humanity to force them into new dangers and fatigues which they are now unable to support.

With regard to these men, compassion and kindness seem to require that they should be suffered to spend their few remaining days without interruption, and that the dangers and toils of their youth should be requited in their age with ease and retirement.

There are others who have less claim to the regard of the publick, and who may be passed by in the distribution of new preferments without the imputation of neglecting merit. These are they who have voluntarily resigned their commissions for the sake of half-pay, and have preferred indolence and retreat to the service of their country.

So that it appears, that of those who subsist upon half-pay, some are unable to execute a commission, some do not desire, and some do not deserve it; and with regard to the remaining part, which can be no great number, I have already stated the intention of his majesty, and therefore cannot but conclude that the motion is needless.

Mr. PULTENEY spoke as follows:--Sir, I know not by what fatality it is, that all the motions made by one party are reasonable and necessary, and all that are unhappily offered by the other, are discovered either to be needless, or of pernicious tendency. Whenever a question can be clouded and perplexed, the opponents of the ministry are always mistaken, confuted, and, in consequence of the confutations, defeated by the majority of votes. When truth is too notorious to be denied, and too obvious to be contested, the administration claim the honour of the first discovery, and will never own that they were incited to their duty by the remonstrances of their opponents, though they never, before those remonstrances, had discovered the least intention of performing it.

But that the motion is allowed to be just and proper, is sufficient; the importance of it will be easily discovered. For my part I shall always consider that motion as important, which tends to contract the expenses of the publick, to rescue merit from neglect, and to hinder the increase of the dependents on the ministry.

Sir Robert WALPOLE answered:--Sir, there is no temper more opposite to that incessant attention to the welfare of the publick, which is the perpetual boast of those who have signalized themselves by opposing the measures of the administration, than a lust of contradiction, and a disposition to disturb this assembly with superfluous debates.

Whether this disposition is not discovered in the reply made to the declaration of his majesty's intentions, and the confession of the propriety of the motion, let the house determine. It must surely be confessed, that it is not necessary to advise what is already determined.

Nor is it less evident, that many of the officers whose interest is now so warmly solicited, must be incapacitated by their age for service, and unable to receive any benefit from the offer of new commissions. To deny this, is to question the flux of time, or to imagine that the constitution of a soldier is exempt from its injuries.

Mr. SANDYS explained himself to this effect:--Sir, I am far from intending by this motion to fill the army with decrepit officers, or to obstruct in any manner the service of the publick; nor have I any other intention, than to secure to those whose years permit, and whose inclinations incite them to enter once more into the army, that preferment to which they have a claim, not only from their past services, but from the state of penury and obscurity in which they have languished.

I desire to preserve those, whose valour has heretofore made our nation the terrour of the world, from the mortification of seeing themselves insulted by childhood, and commanded by ignorance; by ignorance exalted to authority by the countenance of some rhetorician of the senate, or some mayor of a borough.

Whoever has observed the late distribution of military honours, will easily discover that they have been attained by qualifications very different from bravery, or knowledge of the art of war; he will find that regiments and companies are the rewards of a seasonable vote, and that no man can preserve his post in the army, whether given him as the reward of acknowledged merit, or sold him for the full value, any longer than he employs all his influence in favour of the ministry.

Sir Robert WALPOLE then said:--Sir, it has been already admitted, that the motion can only be objected to as superfluous, and, therefore, all farther debate is mere waste of time, without any prospect of advantage; nor is any thing now necessary, but to review the motion, and correct such expressions as may be thought inaccurate or improper.

That all the half-pay officers are not able to enter into the service, has been already shown, and, therefore, I should imagine, that, instead of all the officers, we might very justly substitute officers properly qualified.

Sir John BARNARD replied:--Sir, though I cannot discover the necessity of any alteration, since it cannot be conceived that the senate can advise impossibilities, yet since so much accuracy is affected, it may be allowed that the word all shall be left out, as seeming to imply more than can be intended.

But the honourable gentleman is not, in my opinion, so happy in his amendment, as in his objection; for the words properly qualified convey to me no distinct idea. He that is qualified is, I suppose, properly qualified, for I never heard of improper qualifications; but if the word properly be omitted, I have no objection to the amendment.

This motion was agreed to.

[The end]
Samuel Johnson's Writing: Debate Respecting Officers On Half-Pay