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Debate On Taking The State Of The Army Into Consideration

Title:     Debate On Taking The State Of The Army Into Consideration
Author: Samuel Johnson [More Titles by Johnson]


The duke of ARGYLE rose first, and spoke to the following effect:--My lords, as the present situation of our affairs may require an augmentation of our forces, and as the success of our arms, and the preservation of our liberties, may equally depend upon the manner in which the new forces shall be raised, there is, in my opinion, no question more worthy the attention of this august assembly, than what may be the most proper method of increasing our army.

On this question, my lords, I shall offer my own sentiments with greater confidence, as there are few men who have had more opportunities of being acquainted with it in its whole extent, as I have spent great part of my life in the field and in the camp. I commanded a regiment under king William, and have long been either the first, or almost the first man in the army.

I hope, my lords, it will be allowed, without difficulty, that I have, at least, been educated at the best school of war, and that nothing but natural incapacity can have hindered me from making some useful observations upon the discipline and government of armies, and the advantages and inconveniencies of the various plans upon which other nations regulate their forces.

I have always maintained, my lords, that it is necessary, in the present state of the neighbouring countries, to keep up a body of regular troops, that we may not be less able to defend ourselves, than our enemies to attack us.

It is well known, my lords, that states must secure themselves by different means, as they are threatened by dangers of different kinds: policy must be opposed by policy, and force by force; our fleets must be increased when our neighbours grow formidable by their naval power, and armies must be maintained at a time like this, in which every prince on the continent estimates his greatness by the number of his troops.

But an army, my lords, as it is to be admitted only for the security of the nation, is to be so regulated, that it may produce the end for which it is established; that it may be useful without danger, and protect the people without oppressing them.

To this purpose, my lords, it is indispensably necessary, that the military subordination be inviolably preserved, and that discipline be discreetly exercised without any partial indulgence, or malicious severities; that every man be promoted according to his desert, and that military merit alone give any pretensions to military preferment.

To make the army yet more useful, it ought to be under the sole command of one man, exalted to the important trust by his known skill, courage, justice, and fidelity, and uncontrouled in the administration of his province by any other authority, a man enabled by his experience to distinguish the deserving, and invested with power to reward them.

Thus, my lords, ought an army to be regulated, to which the defence of a nation is intrusted, nor can any other scheme be formed which will not expose the publick to dangers more formidable than revolutions or invasions. And yet, my lords, how widely those who have assumed the direction of affairs have deviated from this method is well known. It is known equally to the highest and meanest officers, that those who have most opportunities of observing military merit, have no power of rewarding it; and, therefore, every man endeavours to obtain other recommendations than those of his superiours in the army, and to distinguish himself by other services than attention to his duty, and obedience to his commanders.

Our generals, my lords, are only colonels with a higher title, without power, and without command; they can neither make themselves loved nor feared in their troops, nor have either reward or punishment in their power. What discipline, my lords, can be established by men, whom those who sometimes act the farce of obedience, know to be only phantoms of authority, and to be restrained by an arbitrary minister from the exercise of those commissions which they are invested with? And what is an army without discipline, subordination, and obedience? What, but a rabble of licentious vagrants, set free from the common restraints of decency, exempted from the necessity of labour, betrayed by idleness to debauchery, and let loose to prey upon the people? Such a herd can only awe the villages, and bluster in the streets, but can never be able to oppose an enemy, or defend the nation by which they are supported.

They may, indeed, form a camp upon some of the neighbouring heaths, or pass in review with tolerable regularity; they may sometimes seize a smuggler, and sometimes assist a constable with vigour and success. But unhappy would be the people, who had no other force to oppose against an army habituated to discipline, of which every one founds his hopes of honour and reward upon the approbation of the commander.

That no man will labour to no purpose, or undergo the fatigue of military vigilance, without an adequate motive; that no man will endeavour to learn superfluous duties, and neglect the easiest road to honour and to wealth, merely for the sake of encountering difficulties, is easily to be imagined. And, therefore, my lords, it cannot be conceived, that any man in the army will very solicitously apply himself to the duties of his profession, of which, when he has learned them, the most accurate practice will avail him nothing, and on which he must lose that time, which might, have been employed in gaining an interest in a borough, or in forming an alliance with some orator in the senate.

For nothing, my lords, is now considered but senatorial interest, nor is any subordination desired but in the supreme council of the empire. For the establishment of this new regulation, the honours of every profession are prostituted, and every commission is become merely nominal. To gratify the leaders of the ministerial party, the most despicable triflers are exalted to an authority, and those whose want of understanding excludes them from any other employment, are selected for military commissions.

No sooner have they taken possession of their new command, and gratified with some act of oppression the wantonness of new authority, but they desert their charge with the formality of demanding a permission to be absent, which their commander dares not deny them. Thus, my lords, they leave the care of the troops, and the study of the rules of war, to those unhappy men who have no other claim to elevation than knowledge and bravery, and who, for want of relations in the senate, are condemned to linger out their lives at their quarters, amuse themselves with recounting their actions and sufferings in former wars, and with reading in the papers of every post, the cormissions which are bestowed on those who never saw a battle.

For this reason, my lords, preferments in the army, instead of being considered as proofs of merit, are looked on only as badges of dependence; nor can any thing be inferred from the promotion of an officer, but that he is in some degree or other allied to some member of the senate, or the leading voters of a borough.

After this manner, my lords, has the army been modelled, and on these principles has it subsisted for the last and the present reign; neither myself, nor any other general officer, have been consulted in the distribution of commands, or any part of military regulations. Our armies have known no other power than that of the secretary of war, who directs all their motions, and fills up every vacancy without opposition, and without appeal.

But never, my lords, was his power more conspicuous, than in raising the levies of last year; never was any authority more despotically exerted, or more tamely submitted to; never did any man more wantonly sport with his command, or more capriciously dispose of posts and preferments; never did any tyrant appear to set censure more openly at defiance, treat murmurs and remonstrances with greater contempt, or with more confidence and security distribute posts among his slaves, without any other reason of preference than his own uncontroulable pleasure.

And surely no man, my lords, could have made choice of such wretches for military commands, but to show that nothing but his own private inclinations should influence his conduct, and that he considered himself as supreme and unaccountable: for we have seen, my lords, the same animals to-day cringing behind a counter, and to-morrow swelling in a military dress; we have seen boys sent from school in despair of improvement, and intrusted with military command; fools that cannot learn their duty, and children that cannot perform it, have been indiscriminately promoted; the dross of the nation has been swept together to compose our new forces, and every man who was too stupid or infamous to learn or carry on a trade, has been placed, by this great disposer of honours, above the necessity of application, or the reach of censure.

Did not sometimes indignation, and sometimes pity, check the sallies of mirth, it would not be a disagreeable entertainment, my lords, to observe, in the park, the various appearances of these raw commanders, when they are exposing their new scarlet to view, and strutting with the first raptures of sudden elevation; to see the mechanick new-modelling his mien, and the stripling tottering beneath the weight of his cockade; or to hear the conversation of these new adventurers, and the instructive dialogues of schoolboys and shopkeepers.

I take this opportunity, my lords, of clearing myself from any suspicion of having contributed, by my advice, to this stupendous collection. I only once interposed with the recommendation of a young gentleman, who had learned his profession in two campaigns among the Muscovians, and whom yet neither his own desert, nor my patronage could advance to a commission. And, I believe, my lords, all the other general officers were equally unconsulted, and would, if their advice had been asked, equally have disapproved the measures that have been pursued.

But thus, my lords, were our new regiments completed, in which, of two hundred and fifty officers who have subsisted upon half-pay, only thirty-six have been promoted, though surely they might have pleaded a juster claim to employment, who had learned their profession in the service of their country, and had long languished in penury, than those who had neither knowledge nor capacity, who had neither acted nor suffered any thing, and who might have been destined to the hammer or the plough, without any disreputation to their families, or disappointment to themselves.

I have been told, indeed, my lords, that to some of these officers commissions were offered, which they refused, and for this refusal every reason is alleged but the true: some, indeed, excused themselves as disabled by age and infirmities from military service; nor can any objection be made to so just a plea. For how could those be refused in their age the comforts of ease and repose, who have served their country with their youth and vigour?

Others there are, my lords, who refused commissions upon motives very different, in which, nevertheless, some justice cannot be denied. They who had long studied and long practised their profession; they, who had tried their courage in the breach, and given proofs of their skill in the face of the enemy, refused to obey the command of novices, of tradesmen, and of schoolboys: they imagined, my lords, that they ought to govern those whom they should be obliged to instruct, and to lead those troops whom they must range in order. But they had forgot that they had outlived the time when a soldier was formed by study and experience, and had not heard, in their retreats, that a colonel or a captain was now formed in a day; and, therefore, when they saw and heard their new commanders, they retired back to their half-pay, with surprise and indignation.

But, my lords, the follies of last year cannot be easily rectified, and are only now to be exposed that they may not be repeated. If we are now to make new levies, and increase the number of our land-forces, it is, in my opinion, incumbent upon us to consider by what methods we may best augment our troops, and how we may be able to resist our foreign enemies, without exposing the nation to intestine miseries, and leaving our liberties at the mercy of the court.

There are, my lords, two methods of increasing our forces; the first is, that of raising new regiments; the other, of adding new men to those which already subsist.

By raising new regiments, my lords, we shall only gratify the minister with the distribution of new commissions, and the establishment of new dependents; we shall enlarge the influence of the court, and increase the charge of the nation, which is already loaded with too many taxes to support any unnecessary expense.

By the other method, of adding a hundred men to every company, we shall not only save the pay of the officers, which is no slight consideration, but what seems, if the reports raised by the ministry of our present danger be true, of far more importance, shall form the new forces with more expedition into regular troops; for, by distributing them among those who are already instructed in their duty, we shall give them an opportunity of hourly improvement; every man's comrade will be his master, and every one will be ambitious of forming himself by the example of those who have been in the army longer than themselves.

If it be objected, my lords, that the number of officers will not then bear a just proportion to that of the soldiers, it may be answered, that the foreign troops of the greatest reputation have no greater number of officers, as every one must know who is acquainted with the constitution of the most formidable armies of Europe. Those of the Prussian monarch, or of the various nations by which we were assisted in the late war, either as confederates or mercenaries, have but few officers. And I very well remember, my lords, that whenever they were joined by parties of our own nation, the inequality in the number of the officers produced contests and disputes.

The only troops of Europe, my lords, that swarm with officers, are those of France, but even these have fewer officers, in proportion to their private men, in time of war; for when they disband any part of their forces, they do not, like us, reduce their officers to half-pay, but add them to the regiments not reduced, that the families of their nobility may not be burdened with needy dependents, and that they may never want officers for new levies.

There are many reasons, my lords, that make this practice in France more reasonable than it would be in our kingdom. It is the chief view of their governours to continue absolute, and therefore their constant endeavour to keep great numbers in dependence; it ought to be our care to hinder the increase of the influence of the court, and to obstruct all measures that may extend the authority of the ministry, and therefore those measures are to be pursued by which independence and liberty will be most supported.

It is likewise to be remembered, my lords, that a French officer is supported with pay not much larger than that of a private soldier among us, and that, therefore, the argument which arises from the necessity of frugality is not of the same force in both nations.

There is yet another reason why the French are under the necessity of employing more officers than any other nation: the strength of their armies consists in their gentlemen, who cannot be expected to serve without some command: the common soldiers of the French army are a mean, spiritless, despicable herd, fit only to drudge as pioneers, to raise intrenchments, and to dig mines, but without courage to face an enemy, or to proceed with vigour in the face of danger.

Their gentlemen, my lords, are of a very different character; jealous of their honour, and conscious of their birth, eager of distinction, and ambitious of preferment. They have, commonly, their education in the army, and have no expectations of acquiring fortunes equal to their desires by any other profession, and are, therefore, intent upon the improvement of every opportunity which is offered them of increasing their knowledge and exalting their reputation.

To the spirit of these men, my lords, are the French armies indebted for all their victories, and to them is to be attributed the present perfection of the art of war. They have the vigilance and perseverance of Romans joined with the natural vivacity and expedition of their own nation.

We are, therefore, not to wonder, my lords, that there is in the French armies an establishment for more gentlemen than in other countries, where the disparity between the military virtues of the higher and lower classes of men is less conspicuous. In the troops of that nation nothing is expected but from the officers, but in ours the common soldier meets danger with equal intrepidity, and scorns to see himself excelled by his officer in courage or in zeal.

We are, therefore, my lords, under no necessity of burdening our country with the expense of new commissions, which, in the army, will be superfluous, and, in the state, dangerous, as they will fill our senate with new dependents, and our corporations with new adherents to the minister, whose steady perseverance in his favourite scheme of senatorial subordination, will be, perhaps, the only occasion of these new levies, or, at least, has hindered the right application of our standing troops. For what reason, my lords, can invention or imagination assign, why the troops, who had been for some time disciplined, were not rather sent to the assistance of Vernon than the new marines, except that some of them were commanded by men who had obtained seats in the other house, and who, by their settled adherence and avowed fidelity to the minister, had recommended themselves too powerfully to be rashly exposed in the service of their country to the bullets of the Spaniards.

So great, my lords, has been the minister's regard to senatorial abilities, and so strict his gratitude to his friends, that I know of but one member of the other house that has been hazarded in this expedition, and he a hopeless, abandoned patriot, insensible of the capacity or integrity of our ministry, and whom nothing has been able to reconcile to our late measures. He, therefore, who has never exerted himself in defence of the ministry, was, in his turn, thought unworthy of ministerial protection, and was given up to the chance of war without reluctance.

But I hope your lordships will concur with me in the opinion, that it is not always necessary to gratify the ministry, but that our country claims some part of our regard, and, therefore, that in establishing our army we should pursue that method which may be most accommodated to our constitution, and, instead of imitating the military policy of the French, follow the example of those nations by whose troops they have been conquered.

Had this scheme been hitherto followed, had our new levies, instead of being put under the command of boys, been distributed in just proportions among the standing regiments, where they might soon have been qualified for service by the inspection of experienced officers, we might now have seen an army capable of awing the court of Spain into submission, or, if our demands had been still refused, of revenging our injuries, and punishing those who have insulted and despised us.

From an army thus raised and disciplined, detachments, my lords, ought to have been sent on board of all our fleets, and particularly that which is now stationed in the Mediterranean, which would not then have coasted about from one port to another, without hurting or frighting the enemy, but might, by sudden descents, have spread terrour through a great part of the kingdom, harassed their troops by continual marches, and, by frequent incursions, have plundered all the maritime provinces, driven the inhabitants into the inland country, and laid the villages in ashes.

There is yet, my lords, no appearance of a peace, for our success has not enabled us to prescribe terms, and I hope we are not yet fallen so low as to receive them; it is, therefore, proper to form such resolutions as may influence the conduct of the war, and enable us to retrieve the errours of our past measures.

The minister, my lords, is not without panegyrists, who may, perhaps, endeavour to persuade us, that we ought to resign all our understandings to his superiour wisdom, and blindly trust our fortunes and our liberties to his unshaken integrity. They will, in proof of his abilities, produce the wonderful dexterity and penetration which the late negotiations have discovered, and will confirm the reputation of his integrity by the constant parsimony of all his schemes, and the unwillingness with which he at any time increases the expenses of the nation.

But, my lords, it is the great duty of your high station to watch over the administration, and to warn those, who are more immediately intrusted with the publick affairs, against measures which may endanger the safety or happiness of the nation; and, therefore, if I have proved to your lordships, that to raise new regiments is dangerous to our liberties, that a multitude of officers is of no use in war, and that an army may be more expeditiously disciplined by adding new men to every company, I hope your lordships will agree to this resolution, which I have drawn up with the utmost brevity, and of which the meaning cannot be mistaken:

"That the augmenting the army by raising regiments, as it is the most unnecessary and expensive method of augmentation, is also the most dangerous to the liberties of the nation."

The duke of NEWCASTLE next spoke, to this effect:--My lords, as my education and employments have afforded me no opportunity of acquiring any skill in military affairs, it will not be expected by your lordships, that I should be able to confute the arguments of the noble duke, whose acknowledged superiority in the art of war, and the abilities which he has displayed in the administration of every province which he has undertaken, give him a claim to the highest deference.

But, my lords, as I cannot assume the province of disputing on this question, so I cannot, without longer consideration, form any resolution concerning it; for arguments may be fallacious, which, yet, I cannot confute, and to approve without knowledge is no less weak than to censure.

There is not any present necessity, my lords, of forming a resolution on this subject; we are not now called upon particularly to consider it, and certainly it cannot be prudent, by so determinate a decision, pronounced without reflection or deliberation, to preclude a fuller examination of this important question.

Lord CARTERET rose, and spoke in this manner:--My lords, the noble duke who made the present motion has supported it by such strength of argument, and so fully explained the advantages of the method which it tends to recommend, that not only the present age, but posterity may, probably, be indebted to him, for juster notions of a military establishment, than have been yet attained even by those whose profession obliges them to such inquiries.

Nor, my lords, could we expect less from his long experience and extensive capacity; experience gained in the heat of war, and in the midst of danger; a capacity not only cultivated by solitary disquisitions in retirement and security, but exercised by difficulties, and quickened by opposition.

Such abilities, my lords, matured by such an education, have justly made the noble duke the oracle of war, and procured him the esteem and reverence of all the powers upon earth.

As I did not receive from my education any military knowledge, I am not able to add much to the arguments which your lordships have already heard; but, nevertheless, having been under the necessity of regulating the army when I had the honour to be employed in Ireland, and having made, in those countries where I transacted the business of the crown, some observations upon the different forms of military establishments, I hope I shall be allowed to offer what my experience or my remarks may suggest to me, in confirmation of the sentiments of the noble duke.

When I was in Ireland, my lords, the troops of that kingdom consisted of twenty-one regiments, of which ten were, as last year, brought into Britain, and the Irish forces were to be filled up by new levies, which were raised in the manner now proposed, by increasing every regiment from three hundred and forty to six hundred men; so that the eleven regiments remaining composed a body of nearly the same number with the twenty-one regiments, as formerly constituted.

Of the Swedish establishment, my lords, the reputation and success of their troops are an uncontrovertible vindication, attd I have often had an opportunity of comparing the number of officers with that of ours, and found their private men to be far more numerous in proportion to the officers.

In Hanover, my lords, I have seen his majesty's troops remarkable for the elegance of their appearance; and being once asked, by the commander, at what expense one of those gallant troopers and his horse was supported, was told, after confessing my ignorance, that he cost no more than fourteen pounds a year, who could not, in this country, be maintained for less than forty.

I believe, my lords, that the French forces are not more expensive than those of Hanover, and, therefore, we are by no means to imitate their establishment, for the price of provisions and habits of life do not admit of any diminution of the pay of either our officers or soldiers, and we can only lessen our expenses by reducing their numbers, to which I shall, for my part, most willingly contribute.

But as this, my lords, is not the proper time for disbanding our forces, of which the present state of our affairs may, perhaps, demand an augmentation, it is necessary to compare the state of our forces with that of foreign troops, and supply, by prudent methods, the disadvantages to which we are subject, by the peculiar condition of our country. For, if the French can support an army at a fourth part of our expense, what must be the consequence of a war, supposing the wealth of the two nations nearly equal? It will be to little purpose that we boast, however justly, of the superiority of our troops; for though it should be granted that the British cannot be resisted by an equal number, yet it can never be expected that they should conquer troops four times as numerous as themselves.

Thus, my lords, it appears, with all the evidence of arithmetical demonstration, that the method now proposed is highly expedient, nor can any objection, in my opinion, be made to the resolution offered to your lordships.

That this is not a proper time for this inquiry has been, indeed, urged, but surely no time can be more proper than when we may, by a resolution unanimously passed, regulate, in some degree, the conduct of the other house, and faint to them the opinion of this assembly on a question which is, perhaps, to-morrow to be brought before them.

Lord CHOLMONDELEY then spoke thus:--My lords, though I was once honoured with a command in the army, and consequently ought to have attained some military knowledge, yet I have so long resigned my commission, possessed it for so short a time, and have suffered my attention to be diverted from inquiries on that subject by employments of so different a kind, that I cannot presume to oppose any knowledge of my own to the reasons which have been offered; but I cannot think that the conclusions drawn by the noble duke, are so evidently true as to force conviction, and exclude all possibility of reply; nor can I conceive it consistent with the dignity of this assembly, to yield implicitly to any man's assertions, or to pass any resolution without an accurate inquiry.

Some objections, my lords, arise, upon reflection, from my narrow observation and transient reading, and these I shall lay before your lordships, with an open acknowledgment of my insufficiency to discuss the question, and a sincere desire of being instructed where I may be mistaken.

The subordination of the army, my lords, appears to me, in general, to be sufficiently maintained, nor is it ever infringed but by particular partiality, that can never be prevented, or a casual difference in the circumstances of the officers, which, though not relative to their military characters, will always produce some degree of influence.

I know not, my lords, how the general regulation of our forces, and the distribution of military honours, can be condemned, without extending some degree of censure to a person who ought not to be mentioned as concurring in any measures injurious to the publick. Our army, my lords, is maintained by the parliament, but commanded by the king, who has not either done or directed any thing of which his people may justly complain.

Here the duke of ARGYLE interrupted him:--My lords, it is necessary to clear myself from misrepresentations, and to preserve, at the same time, the order of this assembly, by reminding the noble lord, that his majesty is never to be introduced into our debates, because he is never to be charged with wrong; and by declaring to your lordships, that I impute no part of the errours committed in the regulation of the army to his majesty, but to those ministers whose duty it is to advise him, and whom the law condemns to answer for the consequences of their counsels.

Lord CHOLMONDELEY resumed:--My lords, if I misrepresented any assertion of the noble duke, it was by misapprehension, or failure of memory, and not by malice or design; and if in any other objections which I shall make, I shall fall into any errour of the same kind, I desire that it may be ascribed to the same cause.

The ignorance and inexperience of our present officers have been exposed with great gaiety of imagination, and with the true spirit of satirical rhetorick, nor can I presume to support them against so formidable censures. But, my lords, I cannot discover any method of protracting the lives of our old officers beyond the usual term, nor of supplying the loss of those whom death takes away from the army, but by substituting others, who, as they have seen no wars, can have little experience.

With regard to the number of officers in the foreign troops, I have been informed, that they were, by an express stipulation, to be constituted in the same manner with the British and Dutch forces.

Then the duke of ARGYLE again interrupted him:--My lords, as it was my province in the late war to superintend the payment of the foreign troops, I may be allowed to have some knowledge of the establishment, and hope I shall not be imagined to need any information on that subject.

Lord CHOLMONDELEY said:--My lords, I do not presume to dispute any assertion of the noble duke, for whose knowledge I have the highest veneration, but only to offer such hints for inquiry as may be pursued by other lords of greater abilities, and to show, that as some difficulties may be raised, the resolution ought not to be agreed to without farther deliberation; since it not only tends to prescribe the measures which shall be hereafter taken, and prohibit a method of raising forces, which, when diligently examined, may, perhaps, appear most eligible, but to censure the methods, which, when they were put in practice the last year, received the approbation of all the powers of the legislature.

Lord WESTMORELAND spoke next, as follows:--My lords, I have, for my own satisfaction, stated the difference of the expense between the two methods of raising forces, and find it so great, that the method proposed by the noble duke ought, undoubtedly, to be preferred, even though it were attended with some inconvenience, from which he has shown it to be free.

Frugality, my lords, is one of the chief virtues of an administration; a virtue without which no government can be long supported: the publick expense can never be too accurately computed, or the first tendency to profusion too rigorously opposed; for as in private life, so in political economy, the demands of necessity are easily supplied; but if once the calls of wantonness and caprice are complied with, no limits can be fixed, nor will any treasure be sufficient.

Whether the burdens under which the people are now toiling were all imposed by necessity, I will not inquire, but I think, my lords, we may readily determine, that whatever is not necessary is cruel and oppressive, and that, therefore, since the expense of raising new regiments appears, at least, not to be necessary, it ought to be opposed; and how can it be opposed more properly or effectually than by the noble duke's resolution?

Lord HERVEY spoke to this effect:--My lords, I do not claim any superiority of knowledge in any affairs that relate to the publick, but have less acquaintance with the military establishment than with any other part of the government, and can, therefore, neither oppose the resolution now offered to your lordships by such arguments as may deserve your attention, nor agree to it with that degree of conviction which the importance of it seems to require.

That the chief argument which has been produced against raising new regiments, is less formidable than it has been represented, will, I believe, appear to your lordships, when it is considered that the officers are always gentlemen of the first families in the empire, who, therefore, cannot be supposed voluntarily to give up their relations and posterity to the power of any ministry, or, for the sake of their commissions, to betray that constitution by which their own properties are secured.

Whether every other argument may not with equal justice be controverted, is not, without longer consideration, possible to be determined, and, therefore, it cannot be reasonably expected that we should agree to the resolution, which would be only to decide without examination, and to determine what we don't understand; for I am under no apprehension of being imagined to reflect unjustly on this assembly, in supposing that many of your lordships may be strangers to the question, which, when the last levies were made, was neither discussed nor proposed.

I therefore move, that the previous question may be put, which may, perhaps, gain time sufficient for a more exact inquiry upon this important subject.

Lord TALBOT replied to this purport:--My lords, if, in imitation of some noble lords, I profess my ignorance of the subject on which I am to speak, may it not yet be allowed me, after the example of others, to employ the little knowledge which I have in the defence of a resolution, which appears to have no other tendency than the advantage of the publick, and to show my zeal for the happiness of my country, though, perhaps, without the true knowledge of its interest?

The noble lord, who spoke last, is too great a master of eloquence not to be heard with all the attention which pleasure naturally produces, and a reasoner too formidable not to raise in his hearers all the anxiety which is produced by the fear of being deceived by partial representations, and artful deductions. I am always afraid, my lords, lest errour should appear too much like truth in the ornaments which his lordship's imagination may bestow, and lest sophistry should dazzle my understanding whilst I imagine myself only guided by the light of reason.

I shall, therefore, endeavour, my lords, to review his ornaments, and try whether they owe their influence to the force of truth, or to that of eloquence.

His lordship has observed, that the objections which are now made to the method of raising new regiments, were not produced last year upon a like occasion. I know not, indeed, what can be inferred from this assertion; for, surely, it will not maintain, that an errour, once admitted, is to become perpetual.

But, my lords, another reason may be assigned, for which the objections that occurred last year might not be produced. The ministry, after a long course of disgraceful negotiations, and artful delays, were, at length, compelled to a war, by the general clamours of the whole nation; but they acted as men unwilling to execute what they did not approve. They proceeded so slowly in their preparations, and were so languid in all their motions, that it was evident how willingly they would have improved every opportunity of retarding the vengeance which they were forced to threaten; and with what artifices they would have protracted any delay, which they could have imputed to those by whom they were opposed. It was, therefore, to the last degree, improper to embarrass their measures of themselves sufficiently perplexed, or to lay any obstacle in the way of those who would gladly be stopped.

That the army is filled with gentlemen, is so far, my lords, from proving that there is nothing to be feared from it, that it is the only foundation of all our solicitude. For none but gentlemen can injure our liberties, and while the posts of the army are bestowed as rewards of senatorial slavery, gentlemen will always be found who will be corrupted themselves, and can corrupt a borough; who will purchase a vote in the house, and sell it for military preferments. By the posts of the army the senate may be corrupted, and by the corruption of the senate the army be perpetuated.

Those, my lords, who are the warmest opponents of the army, apprehend not any danger from their swords, but from their votes. As they have been of late regulated without discipline or subordination, I should not feel such anxiety at seeing them led on by their new commanders against a body of honest ploughmen, united in the cause of virtue and of liberty; I should, with great alacrity, draw my sword against them, and should not doubt of seeing them in a short time heaped upon our fields.

But, my lords, they are employed to ruin us by a more slow and silent method; they are directed to influence their relations in the senate, and to suborn the voters in our small towns; they are dispersed over the nation to instil dependence, and being enslaved themselves, willingly undertake the propagation of slavery.

That the army is instrumental in extending the influence of the ministry to the senate, cannot be denied, when military preferments are held no longer than while he that possesses them gives a sanction, by his vote, to the measures of the court; when no degree of merit is sufficient to balance a single act of senatorial opposition, and when the nation is rather to be left to the defence of boys, than the minister be suspected of misconduct.

Could either bravery or knowledge, reputation, or past services, known fidelity to his majesty, or the most conspicuous capacity for high trust, have secured any man in the enjoyment of his post, the noble duke who made the motion, had carried his command to his grave, nor had the nation now been deprived either of his arms, or of his counsels.

But, as he has now offered his advice to his country, and supported his opinion with proofs from reason and experience, which even those who oppose them have confessed themselves unable to answer; as the justness of his reasoning, and the extent of his knowledge, have silenced those whose prejudices will not suffer them to own themselves convinced; let us not, my lords, reject what we cannot condemn, nor suffer our country to be defrauded of the advantage of this resolution, by that low senatorial craft, the previous question.

Then the CHANCELLOR spoke to the following purpose:--My lords, I am far from suspecting that an open profession of my inability to examine the question before us, in its full extent, will be imputed to an affectation of modesty, since any knowledge of military affairs could not be acquired in those stations in which I have been placed, or by those studies, in which the greatest part of my life is known to have been spent.

It will not be expected, my lords, that I should attempt a formal confutation of the noble duke's positions, or that I should be able to defend my own opinion against his knowledge and experience; nor would I, my lords, expose myself to the censure of having harangued upon war in the presence of Hannibal.

The noble duke has explained his sentiments to your lordships with the utmost accuracy of method, and the most instructive perspicuity of language; he has enforced them with a strength of reasoning rarely to be found, and with an extent of knowledge peculiar to himself. Yet, my lords, as his arguments, however powerful in themselves, do not strike me with the same force with which others may be affected, who are more capable of receiving them, I hope that your lordships will allow me to mention such objections as occur to me, that in voting on this question I may, at least, preserve my conscience from violation, and neither adopt the opinion of another, however great, without examination, nor obstinately reject the means of conviction.

Every lord who has spoken either in support of the noble duke's opinion, or in opposition to it, has confessed that he is very little acquainted with the subject of our debate; and it may not, therefore, be an improper or useless attempt, if I endeavour by objections, however injudicious, or by arguments, however inconclusive, to procure some illustration of a question so important, and, at the same time, so little understood.

The objections, my lords, which I shall produce, are such as I have heard in conversation with those whose long acquaintance with military employments give them a just claim to authority in all questions which relate to the art of war; among whom I find no uniformity of opinion with regard to the most proper method of augmenting our forces. And, my lords, when we observe those to differ in their sentiments, whose education, experience, and opportunities of knowledge have been nearly the same, and who have all obtained a very great degree of reputation in their profession, what can be inferred, but that the question is in its own nature obscure and difficult? That it involves a multitude of relations, and is diffused through a great variety of circumstances? And that, therefore, it is prudent for every man, who can judge only upon the authority of others, to suspend his opinion?

The chief argument, or that, at least, which impressed itself most strongly on my mind, against any innovation in our military constitution, was drawn from the success of our armies in their present form, with that proportion of soldiers and officers, which the present motion tends to abolish. Our forces, say the advocates for the present establishment, have afforded us a sufficient testimony of the propriety of their regulation, by their frequent victories over troops, whose discipline has been studied with the utmost vigilance, and which have been trained up to war with a degree of attention not disproportioned to the mighty design for which they were raised, the subjection of the world, and attainment of universal monarchy. These troops, who have been taught, almost from their infancy, that cowardice and flight are the greatest crimes, and persuaded, by national prejudices, and principles studiously instilled, that no foreign forces could withstand them, have fled before equal numbers of Britons, and been driven from one province to another, till, instead of grasping at general dominion, they were reduced to defend their wives and children.

How much of this success was to be ascribed to that part of the regulation which this motion proposes to be changed, it is not, my lords, within my province to determine; the great commander whom I have the honour to oppose, can best explain to your lordships the province of every officer in the field, and how far the number of inferiour officers may influence the success of a battle and the fate of a kingdom.

But to me, my lords, the establishment of our armies, comprising different views, and connecting various subordinate regulations, may be compared to a medicine composed of different ingredients, and found infallibly efficacious in a dangerous disease, in which, though some of the parts may seem to physicians of the profoundest learning, superfluous or improper, it would be no less than the folly of preferring experiments to life, to make any alteration.

The wantonness of innovation, my lords, is a dangerous disease of the mind; in a private station, it prompts men to be always discontented with what they find, and to lose the enjoyment of good in search of something better; it incites them to leave the safe and beaten tracks of life, in search of those which they imagine nearer, but, which are, at best, less secure, and which generally lead them to points far different from that to which they originally intended to direct their course.

It is dangerous, my lords, to admit any alteration which is not absolutely necessary, for one innovation makes way for another. The parts of a constitution, like a complicated machine, are fitted to each other, nor can one be changed without changing that which corresponds to it. This necessity is not always foreseen, but when discovered by experience is generally complied with; for every man is more inclined to hazard farther changes, than to confess himself mistaken by retracting his scheme. Thus, my lords, one change introduces another, till the original constitution is entirely destroyed.

By the ambition of innovation, my lords, have almost all those empires been destroyed, of which nothing now is left but the memory. Every human establishment has its advantages and its inconveniencies, and by weak attempts to remedy these defects, which, notwithstanding the utmost attention, will embarrass the machine of government, alterations have been introduced which have been quickly followed by a total dissolution.

There seem, my lords, to be few regulations on which it is more dangerous to make experiments than on that of the armies of a nation. We are sufficiently convinced how much of success is the consequence of courage, and that courage is only an opinion of our own superiority, arising from certain circumstances, either imaginary or real.

The courage which at present animates our forces, arises, my lords, from a very proper ground, their former victories over the enemies which they are now to combat, and will, therefore, doubtless, continue while they can consider themselves as enjoying the same advantage with those particular men by whom the victories were obtained. But, my lords, if any essential part of their establishment be changed, they will be considered, both by themselves and their enemies, as a different army; they will then charge with less alacrity, and be opposed with less dejection; they will consider themselves as fighting without that certainty of success which arises from experience, and their enemies will resolve to try, by an obstinate resistance, whether they are now equally formidable as in their former state.

Thus, my lords, I have attempted, however weakly, to represent the arguments which I have heard for the continuance of the establishment, of which your lordships will examine the validity, and shall now proceed to consider the noble duke's system of a military subordination in time of peace.

Whether a standing army in time of peace is made necessary to the change of conduct in foreign courts, it is now useless to inquire; but it will be easily granted by your lordships, that no motive but necessity, necessity absolute and inevitable, ought to influence us to support a standing body of regular forces, which have always been accounted dangerous, and generally found destructive to a free people.

The chief reason, my lords, of the danger arising from a standing army, may be ascribed to the circumstances by which men, subject to military laws, are distinguished from other members of the same community; they are, by the nature of martial government, exposed to punishment which other men never incur, and tried by forms of a different and more rigorous kind than those which are practised by the civil power. They are, if not exempted from the jurisdiction of a magistrate, yet subject to another authority which they see more frequently and more severely exerted, and which, therefore, they fear and reverence in a higher degree. They, by entering into the army, lay aside, for the most part, all prospect of advantage from commerce or civil employments, and, in a few years, neither fear nor hope any thing but from the favour or displeasure of their own officers.

For these, my lords, or for other reasons, the soldiers have always been inclined to consider themselves as a body distinct from the rest of the community, and independent on it, a government regulated by their own laws, without regard to the general constitution of their country; they have, therefore, been ready to subvert the constitution, from which they received little advantage, and to oppress the civil magistrates, for whom they had lost their reverence.

And how soon, my lords, might such outrages be expected from an army formed after the model of the noble duke, released from the common obligations of society, disunited from the bulk of the nation, directed solely by their own officers, and ultimately commanded by a man who had the right of commanding no other? Would they not soon consider themselves as a separate community, whose interests were, no less than their laws, peculiar to themselves? Would they not consider him, from whom they received all their rewards, and all their punishments, as the proper object of their supreme regard, and endeavour to exalt him to the same dominion over others, which he enjoyed in regard to themselves, that they might share in his superiority?

A body of men, my lords, thus separated from the rest of the people, must consider themselves as either ennobled or degraded by such distinction, and would soon find themselves inclined to use the power of their arms, either in the exertion of their privileges, or the revenge of their disgrace. Then, my lords, would they set at defiance the laws of the nation, nor would one of these noble lords be able to disband, nor the other to resist them.

The army, my lords, is, in time of peace, then best regulated when it is kept under the strictest subordination to the civil power, that power which it is instituted to protect and to preserve.

Thus, my lords, have I examined the proposal and reasons of the noble duke, perhaps not much to the information of your lordships; but it cannot be expected that any capacity should be able, in an unexpected and sudden debate, to dispute on a subject, which the noble duke's education gave him particular opportunities of understanding far beyond almost every other man, and which he has had time to consider with respect to this present motion.

For this reason, my lords, I cannot but think the previous question highly expedient, but not for this reason alone; for as the state of the army, and the proper methods of augmenting it, are soon to be examined by the other house, to prejudice their determinations, may raise a contest about privileges, and oblige us either to persist, for our own honour, in opposition to measures necessary to the security of the publick, or, in compliance with the present exigence, accept their scheme, however opposite to our own resolution.

Lord CARTERET spoke in substance as follows:--My lords, the known abilities of that noble lord incline me always to hear him with uncommon expectation and attention, which seldom fail to be rewarded by such pleasure and information as few other men are able to afford. But his observations on the question before us, my lords, have only convinced me, that the greatest abilities may be sometimes betrayed into errour, and the most candid disposition be vitiated by accidental prejudices. For his own arguments neither appear just, nor his representation impartial, of those advanced in favour of the motion.

With regard to the number of officers necessary in time of war, his lordship asserted nothing from his own knowledge, nor do I believe that any other lord will imagine himself qualified to dispute with the noble duke upon questions purely military. His experience entitles him to the highest authority, in debates of this kind; and if every man has a claim to credit in his own profession, surely, he who has given evidence of his proficiency in the art of war in the eyes of the whole world, will not be denied, in this house, that superiority which would readily be allowed him in any other part of the universe.

And yet less, my lords, can it be suspected, that he intends to deceive us, than that he can be deceived himself; for not only his probity, his love of his country, and his fidelity to the crown, concur to secure him from any temptations to make an ill use of his credit, but his own interest obliges him to offer that scheme for the regulation of our forces, which, in his own opinion, will most certainly contribute to their success. For it is not to be doubted, my lords, that when we shall be engaged in war too far for negotiations and conventions, when we shall be surrounded by enemies, and terrified at the near approach of danger, he will be called upon to lead our armies to battle, and attack, once more, those enemies that have fled so often before him.

Then, my lords, if he has contributed to form a weak plan of our military constitution, must he atone for it with the loss of his reputation; that reputation, for which he has undergone so many fatigues, and been exposed to so many dangers.

But, my lords, it is ridiculous to suspect where nothing appears to provoke suspicion, and I am very far from imagining that the dangers of innovation, however artfully magnified, or the apprehensions of the soldiers, however rhetorically represented, will be thought of any weight.

The establishment of the army, my lords, is an innovation, and, as the noble lord has justly represented it, an innovation that threatens nothing less than the destruction of our liberties, and the dissolution of our government. Our vigilance ought, therefore, to be very anxiously employed in regulating this new part of our government, and adapting it, in such a manner, to the national constitution, that no detriment may arise from it, and that our civil rights may be protected, not oppressed, by the military power.

To this purpose, says the noble lord, the soldiers are to be restrained by a due subordination to the magistrate, a position undoubtedly true, but now superfluously urged: for it was never controverted by the noble person whose opinion he intended to oppose.

Should any man assert, my lords, that the army ought to be formed into a distinct and independent society, which should receive laws only from a council of war, and have no other governour than their officers, none should oppose such an assertion with more ardour or constancy than myself, but what was never advanced it is unnecessary to confute.

Yet, my lords, to obviate those dangers from the army which have been so strongly and justly represented, it is necessary, not only that a legal subordination to the civil authority be firmly established, but that a personal dependence on the ministry be taken away.

How readily men learn to reverence and obey those on whom their fortunes depend, has been already shown by the noble lord, and therefore it will follow, that a minister who distributes preferments at his pleasure, may acquire such an influence in the army, as may be employed to secure himself from justice by the destruction of liberty. And unless it can be proved, that no such minister can ever exist; that corruption, ambition, and perfidy, have place only in the military race; every argument that shows the danger of an army, dependent only on the general, will show the danger, likewise, of one dependent only on the minister.

The influence of the minister, my lords, is known to arise from the number of the officers, and to be proportioned to the value of the preferment, which it is in his power to bestow; it is, therefore, evident, by adding new officers to our army, we shall throw weight into the scale, which already is, at least, an equal balance to our constitution, and enable the ministry either to employ an army in defence of their measures, or to obtain such an influence in the senate, as shall make any other security superfluous.

Such, my lords, is the danger of a multitude of officers, a danger which surely deserves more attention than the imaginary prejudice of the soldiers in favour of the present establishment; a prejudice represented so powerful, both in our own forces, and those of our enemies, that the future success of our arms may probably depend upon it.

Surely, my lords, that cause may be allowed indefensible, which such a patron defends so weakly. What can be more chimerical than to imagine that men would lay down their arms, and forsake their standards, because there are twenty more in a company than have formerly been? That such a panick, from such a cause, was never found, I need not prove; and I scarce think it necessary to assert, that, without supposing a universal depravity of reason, it never can be found.

The establishment proposed by the noble duke, is the same with that of most foreign troops, and particularly with that of his majesty's forces in his foreign dominions, and, therefore, cannot but be approved by him, if it should be proposed by your lordships. For why should he imagine a greater number of officers necessary to the troops of Britain, than to those of any other nation.

The expediency of the motion, my lords, is, in my opinion, so obvious and incontestable, as to require no farther consideration, and, therefore, it is no argument against it, that we were not previously informed of the question.

Much less, my lords, can I discover the force of the assertion, that by such a resolution we shall excite the displeasure of the other house; we have, my lords, at least, an equal right with them to examine any position relating to the publick security, a right which we may exert with less danger of disgusting them, while they have yet formed no determination, and with less danger to the nation, than when their opinion, whatever it may be, cannot be controverted without retarding the important bill against mutiny.

We are never offended, my lords, at receiving the opinions of the other house, which we often adopt without any alteration, and often make use of for our own instruction, and now are become so contemptible as that no regard should be paid by them to our resolutions.

It is well known, my lords, that this assembly is an essential and constituent part of the legislature of this kingdom, and that we received from our ancestors a great extent of power, which it ought to be our care not to suffer to be contracted by degrees, till this assembly shall become merely formal, and sit only to ratify implicitly the determinations of the other house.

[Several other lords spoke in the debate, and the president having put the previous question, "Whether the question should be then put?" upon a division, it passed in the negative. Content, 42. Not content, 59.]

[The end]
Samuel Johnson's non-fiction: Debate On Taking The State Of The Army Into Consideration