Select British Eloquence/Speech on reducing the army

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Sir,—We have heard a great deal about Parliamentary armies, and about an army continued from year to year. I have always been, sir, and always shall be, against a standing army of any kind. To me it is a terrible thing, whether under that of Parliamentary or any other designation. A standing army is still a standing army, whatever name it be called by. They are a body of men distinct from the body of the people; they are governed by different laws; and blind obedience, and an entire submission to the orders of their commanding officer, is their only principle. The nations around us, sir, are already enslaved, and have been enslaved by these very means: by means of their standing armies they have every one lost their liberties. It is indeed impossible that the liberties of the people can be preserved in any country where a numerous standing army is kept up. Shall we, then, take any of our measures from the examples of our neighbors? No, sir, on the contrary, from their misfortunes we ought to learn to avoid those rocks upon which they have split.

It signifies nothing to tell me, that our army is commanded by such gentlemen as can not be supposed to join in any measures for enslaving their country. It may be so. I hope it is so! I have a very good opinion of many gentlemen now in the army. I believe they would not join in any such measures. But their lives are uncertain, nor can we be sure how long they may be continued in command; they may be all dismissed in a moment, and proper tools of power put in their room. Besides, sir, we know the passions of men; we know how dangerous it is to trust the best of men with too much power. Where was there a braver army than that under Julius Cesar? Where was there ever an army that had served their country more faithfully? That army was commanded generally by the best citizens of Rome—by men of great fortune and figure in their country; yet that army enslaved their country. The affections of the soldiers toward their country, the honor and integrity of the under officers, are not to be depended on. By the military law, the administration of justice is so quick, and the punishments so severe, that neither officer nor soldier dares offer to dispute the orders of his supreme commander; he must not consult his own inclinations. If an officer were commanded to pull his own father out of this House, he must do it; he dares not disobey; immediate death would be the sure consequence of the least grumbling. And if an officer were sent into the Court of Requests, accompanied by a body of musketeers with screwed bayonets, and with orders to tell us what we ought to do, and how we were to vote, I know what would be the duty of this House; I know it would be our duty to order the officer to be taken and hanged up at the door of the lobby. But, sir, I doubt much if such a spirit could be found in the House, or in any House of Commons that will ever be in England.

Sir, I talk not of imaginary things. I talk of what has happened to an English House of Commons, and from an English army; and not only from an English army, but an army that was raised by that very House of Commons, an army that was paid by them, and an army that was commanded by generals appointed by them. Therefore do not let us vainly imagine that an army raised and maintained by authority of Parliament will always be submissive to them. If an army be so numerous as to have it in their power to overawe the Parliament, they will be submissive as long as the Parliament does nothing to disoblige their favorite general; but when that case happens, I am afraid that, in place of Parliament's dismissing the army, the army will dismiss the Parliament, as they have done heretofore. Nor does the legality or illegality of that Parliament, or of that army, alter the case. For with respect to that army, and according to their way of thinking, the Parliament dismissed by them was a legal Parliament; they were an army raised and maintained according to law; and at first they were raised, as they imagined, for the preservation of those liberties which they afterward destroyed.

It has been urged, sir, that whoever is for the Protestant succession must be for continuing the army: for that very reason, sir, I am against continuing the army. I know that neither the Protestant succession in his Majesty's most illustrious house, nor any succession, can ever be safe so long as there is a standing army in the country. Armies, sir, have no regard to hereditary successions. The first two Cesars at Rome did pretty well, and found means to keep their armies in tolerable subjection, because the generals and officers were all their own creatures. But how did it fare with their successors? Was not every one of them named by the army, without any regard to hereditary right, or to any right? A cobbler, a gardener, or any man who happened to raise himself in the army, and could gain their affections, was made Emperor of the world. Was not every succeeding Emperor raised to the throne, or tumbled headlong into the dust, according to the mere whim or mad phrensy of the soldiers?

We are told this army is desired to be continued but for one year longer, or for a limited term of years. How absurd is this distinction! Is there any army in the world continued for any term of years? Does the most absolute monarch tell his army, that he is to continue them any number of years, or any number of months? How long have we already continued our army from year to year? And if it thus continues, wherein will it differ from the standing armies of those countries which have already submitted their necks to the yoke? We are now come to the Rubicon. Our army is now to be reduced, or never will. From his Majesty's own mouth we are assured of a profound tranquillity abroad, and we know there is one at home. If this is not a proper time, if these circumstances do not afford us a safe opportunity for reducing at least a part of our regular forces, we never can expect to see any reduction. This nation, already overburdened with debts and taxes, must be loaded with the heavy charge of perpetually supporting a numerous standing army; and remain forever exposed to the danger of having its liberties and privileges trampled upon by any future king or ministry, who shall take in their head to do so, and shall take a proper care to model the army for that purpose.


The bill for continuing the army on the same footing was passed by a large majority.