Article 1, Section 8, Clause 12

Document 4

James Burgh, Political Disquisitions 2:341--49, 389--91, 399--407


General Reflections on Standing Armies in free Countries in Times of Peace.

In a survey of public abuses, it would be unpardonable to overlook that of a standing army in times of peace, one of the most hurtful, and most dangerous of abuses.

The very words, Army, War, Soldier, &c. entering into a humane and christian ear, carry with them ideas of hatred, enmity, fighting, bloodshed, mangling, butchering, destroying, unpeopling, and whatever else is horrible, cruel, hellish. My inestimable friend, the late great and good Dr. Hales, was used to say, that if any thing might be called the peculiar disgrace of human nature, and of our world, it is war; that a set of wretched worms, whose whole life, when it holds out the best, is but a moment, a dream, a vision of the night, should shorten this their short span, should assemble by thousands and myriads, travel over vast countries, or cross unmeasurable oceans, armed with swords and spears and infernal fire, and when they meet immediately fall to butchering one another, only because a couple of frantic and mischievous fiends in human shape, commonly called kings, have fallen out they know not about what, and have ordered them to go and make havock of one another.

Yet such is the turn of mind of those who are at the head of the world, that they bestow more attention upon the art of war, that is, the art of destroying their fellow-creatures, than upon the improvement of all the liberal arts and sciences, and outvie one another in keeping up bands of those butchers of mankind commonly called standing armies, to the number of many thousands; and so prevalent is this infatuation, that even we, though surrounded by the ocean, must mimick the kingdoms on the continent, and beggar ourselves by keeping up an army of near 50,000 in times of profound peace.

The whole art of war from beginning to end is, at best, but a scene of folly and absurdity. Two kings, already possessed of more territory than they know how to govern, fall out about a province. They immediately take up arms. Immediately half a continent is deluged in blood. They carry on their infernal hatred, while either of them can find in the purses of their beggared subjects any money to squander, or while they can find any more of their miserable people, who, being by the fell ravage of war stripped of all, are glad to throw themselves into the army, to get a morsel of bread. And when the two mighty belligerant powers, the two venomous worms, have carried on the contest almost to the destruction of both, the point in dispute remains undecided as before, or they see, that it might have been infinitely better decided by arbitration of indifferent states, without the spilling of one drop of christian blood.

War is not a more proper method of deciding controversies between kings, than single combat between individuals. All that can be determined by fighting is, that the conqueror is the best fighter of the two; not that he has justice on his side. As I should conclude that private person, who chose rather to decide a quarrel by a duel, than to appeal to the laws of his country, or stand to arbitration of a few friends, a ruffian and a murderer; so I do not hesitate to pronounce every king a butcher of mankind who chooses rather to appeal to the ratio ultima regum, than to arbitration of neutral princes.

Standing armies first become necessary, or the pretence of their necessity plausible, when the disbanded troops, called tard-venus, in France, took to plundering and mischief in times of peace. Then the neighbouring princes pretended they must be upon an equal foot with France. But what is that to England, surrounded by the sea, and guarded by a fleet equal to all the maritime force of Europe?

In former times we had no mercenary army. It was the militia that went to the holy war, that conquered France, &c. So at Rome there was no mercenary army in the best times of the republic. Our Hen. VII. raised no small jealousy by his 100 yeomen of the guards, augmented by him from 50, the whole standing army of his times. In the days of Ch. II. the army was got to 5,000; in our times to near 50,000. There can no account be given of this alarming increase, but the increase of corruption, and decrease of attention to liberty. And now, our patriotic parliaments have made the army a sacred establishment, and the sinking fund a temporary expedient.

An army, in a free country, says judge Blackstone, "ought only to be enlisted for a short and limited time. The soldiers should live intermixed with the people. No separate camp, no barracks, no inland fortresses should be allowed." Yet it is notorious, that our soldiers are enlisted for life, on pain of death, if they desert; and that camps, barracks, and inland forts, are very common in our pretended free country. The mere slavery of a soldier's life, and the rigorous discipline, and Turkish severities, so great a number of brave, and freeborn English subjects are exposed to in the army, are sufficient to render it the abhorrence of every true English spirit, and the peculiar disgrace of our country, and our times. See Blackstone's Commentaries, 1. 415, where the learned author (no malecontent) shews the peculiar danger to liberty from enslaving so many subjects, (and thereby exciting their envy against their countrymen, who enjoy what they are for ever deprived of) and then arming those slaves, to enable them to reduce the rest to their condition, of which ill policy history furnishes many terrible examples.

"In a land of liberty it is extremely dangerous to make a distinct order of the profession of arms. In absolute monarchies, this is necessary for the safety of the prince, and arises from the main principle of their constitution, which is, that of governing by fear: but in free states, the profession of a soldier, taken singly and merely as a profession, is justly an object of jealousy.--The laws, therefore, and constitution of these kingdoms know no such state as that of a perpetual standing soldier, bred up to no other profession, than that of war." Yet we see gentlemen breed up their sons for the army as regularly as for law, physic, or divinity; and, while in France, the land of slaves, the soldiery are engaged only for a certain time, ours are for life; that they may be effectually separated from the people, and attached to another interest.

The judge goes on to shew, that in the Saxon times, the military force was under the absolute command of the dukes, or heretochs, who were elected by the people. This the judge, as if he were fascinated in favour of prerogative, sees in a dangerous light. "This large share of power, says he, thus conferred by the people, though intended to preserve the liberty of the subject, was perhaps unreasonably detrimental to the prerogative of the crown." And then he mentions one instance of its being abused. But will any Englishman, understanding what he says, gravely declare, that he thinks an armed force safer, in respect of liberty, in the hands of a king, than of a number of subjects elected by the people? Yet this very author prefers a militia to an army. If all this be either consistent with the fundamental principles of liberty, or with itself, it is to be understood in some manner, which I own to be out of my reach.

"Those, who have the command of the arms in a country, says Aristotle, are masters of the state, and have it in their power to make what revolutions they please." hoiton hoplwn kurioi k.t. l.

The soldiery are themselves bound for life, under the most abject slavery. For what is more perfect slavery, than for a man to be, without relief, obliged to obey the command of another, at the hazard of his life, if he obeys, and under the penalty of certain death if he disobeys, while the smallest misbehaviour may bring upon him the most painful and disgraceful punishment? The sense of their own remediless condition may naturally be expected to excite in them the same disposition, which shews itself in the negroes in Jamaica, and the eunuchs in the eastern seraglios.

In the mutiny-act, it is always mentioned, that keeping up an army in time of peace, without consent of parliament, is unlawful. But there is no such clause for keeping up marines. Yet marines are as much an army as any other men; are mostly at land; and may, at any time, be applied to the enslaving of the people, as readily as the soldiery. 'Tis true, their number is at present inconsiderable; but that is entirely at the disposal of government.

Lord Hinton's arguments against a reduction of the army, A. D. 1738.

1. The army is only a change made in the management of the armed force of the nation, which was formerly kept up in the guise of a militia.

Ans. The army is the very creature of the court; and therefore likely to execute every order of the court. The army is detached from the people for life, and enslaved for life. A militia continues still a part of the people, and is to return and mix with the people again, which must keep up in their minds both an awe and an affection for the people.

2. Now all the countries about have regular disciplined armies.

Ans. This is no reason for our keeping up an army, who are separated from all our neighbors. It is a reason for our keeping up a fleet, and a militia.

3. Our militia cannot be trusted. Our people are otherwise employed, than in learning military discipline.

Ans. The army are, on no account, preferable to a militia, but their being more thoroughly trained. Let the militia then be thoroughly disciplined. Fifty days exercise at different times in the year, will train them thoroughly. Let them have pay for those days, and carry on their business the rest of the year as at present. And let every male be trained; and then see, whether enemies will invade, or tumults disturb.

4. The army has not yet enslaved us. Experience shows us, that a standing army is not unfriendly to liberty.

Ans. We ought to depend on the constitution for the safety of our liberties; not on the moderation of the individuals, who command our army. If our army has not yet enslaved us; we know, that the far greatest part of the world has been enslaved by armies. But it is much to be questioned, whether we are not already so far enslaved, that the people could not now obtain of government what they requested, though the undoubted sense of the people was known to government.

5. An annual army is different from a standing army. The former may be dissolved, whenever it pleases parliament to give over providing for it.

Ans. There is no difference, as to the liberty of the subject, whether the army be on one foot, or the other; whether it be established by law, or whether it be constantly kept, and certainly never to be reduced.

6. An army is necessary to keep the peace. Turbulent people raise tumults about matters, which have had even the sanction of parliament, as excises, turnpikes, suppression of gin, &c.

Ans. Good government is a surer way to keep the peace, than keeping up a formidable and expensive army. The people may judge wrong, or be misled occasionally. But it is mal-administration that sets up popular demagogues, who could not excite the people to tumults, if government did not afford some cause for discontent. The sanction of parliament neither will nor ought to satisfy the people, unless the people be satisfied of the independency of the members, who compose it. So much for lord Hinton's arguments.

"Whatever it may be called, that government is certainly, and necessarily, a military government where the army is the strongest power in the country. And it is eternally true, that a free parliament and a standing army are absolutely incompatible."

"It is the interest of favourites to advise the king to govern by an army: for if he prevails (over his subjects) then they are sure to have what heart can wish; and if he fail, yet they are but where they were; they had nothing, and they can lose nothing."

Every officer in the army, almost, is an addition to the power and influence of the ministry. And every addition to their power and influence is a step toward aristocracy or absolute monarchy.

"All armies whatsoever, says Davenant, if they are over large, tend to the dispeopling of a country, of which our neighbour nation is a sufficient proof; where in one of the best climates in Europe men are wanting to till the ground. For children do not proceed from intemperate pleasures taken loosely and at random, but from a regular way of living, where the father of the family desires to rear up, and provide for the offspring he shall beget."

When a country is to be enslaved, the army is the instrument to be used. No nation ever was enslaved but by an army. No nation ever kept up an army in times of peace, which did not lose its liberties.

"An army is so forcible, and, at the same time, so coarse an instrument, that any hand, that wields it, may, without much dexterity, perform any operation, and gain any ascendancy in human society."

Mr. Hume calls the army a mortal distemper in the British government, of which it must at last inevitable perish.

It was Walpole's custom, if a borough did not elect his man for their member, to send them a messenger of Satan to buffet them, a company of soldiers to live upon them.

In this way a standing army may be used as an instrument in the hand of a wicked minister for crushing liberty.

. . . . .

A Militia, with the Navy, the only proper Security of a free People in an insular Situation, both against foreign Invasion and domestic Tyranny.

A standing army, as those on the continent, continues, of course, from year to year, without any new appointment, and is a part of the constitution. Our courtiers affect to call the British land-establishment a parliamentary army, and would deceive us into the notion of a difference between a standing army and a parliamentary. The British land-forces, say they, are appointed from year to year, not only as to their number, but their subsistence; so that the parliament's neglecting to provide for their subsistence would be annihilating the army at once. But is the army the less a grievance for its being on this foot, than if it were on the same with those of France or Spain? Suppose that for twenty years together, we should have no parliament called. At the end of that period, could the grievance and loss to the nation be estimated as at all less upon the whole, than it would have been, if the king had at the beginning of the twenty years, declared by edict, that there should be no parliament during that period? This would be a bolder stroke of tyranny, than merely neglecting, from year to year, or refusing, to let the writs be issued; but the people would be as really deprived of the advantages of parliaments by one proceeding, as by the other.

"No kingdom can be secured otherwise than by arming the people. The possession of arms is the distinction between a freeman and a slave. He, who has nothing, and who himself belongs to another, must be defended by him, whose property he is, and needs no arms. But he, who thinks he is his own master, and has what he can call his own, ought to have arms to defend himself, and what he possesses; else he lives precariously, and at discretion. And though for a while, those, who have the sword in their power, abstain from doing him injury, yet by degrees he will be awed into submission to every arbitrary command. Our ancestors" [the Caledonii, see Tacit. &c.] "by being always armed, and frequently in action, defended themselves against the Romans, Danes and English, and maintained their liberty against the incroachments of their own princes."

"We all know, that the only way of enslaving a people, is by keeping up a standing army; that by standing forces all limited monarchies have been destroyed; without them none; that so long as any standing forces are allowed in a nation, pretences will never be wanting to increase them; that princes have never suffered a militia to be put upon any good foot, lest standing armies should appear unnecessary."

. . . . .

Nothing will make a nation so unconquerable as a militia, or every man's being trained to arms. For every Briton having in him by birth the principal part of a soldier, I mean the heart; will want but little training beyond what he will have as a militia-man, to make him a complete soldier. A standing army, though numerous, might be routed in one engagement, if an engagement should happen in consequence of a French invasion. Whereas the militia of Britain would be a million of men; which would render a descent from France an operation of war not to be thought of.

"All the force, which the French can throw over to this country, before our fleet can come to our assistance, must be so inconsiderable, that their landing would deserve the name of a surprize, rather than of an invasion;" says one, who will hardly be suspected of intending to derogate from the importance of the army; I mean, John, duke of Argyle.

De Wit proposed to the French king, during the first Dutch war, an invasion of England. The king replied, that such an attempt would be fruitless, and would unite all the jarring parties in England against the enemy. "We shall have," says he, "in a few days after our landing, 50,000 men (meaning the militia) upon us."

Mr. Fletcher adds afterwards what follows.

"The essential quality of a militia consistent with freedom, is, that the officers be named, and preferred, and they, and the soldiers maintained, not by the prince but the people, who send them out. Ambitious princes [and he would have added, if he had fore-known the late duke of Newcastle's opposition to the establishment of the militia, corrupt ministers] have always endeavoured to discredit the militia, and render it burdensome to the people, by never suffering it to be upon any right, or even tolerable footing; all to persuade the necessity of standing forces. In the battle of Naseby, the number of forces was equal on both sides; and all circumstances equal. In the parliament's army only nine officers had ever seen actual service, and most of the soldiers were London prentices, drawn out of the city two months before. In the king's army there were above 1000 officers, who had served abroad; yet the regulars were routed by the prentices. A good militia is of such importance to a nation, that it is the chief part of the constitution of every free government. For, though, as to other things, the constitution be ever so slight, a good militia will always preserve the public liberty; and in the best constitution ever known, as to all other parts of government, if the militia be not upon a right foot, the liberty of the people must perish. The militia of antient Rome made her mistress of the world. Standing armies enslaved her. The Lacedaemonians continued 800 years free, because they had a good militia. The Swiss are the freest people in our times, and like to continue such the longest, because they have the best militia."

However a corrupt government may intend to defeat the design of a militia by totally perverting it from its original intention and use, this ought not to hinder all men of property from learning the use of arms. There is no law against a free subject's acquiring any laudable accomplishment. And if the generality of housekeepers were only half-disciplined, a designing prince, or ministry, would hardly dare to provoke the people by an open attack on their liberties, lest they should find means to be completely instructed in the exercise of arms before the chain could be rivetted. But without the people's having some knowledge of arms, I see not what is to secure them against slavery, whenever it shall please a daring prince, or minister, to resolve on making the experiment. See the histories of all the nations of the world.

The militia-act is long and intricate; whereas there was nothing necessary, but to direct, that every third man in every parish in England, whose house had 10 or more windows, should be exercised in his own parish, by an experienced serjeant, times every year, the days to be appointed; and every third part of every parish to be upon the list for three years, and free six years, so that in nine years every such housekeeper in England might have had all the knowledge he could acquire by field-days. The men never to be drawn out of their respective parishes, but to resist an invasion, quell an insurrection, or for some necessary purpose. Every healthy housekeeper of 10 windows and above, under 50, who refused to enlist and attend the exercising days, to be fined. No hirelings to be accepted. The commanders to be the men of largest property in each county.

A country, in which every man of property could defend his property, could have no occasion for a dangerous standing army, and would be incomparably more secure against invasion, than it could be with a standing army of 50,000 men scattered over a whole empire.

Lord Lyttelton thinks the militia (the only permanent military force, our ancestors knew) was commanded by the heretoch of every county, who was annually chosen into his office by the freeholders in the folkmote, or county-court; and that after the Norman times, this command devolved upon the earl of each county.

A militia consisting of any others than the men of property in a country, is no militia; but a mungrel army.

Men of business and property will never choose to enter into the militia, if they may be called from their homes, and their business, for three years together, subject to martial law all the while.

Brigadier general Townshend, in his Dedication of the "Plan of Discipline composed for the Militia of the county of Norfolk," affirms, that he has made some persons masters of that exercise "in two or three mornings, so as to perform it with grace and spirit;" and that the common men learned it in "seven or eight days time, some in less."

The same gentleman complains heavily of the "discouragements, slights, delays, evasions, and unnatural treatment" of the militia-act from those, whose duty it was to see it executed according to its intention. One would think the old militia law might have directed our government to avoid sending the militia out of their respective counties. This was always expressly guarded against, and was never to be done, but in the case of foreign invasion.

The single circumstance of the national militia's being first settled by the great and good Alfred, ought to prejudice all friends to liberty in its favour. That able politician lord Molesworth thinks a militia infinitely preferable to an army, both on the score of safety from tyranny at home, and of invasion from abroad. Judge Blackstone gives the preference to a militia. The Polish militia serve but 40 days in the year.

Queen Elizabeth's whole reign may be almost called a state of defensive and offensive war; in England as well as in Ireland; in the Indies as well as in Europe; she ventured to go through this state, if it was a venture, without the help of a standing army. The people of England had seen none from the days of Richard II. and this cautious queen might perhaps imagine that the example of his reign and those of other countries where standing armies were established, would beget jealousies in the minds of her people, and diminish that affection, which she esteemed and found to be the greatest security of her person, and the greatest strength of her government. Whenever she wanted troops, her subjects flocked to her standard; and her reign affords most illustrious proofs, that all the ends of security and of glory too may be answered in this island without the charge and danger of the expedient just mentioned. This assertion will not be contradicted by those who recollect in how many places and on how many occasions her forces fought and conquered the best disciplined veteran troops in Europe.

The militia was established by Alfred, and fell into decay under the Stuarts. A proof, that a militia is good, and ought to be kept up. The Stuarts were friends to standing armies. A demonstration, that standing armies are dangerous. James II. at his accession declared the militia useless; and demanded supplies for keeping an army, he was to raise. It is well known what armies Charles I. raised, and in what bloody business he employed them. Charles II. had, at the beginning of his reign, about 5,000 men. Toward the end of his reign, the army was increased to near 8,000. James II. at the time of Monmouth's rebellion, had on foot 15,000 men. At the prince of Orange's arrival, 30,000 regular troops.

The command of the militia was only put in the hands of the crown, when the nation was in a state of insanity, and every man ready to lay down his head on a block, for the king [Ch. II.]' to chop it off, if he pleased. As it is regulated by 30 Geo. II. c. 25, it remains too much on the same foot. For it is officered by the lord lieutenant, the deputy-lieutenants and other principal land-holders, under a commission from the crown, which places it, as every thing else is, too much under the power of the court.

The first commission of array is thought to have been in the times of Hen. V. When he went to France, A. D. 1415, he impowered commissioners to take an account of all the freemen in each county, who were able to bear arms, to divide them into companies, and to have them in readiness for resisting the enemy.

"The citizens, and country gentlemen soon became excellent officers;" says Mr. Hume. This shews what a militia may in a short time be brought to. For what is a militiaman, but a soldier, engaged for a limited time, and less completely trained? And what is a soldier, but a militiaman completely disciplined, and enslaved for life? The principal part of a soldier is the heart; and that almost every Briton has by birth without training. A militia-man is a free citizen; a soldier, a slave for life. Which is most likely to shew the most courage and the greatest attachment to his country?

"The militia--if it could not preserve liberty to the people, preserved at least the power, if ever the inclination should arise, of recovering it."

"Against insurrections at home, the sheriff of every county has the power of the militia in him, and if he be negligent to suppress them with the posse comitatus, he is fineable. Against invasions from abroad, every man would be ready to give his assistance. There would be little need to raise forces, when every man would be ready to defend himself, and to fight pro aris et focis." What would this honest man have said if he had been told, that the time would come, when it would be called necessary to keep up a standing army in this free country, surrounded with the ocean, in peace as well as war, to the formidable number of above 40,000, a number superior to that with which Alexander conquered the world?

Why must the British soldiery be enslaved for life, any more, than the sailors on board the navy? Were the militia put upon a right foot, the same individuals might serve either by sea or land, during a certain short period, and then return to their respective station. I know the court-sycophants will object to this, That a soldier requires a great deal of training and reviewing, before he comes to have the cool courage necessary in action, &c. But this is all pretence. We hardly ever have had, or can have occasion for any soldiery. Our wars with France in old times are now by all parties confessed to have been merely the loss of so much blood and treasure without possibility of advantage to this island. And our continental wars since the Revolution we have been drawn into chiefly by the unfortunate circumstance of our having on our throne a set of princes connected with the continent. There is no advantage we have ever gained by war, which would not have been greater, and cost us incomparably less, if we had kept to the sea. For we never can have a nation for our enemy that is not commercial, and we can certainly at any time force a commercial nation to yield to reasonable terms by attacking their commerce, their foreign settlements, their coast-towns, their fisheries, &c. And by sea we may always command the superiority. For every Briton is born with the heart of a soldier and a sailor in him; and wants but little training to be equal on either element, to any veteran of any country. Accordingly we never hear of the common men, in either service, shewing any appearance of cowardice.

"Immediately after the mutiny bill had passed the lower house, Mr. Thomas Pitt, elder brother of Mr. William Pitt, then paymaster general, moved, on the 9th of March, 1749, for leave to bring in a bill to limit respective times, beyond which no noncommissioned officer or soldier, now, or who hereafter may be such in his majesty's land-service, shall be compelled to continue in the said service. The motion was seconded by Sir Francis Dashwood; but very poorly supported in numbers. And at last, on the 19th of April, it was, upon a division of 139 against 82, put off for two months, so that it was no more heard of. Had this limitation taken place, such a rotation of soldiers would have ensued among the common people, that in a few years every peasant, labourer, and inferior tradesman in the kingdom would have understood the exercise of arms; and perhaps the people in general would have concluded, that a standing army, on whose virtue the constitution of Great Britain seems to depend, was altogether unnecessary."

Those incendiaries who go about to destroy our constitution, have not blushed in the same breath to admit, that standing armies have been generally the instruments of overturning free governments, and to affirm that a standing army is necessary to be kept in ours; if you ask them against whom, they answer you very frankly, against the people; if you ask them why, they answer you with the same frankness, because of the levity and inconstancy of the people. This is the evil; an army is the remedy. Our army is not designed, according to these doctors of slavery, against the enemies of the nation. We are confident that the present army is incapable of being employed to such purposes, and abhors an imputation which might have been justly cast on Cromwell's army, but is very unjustly insinuated against the present.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 3, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 12, Document 4
The University of Chicago Press

[Burgh, James.] Political Disquisitions: or, An Enquiry into Public Errors, Defects, and Abuses. . . . 3 vols. London, 1774--75.

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