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a DISCOURSE of GOVERNMENT with relation to MILITIA’S - Andrew Fletcher, Selected Discourses and Speeches 
Selected Discourses and Speeches: A Discourse of Government with Relation to Militias (Edinburgh, 1698); Two Discourses concerning the Affairs of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1698); Speeches by a Member of the Parlaiment (Edinburgh, 1703); A Conversation concerning a Right Regulation of Government (Edinburgh, 1704).
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a DISCOURSE of GOVERNMENT with relation to MILITIA’S
A DISCOURSE OF GOVERNMENT with relation to MILITIAS
There is not perhaps in human affairs anything so unaccountable as the indignity and cruelty with which the far greater part of mankind suffer themselves to be used under pretence of government. For some men falsely persuading themselves that bad governments are advantageous to them, as most conducing to gratify their ambition, avarice, and luxury, set themselves with the utmost art and violence to procure their establishment: and by such men almost the whole world has been trampled underfoot, and subjected to tyranny, for want of understanding by what means and methods they were enslaved. For though mankind take great care and pains to instruct themselves in other arts and sciences, yet very few apply themselves to consider the nature of government, an enquiry so useful and necessary both to magistrate and people. Nay, in most countries the arts of state being altogether directed either to enslave the people, or to keep them under slavery; it is become almost everywhere a crime to reason about matters of government. But if men would bestow a small part of the time and application which they throw away upon curious but useless studies, or endless gaming, in perusing those excellent rules and examples of government which the ancients have left us, they would soon be enabled to discover all such abuses and corruptions as tend to the ruin of public societies. It is therefore very strange that they should think study and knowledge necessary in everything they go about, except in the noblest and most useful of all applications, the art of government.
Now if any man in compassion to the miseries of a people should endeavour to disabuse them in anything relating to government, he will certainly incur the displeasure, and perhaps be pursued by the rage of those, who think they find their account in the oppression of the world; but will hardly succeed in his endeavours to undeceive the multitude. For the generality of all ranks of men are cheated by words and names; and provided the ancient terms and outward forms of any government be retained, let the nature of it be never so much altered, they continue to dream that they shall still enjoy their former liberty, and are not to be awakened till it prove too late. Of this there are many remarkable examples in history; but that particular instance which I have chosen to insist on, as most suitable to my purpose, is the alteration of government which happened in most countries of Europe about the year 1500. And it is worth observation, that though this change was fatal to their liberty, yet it was not introduced by the contrivance of ill-designing men; nor were the mischievous consequences perceived, unless perhaps by a few wise men, who, if they saw it, wanted power to prevent it.
Two hundred years being already passed since this alteration began, Europe has felt the effects of it by sad experience; and the true causes of the change are now become more visible.
To lay open this matter in its full extent, it will be necessary to look farther back, and examine the original and constitution of those governments that were established in Europe about the year 400, and continued till this alteration.
When the Goths, Vandals, and other warlike nations had, at different times, and under different leaders, overrun the western parts of the Roman empire, they introduced the following form of government into all the nations they subdued. The general of the army became king of the conquered country; and the conquest being absolute, he divided the lands amongst the great officers of his army, afterwards called barons; who again parcelled out their several territories in smaller portions to the inferior soldiers that had followed them in the wars, and who then became their vassals, enjoying those lands for military service. The king reserved to himself some demesnes for the maintenance of his court and attendance. When this was done, there was no longer any standing army kept on foot, but every man went to live upon his own lands; and when the defence of the country required an army, the king summoned the barons to his standard, who came attended with their vassals. Thus were the armies of Europe composed for about eleven hundred years; and this constitution of government put the sword into the hands of the subject, because the vassals depended more immediately on the barons than on the king, which effectually secured the freedom of those governments. For the barons could not make use of their power to destroy those limited monarchies, without destroying their own grandeur; nor could the king invade their privileges, having no other forces than the vassals of his own demesnes to rely upon for his support in such an attempt.
I lay no great stress on any other limitations of those monarchies; nor do I think any so essential to the liberties of the people, as that which placed the sword in the hands of the subject. And since in our time most princes of Europe are in possession of the sword, by standing mercenary forces kept up in time of peace, absolutely depending upon them, I say that all such governments are changed from monarchies to tyrannies. Nor can the power of granting or refusing money, though vested in the subject, be a sufficient security for liberty, where a standing mercenary army is kept up in time of peace: for he that is armed is always master of the purse of him that is unarmed. And not only that government is tyrannical, which is tyrannically exercised; but all governments are tyrannical, which have not in their constitution a sufficient security against the arbitrary power of the prince.
I do not deny that these limited monarchies, during the greatness of the barons, had some defects: I know few governments free from them. But after all, there was a balance that kept those governments steady, and an effectual provision against the encroachments of the crown. I do less pretend that the present governments can be restored to the constitution before-mentioned. The following discourse will show the impossibility of it. My design in the first place is to explain the nature of the past and present governments of Europe, and to disabuse those who think them the same, because they are called by the same names; and who ignorantly clamour against such as would preserve that liberty which is yet left.
In order to this, and for a further and clearer illustration of the matter, I shall deduce from their original, the causes, occasions, and the complication of those many unforeseen accidents; which falling out much about the same time, produced so great a change. And it will at first sight seem very strange, when I shall name the restoration of learning, the invention of printing, of the needle and of gunpowder, as the chief of them; things in themselves so excellent, and which, the last only excepted, might have proved of infinite advantage to the world, if their remote influence upon government had been obviated by suitable remedies. Such odd consequences, and of such a different nature, accompany extraordinary inventions of any kind.
Constantinople being taken by Mahomet the second, in the year 1453, many learned Greeks fled over into Italy; where the favourable reception they found from the popes, princes, and republics of that country, soon introduced amongst the better sort of men, the study of the Greek tongue, and of the ancient authors in that language. About the same time likewise some learned men began to restore the purity of the Latin tongue. But that which most contributed to the advancement of all kind of learning, and especially the study of the ancients, was the art of printing; which was brought to a great degree of perfection a few years after. By this means their books became common, and their arts generally understood and admired. But as mankind from a natural propension to pleasure, is always ready to choose out of everything what may most gratify that vicious appetite; so the arts which the Italians first applied themselves to improve were principally those that had been subservient to the luxury of the ancients in the most corrupt ages, of which they had many monuments still remaining. Italy was presently filled with architects, painters, and sculptors; and a prodigious expense was made in buildings, pictures, and statues. Thus the Italians began to come off from their frugal and military way of living, and addicted themselves to the pursuit of refined and expensive pleasures, as much as the wars of those times would permit. This infection spread itself by degrees into the neighbouring nations. But these things alone had not been sufficient to work so great a change in government, if a preceding invention, brought into common use about that time, had not produced more new and extraordinary effects than any had ever done before; which probably may have many consequences yet unforeseen, and a farther influence upon the manners of men, as long as the world lasts; I mean, the invention of the needle, by the help of which navigation was greatly improved, a passage opened by sea to the East Indies, and a new world discovered. By this means the luxury of Asia and America was added to that of the ancients; and all ages, and all countries concurred, to sink Europe into an abyss of pleasures; which were rendered the more expensive by a perpetual change of the fashions in clothes, equipage, and furniture of houses.
These things brought a total alteration in the way of living, upon which all government depends. It is true, knowledge being mightily increased, and a great curiosity and nicety in everything introduced, men imagined themselves to be gainers in all points, by changing from their frugal and military way of living, which I must confess had some mixture of rudeness and ignorance in it, though not inseparable from it. But at the same time they did not consider the unspeakable evils that are altogether inseparable from an expensive way of living.
To touch upon all these, though slightly, would carry me too far from my subject: I shall therefore content myself to apply what has been said, to the immediate design of this discourse.
The far greater share of all those expenses fell upon the barons; for they were the persons most able to make them, and their dignity seemed to challenge whatever might distinguish them from other men. This plunged them on a sudden into so great debts, that if they did not sell, or otherwise alienate their lands, they found themselves at least obliged to turn the military service their vassals owed them into money; partly by way of rent, and partly by way of lease, of fine, for payment of their creditors. And by this means the vassal having his lands no longer at so easy a rate as before, could no more be obliged to military service, and so became a tenant. Thus the armies, which in preceding times had been always composed of such men as these, ceased of course, and the sword fell out of the hands of the barons. But there being always a necessity to provide for the defence of every country, princes were afterwards allowed to raise armies of volunteers and mercenaries. And great sums were given by diets and parliaments for their maintenance, to be levied upon the people grown rich by trade, and dispirited for want of military exercise. Such forces were at first only raised for present exigencies, and continued no longer on foot than the occasions lasted. But princes soon found pretences to make them perpetual, the chief of which was the garrisoning frontier towns and fortresses; the methods of war being altered to the tedious and chargeable way of sieges, principally by the invention of gunpowder. The officers and soldiers of these mercenary armies depending for their subsistence and preferment, as immediately upon the prince, as the former militias did upon the barons, the power of the sword was transferred from the subject to the king, and war grew a constant trade to live by. Nay, many of the barons themselves being reduced to poverty by their expensive way of living, took commands in those mercenary troops; and being still continued hereditary members of diets, and other assemblies of state, after the loss of their vassals, whom they formerly represented, they were now the readiest of all others to load the people with heavy taxes, which were employed to increase the prince’s military power, by guards, armies, and citadels, beyond bounds or remedy.
Some princes with much impatience pressed on to arbitrary power before things were ripe, as the kings of France and Charles duke of Burgundy. Philip de Commines says of the latter, ‘That having made a truce with the King of France he called an assembly of the estates of his country, and remonstrated to them the prejudice he had sustained by not having standing troops as that king had; that if five hundred men had been in garrison upon their frontier, the king of France would never have undertaken that war; and having represented the mischiefs that were ready to fall upon them for want of such a force, he earnestly pressed them to grant such a sum as would maintain eight hundred lances. At length they gave him a hundred and twenty thousand crowns more than his ordinary revenue (from which tax Burgundy was exempted). But his subjects were for many reasons under great apprehensions of falling into the subjection to which they saw the kingdom of France already reduced by means of such troops. And truly their apprehensions were not ill-grounded; for when he had got together five or six hundred men at arms, he presently had a mind to more, and with them disturbed the peace of all his neighbours: he augmented the tax from one hundred and twenty to five hundred thousand crowns, and increased the numbers of those men at arms, by whom his subjects were greatly oppressed.’ Francis de Beaucaire, bishop of Metz, in his history of France speaking of the same affair, says, ‘That the foresaid states could not be induced to maintain mercenary forces, being sensible of the difficulties into which the commonalty of France had brought themselves by the like concession; that princes might increase their forces at pleasure, and sometimes (even when they had obtained money) pay them ill, to the vexation and destruction of the poor people; and likewise that kings and princes not contented with their ancient patrimony, were always ready under this pretext to break in upon the properties of all men, and to raise what money they pleased. That nevertheless they gave him a hundred and twenty thousand crowns yearly, which he soon increased to five hundred thousand: but that Burgundy (which was the ancient dominion of that family) retained its ancient liberty, and could by no means be obliged to pay any part of this new tax.’ It is true, Philip de Commines subjoins to the forecited passage, that he believes standing forces may be well employed under a wise king or prince; but that if he be not so, or leaves his children young, the use that he or their governors make of them, is not always profitable either for the king or his subjects. If this addition be his own, and not rather an insertion added by the president of the parliament of Paris, who published and, as the foresaid Francis de Beaucaire says he was credibly informed, corrupted his memoirs, yet experience shows him to be mistaken: for the example of his master Louis the eleventh, whom upon many occasions he calls a wise prince, and those of most princes under whom standing forces were first allowed, demonstrates, that they are more dangerous under a wise prince than any other: and reason tells us, that if they are the only proper instruments to introduce arbitrary power, as shall be made plain, a cunning and able prince, who by the world is called a wise one, is more capable of using them to that end than a weak prince, or governors during a minority; and that a wise prince having once procured them to be established, they will maintain themselves under any.
I am not ignorant that before this change, subsidies were often given by diets, states, and parliaments, and some raised by the edicts of princes for maintaining wars; but these were small, and no way sufficient to subsist such numerous armies as those of the barons’ militia. There were likewise mercenary troops sometimes entertained by princes who aimed at arbitrary power, and by some commonwealths in time of war for their own defence; but these were only strangers, or in very small numbers, and held no proportion with those vast armies of mercenaries which this change has fixed upon Europe to her affliction and ruin.
What I have said hitherto has been always with regard to one or other, and often to most countries in Europe. What follows will have a more particular regard to Britain; where, though the power of the barons be ceased, yet no mercenary troops are yet established. The reason of which is, that England had before this great alteration lost all her conquests in France, the town of Calais only excepted; and that also was taken by the French before the change was thoroughly made. So that the Kings of England had no pretence to keep up standing forces, either to defend conquests abroad or to garrison a frontier towards France, since the sea was now become the only frontier between those two countries.
Neither could the frontier towards Scotland afford any colour to those princes for raising such forces, since the Kings of Scotland had none; and that Scotland was not able to give money for the subsisting any considerable number. It is true, the example of France, with which country Scotland had constant correspondence, and some French counsellors about Mary of Guise, Queen dowager and regent of Scotland, induced her to propose a tax for the subsisting of mercenary soldiers to be employed for the defence of the frontier of Scotland; and to ease, as was pretended, the barons of that trouble. But in that honourable and wise remonstrance, which was made by three hundred of the lesser barons (as much dissatisfied with the lords, who by their silence betrayed the public liberty, as with the Regent herself) she was told, that their forefathers had defended themselves and their fortunes against the English, when that nation was much more powerful than they were at that time, and had made frequent incursions into their country: that they themselves had not so far degenerated from their ancestors, to refuse, when occasion required, to hazard their lives and fortunes in the service of their country: that as to the hiring of mercenary soldiers, it was a thing of great danger to put the liberty of Scotland into the hands of men, who are of no fortunes, nor have any hopes but in the public calamity; who for money would attempt anything; whose excessive avarice opportunity would inflame to a desire of all manner of innovations, and whose faith would follow the wheel of fortune. That though these men should be more mindful of the duty they owe to their country, than of their own particular interest, was it to be supposed, that mercenaries would fight more bravely for the defence of other men’s fortunes, than the possessors would do for themselves or their own; or that a little money should excite their ignoble minds to a higher pitch of honors than that with which the barons are inspired, when they fight for the preservation of their fortunes, wives and children, religion and liberty: that most men did suspect and apprehend, that this new way of making war, might be not only useless, but dangerous to the nation; since the English, if they should imitate the example, might, without any great trouble to their people, raise far greater sums for the maintenance of mercenary soldiers, than Scotland could, and by this means not only spoil and lay open the frontier, but penetrate into the bowels of the kingdom: and that it was in the militia of the barons their ancestors had placed their chief trust, for the defence of themselves against a greater power.
By these powerful reasons being made sensible of her error, the Queen desisted from her demands. Her daughter Queen Mary, who, as the great historian says, looked upon the moderate government of a limited kingdom, to be disgraceful to monarchs, and upon the slavery of the people, as the freedom of kings, resolved to have guards about her person; but could not fall upon a way to compass them: for she could find no pretext, unless it were the empty show of magnificence which belongs to a court, and the example of foreign princes; for the former kings had always trusted themselves to the faith of the barons. At length upon a false and ridiculous pretence, of an intention in a certain nobleman to seize her person, she assumed them; but they were soon abolished. Nor had her son King James any other guards whilst he was King of Scotland only, than forty gentlemen: and that King declares in the act of parliament, by which they are established, that he will not burden his people by any tax or imposition for their maintenance.
Henry the seventh, King of England, seems to have perceived sooner, and understood better the alteration before-mentioned, than any prince of his time, and obtained several laws to favour and facilitate it. But his successors were altogether improper to second him: for Henry the eighth was an unthinking prince. The reigns of Edward the sixth and Queen Mary were short; and Queen Elizabeth loved her people too well to attempt it. King James, who succeeded her, was a stranger in England, and of no interest abroad. King Charles the first did indeed endeavour to make himself absolute, though somewhat preposterously; for he attempted to seize the purse, before he was master of the sword. But very wise men have been of opinion, that if he had been possessed of as numerous guards as those which were afterwards raised, and constantly kept up by King Charles the second, he might easily have succeeded in his enterprise. For we see that in those struggles which the country party had with King Charles the second, and in those endeavours they used to bring about that revolution which was afterwards compassed by a foreign power, the chief and insuperable difficulty they met with, was from those guards. And though King James the second had provoked these nations to the last degree, and made his own game as hard as possible, not only by invading our civil liberties, but likewise by endeavouring to change the established religion for another which the people abhorred, whereby he lost their affections, and even those of a great part of his army: yet notwithstanding all this mismanagement, Britain stood in need of a foreign force to save it; and how dangerous a remedy that is, the histories of all ages can witness. It is true, this circumstance was favourable, that a prince who had married the next heir to these kingdoms, was at the head of our deliverance: yet did it engage us in a long and expensive war. And now that we are much impoverished, and England by means of her former riches and present poverty, fallen into all the corruptions which those great enemies of virtue, want, and excess of riches can produce; that there are such numbers of mercenary forces on foot at home and abroad; that the greatest part of the officers have no other way to subsist; that they are commanded by a wise and active King, who has at his disposal the formidable land and sea forces of a neighbouring nation, the great rival of our trade; a King, who by blood, relation, other particular ties, and common interest, has the house of Austria, most of the princes of Germany, and potentates of the North, for his friends and allies; who can, whatever interest he join with, do what he thinks fit in Europe; I say, if a mercenary standing army be kept up (the first of that king, except those of the usurper Cromwell, and the late King James, that Britain has seen for thirteen hundred years) I desire to know where the security of the British liberties lies, unless in the good will and pleasure of the King: I desire to know, what real security can be had against standing armies of mercenaries, backed by the corruption of both nations, the tendency of the way of living, the genius of the age, and the example of the world.
Having shown the difference between the past and present government of Britain, how precarious our liberties are, and how from having the best security for them we are in hazard of having none at all; it is to be hoped that those who are for a standing army, and losing no occasion of advancing and extending the prerogative, from a mistaken opinion that they establish the ancient government of these nations, will see what sort of patriots they are.
But we are told, that only standing mercenary forces can defend Britain from the perpetual standing armies of France. However frivolous this assertion be, as indeed no good argument can be brought to support it, either from reason or experience, as shall be proved hereafter; yet allowing it to be good, what security can the nations have that these standing forces shall not at some time or other be made use of to suppress the liberties of the people, though not in this king’s time, to whom we owe their preservation? For I hope there is no man so weak to think, that keeping up the army for a year, or for any longer time than the parliaments of both nations shall have engaged the public faith to make good all deficiencies of funds granted for their maintenance, is not the keeping them up for ever. It is a pitiful shift in the undertakers for a standing army, to say, we are not for a standing army, we are only for an army from year to year, or till the militia be made useful. For Britain cannot be in any hazard from France; at least till that kingdom, so much exhausted by war and persecution, shall have a breathing space to recover. Before that time our militias will be in order; and in the meantime the fleet. Besides, no prince ever surrendered so great countries and so many strong places, I shall not say, in order to make a new war; but as these men will have it, to continue the same. The French King is old and diseased, and was never willing to hazard much by any bold attempt. If he, or the dauphin, upon his decease, may be suspected of any farther design, it must be upon the Spanish monarchy, in case of the death of that King. And if it be objected, that we shall stand in need of an army, in such a conjuncture, I answer, that our part in that, or in any other foreign war, will be best managed by sea, as shall be shown hereafter.
Let us then see if mercenary armies be not exactly calculated to enslave a nation. Which I think may be easily proved, if we consider that such troops are generally composed of men who make a trade of war; and having little or no patrimony, or spent what they once had, enter into that employment in hopes of its continuance during life, not at all thinking how to make themselves capable of any other. By which means heavy and perpetual taxes must be entailed for ever upon the people for their subsistence; and since all their relations stand engaged to support their interest, let all men judge, if this will not prove a very united and formidable party in a nation.
But the undertakers must pardon me if I tell them, that no well-constituted government ever suffered any such men in it, whose interest leads them to embroil the state in war, and are a useless and insupportable burden in time of peace. Venice or Holland are neither of them examples to prove the contrary; for had not their situation been different from that of other countries, their liberty had not continued to this time. And they suffer no forces to remain within those inaccessible places, which are the chief seats of their power. Carthage, that had not those advantages of situation, and yet used mercenary forces, was brought to the brink of ruin by them in a time of peace, beaten in three wars, and at last subdued by the Romans. If ever any government stood in need of such a sort of men, it was that of ancient Rome, because they were engaged in perpetual war. The argument can never be so strong in any other case. But the Romans well knowing such men and liberty to be incompatible, and yet being under a necessity of having armies constantly on foot, made frequent changes of the men that served in them; who, when they had been some time in the army, were permitted to return to their possessions, trades, or other employments. And to show how true a judgment that wise state made of this matter, it is sufficient to observe, that those who subverted that government, the greatest that ever was amongst men, found themselves obliged to continue the same soldiers always in constant pay and service.
If during the late war we had followed so wise a course as that of Rome, there had been thrice as many trained men in the nations as at present there are; no difficulties about recruits, nor debates about keeping up armies in time of peace, because some men resolve to live by arms in time of peace, whether it be for the good of the nations or not. And since such was the practice of Rome, I hope no man will have the confidence to say that this method was not as effectual for war as any other. If it be objected that Rome had perpetual wars, and therefore that might be a good practice among them, which would not be so with us, I confess I cannot see the consequence; for if Rome had perpetual wars, the Romans ought still to have continued the same men in their armies, that they might, according to the notion of these men, render their troops more useful. And if we did change our men during a war, we should have more men that would understand something of it. If any man say, not so much as if they continued in the army: I answer, that many of those who continue in the army are afterwards swept away by the war, and live not to be of use in time of peace; that those who escape the war, being fewer than in the other case, are soon consumed: and that mercenary standing forces in time of peace, if not employed to do mischief, soon become like those of Holland in 72, fit only to lose forty strong places in forty days.
There is another thing which I would not mention if it were not absolutely necessary to my present purpose; and that is, the usual manners of those who are engaged in mercenary armies. I speak now of officers in other parts of Europe, and not of those in our armies, allowing them to be the best, and if they will have it so, quite different from all others. I will not apply to them any part of what I shall say concerning the rest. They themselves best know how far anything of that nature may be applicable to them. I say then, most princes of Europe having put themselves upon the foot of keeping up forces, rather numerous than well entertained, can give but small allowance to officers, and that likewise is for the most part very ill paid, in order to render them the more necessitous and depending; and yet they permit them to live in all that extravagancy which mutual example and emulation prompts them to. By which means the officers become insensibly engaged in numberless frauds, oppressions, and cruelties, the colonels against the captains, and the captains against the inferior soldiers; and all of them against all persons with whom they have any kind of business. So that there is hardly any sort of men who are less men of honour than the officers of mercenary forces: and indeed honour has now no other signification amongst them than courage. Besides, most men that enter into those armies, whether officers or soldiers, as if they were obliged to show themselves new creatures, and perfectly regenerate, if before they were modest or sober, immediately turn themselves to all manner of debauchery and wickedness, committing all kinds of injustice and barbarity against poor and defenceless people. Now though the natural temper of our men be more just and honest than that of the French, or of any other people, yet may it not be feared, that such bad manners may prove contagious? And if such manners do not fit men to enslave a nation, devils only must do it. On the other hand, if it should happen that the officers of standing armies in Britain should live with greater regularity and modesty than was ever yet seen in that sort of men, it might very probably fall out, that being quartered in all parts of the country, some of them might be returned members of parliament for divers of the electing boroughs; and of what consequence that would be, I leave all men to judge. So that whatever be the conduct of a mercenary army, we can never be secure as long as any such force is kept up in Britain.
But the undertakers for a standing army will say: will you turn so many gentlemen to starve, who have faithfully served the government? This question I allow to be founded upon some reason. For it ought to be acknowledged in justice to our soldiery, that on all occasions, and in all actions, both officers and soldiers have done their part; and therefore I think it may be reasonable, that all officers and soldiers of above forty years, in consideration of their unfitness to apply themselves at that age to any other employment, should be recommended to the bounty of both parliaments.
I confess I do not see by what rules of good policy and mercenary forces have been connived at either in Scotland, England, or Ireland. Sure, it is allowing the dispensing power in the most essential point of the constitution of government in these nations.
Scotland and England are nations that were formerly very jealous of liberty; of which there are many remarkable instances in the histories of these countries. And we may hope that the late revolution having given such a blow to arbitrary power in these kingdoms, they will be very careful to preserve their rights and privileges. And sure it is not very suitable to these, that any standing forces be kept up in Britain: or that there should be any Scots, English, or Irish regiments maintained in Ireland, or anywhere abroad; or regiments of any nation at the charge of England. I shall not say how readily the regiments that were in the service of Holland came over against the duke of Monmouth: he was a rebel, and did not succeed. But we all know with what expedition the Irish mercenary forces were brought into Britain to oppose his present majesty in that glorious enterprise for our deliverance.
The subjects formerly had a real security for their liberty, by having the sword in their own hands. That security, which is the greatest of all others, is lost; and not only so, but the sword is put into the hand of the king by his power over the militia. All this is not enough; but we must have in both kingdoms standing armies of mercenaries, who for the most part have no other way to subsist, and consequently are capable to execute any commands: and yet every man must think his liberties as safe as ever, under pain of being thought disaffected to the monarchy. But sure it must not be the ancient limited and legal monarchies of Scotland and England that these gentlemen mean. It must be a French fashion of monarchy, where the king has power to do what he pleases, and the people no security for anything they possess. We have quitted our ancient security, and put the militia into the power of the king. The only remaining security we have is, that no standing armies were ever yet allowed in time of peace, the parliament of England having so often and so expressly declared them to be contrary to law: and that of Scotland having not only declared them to be a grievance, but made the keeping them up an article in the forfeiture of the late King James. If a standing army be allowed, what difference will there be between the government we shall then live under, and any kind of government under a good prince? Of which there have been some in the most despotic tyrannies. If these be limited and not absolute monarchies, then, as there are conditions, so there ought to be securities on both sides. The barons never pretended that their militias should be constantly on foot, and together in bodies in times of peace. It is evident that would have subverted the constitution, and made every one of them a petty tyrant. And it is as evident, that standing forces are the fittest instruments to make a tyrant. Whoever is for making the king’s power too great or too little, is an enemy to the monarchy. But to give him standing armies, puts his power beyond control, and consequently makes him absolute. If the people had any other real security for their liberty than that there be no standing armies in time of peace, there might be some colour to demand them. But if that only remaining security be taken away from the people, we have destroyed these monarchies.
It is pretended we are in hazard of being invaded by a powerful enemy; shall we therefore destroy our government? What is it then that we would defend? Is it our persons, by the ruin of our government? In what then shall we be gainers? In saving our lives by the loss of our liberties? If our pleasures and luxury make us live like brutes, it seems we must not pretend to reason any better than they. I would fain know, if there be any other way of making a prince absolute, than by allowing him a standing army: if by it all princes have not been made absolute; if without it, any. Whether our enemies shall conquer us is uncertain; but whether standing armies will enslave us, neither reason nor experience will suffer us to doubt. It is therefore evident that no pretence of danger from abroad can be an argument to keep up standing armies or any mercenary forces.
Let us now consider whether we may not be able to defend ourselves by well-regulated militias against any foreign force, though never so formidable: that these nations may be free from the fears of invasion from abroad, as well as from the danger of slavery at home.
After the barons had lost the military service of their vassals, militias of some kind or other were established in most parts of Europe. But the prince having everywhere the power of naming and preferring the officers of these militias, they could be no balance in government as the former were. And he that will consider what has been said in this discourse, will easily perceive that the essential quality requisite to such a militia, as might fully answer the ends of the former, must be, that the officers should be named and preferred, as well as they and the soldiers paid, by the people that set them out. So that if princes look upon the present militias as not capable of defending a nation against foreign armies, the people have little reason to entrust them with the defence of their liberties.
And though upon the dissolution of that ancient militia under the barons, which made these nations so great and glorious, by setting up militias generally through Europe, the sword came not into the hands of the Commons, which was the only thing could have continued the former balance of government, but was everywhere put into the hands of the king: nevertheless ambitious princes, who aimed at absolute power, thinking they could never use it effectually to that end, unless it were wielded by mercenaries, and men that had no other interest in the commonwealth than their pay, have still endeavoured by all means to discredit militias, and render them burdensome to the people, by never suffering them to be upon any right, or so much as tolerable foot, and all to persuade the necessity of standing forces. And indeed they have succeeded too well in this design: for the greatest part of the world has been fooled into an opinion that a militia cannot be made serviceable. I shall not say it was only militias could conquer the world; and that princes to have succeeded fully in the design before-mentioned must have destroyed all the history and memory of ancient governments, where the accounts of so many excellent models of militia are yet extant. I know the prejudice and ignorance of the world concerning the art of war, as it was practised by the ancients; though what remains of that knowledge in their writings be sufficient to give a mean opinion of the modern discipline. For this reason I shall examine, by what has passed of late years in these nations, whether experience have convinced us, that officers bred in foreign wars, be so far preferable to others who have been under no other discipline than that of an ordinary and ill-regulated militia; and if the commonalty of both kingdoms, at their first entrance upon service, be not as capable of a resolute military action, as any standing forces. This doubt will be fully resolved, by considering the actions of the marquis of Montrose, which may be compared, all circumstances considered, with those of Caesar, as well for the military skill, as the bad tendency of them; though the marquis had never served abroad, nor seen any action, before the six victories, which, with numbers much inferior to those of his enemies, he obtained in one year; and the most considerable of them were chiefly gained by the assistance of the tenants and vassals of the family of Gordon. The battle of Naseby will be a farther illustration of this matter, which is generally thought to have been the deciding action of the late civil war. The number of forces was equal on both sides; nor was there any advantage in the ground, or extraordinary accident that happened during the fight, which could be of considerable importance to either. In the army of the parliament, nine only of the officers had served abroad, and most of the soldiers were prentices drawn out of London but two months before. In the king’s army there were above a thousand officers that had served in foreign parts: yet was that army routed and broken by those new-raised prentices; who were observed to be obedient to command, and brave in fight; not only in that action, but on all occasions during that active campaign. The people of these nations are not a dastardly crew, like those born in misery under oppression and slavery, who must have time to rub off that fear, cowardice, and stupidity which they bring from home. And though officers seem to stand in more need of experience than private soldiers; yet in that battle it was seen that the sobriety and principle of the officers on the one side, prevailed over the experience of those on the other.
It is well known that divers regiments of our army, lately in Flanders, have never been once in action, and not one half of them above thrice, nor any of them five times during the whole war. Oh, but they have been under discipline, and accustomed to obey! And so may men in militias. We have had to do with an enemy, who, though abounding in numbers of excellent officers, yet durst never fight us without a visible advantage. Is that enemy like to invade us, when he must be unavoidably necessitated to put all to hazard in ten days, or starve?
A good militia is of such importance to a nation, that it is the chief part of the constitution of any free government. For though as to other things, the constitution be never so slight, a good militia will always preserve the public liberty. But in the best constitution that ever was, as to all other parts of government, if the militia be not upon a right foot, the liberty of that people must perish. The militia of ancient Rome, the best that ever was in any government, made her mistress of the world: but standing armies enslaved that great people, and their excellent militia and freedom perished together. The Lacedemonians continued eight hundred years free, and in great honour, because they had a good militia. The Swisses at this day are the freest, happiest, and the people of all Europe who can best defend themselves, because they have the best militia.
I have shown that liberty in the monarchical governments of Europe, subsisted so long as the militia of the barons was on foot: and that on the decay of their militia (which though it was none of the best, so was it none of the worst) standing forces and tyranny have been everywhere introduced, unless in Britain and Ireland; which by reason of their situation, having the sea for frontier, and a powerful fleet to protect them, could afford no pretence for such forces. And though any militia, however slightly constituted, be sufficient for that reason to defend us; yet all improvements in the constitution of militias, being further securities for the liberty of the people, I think we ought to endeavour the amendment of them, and till that can take place, to make the present militias useful in the former and ordinary methods.
That the whole free people of any nation ought to be exercised to arms, not only the example of our ancestors, as appears by the acts of parliament made in both kingdoms to that purpose, and that of the wisest governments among the ancients; but the advantage of choosing out of great numbers, seems clearly to demonstrate. For in countries where husbandry, trade, manufactures, and other mechanical arts are carried on, even in time of war, the impediments of men are so many and so various, that unless the whole people be exercised, no considerable numbers of men can be drawn out, without disturbing those employments, which are the vitals of the political body. Besides, that upon great defeats, and under extreme calamities, from which no government was ever exempted, every nation stands in need of all the people, as the ancients sometimes did of their slaves. And I cannot see why arms should be denied to any man who is not a slave, since they are the only true badges of liberty; and ought never, but in times of utmost necessity, to be put into the hands of mercenaries or slaves: neither can I understand why any man that has arms should not be taught the use of them.
By the constitution of the present militia in both nations, there is but a small number of the men able to bear arms exercised; and men of quality and estate are allowed to send any wretched servant in their place: so that they themselves are become mean, by being disused to handle arms; and will not learn the use of them, because they are ashamed of their ignorance: by which means the militias being composed only of servants, these nations seem altogether unfit to defend themselves, and standing forces to be necessary. Now can it be supposed that a few servants will fight for the defence of their masters’ estates, if their masters only look on? Or that some inconsiderate free-holders, as for the most part those who command the militia are, should, at the head of those servants, expose their lives for men of more plentiful estates, without being assisted by them? No bodies of military men can be of any force or value, unless many persons of quality or education among them; and such men should blush to think of excusing themselves from serving their country, at least for some years, in a military capacity, if they consider that every Roman was obliged to spend fifteen years of his life in their armies. Is it not a shame that any man who possesses an estate, and is at the same time healthful and young, should not fit himself by all means for the defence of that, and his country, rather than to pay taxes to maintain a mercenary, who though he may defend him during a war, will be sure to insult and enslave him in time of peace. Men must not think that any country can be in a constant posture of defence, without some trouble and charge; but certainly it is better to undergo this, and to preserve our liberty with honour, than to be subjected to heavy taxes, and yet have it insolently ravished from us, to our present oppression, and the lasting misery of our posterity. But it will be said, where are the men to be found who shall exercise all this people in so many several places at once? for the nobility and gentry know nothing of the matter; and to hire so many soldiers of fortune, as they call them, will be chargeable, and may be dangerous, these men being all mercenaries, and always the same men, in the same trusts: besides that the employing such men would not be suitable to the design of breeding the men of quality and estate to command, as well as the others to obey.
To obviate these difficulties, and because the want of a good model of militia, and a right method for training people in time of peace, so as they need not apprehend any war, though never so sudden, is at this day the bane of the liberty of Europe, I shall propose one, accommodated to the invincible difficulty of bringing men of quality and estate, or men of any rank, who have passed the time of youth, to the use of arms; and new, because though we have many excellent models of militia, delivered to us by ancient authors, with respect to the use of them in time of war, yet they give us but little information concerning the methods by which they trained their whole people for war in time of peace; so that if the model which I shall propose have not the authority of the ancients to recommend it, yet perhaps by a severe discipline, and a right method of disposing the minds of men, as well as forming their bodies, for military and virtuous actions, it may have some resemblance of their excellent institutions.
What I would offer is, that four camps be formed, one in Scotland, and three in England; into which all the young men of the respective countries should enter, on the first day of the two and twentieth year of their age; and remain there the space of two years, if they be of fortunes sufficient to maintain themselves; but if they are not, then to remain a year only, at the expense of the public. In this camp they should be taught the use of all sorts of arms, with the necessary evolutions, as also wrestling, leaping, swimming, and the like exercises. He whose condition would permit him to buy and maintain a horse, should be obliged so to do, and be taught to vault, to ride, and to manage his own horse. This camp should seldom remain above eight days in one place, but remove from heath to heath; not only upon the account of cleanliness and health, but to teach the youth to fortify a camp, to march, and to accustom them (respect being always had to those of a weak constitution) to carry as much in their march as ever any Roman soldier did; that is to say, their tents, provision, arms, armour, their utensils, and the palisades of their camp. They should be taught to forage, and be obliged to use the countrymen with all justice in their bargains, for that and all other things, they stand in need of from them. The food of every man within the camp should be the same; for bread they should have only wheat, which they are to be obliged to grind with hand-mills; they should have some salt, and a certain number of beeves allowed them at certain times of the year. Their drink should be water, sometimes tempered with a proportion of brandy, and at other times with vinegar. Their clothes should be plain, coarse, and of a fashion fitted in everything for the fatigue of a camp. For all these things those who could should pay; and those who could not should be defrayed by the public, as has been said. The camp should be sometimes divided into two parts, which should remove from each other many miles, and should break up again at the same time, in order to meet upon some mountainous, marshy, woody, or in a word, cross ground; that not only their diligence, patience, and suffering in marches, but their skill in seizing of grounds, posting bodies of horse and foot, and advancing towards each other; their choosing a camp, and drawing out of it in order to a battle, might be seen, as well as what orders of battle they would form upon the variety of different grounds. The persons of quality or estate should likewise be instructed in fortification, gunnery, and all things belonging to the duty of an engineer: and forts should be sometimes built by the whole camp, where all the arts of attacking and defending places should be practised. The youth having been taught to read at schools, should be obliged to read at spare hours some excellent histories but chiefly those in which military actions are best described; with the books that have been best written concerning the military art. Speeches exhorting to military and virtuous actions should be often composed, and pronounced publicly by such of the youth as were, by education and natural talents, qualified for it. There being none but military men allowed within the camp, and no churchmen being of that number, such of the youth as may be fit to exhort the rest to all Christian and moral duties, chiefly to humility, modesty, charity, and the pardoning of private injuries, should be chosen to do it every Sunday, and the rest of that day spent in reading books, and in conversation directed to the same end. And all this under so severe and rigorous orders, attended with so exact an execution by reward and punishment, that no officer within the camp should have the power of pardoning the one, or withholding the other. The rewards should be all honorary, and contrived to suit the nature of the different good qualities and degrees in which any of the youth had shown, either his modesty, obedience, patience in suffering, temperance, diligence, address, invention, judgment, temper, or valour. The punishments should be much more rigorous than those inflicted for the same crimes by the law of the land. And there should be punishments for some things, not liable to any by the common law, immodest and insolent words or actions, gaming, and the like. No woman should be suffered to come within the camp, and the crimes of abusing their own bodies any manner of way, punished with death. All these things to be judged by their own councils of war; and those councils to have for rule, certain articles drawn up and approved by the respective parliaments. The officers and masters, for instructing and teaching the youth, in all the exercises above-mentioned, should upon the first establishment of such a camp, be the most expert men in those disciplines; and brought by encouragements from all places of Europe; due care being taken that they should not infect the youth with foreign manners. But afterwards they ought to consist of such men of quality or fortune as should be chosen for that end, out of those who had formerly passed two years in the camp, and since that time had improved themselves in the wars; who upon their return should be obliged to serve two years in that station. As for the numbers of those officers, or masters; their several duties; that of the camp-master-general, and of the commissaries; the times and manner of exercise, with divers other particulars of less consideration, and yet necessary to be determined, in order to put such a design in execution, for brevity’s sake I omit them, as easy to be resolved. But certainly it were no hard matter, for men that had passed through such a discipline as that of the camp I have described, to retain it after they should return to their several homes; if the people of every town and village, together with those of the adjacent habitations, were obliged to meet fifty times in the year, on such days as should be found most convenient; and exercise four hours every time: for all men being instructed in what they are to do; and the men of quality and estate most knowing, and expert of all others, the exercise might be performed in great perfection. There might also be yearly in the summer time, a camp of some thousands of the nearest neighbours brought and kept together for a week to do those exercises, which cannot be performed in any other place: every man of a certain estate being obliged to keep a horse fit for the war. By this means it would be easy upon any occasion, though never so small (as for example, the keeping of the peace, and putting the laws in execution where force is necessary) or never so great and sudden (as upon account of invasions and conspiracies) to bring together such numbers of officers and soldiers as the exigence required, according to the practice of ancient Rome; which in this particular might be imitated by us without difficulty: and if such a method were once established, there would be no necessity of keeping up a militia formed into regiments of foot and horse in time of peace. Now if this militia should stand in need of any farther improvement (because no militias seem comparable to those exercised in actual war; as that of the barons by their constant feuds; and that of Rome, and some other ancient commonwealths, by their perpetual wars) a certain small number of forces might be employed in any foreign country where there should be action; a fourth part of which might be changed every year; that all those who had in this manner acquired experience, might be dispersed among the several regiments of any army, that the defence of these countries should at any time call for; which would serve to confirm and give assurance to the rest. Such a militia would be of no great expense to these nations; for the mean clothing and provisions for those who could not maintain themselves, being given only for one year, would amount to little; and no other expense would be needful, except for their arms, a small train of artillery for each camp, and what is to be given for the encouragement of the first officers and masters.
A militia upon such a foot would have none of the infinite and insuperable difficulties there are, to bring a few men who live at a great distance from one another, frequently together to exercise, at which consequently they must be from home every time several days: of finding such a number of masters, as are necessary to train so many thousands of people ignorant of all exercise, in so many different places, and for the most part at the same time: it would have none of those innumerable incumbrances, and unnecessary expenses, with which a militia formed into regiments of foot and horse in time of peace is attended. In such a camp the youth would not only be taught the exercise of a musket with a few evolutions, which is all that men in ordinary militias pretend to, and is the least part of the duty of a soldier; but besides a great many exercises to strengthen and dispose the body for fight, they would learn to fence, to ride, and manage a horse for the war; to forage and live in a camp; to fortify, attack, and defend any place; and what is no less necessary, to undergo the greatest toils, and to give obedience to the severest orders. Such a militia, by sending beyond seas certain proportions of it, and relieving them from time to time, would enable us to assist out allies more powerfully than by standing armies we could ever do. Such a camp would take away the great difficulty of bringing men of all conditions, who have passed the time of their youth, to apply themselves to the use and exercise of arms; and beginning with them early, when like wax they may be moulded into any shape, would dispose them to place their greatest honour in the performance of those exercises, and inspire them with the fires of military glory, to which that age is so inclined; which impression being made upon their youth, would last as long as life. Such a camp would be as great a school of virtue as of military discipline: in which the youth would learn to stand in need of few things; to be content with that small allowance which nature requires; to suffer, as well as to act; to be modest, as well as brave; to be as much ashamed of doing anything insolent or injurious, as of turning their back upon an enemy; they would learn to forgive injuries done to themselves, but to embrace with joy the occasions of dying to revenge those done to their country: and virtue imbibed in younger years would cast a flavour to the utmost periods of life. In a word, they would learn greater and better things than the military art, and more necessary too, if anything can be more necessary than the defence of our country. Such a militia might not only defend a people living in an island, but even such as are placed in the midst of the most warlike nations of the world.
Now till such a militia may be brought to some perfection, our present militia is not only sufficient to defend us; but considering the circumstances of the French affairs, especially with relation to Spain, Britain cannot justly apprehend an invasion, if the fleet of England, to which Scotland furnished during the late war seven or eight thousand seamen, were in such order as it ought to be. And it can never be the interest of these nations to take any other share in preserving the balance of Europe, than what may be performed by our fleet. By which means our money will be spent amongst ourselves; our trade preserved to support the charge of the navy; our enemies totally driven out of the sea, and great numbers of their forces diverted from opposing the armies of our allies abroad, to the defence of their own coasts.
If this method had been taken in the late war, I presume it would have proved not only more advantageous to us, but also more serviceable to our allies than that which was followed. And it is in vain to say, that at this rate we shall have no allies at all: for the weaker party on the Continent must be contended to accept our assistance in the manner we think fit to give it, or inevitably perish. But if we send any forces beyond the seas to join those of our allies, they ought to be part of our militia, as has been said, and not standing forces; otherwise, at the end of every war, the present struggle will recur, and at one time or other these nations will be betrayed, and a standing army established: so that nothing can save us from following the fate of all the other kingdoms in Europe, but putting our trust altogether in our fleet and militias, and having no other forces than these. The sea is the only empire which can naturally belong to us. Conquest is not our interest, much less to consume our people and treasure in conquering for others.
To conclude; if we seriously consider the happy condition of these nations, who have lived so long under the blessings of liberty, we cannot but be affected with the most tender compassion to think that the Scots, who have for so many ages, with such resolution, defended their liberty against the Picts, Britons, Romans, Saxons, Danes, Irish, Normans, and English, as well as against the violence and tyranny of so many of their own princes; that the English, who, whatever revolutions their country has been subject to, have still maintained their rights and liberties against all attempts; who possess a country, everywhere cultivated and improved by the industry of rich husbandmen; her rivers and harbours filled with ships; her cities, towns, and villages enriched with manufactures; where men of vast estates live in secure possession of them, and whose merchants live in as great splendour as the nobility of other nations: that Scotland which has a gentry born to excel in arts and arms: that England which has a commonalty, not only surpassing all those of that degree which the world can now boast of, but also those of all former ages, in courage, honesty, good sense, industry, and generosity of temper; in whose very looks there are such visible marks of a free and liberal education; which advantages cannot be imputed to the climate, or to any other cause, but the freedom of the government under which they live: I say, it cannot but make the hearts of all honest men bleed to think, that in their days the felicity and liberties of such countries must come to a period, if the parliaments do not prevent it, and his majesty be not prevailed upon to lay aside the thoughts of mercenary armies, which, if once established, will inevitably produce those fatal consequences that have always attended such forces in the other kingdoms of Europe; violation of property, decay of trade, oppression of the country by heavy taxes and quarters, the utmost misery and slavery of the poorer sort, the ruin of the nobility by their expenses in court and army, deceit and treachery in all ranks of men, occasioned by want and necessity. Then shall we see the gentry of Scotland, ignorant through want of education, and cowardly by being oppressed; then shall we see the once happy commonalty of England become base and abject, by being continually exposed to the brutal insolence of the soldiers; the women debauched by their lust; ugly and nasty through poverty, and the want of things necessary to preserve their natural beauty. Then shall we see that great city, the pride and glory, not only of our island, but of the world, subjected to the excessive impositions Paris now lies under, and reduced to a peddling trade, serving only to foment the luxury of a court. Then will Britain know what obligations she has to those who are for mercenary armies.