Front Page Titles (by Subject) 153.: The Army Bill 10 MARCH, 1871 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIX - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part II July 1869 - March 1873
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153.: The Army Bill 10 MARCH, 1871 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIX - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part II July 1869 - March 1873 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIX - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part II July 1869 - March 1873, ed. John M. Robson and Bruce L. Kinzer (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1988).
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The Army Bill
Daily Telegraph, 11 March, 1871, p. 5. Headed: “Our Military Expenditure.” Also reported in slightly abbreviated from in The Times and in the Daily News. The evening meeting was called by the Working Men’s Peace Association to protest against the government’s proposal to increase military expenditure. The report in The Times, which calls the meeting “extremely noisy,” says St. James’s Hall “was not half full.” Mill was in the Chair; the platform party included “a number of the representative men of the working classes.” After a letter of support from Henry Fawcett was read, Mill spoke.
ladies and gentlemen, whatever diversities aof opiniona may exist in the country as to the proper constitution of our military force, and the proper limits of its amount, I think we all have reason to unite in a profound dissatisfaction with the Government measure.1 (Hear, hear.) It is offered as a great army reform to cure the notorious defects of our military system. But what are the defects of our present system? At an expense greater than would be necessary for an army, it gives us only an army corps. If an army is to be of banyb use, it must be of use when it is wanted. But our army is vastly too large when it is not wanted, and vastly too small when it is. (Laughter and cheers.) If the time should come when we really require an army for the defence of these islands, the force we can muster is totally inadequate. We are as absolutely dependent on the Channel fleet for the safety of the country as if we had no military force at all, and we pay £14,000,000 a year for not having an army, when it costs the Prussian Government only half that sum to be able, as we have seen, to bring 500,000 trained men into the field at a fortnight’s notice. (Hear, hear, and That’s it.) This is what we have to remedy. Now, what is the remedy proposed? An increase which, except as regards the artillery, adds almost imperceptibly to our power of meeting an enemy, while to effect it £3,000,000 more a year are to be added to the present £14,000,000 cof costc , without counting any of the other millions which we are to pay for the abolition of purchase.2 (Hear.) Whatever our ideas may be of the sort of changes which are requisite, this, I think, is a kind of reform which cannot satisfy any one. (Cheers.) Efficiency is one thing, and economy is one thing, but if we are to have neither efficiency nor economy, it is time we took the matter into our own hands. (Cheers.) We should try to have—both. (Loud cheers.) I should heartily rejoice if I could conscientiously believe that we could do without an army, and could trust only to our fleet. (Hear, hear.) But no country is safe with only one line of defence, and we cannot be sure of always keeping the command of the sea without a single day’s intermission, which would be necessary if our only force were the fleet. We must remember that our navy has a great deal to do. We have possessions all over the world which in case of war we are bound to protect as well as our own islands, and we may have to contend against not one maritime Power only, but against several; and if we persist in sanctioning dby our silenced the act of our late Foreign Minister done without authority in 1856, and never ratified,3 we abandon one of our most effective edefensivee weapons—the fpowerf of attacking an enemy through his commerce. The fleet of a Power at war with us would have nothing to do but to watch gforg the opportunity of landing an army on our shores, and we should not know hwhich amongst many points would be attacked, and if our fleet were drawn off for two days by false information, the mischief might be doneh . (Hear, hear.) Such a catastrophe is not probable i—we hope it is not even possible—but wei had a narrow escape from it just before Trafalgar, and we must contemplate the possibility of our having to defend ourselves against a powerful enemy who has succeeded in effecting a landing. Now, we might as well have no means of defence, as means not sufficient to prevent the country being overrun. The great and important point is that this cannot be accomplished by any possible increase of our standing army. (Cheers.) We are living in an age when wars are made by nations in arms, and we know now how effectually an armed nation can repel an invasion. jNow that no nation is armed unless the nation in arms is ready to defend, noj country can afford to keep a standing army great enough for the purpose—and least of all we, whose military system costs us £100 ka yeark for every soldier it gives us. Henceforth our army should be our whole people trained and disciplined. (Hear, hear, and a voice, That won’t do.) Not kept in barracks for three years like the Prussians, nor even for two years which the Liberals of Prussia stood out for. What is wanted is to take every year those who have ljustl arrived at manhood—(No, no)—and to place them in military training for a few weeks or months, in the way that is found sufficient in Switzerland. (Loud cheers, and Oh!) The foundation of mthe training should be laid, as it is in Switzerland,m at school, and if it is well done, a few weeks’ training in the field in the first year of manhood makes a good soldier, and a fortnight’s drill annually for a few years afterwards suffices to keep him so. (Hear.) When a system of this sort had existed for some years, we should require no standing army except the scientific corps, and as many as might be required for garrisons in India and for colonies whose inhabitants were not yet competent for self-defence. (Hear, hear.) A citizen army in time of peace would cost the Government nothing except for the short period of its embodiment, and the loss of productive power by withdrawing from industry for a short time young men of that age would scarcely be felt, and would be more than compensated by the good effects of military training in making them more steady and vigorous for the ordinary pursuits of life. Then, if war should break out, there would be a large army quite ready, and abundant reserves ready to reinforce it if occasion required. But, it will be said, these are only raw soldiers. Well, are not a standing army raw soldiers at the first breaking-out of every war which is preceded by many years of peace? and I hope there will always be many years of peace between our wars. One would suppose it had been our practice to keep our standing army always fighting. A soldier is not like a carpenter or a sailor, whose whole life is passed in the active exercise of his profession. When the country is at peace our soldiers have no more experience of actual warfare than our citizens have. They are idle, and something worse (cheers), repeating merely elementary preparatory exercises, not the more skilled work of soldiering. Why does a man need to be constantly practising the goose step, when once he has learned it? Unless the country, therefore, like old Rome, is always at war, citizen soldiers and professionals have equally to learn their real business after the war has commenced; and the late war in America shows how well and quickly citizen soldiers learn. (Cheers.) No doubt if we were attacked by a Power with practised soldiers it would be some disadvantage to us to have none of ours; but this inconvenience must be undergone in any case, unless we are always fighting to keep our hands in; and we must nthereforen make it up by numbers, as the Prussians have done, ofor they, be it rememberedo , at the time of the Danish campaign, had no soldiers who had seen service. Let us, then, make our people our army—(cheers)—as has been done in Prussia; but let us not keep them togetherp, in time of peace,p any longer than is sufficient for training. There is no true military reform but this; and a bill which, instead of pointing in this direction, points in the opposite—which gives us a more expensive standing army than ever, and does no one thing towards making the people themselves a defensive force—is not a reform, but a continuation and an aggravation of evils. (Loud cheers.) I recognise only two things in the bill as worthy of praise. One is the increase of our artillery. Undoubtedly, this country ought to have the very best instruments of war which ingenuity can devise, and an ample supply of them and of men trained to use them; and no doubt artillerymen require long training. The other point is the abolition of purchase—(cheers)—but it is only good as part of a system, and where is the system of which it ought to be a part? The great evil of purchase is that it officers the army with idle men who have never done a day of hard, dull work in their lives (laughter and cheers), and who scorn the idea of qstudying theirq business. (Hear, hear.) But what is there in this bill to compel officers to study and understand their work as the Prussians do? The first commissions are to be given by competition, and that is good; but then promotion is to go by selection, which unless guarded by infinite precautions, means rfavouritism and all the old evilsr . (Hear, hear.) A competition at starting may keep out actual dunces and incorrigible idlers; but that ordeal once passed—and experience shows that it can be passed with a very moderate amount of exertion—what is there to hinder the army from being officered by the same sort of persons and from the same motives as at present—namely, gentlemanly excitement? (Hear, hear.) And really, if this is to continue, the abolition of purchase is not worth paying for. (Cheers.) If our armies are to be led by men who want to amuse themselves by playing at soldiers, the only good point in the whole matter is that they are made to pay handsomely for their amusement. (Laughter and Hear, hear.) Rich men may be very brave and dashing, if you will; but I sincerely hope they will never have to fight any of the nations which before many years have passed will have remodelled their armies after the Prussian pattern. (Hear.) The purchase of commissions is an evil and a blot, but it may as well be left as it is as abolished without stringent provisions that promotion shall only be possible to those men who have made a serious study of the military art. (Hear.) The bill, therefore, considered as a whole, is a step in the wrong direction. It does not appreciably strengthen us for national defence, and it contains no germs of a better system for the future. The least that can be done in such a case is to demand that, if we are not to have a better army, at least we shall not be required to pay for inefficency three millions a year more than we pay already. I therefore heartily concur in the object of the present meeting. (Loud cheers.)
[A resolution was moved, that the meeting refused to sanction an increased expenditure on the army, which was already the most costly in Europe, and regretted the weakness of a Liberal government in yielding to ill-founded alarmist fears and increasing the burden on an already over-taxed people. The proceedings were interrupted by a “knot of persons in the gallery, who exhibited a flag bearing the word ‘republic,’ and who also loudly vociferated their objection to the Princess Louise’s dowry”; the Chair “reminded the interrupters that the meeting had been called for a different purpose, and that they were at liberty to hold meetings on their own account to give ventilation to their views on those subjects” (Daily News). The motion was supported by Jacob Bright, who expressed disagreement with some views of Mill, specifically that England should be a nation of soldiers; P.A. Taylor also spoke in support, avowing agreement with Mill as to the need for a national force. After the failure of an amendment protesting against the Army Regulation Bill because it did not limit the tenure of the Commander-in-Chief or prevent German Princes from retaining commands in the Guards, the resolution was approved unanimously, and then a motion was made (on behalf of the “men of the North”) that the meeting call on the Members of Parliament to resist by all constitutional means the government’s proposals to increase military expenditure; the motion was unanimously approved, and the meeting concluded with a vote of thanks to Mill, which was approved with cheers.]
[1 ]“A Bill for the Better Regulation of the Regular and Auxiliary Land Forces of the Crown; and for Other Purposes Relating Thereto,” 34 & 35 Victoria (16 Feb., 1871), PP, 1871, I, 11-38 (enacted as 34 & 35 Victoria, c. 86 ).
[2 ]For the additional £3,000,000, see “Army Estimates of Effective and Non-Effective Services, for 1871-72,” PP, 1871, XXXVIII, 3. The abolition of purchase of commissions was provided in Clause 2 of the Bill under discussion (see n1 above), and was effected by a Royal Warrant (1 Nov., 1871), PP, 1871, XXXIX, 601.
[3 ]For the action of George Villiers, Lord Clarendon, with reference to the Declaration of Paris, see No. 80, n5.
[h-h]TT where the blow would fall. Our fleet has only to be two days out of the way and our first line of defence is gone
[i-i]TT but we must remember that it is possible. We
[j-j]TT,DN A nation in arms requires a nation in arms to withstand it No
[m-m]TT,DN] DT this is laid
[o-o]TT] DT,DN who
[q-q]TT,DN] DT steady
[r-r]TT] DT,DN favour