Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. XIII.: Conclusion. - An Essay on Naval Discipline
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CHAP. XIII.: Conclusion. - Thomas Hodgskin, An Essay on Naval Discipline 
An Essay on Naval Discipline, Shewing Part of its evil Effects on the Minds of the Officers, on the Minds of the Men, and on the Community; with an Amended System, by which Pressing may be immediately abolished, by Lieut. Thomas Hodgskin, R.N. (London: Printed for the Author, by C. Squire, Furnival’s-Inn-Court, sold by Sherwood, Neely & Jones, Paternoster-Row 1813).
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That the foregoing alterations may be completely efficacious, it is absolutely necessary they should be known to the people, not simply by chance from the newspapers, but told them from authority; not whispered in alleys and corners, but declared in the public markets and the squares. We are ready enough at making executions public, why not also recompenses; why repress from vice by terror, and not stimulate to virtue by hope? Pressing has long been forced upon the attention of the people; let them now be told of voluntary service; they have long known of the cruelties and flogging that exist in the navy, let them now be made acquainted with its honours; let them be clearly informed that there are such places as Greenwich, and such things as a patriotic fund; let the wages of the seamen, and the rewards which may await them, be explicitly shewn to them, and they will want no stimulus from terror, no dragging by force, to man our ships.
And, to make all these things known to the people, what place more frequented than the church, what authority so sacred as religion; it has often been prostituted to party purposes, has often excited animosity, and prevented the spirit of toleration, let it now be applied to a national object; let it encourage so useful a virtue as voluntarily to defend our country. Of what use is our enormous church establishment, if it cannot be made subservient to the best interests of the state; if it cannot induce so moral a duty in the people, and one to which they are so prone, as to fight in our country’s just cause? To recruit, by the eloquence of our clergy, our army and navy cannot be disgraceful; for it is but encouraging to practice a holy duty. The time certainly has been when it might have been doubtful, whether fighting in what was called our country’s cause was a moral duty or not, since the effects of victory were but to ensure a continuance of oppression. The nature of the present contest brings the truth home to every man; it is not whether our flag, or the flag of another nation, shall fly on this or that useless, and, till now, unheard of spot of land; it is not whether the avarice of a few of our merchants shall be gratified or not; it is whether we shall any longer exist as a nation; whether our altars shall be polluted; our wives, sisters, and children, dishonoured; or whether they shall remain pure, to bless us with the smiles of chastity and love; it is whether it is right to resist the unlimited ambition of a man, who, possessing greater means than the world ever before saw at one person’s implicit command, seeks, in our destruction, for ever to put an end to that morality and virtue which reproach him with his crimes, and for ever to cover the world with the gloom of military despotism.
If to defend our country is not a moral duty, why have our rulers so long had a power to compel its performance?
But there cannot be any doubt that it is a moral duty of primary importance from its effects, and may, therefore, be very properly made an object of tuition, by the ministers of that religion, whose end is to fit us for a better life, by teaching us our duties here.
This duty is not the dogma of a sect or a party; it is not a division of syllables, that can set man in array against his brother; or a dispute upon a doubtful point, beyond the cognizance of men’s senses. With one exception, its importance is allowed by all, and all would make it an object of their instruction. The willingness of the ministers of the Catholic religion to exhort their congregations to defend their country might be a just test of what confidence may be reposed in them; and I should think, there is scarcely one of them who would not be as willing to encourage his flock to serve in the army or navy, as to exhort them to their regular attendance at mass.
From the increased liberty and additional security these alterations would give the people, the dissenting ministers would be as equally willing to make them an occasional object of their discourses; for theirs is peculiarly the religion which teaches mankind the love of civil liberty; that, in the sacred temple of the Almighty, places every Christian on an equality, and permits no nonsensical ceremonies to interpose as agents between man and his Maker, but brings him immediately and intimately acquainted with Him, and teaches him His laws as rules for his actions.
If these dissenting ministers were requested, in a manner that bespoke confidence in them, to communicate these alterations to their respective congregations, they would do it cheerfully and willingly. The ministers of the established church might have it suggested to their attention in a like manner; and there appears no other way more readily to communicate, with a proper authority, every sort of information to the people. Thus to influence their opinions, and through them compel their actions, and while nothing but justice was wanted, or nothing but morality supported; while truth alone was made an object of their discourses, I do not see what possible objection can be made to this mode of disseminating a knowledge of every institution of our country.
Justice to the character of our countrymen at large (materially injured by the long continuance of the system of pressing and coercion) and to the insulted seamen in particular, imperiously requires, that, in making these alterations public, a public disavowal should also be made of those principles that have hitherto been employed to make us defend our country.
The legislature should stigmatize, as unjust, those abuses of authority that have been made use of to produce virtues in us that are the natural growth of our soil and our hearts—that we learnt in infancy from our mothers, and from which the name of a Briton cannot be separated. An acknowledgment of better principles, of the confidence our rulers ought to place in us, and that we, as a nation, so righteously deserve, will teach us to think well of ourselves, and infallibly produce every wanted virtue. And now is the time for the alterations and improvements, when a man, educated like myself, in all the prejudices of naval discpline, can discover so many of its manifold imperfections; now is the time, when knowledge, by its universal diffusion among our countrymen, has taught them the value and necessity of a limited obedience, and the morality there is in a proper and just resistance to principles and powers which tend to destroy the liberty, the happiness, and the moral agency of man, whether these powers are in the possession of a Bonaparte, or a superior in our own country; now is the time when our navy, exalted to pre-eminence on the ruins of every other, by the superiority of our national character, may be safely trusted to its future guidance for continual victory; now too, when habits of obedience and cleanliness are established; when that order that promotes health and gives unity of action, which is most perfectly promoted by unity of opinion, is known by every individual, whether sailor or not, to be essential to success, now should be the time for doing justice, when experience is clearly proving to every individual of common reflection, that despotism is alike destructive of the strength that can wield arms, and of the intelligent mind that can direct them.
When the present awful history of the world is forcibly elucidating the opinion, that the political injustice of its governors is as sure to meet with its appropriate reward as the moral injustice of individuals; now, when the professed object of all our endeavours is to repress the injustice of others, should be the time for doing justice at home; now, when the very knowledge of our contending against the most barbarous injuries has made every Briton more fervently aspirate,—a wish to defend his country; when the righteousness of our cause has given birth to an enthusiastic love for their country in all ranks; when it has produced a moral feeling in the nation, whose effects were clearly displayed at Corunna, at Barrosa, and at Salamanca, is the time for doing justice to our seamen.
Never had a nation, since the defence of Greece against the Persians, such a cause as ours; and since it has had its proper effect upon the minds of a free people, never was so fit an occasion for our governors to repose in us unlimited confidence.
There is a thing, miscalled an axiom, which, possessing all the authority of long established opinion, has become a guide to the actions of men without an enquiry into its truth or falsehood. It is told us at school; it is in every old woman’s mouth; it is applied to every drunken sailor that is seen in the streets, and before we are men it is more firmly believed than the existence of a Deity. This thing will be conjured up, with other authorities, to oppose giving a rational system of law and justice to seamen.
It is that “licentiousness is the alloy of liberty;” but does experience prove this; are the British more immoral than the Turks; are they more so than the Spaniards, the Portuguese, and the French, yet they are infinitely more free than them all; were the Greeks not the most virtuous of ancient nations, and were they not the most free? This is one of those principles that has come down to us, encircled by eloquence that has so much pleased, that we have failed to examine it; it has been received as implicitly true, and, on all occasions, swayed our opinions, while the sublime morality of the gospel, from being couched in humbler language, has been subjected to a thousand cavils and disputes, (which has fortunately only the more convinced us of its value,) and been rejected with scorn as a guide for the actions of great men.
It is forgotten, that, in the present time, when a man is set free from the restraint of human laws, whose effects are transient, whose objects are local, whose principles, at best, can be calculated but for one generation, and are often contradictory, uncertain, and absurd, that he has the two principles of fearing God and loving his neighbour to guide and influence every action; and their effects are eternal, immutable, and clear; their punishments are greater and more certain; and their rewards more enticing than any human laws or human beings can bestow; and to these two principles, taught in early life, and supported afterwards by praise, might mankind be safely entrusted to become every thing an enlightened ruler could wish.
These two principles would teach our rulers the morality and rewards of justice; and experience will teach them, that if the end of policy is the good of the country, justice is as political as it is moral. I think, to those who believe in a moral energy of character as a supreme national good, I have clearly proved, that to do justice to seamen will be the most enlightened policy, and the return to its paths cannot be too speedy; for a continuance of error and oppression does not bring forth quiet appeals to reason, but tumultuary demands of fear; does not occasion peacable reformation, but lawless revolution.
That our rulers may turn to the history of mankind, and be convinced of this truth from experience; that our people, while they quietly practise lawful obedience, may never cease legally to resist oppression, is what I shall ever earnestly pray for, and ever try to effect.