« PreviousContinue »
are to be done against single persons or communities, are done by surprise, and on a sudden; but good things are slow in their progress, and must wait occasion. Destruction is done with a blow, but reformation is brought about by leisurely advances. All the mischiefs which can be wrought under the septennial act, can be perpetrated under the triennial; but all the good which may be compassed under the septennial, cannot be hoped fo. under the triennial. We may fear that the ministers may do us harm; but that is no reason why we should continue them under a disability of doing us good. For these considerations I am unreservedly for the bill.
SIR THOMAS HANMER.*
If this speech does not contain good sound English sense, I do not know where we shall look for it.
His Speech on the Reduction of the Army.
I CANNOT forbear troubling you with a few words upon the subject, though I can neither flatter myself with the hopes of convincing any one, nor pretend to be able to offer any thing to your consideration which has not in a better manner been urged already. But I am truly concerned for the mischiefs which I think we are giving way to; and if I cannot prevent them, it will be a satisfaction to me at least to protest against them.
All gentlemen who have spoke in this debate, have for all their different opinions agreed in one thing, to press very much the argument of danger; and the only question is, on which side the danger lies; whether to the government without a military force to support it, or to the constitution and liberties of Great Britain, from that military force, if it be allowed to continue in it.
See page 263.
As to the dangers which threaten the government, I think I am not willing to overlook them. But I hope we may be excused if we cannot be convinced of dangers which no man that I hear pretends to explain to us.
Abroad, the state and circumstances of Europe happen to be such, that I think it is hard to suppose a time possible when there shall be less appearance of apprehension of any immediate disturbance to this kingdom. The three great powers, those which are most considerable in themselves, and of nearest concern to us, I mean the Empire, France, and Holland, are so far from being at enmity with us, that they are all of them our fast friends and allies at least; we are told so, and hear very often a great deal of boasting upon that subject whenever the administration of the government is to be extolled, and the merits of it are to be set forth to us. Upon those occasions we hear of nothing but the wise and useful treaties which have been made; the great influence which we have acquired in foreign courts and councils, and the solid foundations which are laid for our security. But when in consequence of these great things we come to talk of reducing forces, then I observe the language is quite turned the other way; then we are in the weakest and most insecure condition imaginable; there is no dependence upon any thing, and we must even be thought disaffected to the government if we will not believe that we are surrounded on all sides with the greatest dangers.
But in the midst of these contrarieties and contradictions, I think we need not be at any loss what our conduct ought to be, if we will but have regard to those plain rules and maxims which have always been observed in the like cases with that which is now before us.
It would certainly be an endless thing for a house of commons to enter into the secrets of state, and to debate upon the different views and interests and intrigues of foreign courts; what jealousies are among them, and what treaties are on foot to reconcile them. If we take
such things into our consideration, to guide us in questions concerning our own guards and garrisons here at home, we shall be in a labyrinth indeed, and must be compelled at last to put an absolute trust in the govern ment, because they only know the truth of such matters, and from them we must be content to receive whatsoever account they think fit to give us of them. But the only thing proper for us to look to is, what is plain and obvious to the sense of all mankind; I mean, whether it is a time of present peace. There need no refinements of politics to know that; and I will venture to say, that during such times of peace no remote fears, no arguments drawn from contingencies of what may be here. after, have ever yet brought this nation into a concession so fatal to liberty as the keeping up of standing forces, when there is no other employment for them but to insult and oppress their fellow subjects. I say there has hitherto been no precedent of that kind, and the misfortune of this case is, there will need but one precedent in it; one wrong step taken in this particular may put. an end to all your claims of rights and privileges.
And on the other hand, I beg it may not be taken for granted, that if we dismiss our soldiers we shall therefore leave ourselves naked and void of all protection against any sudden danger that may arise; no, sir, providence has give us the best protection, if we do not foolishly throw away the benefit of it. Our situation is our natural protection; our fleet is our protection; and if we could ever be so happy as to see it rightly pursued, a. good agreement betwixt the king and people, uniting and acting together in one national interest, would be such a protection as none of our enemies would ever hope to break through. It is a melancholy thing to me to hear any other notions of government advanced here, and that his majesty, either from his private or his general council, should ever upon this subject have any thing inculcated in him but this great truth: That the true and only support of an English prince does, and ought to con
sist, in the affections of his people. It is that should strengthen his hands, it is that should give him credit and authority in the eyes of other nations; and to think of doing it by keeping a number of land forces here at home, such a number as can have any awe or influence over the great powers on the continent, is, I think, one of the wildest imaginations that ever entered into the heart of man. The only strength of this nation must always consist in the riches of it; riches must be the fruits of public liberty, and the people can neither acquire riches, nor the king have the use of them, but by a government founded in their inclinations and affections.
If this be true, then of consequence it follows, that whoever advises his majesty to aim at any additional security to himself, from a standing army, instead of increasing his strength does really diminish it, and undermine his true support, by robbing him of the hearts of his subjects. For this I take for granted, that as there are but two ways of governing, the one by force, and the other by the affections of the people governed, it is impossible for any prince to have them both; he must choose which of the two he will stick to, but he can have but one. If he is master of their affections, he stands in no need of force; and if he will make use of force, it is in vain for him to expect their affections. For it is not in nature, and it can never be brought to pass, that men can love a government under which they are loaded with heavy taxes, and pay a considerable part of their estates to maintain an army which insults them in the possession of the rest, and can turn them out of the whole whenever they please.
With submission, therefore, the argument is taken by the wrong end when it is said, there are great animosities in the kingdom; the people are disaffected; and upon that account there is a necessity of keeping up an army. It concludes much righter the other way; that is, dismiss your army, and give no other cause of suspicion that any part of the constitution is to be invaded, and
the people will be well affected. Upon any other foot than this, what minister would ever care whether he does right or wrong? It is not his concern whether the people are easy or uneasy; his army is his dependence: Nay, and the more by his wicked councils he exasperates and enrages the people, the stronger he makes his pretence for maintaining and increasing that army which supports him.
What I have said, I confess, goes upon a supposition that the numbers contained in the estimate, and in the question before you, do make an army formidable enough, and able to enslave this nation; of which indeed there remains no doubt with me. In the manner those forces are constituted, I think a prince who would wish to be arbitrary could desire no more; and if he had all the power in his own hands, I think for his own sake he would keep no more.
Of what nature the reductions have been, other gentlemen have so fully explained, and I believe it so gene. rally understood, that it will be needless for me to dwell upon it; but the short of the case is this; that out of thirty-two thousand men, thirteen regiments only have been disbanded, which do not amount to more than five or six thousand, besides a few invalids, which were taken from the establishment of the army and put upon the establishment of the hospital; so that there are the corps now subsisting of more than twenty-five thousand men, which corps may be filled up to their entire complement whensoever the government pleases, and that even without any noise or notice taken. For the case is very different in that respect, where the regiments are few, and those kept complete; there, if the numbers allowed by act of parliament are exceeded, it must be by raising new regiments, which is easily seen and known; but where the corps are kept up with only a few men in them, and some recruits will always be necessary for them, there, if the government is willing to be at the charge, they may keep the numbers up to what they