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the vote or opinion of any officer upon a court-martial ; and for this purpose, the oath now proposed, if it stands as it now does, will, I hope, be effectual.
But now, sir, with regard to the amendment which the hon. gentleman has been pleased to propose, I must think it quite unnecessary, because, in my opinion, it is comprehended in the amendment made by the commit. tee. Is not the high court of parliament a court of jus. tice ? Surely, it is the highest court in this kingdom; and, I hope, it will always be a court of justice. Suppose, then, that we should think it necessary to enquire into the conduct of a court-martial, and should be of opinion, that they had been guilty of some high misdemeanor, for which they ought to be punished; our method of pro. ceeding must be by impeachment before the other house; and in that case, is not the other house to be deemed a court of justice ? Can we then think, that any officer would be bound by this oath, as it now stands, not to discover the vote or opinion of any member of that courtmartial? The case is to me so clear, that I wonder any one should doubt of it; and therefore I was surprised to hear such an amendment proposed by a gentleman, who was not only bred to the law, but has a very extensive knowledge of it.
As to that of a breach of privilege, sir, I do not know how any court-martial can be guilty of it: for as they have nothing to do with property, as they take no cognizance of any thing but crimes, and of no crimes but such as are of a military nature, their jurisdiction can never, I think, interfere with any known privilege of parliament; for I do not know that we ever claimed any privilege with regard to crimes; and therefore any of our common law courts, nay, even a single justice of peace, may commit a member to prison, if he has committed a murder, or been guilty of a riot ; and this he may do without the least danger of being deemed guilty of a breach of privilege. For the same reason, if a member of this house be an officer in the army, his general may put him
- under arrest, or may order him to be tried by a court. martial, without being guilty of any breach of privilege; for if it were otherwise, I am sure, it would not be proper that any officer in the army should ever be chosen a member of this house, or any member of this house preferred to be an officer in the army.
With regard to a breach of privilege therefore, sir, I think it is hardly possible for one to suggest a case of that kind, where it might become necessary for us to enquire into the vote or opinion of any particular member of a court.martial ; and if any such extraordinary case should ever occur, we should then be acting in our judicative capacity, as much as any court of justice is, when it enquires into and punishes a contempt of court; conse. quently, no officer would by this oath be bound up from disclosing to us the vote or opinion of every member of a court martial, that had by their sentence committed a breach of the privileges of this house.
G. TOWNSHEND, ESQ.
His speech on the Power of the Commander in Chief to
cashier Non-commissioned Officers. Mr. Speaker, I
BELIEVE, every gentleman will admit, that one of the great ends of our sitting here is, to take care not only of the liberties and properties of the people in general, but of every man, and every set of men, in particular; and there is no set of men in the kingdom whose liberties and properties we ought to be inore careful of, than those of our soldiers and sailors, both on account of their distinguished merit, and on account of the danger accruing from their being once brought into a state of slavery; for if this should ever happen, they will probably, and may easily, enable some future ambitious
prince or prime minister to bring the rest of their countrymen into the same condition with themselves. When I talk of the liberty and property of soldiers and sailors, I do not mean that they should be exempted from military law, or a military jurisdiction ; for that, I know, is inconsistent with the service : and I likewise know, that whilst courts-inartial preserve their integrity, a man's liberty and property is as safe under their jurisdiction, as under the jurisdiction of common law. He knows the laws, he knows the methods by which he is to be tried; and by a careful observance of his duty, he may prevent his being ever in danger of suffering by their sentence. What I mean, sir, is, a man's being subjected to the arbitrary will and pleasure of his commanding officer, and unavoidably exposed to the danger of suffering in his person or property, by the whimsical and unmerited resentment of such officer; for a man in these circumstances may truly be said to be a slave, and very often suffers for what he ought to be rewarded for.
When I talk of the properties of soldiers, gentlemen may perhaps, sir, make themselves merry with what I say; for I shall allow, that very few of them can ever arrive at any property ; but I hope it will be granted, that every officer, commissioned or non-commissioned, has some property. His office or rank is his property, as well as the pay which belongs to it; and it is a property which, we are to suppose, he has purchased by his service. I shall admit that this is not always the pur. chase; for in the army, as well as in other departments, men are sometimes preferred for what they ought to be cashiered; and some, I believe, especially of the noncommissioned officers, are raised, (as one officer wittily said to another, who had a handsome wife) not by the sword but the scabbard. But in general, I hope, we may suppose, that no officer, not even a corporal, obtains his preferment but by the merit of his service; and that I must reckon a much more valuable consideration, at least with regard to the public, than if he had bought it at the
highest price with his money. An officer's rank in the army,
let it be what it will, I must therefore look on as his property ; and this house ought to take care, that no man should be stript of his property, unless he has been guilty of some very great crime, or some heinous neglect of duty.
But sir, with regard to the staff officers, I do not know how a custom has prevailed in the army, that they are at the absolute disposal of the colonel of the regi. ment, and that he may, whenever he pleases, degrade them from the preferment they have thus purchased, and reduce them into the ranks ; that is, reduce them again
; to the state and condition of a common soldier. When this custom was first introduced, I cannot determine; but I think it was never established by any article of war, before the year 1747, when our usual articles of war underwent many and great alterations, most of which were unnecessary, even for the strictest discipline, and could serve no purpose but that of vesting an absolute and despotic power in the chief commander of our army.
In that remarkable year, indeed, this power of a colonel's reducing a non-commissioned officer to a private centinel, by his sole and absolute authority, was slipt into our articles of war, and now stands, I think, in the 16th article of the 15th section, relating to the administration of justice, which provides, that no commissioned officer shall be cashiered, or dismissed the service, except by his majesty's order, or by the sentence of a general court-martial, approved by him, or the commander in chief appointed by him ; but that non-commission. ed officers may be discharged as private soldiers, and may, by the order of the colonel of the regiment, or by : the sentence of a regimental court-martial, be reduced to private centinels.
Now, sir, this is really granting to the colonel a more arbitrary and greater power over the staff-officers in his regiment, than his majesty has over the commissioned officers in his army; for though his majesty may cashier
such an officer by his sole authority, he cannot reduce him to a private centinel. If any such officer be ca. shiered, he is absolutely dismissed the service, and may betake himself to some other employment, or go into foreign service ; but if a colonel takes a dislike, however whimsical, however unjust, to any staff-officer in his re. giment, he may reduce him to a private centinel, and oblige him to serve, perhaps during the rest of his days, as a common soldier in that very regiment where he once had a command; which is certainly a more severe punishment than that of discharging him from the ser. vice. And though a serjeant or corporal of foot be commonly reckoned but a mean employment, I must observe, that a quarter-master of dragoons is but a staffofficer ; and yet it is a post that I have known sold for 400 guineas, and a post that no gentleman, not otherwise provided for, would disdain to accept of.
From hence we may see, sir, what a dependent slavish state all the non-commissioned officers of our army are in : is it proper that any British subject, especially those of our arny, should be continued in such a slavish state? is it necessary for the service ? If any non-commissioned officer should really be guilty of any crime, any neglect of duty, or any disrespect towards his colonel, can we suppose, that a regimental court-martial would not punish him as severely as he deserved? Why then leave, in the colonel of a regiment, such an absolute and arbi. trary power over that property, which men have pur. chased by their merit in the service of their country ? But, sir, it is not only the property of such officers, but their persons, and the person of every soldier in the army, that by custom are in some measure under the arbitrary power of the commanding officer, or at least of the commander in chief of an army. I do not say, that the commander in chief can by custom order a staff of ficer or soldier to be put to death, or dismembered, without the sentence of a court-martial; but without any such sentence they have sometimes been very