[Transcriber’s note: The material below is transcribed from a copy of The Times, London’s newspaper, the issue of Saturday, June 7, 1806. The excerpt is The Times’ reporter’s coverage of the House of Commons as that body discusses the Mutiny Bill, and an amendment to it, on June 6, 1806. In noting, “re-admission to the Gallery,” The Times’ writer may well have been accredited by his newspaper to regularly cover the House of Commons.]
Mr. Windham then moved the Order of the Day for the third reading of the Mutiny Bill.
Mr. Wallace then rose, and entered into a very extensive detail of the arguments against the Bill. He considered it as an infraction of the prerogative of the Crown, and thought that the measure should rather have originated from the Crown, than receive the sanction of the Parliament, as in that way the whole responsibility would have been placed on the shoulders of the Ministers, who might afterwards have been accountable to the country, while the present mode of proceeding associated Parliament with Ministers, and freed them from that responsibility. He dwelt at considerable length on the invidious distinction which it went to produce between the soldiers of the present army, and those who might enlist after this Bill passed into a law. Those veterans who had bled and conquered in the service of their country, were to remain in a state of confessed hardship, while recruits were to enjoy superior advantages. He contended, that it would have a pernicious influence on the general discipline of the army, from the anxiety which officers would feel to retain the soldiers in the service, at the expiration of the period for which they had engaged. He did not expect much from the mixture of the citizen and the soldier, and thought that the inconveniencies of military service would be more cheerfully borne, when the soldier looked forward to the military life as his only resource. On these grounds, the present Bill should meet with his decided opposition in every stage of its progress.
Mr. Wilberforce said, that he had not been able, till lately, to turn his attention to the consideration of this question; but upon considering it, he was convinced that it had been truly said, that it should not be considered merely as a military question, but as an appeal to the great principles of human nature, which Gentlemen, who had not the advantage of a military education, might be competent to decide. In the consideration that he had thought it his duty to give the subject, he had perused several of the Military Treatises which had been lately written, one by an Hon. Member of that House (General Stuart), and another professing to be a discussion of the present state of the English Army, and both these Treatises met with his decided approbation. This was a circumstance he only mentioned, that the House might not suppose he rose to speak upon a military question, without having previously taken any pains to inform his judgment. It was allowed on all hands, that the great question at present was, to increase the regular army. Gentlemen might differ as to the necessity for that increase, but to him it appeared that a considerable increase of our regular army was necessary, to enable us to resist the enemy. If this country once possessed a large regular army, its naval power would give it great advantages in the use of it. If the enquiry, then, were simply to find out the most effectual means of increasing the Regular Army, the argument of his Right Hon. Friend (Mr. Windham) appeared perfectly fair, when he supposed that the same measures should be taken to induce men to enter into the army, as would be taken to induce persons to enter into any other occupation where hands were wanting. The greatest inducement that could be held out was hope. Hope was the great stimulus to every exertion; and mankind were so constituted, that their happiness was more in the pursuit of a distant advantage, than in, the actual enjoyment of it when it should be obtained. It was upon this great principle of human nature, that the nations which had most excelled in military renown, had wisely formed institutions which facilitated the advancement of men from the lowest ranks to highest situations. Although from the measure proposed by his Right Hon. Friend, he hoped a great deal, and anticipated much good, yet he considered that the positive inducement to men to enter into the army must come from some other source. At present, whatever inducements there were to enter the military life, were balanced by the consideration that it is a step which can never be recalled, “vestigia nulla retrorsum.” They were also opposed by the opinions of parents and friends, who considered a young man ruined and lost to his family and friends forever, should he embrace the life of a soldier. He considered then, that the principal effect of this measure would be to remove the obstacles and impediments which now stood in the way of recruiting, but that the positive inducements must come from some other quarter. He thought that the strongest inducement would be to see the means of promotion within their reach, and attainable in a short time. He thought that there was many a man who would not set great value on a distant advantage at the expiration of fourteen or twenty years, but that if some kind of promotion or honourable distinction could be obtained in a few years, would feel strongly induced to aspire to it. He thought that the possibility of speedy promotion from the lowest situations of life to a higher one, would of itself be the most powerful inducement. Even small distinctions had great weight with the generality of mankind; for such was the littleness of human nature, that it was almost always by comparison that people judged of their own situation and of their happiness. If they saw themselves ever so little raised above those who had been their equals, they were highly pleased and elated; and, on the other hand, it was often by comparing their situation with that of others, that many found out, or fancied that they were miserable. Distinctions that would hardly cost the nation anything, would to individuals be of great importance. Military men were at all time fond of such distinctions; and therefore the stars, the ribands, and the military decorations which were usually given to successful Commanders, had always been reckoned among those things that formed “the chief defence of nations.” He should wish, that the system of those military decorations, as a reward of merit, should be much farther extended in the army, so that every man might entertain a hope that an opportunity might occur in the course of one, two, or three years, when he might signalize himself by some gallant exploit, to gain some of those envied distinctions. He had heard, that at one time the late Administration had thought of instituting something like an Order of Merit among the navy, and he hoped the noble Lord who was now at the head of the Admiralty, would carry the idea into execution. He was convinced that such an institution would hold out the most powerful motives both to great exertions, and to make the service attractive. He could by no means agree with the objection that had been so much relied upon, that such a measure as this should have been carried into effect by the Crown, without consulting Parliament. He was surprised, indeed, at the quarter from which this objection proceeded; for if Ministers had acted differently, and of their own heads, introduced a change so important in the military system of the country, and which appeared to those Gentlemen so very objectionable, would they not, on much stronger grounds, have charged his Majesty’s Ministers with presumption, in following entirely their own opinions, and not giving the country the benefit of having this important question fully discussed before it was decided on? The practical effect which he expected from this measure, would be, in the general impression in its favour. Persons were much more apt to judge of their condition from the opinions of others, than from their own feelings; and when the condition of a soldier should be generally thought a good one, all the great objections which now exist would disappear. He thought it might be better to extend that system a little to the Regular Army now existing. It was somewhat revolting to the feelings of every humane mind, that a man, who entered in the army in some unguarded moment, should be told, that he should be kept there for his life; and it was almost an insult to common sense, to tell him, that as his act was voluntary, the country would hold him rigidly to his bargain. It appeared to him, that the system was likely not only to increase the number of our Regular Army, but to improve, in a considerable degree, the quality of the soldiers. He considered, that the tone and character of the British Army would be highly improved by it. The strong reason which induced him to think so was, that in consulting the history of all military nations, he found, that beginning from the history of the Grecian States, and going down to the history of the present day, it was an universal truth, without a single exception, that the armies of free nations fought with more spirit, and achieved greater actions, than the soldiers of nations that were not free. This was proved by the history of all nations: by none more than that of England. It was not until Magna Charta had been obtained, and some degree of civil liberty established, that England, which a short time before had been conquered by the Norman invaders, was able in her turn to invade France, and make her enemies fear her on the other side of the water. It was from its liberty, that it obtained its military reputation, and its means of defence. It was a pleasing and grateful thought, that, when the Almighty bestowed freedom on a nation, that blessing itself ensured the protection of the country, as long as the animating principle was preserved. The soldiers of free nations were always remarked for a certain elevation of character, and noble daring, which did not belong to the character of other nations. The French never fought with such enthusiasm and success, as when their armies were animated with the name and hopes of freedom. If the present order of things, however, continued in that country, he should venture to say, that all their ribbons and Legions of Honour would but ill supply the place of the inspiring principle of liberty, and that the character of the French armies must gradually decline; whereas, the energies of the British army would be considerably increased by extending to them the feeling, that British soldiers are free men, and that they fight for a free country. He also considered, that this measure would immediately operate to prevent desertion, and, by improving the character of the army, tend gradually to diminish the severity of punishments. He could not agree with those who thought, that if this measure were once adopted, it could not be departed from. He, indeed, wished that the experiment should have a fair trial, which would require at least ten years; but if it were then found inefficient, another system may be pursued. As to the great discontent that many Gentlemen had supposed would, in such case, prevail, experience had shewn, that this apprehension was ill founded, for, in the time of the American War, there were many enlisted only for the war, who served in the same regiments with soldiers enlisted for life, and to such discontents were then heard of. Neither could he see that any such discontents were likely to prevail in the Navy, for the sailors were in fact only serving for a limited term, and expected their discharge at the conclusion of the war. He could not allow that the plan deserved the name of a theory or a speculation; it was built upon the general principles of human nature, and upon the known effects which the history of all nations proved to result from those principles, and in this sense it must be said to be founded on experience. The mere opinions of an individual might be erroneous, but the great principles of human nature were unchangeable, and always true. Mr. Wilberforce concluded, by observing on the advantages likely to result from the improvement in the system of Colonial service; and took that opportunity to state, how strongly he was impressed with the idea, that it was the continuance of the Slave Trade, and the state of barbarism our slaves were kept in which principally occasioned the sending annually thousands of our soldiers to protect the whites of the West-Indies, not so much from the foreign enemy, as from their own slaves, and it was this West-India service which was at the same time the greatest drain to the British army, and the greatest discouragement to its being recruited. He concluded by declaring, that in every view he could take of the question, the system now proposed had his most hearty concurrence and approbation.
Mr Addington said, that as this would probably be the last time the subject would be discussed in that House, he could not avoid shortly expressing his sentiments upon the important question then before the House. He thought that his Right Hon. Friend (Mr. Windham), had not been handsomely or fairly treated, when his plan had been so often called a whim, and a wild and fanciful theory. The word theory was generally applied to systems, and opinions hastily adopted; but the Gentlemen on the other side of the House had been complaining, week after week, and day after day, of his Right Honourable Friend having taken so much time to consider, and mature his plan, before he presented it to the House. In the full responsibility of the measure, not only His Majesty’s Ministers in that House, but a Noble Lord in the other (Lord Grenville), would willingly take their full share. As for himself, though he had no share of the responsibility, yet when he heard his Right Hon. Friend charged as a rash and hasty speculator for introducing it; he must say, that he so perfectly approved of it, that he should wish his political character in that respect to stand or fall with that of those who introduced this measure. A good deal has been said in the course of the discussions that had taken place on this question, of the opinions of the General Officers not being laid before that House. The opinions of Officers were given upon a question referred to them by the Commander in Chief, and which was different from that which was now under discussion. The question which had been referred to them was merely between limited service and service for life. There were, however, in the present plan, so many auxiliary inducements combined with the proposed limitation, that the question then to be considered was totally different from that which had been referred to the General Officers. As to the motives which induced men to enlist, he believed the non commissioned officers could speak better than the Generals; but every man of common sense, and who was at all acquainted with the character of t he English nation, might form a good judgment on that subject. He considered that the casualties of the army, reckoned at 15,000 annually, would not be near so great in the future, as the principal part of it, arising from desertion, would be in great measure done away. He was much more sanguine in his expectation of immediate success than his Right Hon. Friend, and conceived that it was in his character a trait of that generous policy, which, according to the practice of our ancestors, legislated as much for the good of posterity as for the present time. Some Gentleman had said, “we were well enough as we were.” Whoever would look upon the map of Europe, and see nothing but France, excepting the territories of our magnanimous allies, the Emperor of Russia and the King of Sweden, could hardly bring himself to think that, “we were well enough as we were.”
After commenting for some time on the description a Noble Lord had given of the state of the country, when he considered that Ministers reposed on a “bed of roses,” he shewed how much that situation had been changed for the worse, in consequence of the failure of the Coalition in the last unfortunate campaign, and concluded by expressing his firm conviction, that this would not only be a most efficient measure, but that, in time, it would be a very popular one. He had conversed with many military Officers on the subject, and they had all, without exception, considered that the army would be benefited by it. He had also conversed with several soldiers who had been discharged, and they all agreed that such a measure would be “the making of the army.” This, he was sure would be the general feeling of all soldiers in the army, and of all those classes from which the soldiers were to be obtained, and he therefore thought that the measure was the most likely for rapidly recruiting the army.
[Transcriber’s note: Here The Times goes to a smaller type as General Tarleton’s testimony is recorded by the House. This may have no more significance than The Times’ space allowance for the subject in that issue.]
General Tarleton said, the Right Hon. Gentleman (Mr. Windham) looked to the army not as an Englishman and a soldier, but as a philosopher, and as a philosopher of a very bad school, who knew nothing of the human mind, on which his speculations were to operate. The General had some experience of limited service in Portugal, when the Baron De Rolle, who had command of a Swiss Regiment, did not dare put them to ordinary duty, lest those whose time was expiring should quit the military life. Then wit, imagination, history and every thing else was pressed into the debate, excepting what belonged to it, for the mere purpose of doing what the lawyers called “blinking the question.” Amongst the rest, the French service was held up as an example, and he would admit the wisdom of the maxim, Fas est ab hoste doceri, but in the present case the precedents adduced had either no application at all, or were opposed to the argument of the Right Honourable Gentleman. The truth was, the officers of the army had been heartily tired of the prolixity of Ministers. Colonel Many Power wrote, that he was gaping for what Mr. Windham’s plans would be (a laugh). He was completely sick of waiting for the system, and that he had applied for a month’s absence, as every thing was at a standstill. (Another laugh). He added, that he had removed his small battalion, and that his men were doubled by the additional force Bill; and further that every man fit for general service had volunteered it on receiving the bounty. An Hon. Gentleman (Mr. Grattan) had talked of the Roman discipline, and then had reverted to his favourite Republic; but what applied to the Roman phalanx and legion was wholly inapplicable to modern warfare. The Hon. Judge Advocate had spoken of Scotland, as of a country peculiarly sensible where money was concerned, as if the Irish and English were not equally susceptible of the mercenary feeling. The General did not understand either the policy or the propriety of this local reasoning. From the view he took of the measure, it appeared to him most unwise and dangerous, and he hoped its progress would be interrupted, before so fine and army was impaired by such fanciful schemes.
Mr. Wilberforce and Geneeral Tarleton severally explained.
The Lord Advocate of Scotland did not exactly know to whom the Hon. General alluded, when he stiled him Judge Advocate, and his doubts were not wholly removed when the allusion was made to his observations, for they did not seem to have been correctly understood by that gallant officer. Limited service was the most successful way of procuring men; and to suppose they could not judge of the advantages of limited service, because they had not sustained the character, was as absurd as to imagine men that a young virgin could not be acquainted with some of the blessings of marriage because she had not before entered into that happy state. In the country in which he was best informed, the men were not obtained by hanging a purse upon a halberd; they took rational views of their situation, and on these formed their determination. With those Gentlemen on the other side, who had considered perpetual service so acceptable, he should be glad to handle such a weapon, and engage on the recruiting duty with them. What would be the arguments they had to offer the generous youth of the northern mountains, who loved the wilds of which they were natives, because they were the favourite seat of liberty? “Hasten with us, (they must say) and resign your country. Enter the wide world, and forget the soil of your birth. Leave your fathers and relatives to their romantic hills and fruitful vales, for to them you shall never return.” Such must be the invitation they must employ. But what would be the language to which he would resort? “Young men (he would exclaim), the love of your country clings about your hearts; filial duty, honour, and affection are dear to you as existence; you revere the fraternal attachment, and you will surrender none of the sacred obligations of domestic life. I know you will despise all danger in the defence of these fond objects of your solicitude; advance them with me to the field of virtue and glory, and , if you survive the conflict, you shall return to the arms of your relatives, and to the bosom of your country, covered with those laurels which shall command the respect, and the gratitude of your compatriots.” With such inducement, and such hopes, thousands would flock to the standard of their Sovereign; nor would they cast “one longing, lingering look” toward their native homes, until the war was terminated; for they would know, that, if they presumed to relinquish the scene of their duty, they would return to parents and relatives, who would consider their appearance amongst them derogatory to Scottish valour. When Gentlemen talked of the future and remote advantages of the plan proposed by his Rt. Hon. Friend, they reminded him of a dispute regarding a canal between Edinburgh and Glasgow, for the supply of coals. In one direction it passed through a vale without the smallest interruption, on a perfect level, and the tract through which it was to pass contained a supply of coals for three centuries; in another it was to be obstructed by sixty-seven locks, and to be elevated seven hundred and fifty feet above the surface of the sea, but the supply of coals was sufficient for five centuries. It was a disgrace to the good sense of the country, that like this Bill the former channel had numerous opponents. The temper of the hardy Caledonian, to whose bravery the nation had been so often indebted, was little known. Tell him to abandon the fond scenes of his youth for ever, and he will retire to the deep recesses of his mountains; indulge the expectation, that he will, after a term or peril and fatigue, revisit his domestic hearth, and he will accompany you round the globe. His wants are few, but without freedom nothing can satisfy his desires. Donald, the peasant, had three wishes to express: the first was, ‘fill my capful of snuff;’ the second, ‘fill my barn with whiskey;’ for the third, his invention, uninstructed by luxury, was deficient, and he exclaimed, ‘fill my cap again with snuff.’ Such (concluded the Lord Advocate) are my notions of the operation of this project in Scotland, and it shall receive my hearty support.”
General Tarleton rose to explain.
Mr. Johnstone opposed the clause.
Mr. Whifbread supported it, and addressed his arguments principally to the reasoning of the Master of the Rolls on a former night, and to the positions advanced by an Hon. General the same evening. He said, he thought that all the difficulty stated regarding the limitations in the colonial service was removed, by the facility with which this had been managed with the troops in the East India Company.
Mr. Sturges Bourne rose to move his promised amendment; and, after a speech of considerable length, in which he repeated a variety of former arguments against the principles of the Bill, and its probable operation to deteriorate the military system, concluded by moving an amendment in the attestation oath of the soldier, binding him to serve to the end, and for six months after the conclusion, of any war in which the country might be engaged at the termination of his period of temporary enlistment.
Lord Henry Petty, at much length, answered the arguments of the Hon. Member; and contended, that the bona fide discharge of the soldier at the end of the definitive period of enlistment, was the chief principle upon which he relied for the salutary operation of the Bill, because it was the one which, being clearly understood by the general mind, without any exception arising from considerations of war or peace, would be likely to operate as an uniform inducement for entering into the army, and preventing the shameful prevalence of desertion.
Mr. Canning, in a speech of nearly two hours continuance, replied to the arguments of Lord Henry Petty, and went over the greater part of the grounds upon which he Bill had been opposed in the various discussions it had undergone. He warmly contended for the proposed amendment; and, amongst other points, expressed his apprehensions of the mischievous consequences that must arise, if the amendment was rejected, to our colonial service, and particularly in respect to the discharge of the Black troops in the West Indies, who, unless some proviso was intended which did not already appear in the Bill, must, under the general operation of the Mutiny Act thus modified, be discharged at the end of 7 years, and turned loose and free upon the colonies.
The Lord Advocate and Mr. Canning spoke in explanation.
Mr. Secretary Fox commented on the mode adopted by the Gentlemen of the opposite side, for the purpose of creating unnecessary delay. The Right Hon. Gentleman who spoke last had maintained the propriety of holding a high tone toward France in Europe; but was it consistent with common sense to do this without maintaining an efficient force? He had spoken of our navy, but was our navy alone sufficient? Of our wealth, which, he had observed, some had ridiculed; but he had never thought wealth a good subject of ridicule, certainly not a successful one. But if it was maintained, that by wealth alone, and without British soldiers, we were to keep up our proper rank in Europe, he should say, that such a doctrine was contrary to all reasoning and all experience. He then defended the observations of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, from the jokes of the Right Hon. Gentleman. He then took notice of the modes of limited service adopted abroad, and remarked upon the arguments directed against what was called an encroachment upon the prerogative, maintaining that the Parliament, which gave a right and power to the Crown, preserved the power of limitation and controul. In the case of the East India service, and in the West Indies, whatever there was disagreeable in the nature of that service, no one could contend that it would be encreased by this measure. At present they served at a critical period, under an understood rotation. He vindicated Mr. Wilberforce and the proposed plan from the observations of Mr. Canning, respecting the situation of citizens and soldiers, and observed, that the friends of limited service were not liable to any charges of that nature. As to the Volunteers, the only difference of the opinion he had entertained, was in the difficulty of their uniting at once the characters of Soldiers and Citizens, employed in their various occupations. He particularly supported Mr. Wilberforce, in his prepossessions in favour of soldiers fighting for their freedom. Surely, that sentiment would do as much, at least, as what a soldier could feel in any army for the glory of an arbitrary Prince. Mr. Burke had observed wisely, that “that was practical liberty, which a man thought so.” The Right Hon. Gentleman had told us of Alexander and Caesar. True, they were great conquerors. Alexander, from superiority of numbers, territory, &c. prevailed against the disjointed, enfeebled States of Greece: but were not the Thebans equal to the Macedonians in all points, except in number and resources! As to his Asiatic war, there the proof was afforded, which, indeed, all modern experience in that quarter confirmed, of the superiority of a free people, such as the Europeans over them in war. Caesar’s Gallic war might be cited in the same way; his successes in civil war, though liberty was on the side of Pompey, and tyranny on that of Caesar, whose professions were false and deceitful, and his objects ambitious and dangerous, were owing much to the supposition that he was contending for freedom, as he artfully represented the matter to his soldiers. He then made some observations on the tendency of revolutions to bring forth the talents of great men, especially of military men, and that had been the case among the mischiefs of the great and portentous Revolution in France. He then argued strongly in support of the Bill, against the various objections urged, and finally recommended it to the House, as well calculated to increase the energies and strength of the country beyond any other plan on the subject. It should be his business to argue and vote for it, till it passed the House, or be rejected. The argument about a want of time for discussion, he shewed to be fallacious and absurd.
General Loftus and Mr. C. Brooke made some remarks;
Mr. Percival spoke at considerable length against the Bill.
The House divided on the Amendment.—Noes 195
The Amendment was accordingly lost.
On re-admission to the Gallery, we found Sir J. Pulteney on his legs, and a conversation took place between the Hon. Baronet, Mr. Percival, and Mr. Secretary Windham, who observed, that respecting the second term of enlistment of the cavalry and artillery, there was quite enough time to determine.
On the question, that the bill do pass, Sir Wm. Young said a few words in its favour, as far as related to the West Indies, and
Mr. Huskisson made some observations on the Black Corps.
The bill was then passed nem. con. And at Half Past Four this Morning, the House adjourned.
A transcription completed June 14, 2005, of and excerpt from The Times of June 7, 1806.
Three Latin expressions found in the The Times text, with this transcriber’s choice of translation:
vestigia nulla retrorsum One translation: There is no going back
Fas est ab hoste doceri One translation: It is permitted to learn from the enemy
nem. con. One translation: With no one contradicting