Page images

soldier from the ordinary processes of law, and its operation was restricted to the regular army and to England. The scope of the Act was gradually extended to Jersey and Guernsey, to Ireland, and at length to the whole dominion of the Crown. The Mutiny Act of 1713, which was the first passed in time of peace, gave courts-martial no power to award a capital sentence, and this incapacity continued till the rebellion of 1715. Under George I. the Crown for the first time obtained an express and formal authority to constitute, under royal sign manual, articles of war for the government of the army, and to enforce their penalties by courts-martial. The articles of war of 1717 made provision for the trial of ordinary civil offences by courts-martial, and the Mutiny Act declared that acquittal or conviction should be a bar to all further indictment for the same offence. In 1728, however, a question arose whether the articles of war which emanated from the sovereign alone, could create capital offences unknown to the law, and the Attorney-General advised the Government that while the power of inflicting other penalties by those articles was unrestricted, no sentence extending to life or limb could be imposed by court-martial except for offences enumerated in, and made so punishable by, the Mutiny Act; and a clause to this effect has been inserted in every Mutiny Act since 1748. In 1748, too, an oath of secrecy was first imposed upon the members of courts-martial forbidding them to divulge the sentence till approved, or the votes of any member unless required by Parliament. The position of half-pay officers was long and vehemently discussed. It was contended by the Government that they were subject to the Mutiny Act, but the opinions of the judges were divided on the question. A special clause making them liable was inserted in the Act of 1747, but it was withdrawn in 1749, and in 1785 their exemption was decided. In 1754 the operation of the Mutiny Act was extended to the troops of the East India Company serving in India, and to the king's troops serving in North America, as well as to local troops serving with them. In 1756 the militia, when called out for active service, were brought under its provisions; and in

1788, in spite of the strong opposition of Fox and Sheridan, the corps of sappers and miners was included in the same category,1

The extreme distrust with which this department of legisla-, tion was regarded is shown by the strong opposition that was aroused over almost all the questions I have enumerated. The first volume of the Commentaries of Blackstone was published as late as 1765, and it is remarkable that even at this date that great lawyer spoke with the strongest apprehension of the dangers to liberty arising from the Mutiny Act. He maintained that the condition of the army was that of absolute servitude; and he argued that every free and prudent nation should endeavour to prevent the introduction of slavery into the midst of it; that if it has unhappily been introduced, arms should at least never be placed in the hands of the slaves, and that no policy could be more suicidal than to deprive of the liberties of the constitution the very men who are at the last resort entrusted with their defence. But whatever plausibility there may be in such reasoning, it will now hardly be disputed that a body of many thousands of armed men, whose prompt and unreasoning obedience is of the utmost moment to the State, cannot be permanently governed by the mild and tardy processes of law which are applicable to civilians. Military insubordination is so grave and, at the same time, so contagious a disease, that it requires the promptest and most decisive remedies to prevent it from leading to anarchy. By retaining a strict control over the pay and over the numbers of the soldiers, by limiting each Mutiny Act to a single year, and by entrusting its carriage through the House to a civil minister, who is responsible for its provisions, Parliament has very effectually guarded against abuses; and the army, since the days of the Commonwealth, has never been inimical to the liberties of England.

The jealousy that was felt about the Mutiny Act extended

1 See, for the origin of the Mutiny Act, Macaulay's Hist. of England, ch. xi., and for its subsequent history,

Clode's Military Forces of the Crown, vol. i.

"Blackstone, book i. ch. 13.

to other parts of military administration. After the Peace of Ryswick, Parliament insisted on reducing the forces to 10,000 men, or about a third part of what William considered necessary for the security of the State; and during the greater part of the first two Hanoverian reigns there was an annual conflict about the number of the forces. In 1717 Walpole himself, being at this time in Opposition, was prominent in urging their reduction from 16,000 to 12,000 men. During his own administration the army in time of peace was usually about 17,000 men. The terror which was produced by the Scotch invasion of 1745, the frequent alarms of a French invasion, the popularity of the wars of the elder Pitt, and the great extension of the empire resulting from his conquests, gradually led to increased armaments; nor was the growth of the regular army seriously checked by the organisation, between 1757 and 1763, of a national militia. In the early years of the eighteenth century the number of soldiers in Parliament was much complained of, and some unsuccessful efforts were made to diminish it.' Walpole desired to avail himself of the military as of other forms of patronage for the purpose of gratifying his supporters and thus securing his parliamentary majority; but George II., to his great credit, steadily refused to allow the army to be dragged into the vortex of corruption,2 though he consented to deprive the

In 1741 some members of the House of Lords drew up a very remarkable protest on this subject. After complaining of the increase of the army, and of the formation of new corps, they say: 'We apprehend that this method of augmentation by new corps may be attended with consequences fatal in time to our Constitution, by increasing the number of commissions which may be disposed of with regard to parliamentary influence only... Our distrust of the motives of this augmentation which creates at once 370 officers... ought to be the greater so near the election of a new parliament ... and we cannot forget that an augmentation of 8,040 men was likewise made the very year of the elec

tion of the present Parliament. . . . The number of officers in Parliament has gradually increased, and though we think the gentlemen of the army as little liable to undue influence as any other body of men, yet we think it would be very imprudent to trust the very fundamentals of our Consti tution, the independency of Parlia ments, to the uncertain effects of ministerial favour or resentment.'Rogers's Protests of the Lords, ii. 1–6.

2 Walpole himself complained to Lord Hervey, 'How many people there are I could bind to me by getting things done in the army you may imagine, and that I never can get any one thing done in it you perhaps will not believe; but it is as true as

Duke of Bolton and Lord Cobham of their regiments on account of their votes against the excise scheme. A Bill was at this time introduced to prevent any officer above the rank of colonel from being thus deprived, except by a court-martial or an address from one House of Parliament. Considering the great power of the ministry in both Houses, it is not surprising that this measure should have been defeated by large majorities, but it is a very remarkable fact that it should have been extremely unpopular. The manner in which Walpole exercised his power was very scandalous. The desire to restrict the corrupt influence of the Government was very strong, and the excise scheme was generally detested; but so deep and so lively after the lapse of more than seventy years was the hatred of military government which the despotism of Cromwell had planted in the nation that it was sufficient to overpower all other considerations. It was contended that the measure of the Opposition, by relaxing the authority of the civil power over the military system and by aggrandising that of the courts-martial, would increase the independence and the strength of standing armies, and in consequence the dangers of a stratocracy; and it is a curious and wellattested fact that it very seriously impaired the popularity of the party who proposed it.1

The last sign that may be noticed of the unpopularity of a standing army was the extreme reluctance of Parliament to provide barracks adequate for its accommodation. In Ireland, it is true, which was governed like a conquered country, a different policy was pursued, and a large grant for their erection

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]


was made as early as William III.,' while in Scotland they chiefly date from the rebellion of 1715, but in England the barrack accommodation till a much later period was miserhad acably insufficient.2 Even at the time when the army quired very considerable dimensions the majority of the troops were still billeted out in public-houses, kept under canvas during the most inclement portions of the year, or stowed away in barns that were purchased for the purpose. Pulteney contended that the very fact that a standing army in quarters is more burdensome than a standing army in barracks is a reason for opposing the erection of the latter, lest the people should grow accustomed to the yoke.3 The people of this kingdom,' said General Wade in 1740, have been taught to associate the ideas of barracks and slavery, like darkness and the devil.' Blackstone, in 1765, strongly maintained that the soldiers should live intermixed with the people,' and that 'no separate camp, no barracks, no inland fortress, should be allowed." It was about this time, however, that the popular jealousy of the army began first perceptibly to decline. In 1760 Lord Bath published a pamphlet which is in more than one respect very remarkable, but which is especially interesting for the evidence it furnishes of this change. He complained bitterly that the country had become strangely tolerant of a far larger peace establishment than had once been regarded as compatible

[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]

accession to the throne, to ease the
inhabitants of this town from quarter-
ing of soldiers, hath built a fine
barrack here consisting of a square
spacious court of freestone. . . . These
are the first barracks erected in Great
Britain, and it would be a vast ease
to the inhabitants in most great
towns if they had them every
but English liberty will never
consent to what will seem a nest for
a standing army.'-Macky's Journey
through Scotland (1723), pp. 24-25.
Parl. Hist. xi. 1448.

• Ibid. 1442.

5 Book i. ch. 13.

« PreviousContinue »