Page images
PDF
EPUB

have as certain an agency in the production of a result, as those more immediately present and obvious, * and because there is no common unerring standard, to which these conclusions may be brought for a test, like experimental proof in mechanical analysis. It is, therefore, safer for every man to draw his own conclusions from the study of events, than to adopt implicitly the conclusions of those, who, like himself, are embarrassed in their inquiries by the common weakness of an erring reason. The necessity of caution in adopting the opinions of others in those departments of knowledge, which give a scope to speculation, becomes the more apparent, when we reflect that the best of modern historical compositions, the most perfect analysis of legal science, and the political portion of one of the ablest treatises on moral and social obligation,g are deeply imbued with prejudice and error.

The example which has most commonly been brought to illustrate the proposition, that standing armies are inimical to the spirit of free institutions, is the subversion of Roman liberty. But it has often occurred to us, in passing over the contests of Pompey and Cæsar, and the portion of Roman history immediately preceding them, that the change of government, which these rival factionists were instrumental in bringing about, is to be attributed, in a great degree, to causes unconnected with the prevalence of the military spirit. A reference to the annals of Rome will exhibit, before the days of the triumvirate, a total relaxation of public morals, the original constitution of society completely changed, an equal distribution of property superseded by excessive wealth and extreme poverty, a mercenary and effeminate servitude overspreading the face of the land, and the robust spirit of republicanism surviving only in a few individuals, whose efforts and fate served but to illustrate the general depravation. So completely was the sense of moral obligation destroyed, that Pompey openly paid bribes in his garden to such of the tribes as supported the election of his friend Lucius Afranius to the Consulship :// and tables were publicly set forth in the market places, to pay the people the price of

* In many historians we might almost fancy the law maxim— Causa proxima, non remota, spectatur”—to be assumed as the rule of their conclusions, with regard to the influences by which the great revolutions of society are brought about.

| Hume's History of England.
| Blackstone's Commentaries.
§ Paley's Moral and Political Philosophy.
i Plutarch's Life of Cato the younger.

their votes.* So unequal was the distribution of wealth, and so great the dependance of the populace on men of power, that, besides laws for a division of lands and the relief of indigent debtors, Cato induced the Senate, with a view to check the growing influence of Cæsar, to distribute an amount of bread corn among the people, which added five millions five hundred thousand drachmas to the annual burthens of the state. A nation enervated by the ascendency of every species of vice and disorder, needs not the agency of a disciplined soldiery to complete its subjugation. If Rome had not possessed a single sol. dier, her fate would have been the same. The body politic had become too corrupt and disorderly for freedom, and in the last struggles of liberty, intrigue and faction bore as powerful a sway as the arm of force. Cæsar, after the defeat of his rival, relied upon

the arts of a politician for the security of his dominion. Augustus, if the Roman historian may be credited, was indebted to political management, and not to the sword, for the acquisition of his power.—“ Ubi militem donis, populum annona, cunctos dulcedine otii pellexit, insurgere paullatim, munia senatûs, magistratuum, legum in se trahere, nullo adversante."

The same historian, in commencing his view of the empire after a short interval from the downfall of the Republic, compresses into the following detail the character of the events he is about to describe, exhibiting a maturity of vice, which could have been nothing less than the fruit of ages of degeneracy :“ Et urbs incendiis vastata, consumptis antiquissimis delubris, ipso capitolio civium manibus incenso; pollutæ ceremoniæ : magna adulteria : plenum exsiliis mare: infecti cædibus scopuli: atrocius in urbe sævitum. Nobilitas, opes, omissi gestique honores pro crimine.” “ Odio et terrore, corrupti in dominos servi, in patronos liberti : et quibus deerat inimicus, per amicos oppressi."

We assent most freely to the proposition that standing armies are to be deprecated, but we are compelled by an examination of the course of society, to regard them as the consequence rather than the cause of a corrupt state of the body

* Plutarch's Life of Julius Cæsar.
# Ditto.
| Tac. Annal. lib. I. s. 2.

§ Hist. lib. I. s. 2. The disorder last enumerated-domestic treachery--is incident to the very last stage of social depravity. In Rome it was not effectually suppressed until the time of Tragan. See Pliny's panegyrics. 42. “ Reddita est amicis fides, liberis pietas, obsequium servis."

politic. Large armies spring into life when faction and intrigue have dissolved the necessary coherence of society, when the love of gain has superseded the love of honor, and when a people have become animated by views of conquest. When these vices have seized upon the character of a people, the aid of a mercenary soldiery is scarcely necessary to insure the success of any resolute and enterprising aspirant after power.

But those who seek to sustain the proposition, that standing armies are dangerous to liberty, must not go back to the days of the Roman republic for examples. Precedents, drawn from an age of mental darkness, are inapplicable to an age of light and cultivation. Before the invention of the press, every question of power was brought to the standard of brute force : in the present age, every question of this sort is brought to the standard of public opinion. Throughout the former division of time, every public operation was principally determined by physical force; every public operation now, is principally determined by moral force. In ancient times, an army employed in the subversion of a government, had to encounter men without any common principle of interest to give them union and concert, unconscious of political rights, and accustomed to bow implicitly to the powers above them. In modern times, an army so employed would have to encounter men united by the spirit of freedom, animated by the love of independence, conscious of sacred rights, and accustomed to share, directly or indirectly, in the operations of government. Thus, in the French revolution, the guards of Louis XVI., who remained faithful to his cause, were overwhelmed by the torrent of popular strength, At the erection of the royal standard for the commencement of the civil war in England, in 1642, the national forces, both land and naval, with few exceptions, abandoned the cause of the sovereign, and embraced the popular side of the controversy. In the recent revolutions of Spain and Naples, the military forces were the first to move in favor of the great cause of political freedom; and both these countries were free, until they sunk under the preponderance of an external force. These examples are merely adduced to show, that a new principle has been introduced into the operations of society, which renders in a great measure inapplicable all inferences drawn from the political revolutions of antiquity.

We are led by a review of the considerations which we have presented, to the belief, that a military establishment in this country, so long as its existing relations to the government and the people are unchanged, cannot become dangerous to our VOL. 1.

3

free institutions. It might, no doubt, be enlarged to a size which would make it extremely burdensome to the national finances, and which would greatly impair the general prosperity, by withdrawing from the productive branches of industry an unnecessary number of laborers ; but these are the most serious evils, which we should apprehend from an inordinate increase of the army. Taking these premises for granted, the standard to which the dimensions of the army should be brought, would not be derived from any apprehensions of its hostility to the great doctrine of popular freedom, but from an cstimate of the public necessities. To prove that this standard is not improperly assumed, it is only necessary to suppose the United States placed in the midst of warlike nations, like those of Europe. In such a case, our military preparations would immediately be augmented, without reference to the conflicting spirit of military establishments and free governmen', to correspond with the dangers to which we should be exposed. Happily, our dangers from abroad are few and remote. An immense ocean separates us from the great belligerants of the world; the savages, our only constant foe, have been subdued by the force of our arms, and the influence of our intellectual light; the colonial possessions of Europe, which border on us, are too feeble to require any preparation against them; and with the nations of the south, which have recently sprung into independent existence, we shall be likely, from the effect of distance and congenial interests, to remain a long time on terms of peace.

The condition of the states of continental Europe is precisely the reverse of ours. A number of independent societies occupy adjacent territories; and it is their misfortune, that the military preparation which one of them makes, is necessarily followed by a similar preparation on the part of all the others. The policy of Charles VII. of France, who organized the first standing army on the continent, after the dissolution of the Roman legion, introduced into the political order of European governments this new feature, by the force of which, every member of the general society is, of necessity, equipped in an armour adapted to that with which he is liable to be assailed. It is contended by many writers upon government and morals, that this change in the military condition of Europe is favorable to the general order and happiness of civil society;* and

*Examen of Machiavel's Prince, chap. 2.

by others, that it is also the most safe and economical mode of providing for the national defence.*

But, notwithstanding all the arguments by which the favourable influence of the established military system of Europe is sustained, we cannot but consider it, even granting it in some respects to be a blessing, as a blessing encumbered with conditions which almost wholly counteract its beneficial effects. It imposes a pecuniary burden of vexatious magnitude on the industrious classes of society; it operates more directly to the discouragement of industry, by setting apart for the purposes of defence a numerous body of citizens, who would otherwise be employed in some productive department of labor; it renders the spirit of society more warlike and barbarous, by a constant exhibition of military preparations; and finally, it invites to wars and conquest, by arming ambitious sovereigns with the means of executing their views of personal or national aggrandizement. There is, however, one redeeming considerationcontingent, indeed, and we hope remote: the disciplined armies of the South of Europe may, hereafter, present an insuperable barrier to the invading hosts of Muscovy. When we glance at the immense possessions of this enormous empire, its numerous and hardy population, its vast resources, and the despotic character of its institutions, we cannot but apprehend that we see the elements of future conquest and desolation. And we shall deem the present military burdens of Europe of no account, if they shall prove, hereafter, to have been incurred, with the effect of checking a deluge of Vandalism, like that which, in ancient times, poured upon the delicious regions of southern Europe, and buried religion, science, and the social improvements of ages, in one indiscriminate ruin.

From the views which we have taken, and the examples adduced to sustain them, we draw the inference, that the only standard to which our military establishment can be brought, with respect to numbers, is an estimate of our necessities, as derived from an examination of our relations with foreign states. That a consideration of the inconsistent spirit of free institutions and standing armies makes no part of the standard, is evident, from the fact that the latter would invariably be enlarged to meet any increase of the public necessities. The only questions, then, to be solved, in regulating the dimensions of our military establishment, are, 1st. What is the minimum force necessary to provide for the security of our frontier possessions, and

* Paley's Moral and Polit. Philos. book vi. chap. 12. s. 3.

« PreviousContinue »