The Standing Army (1738)
by William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham

A speech on the issue of the size of the standing army in Britain. Given to the House of Commons on 4 February 1738.

39536The Standing Army1738William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham


If the Question now before us were not an Affair of too serious a Nature, it would be extreamly easy to be witty upon it, especially, as the honourable Gentleman [Sir T. Sanderson] who spoke last has given us so good a Handle; but, I must confess, it seems to me of so much Importance with Respect to our Constitution, and the Happiness of our Country, that I cannot, and I think no Gentlman ought to make himself merry upon such an Occasion; for tho' the Preservation of our Constitution were no Way concerned, yet the Loading of of our People with an additional Expence of 2 or 300,000 l is, in my Opinion, an Affair of too affecting a Nature to be treated in a ludicrous Manner.

As to what the Honourable Gentleman has been pleased to say about those he calls Placemen, I shall agree that, if they were to be directed in their Opinions by the Places they possess, they might perhaps unite for the Support of one another, against the common Good of the Society; but I hope none of them are under any such Direction; I am sure the Honourable Gentleman himself is not, and therefore, I am convinced he is not serious, when he talks of being surprized at any Placeman's declaring for a Reduction of our Army; for, of all Men, those who enjoy any Places of Profit under our Government, ought to be the most cautious of loading the People with any unnecessary Tax or Expence; because, as the Place they possess generally brings them in more than their Share of all our Taxes can amount to, it may be properly said, that by consenting to any Article of publick Expence, they lay a Load upon others which they themselves bear no Share of.

I must look upon myself, Sir, as a Placeman, as well as the honourable Gentleman who spoke last: I am in the Service of one of the Branches of the Royal Family, and think it my Honour to be so; but I should not think it, if I were not as free to give my Opinion upon any Question that happens in this House, as I was before I had any such Place; and, I believe, from the Behaviour of Gentlemen, upon this very Occasion, it will appear, that all those who are in the same Service with me, are in the same State of Freedom; because I believe, they will, upon the Question now before us, appear to be of different Opinions, But, there is another Set of Placemen, whose Behaviour surprizes me not a little; because, upon every Question that occurs relating to publick Affairs, they are always unanimous; and I confess, it is to me a little astonishing, that 2 or 300 Gentlemen should, by an unaccountable Sort of Unanimity, always agree in Opinion upon the many different Sorts of Questions that occur yearly, and that not for one, but for several Years together. I am convinced this surprizing Unanimity does not proceed from any Effect of the Places they have under the Crown; for if it did, a Man's being possessed of any Place under the Crown, would, in such a Case, I am sure, be an infallible Reason for the People not to trust him with the Preservation of their Liberties, or the Dispensation of their Properties in Parliament.

Then, Sir, as to the Tories and suspected Jacobites, I am surprized to hear any Comparison made between them and the fat Man in the Crowd: There are so few of either in the Kingdom, that I am sure they can give no Man an Occasion for being afraid of them, and therefore there is not the least Shadow of Reason for saying, they are the Occasion of our being obliged to keep up such a numerous Standing Army. The Army, indeed, or rather those who have been the chief Advocates for our keeping up such a numerous Standing Army, may properly be compared to the fat Man in the Crowd; for the keeping up of such an Army is the chief Cause of our Discontents, and those Discontents are now, we find, made the chief Pretence for keeping up such a numerous Army. Remove therefore but the Army, or a confiderable Part of it, and the Crowd, or the Discontents you complain of, will cease. The Consequences, 'tis true, may be fatal to some of those, who have been the Causes of loading the Nation so long with such an unnecessary Expence; but no honest Man, I am sure, will think that their Safety is to be put in the Balance, with the Stisfaction of the People, and the Safety of the Nation.

I come now, Sir, to the only Argument the honourable Gentleman made Use of, which can admit of a serious Consideration; and if our Army were entirely, or but generally, composed of old Veterans, inured to the Fatigues and the Dangers of War, and such as had often ventured their Lives against the Enemies of their Country, I confess the Argument would have a great deal of Weight; but considering the Circumstances of our present Army, I can hardly think my Honourable Friend was serious, when he made Use of such an Argument. As for the Officers of the Army, they are quite out of the Question; for in Case of a Reduction, there is a handsome Provision for every one of them: No Man can doubt, nor would any Man oppose, their being all put upon half Pay; and I must observe that our half Pay is better, or as good as full Pay, I believe, in any other Country of Europe; for in the Method our Army is now kept up, I could shew by Calculation, that it costs the Nation more than would maintain three Times the Number of Men, either in France or Germany. And as for the Soldiers, I believe it may be said of at least three fourths of them, that they never underwent any Fatigue except that of a Review, nor were ever exposed to any Danger except in apprehending Smugglers or dispersing Mobs; therefore I must think they have no Claim for any greater Reward than the Pay they have already received, nor should I think we were guilty of the least Ingratitude, if they were all turned adrift to-morrow Morning.

But suppose, Sir, the Soldiers of our Army were all such as had served a Campaign or two against a publick Enemy; is it from hence to be inferred, that they must for ever after live idly, and be maintained at the Expence of their Country, and that, in such a Manner, as to be dangerous to the Liberties of their Country ? At this Rate, if a Man has but once ventured his Life in the Service-of his Country, he must for ever after be not only a Burden, but a Terror to his Country. This, Sir, would be a Sort of Reward, which I am sure no brave Soldier would accept of, nor any honest one desire. That we should shew a proper Gratitude to those who have ventured their Lives in the Service of their Country, is what I shall readily acknowlege; but this Gratitude ought to be shewn in such a Way, as not to be dangerous to the Liberties, nor too burdensome to the People of our Country; and therefore, after a War is at an End, if a Soldier can provide for himself, either by his Labour, or by means of his own private Fortune, he ought not to expect, and, if he is not of a mercenary Disposition, he will scorn to receive, any other Reward, than that which consists in the peculiar Honours and Privileges that may and ought to be conferred upon him, by the established Laws of his Country.

That we ought to shew a proper Gratitude, that we ought to give a proper Regard to every Man, who has ventured his Life in the Cause of his Country, is what I am sure no Gentleman will deny: But when I have said this, Sir, I cannot help observing how defective our Laws and Customs are in this Respect. Is not this an unanswerable Argument for establishing this Gratitude, and ascertaining this Reward, by a publick Law ? Yet as the Laws now stand, an old Officer, a Man who has often ventured his Life, and often spilt his Blood, in the Service of his Country, may be dismissed, and reduced, perhaps, to a starving Condition, at the arbitrary Will and Pleasure, perhaps at the Whim of a favourite Minister; so that by the present Establishment of our Army, the Reward of a Soldier seems not to depend upon the Services done to his Country, but upon the Services he does to those who happen to be the favourite Ministers at the Time. Must not this, Sir, be allowed to be a Defect in the present Establishment of our Army ? And yet when a Law was proposed for removing this Defect, we may remember what Reception it met with, even from those who now insist so highly upon the Gratitude we ought to shew to the Gentlemen of our Army.

This work was published before January 1, 1929, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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