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sent against us; and the troops despatched on such
an expedition would, we may pay ourselves the com-
pliment of supposing, be the elite of our antagonist's
forces. Under such circumstances we might surely
esteem ourselves fortunate if the early encounters
issued in doubtful battles ; and we should not be
unprepared for even serious reverses. Against the
loss of a few battles, against heavy temporary disaster,
it is scarcely possible that any military system could
quite secure us ; but there seems no reason that
security might not be attained, such security as is per-
missible in human affairs, against national collapse,
against such a complete break-down of our defensive
apparatus as has happened to France a break-down
which should throw us for our defence on an undisci-
plined population, and place our people at the mercy of
the foe. There seems no reason, I say, why we should
not be secured against such a catastrophe as this ; but,
bearing in mind the nature of the force that might be
sent against us, it appears also pretty plain, that this is
possible on one condition only, namely, that we oppose
to it a force of the same kind. What we want is not a
large standing army, to crush us with its cost during
peace, and then, when the time of trial comes, to fall to
pieces at the first shock, leaving us helpless in presence
of our adversary, but an organization, entailing small
expense in time of peace, but capable, when the need


arises, of giving us army after army till the invader is
subdued an organization in which every man should
know his place and fall into line with the certainty of
disciplined habit. Such an organization might suffer
defeat, but it would not succumb with defeat, and, pre-
senting line behind line to the enemy, it would offer
to an invader a task of ever-increasing difficulty. We
may understand what it would be capable of by con-
sidering what would have been the consequence if, in
the present war, the French had been successful in the
early battles. It is now plain that they would have
merely beaten back the first German line, and at the
end of every fresh advance would have found a new
German force of equal calibre arrayed against them.
Nor would it have fared differently with France had
she been organized on the German system. The
capitulations of Sedan and Metz would have been
merely the destruction of the first line of French
defence, and the German army -would, after these
achievements, have found itself in presence of a new
force equally strong with that which it had conquered,
but nearer its base, instructed by experience, and
animated by a spirit as superior to the spirit of its
adversary as patriotism is superior to vindictive greed.
An organization such as I have described, such as
Germany and Switzerland maintain, powerful as we
see it can be for aggression, would be virtually invin-
cible for defence so visibly so, that I cannot but
think, were nations in general organized-in conformity
with this plan, there would be good hope that aggres-
sions might cease.

As to the utter hopelessness of developing any-


thing adequate to the occasion out of our present
system, if any proof were needed, it has been abun-
dantly supplied by the experiments of the last autumn.
Six months of energetic recruiting has succeeded in
drawing to our standards some 20,000 men not, be
it observed, an addition to our army of this number,
for a large proportion * of the new recruits have
merely gone to supply " the great drain which always
requires to be made good," but a gross total of this
amount ; and this result our present War Minister
considers highly satisfactory.! And satisfactory it
no doubt is, judged by the standard Mr. Card well
evidently adopts the requirements of the past.;};
But this is precisely the fundamental fallacy of all
that has been said and written in defence of our
present military system. The capital fact of the case
is, that the method of warfare has been changed.
The struggle has been transferred from standing
armies to armed populations ; and until we recog-
nize this fact, and adapt our defence to the altered
circumstances, our position cannot be other than
precarious. In very truth, however, it signifies little
whether our present method of recruiting be effectual
or not ; for were we thus to obtain an army numerous

* What proportion Mr. Cardwell does not say.

t Mr. Cardwell's words are : " I do say that recruiting without bounty
is going on briskly, and, if not quite without precedent, it is almost so,
considering that bounty has been abolished." Times, January 3rd, 1871.

J " Well, gentlemen, if we are not to have a much larger force at home
than our predecessors thought necessary, it must be manifest that those
battalions must have fewer men than before, or else these objects would
not have been maintained. . . . And my opinion is, that we have
improved the tone of the army, and that while it was not less numerous
than before, it never was more efficient." Ibid.


enough for our purposes, the expense of such a force,
maintained on the principle of a standing army of the
English pattern, would be simply ruinous.* Our
entire revenue applied exclusively to military pur-
poses would not suffice for the drain ; and we might
as well be crushed at once by the enemy, as ruined
by the slow torture of the tax-gatherer. And I
venture to go further still. Even though the needful
force could thus be raised, and the means of support-
ing it were forthcoming, what just confidence could
be placed in an instrument of the quality which
alone such a process could give us ? The system
remaining the same, the character of the men com-


posing our army would continue to be what it now
is ; f and we should thus, in the last resort, have
to stake our national existence on a struggle in which
the prole taires .and the pariahs of our community
would -be matched against the average citizens of
other states.

* I may observe that this is distinctly Sir Charles Trevelyan's opinion.
"He came to the conclusion that it would be totally impossible to support

a standing army equal to the requirements of England If a large

army were required, the expenditure would mount up to fifty or sixty
millions at once. He considered therefore that the financial argument
against a standing army was conclusive." (Report of Meeting held at
the Society of Arts, February iyth and igth, and March ist, 1869.)

t This is fully admitted by our military authorities : " Could your
Royal Highness suggest any mode of improving that system [recruiting] ?
I think that it would be impossible. With the volunteer system you must
get the men where you can find them. Of course, if you can get a better
class of men, so much the better, but our experience has not proved that
we can do so ; and, therefore, my fear is that, do what you will, you must
take what you can find, whether it is exactly what you wish or not. . . .
And even though you wish it, you cannot be very particular as to the
place in which you recruit? No ; I do not think that you can help that."
(Examination of the Commander-in-Chief before the Royal Commission
on Recruiting.)


I come then to the conclusion that a reform of our
military system, on the principle of a National army,
is a necessity of the case ; but this leaves many im-
portant questions still open ; and, in the first place,
the question as to the means by which our popular
force is to be raised. Is it possible to raise such an army
by voluntary enlistment ? If this be feasible, unques-
tionably it is the course which will be most in keeping,
if not with the best traditions of the country, at least
with the present taste of its inhabitants ; and it must
at once be owned, that some of the ablest and most
experienced of those who have advocated a popular
army in this country believe in its feasibility.*
Foremost amongst these is Sir Charles Trevelyan,
who is of opinion that, " by rendering the conditions
of service more attractive," it is possible to procure
an " abundant supply of recruits from all classes of
the population, without departing from the voluntary
principle, or having recourse to conscription." And
this appears also to be Mr. Edwin Chadwick's view.f
With the greatest respect for both these gentlemen,
whose services in the cause of army reform it is

* I just observe that a high authority, General Sir William Mansfield,
has declared himself on the other side. " I believe it to be absolutely
necessary to revert to that principle of obligation that is to say, that
every man, without respect to his rank or to his position in the world,
shall be liable to serve in his own person in the ranks of the militia. . . .
A primary obligation should rest on every man to serve in person, and no
pecuniary sum of any amount should enable a man, whatever his rank or
whatever his position, to save his person by means of his purse." *Tzmes,
January i6th, 1871.

t So I inferred from expressions in his paper read at the Royal United
Service Institution, and May, 1870. From a note just received from
Mr. Chadwick, I learn that he does not object to the principle of com-
pulsion, but would confine its application to the school stage.


impossible to overrate, I am obliged to confess that,
after the best consideration I have been able to give


to their proposals, I am quite unable to discover any
adequate grounds for the expectation they entertain.
The inducements on which Sir Charles Trevelyan
relies for filling the ranks with an abundant supply
of recruits from all classes of the population, while
maintaining the present system of voluntary recruit-
ing, are comprised in his scheme of military reform.
The fundamental idea of this plan is that which has
been already described as the principle of a popular
army, namely, a small permanently embodied military
force, supported by a numerous militia ; the latter
serving in the ranks for one year only, after which
they pass into the reserve, while the select body of
" general service battalions," which are to form cadres
of instruction, and, according to Sir Charles's illus-
tration, to serve as a mill, in which any amount of
soldiers may be ground, are to be engaged for a
longer term of seven years. In conjunction with
this arrangement, it is proposed to abolish the pur-
chase of commissions, to improve the officers' pay,
to promote liberally from the ranks, and, lastly, to
reserve for non-commissioned officers and soldiers a
considerable range of appointments in the adminis-
trative departments of the army. I can quite under-
stand that these arrangements, all obviously in the
right direction, should draw to the ranks quite as
large numbers, and of the right quality, as would
be needed to fill the lines of the small professional
section of the force, the general service battalions ;
but I fail to perceive what inducement they would
P. A. Q


offer, of a nature to attract the one year's militia-
men. These men, it must be remembered, would
enter the ranks, not with a view to the army as
a profession, but merely as a temporary condition
qualifying them to pass to the reserve, and entailing
the liability of being called to the standards in time
of war. Neither the prospect of promotion from the
ranks, nor of employment in the administrative de-
partments of the army, would apply to them ; * and it

* From an article in the current number of Good Words, I observe
that Sir Charles Trevelyan proposes to supplement the scheme described
in the text (and which I gathered from some speeches delivered at
a meeting of the Society of Arts in February 1869) by opening to non-
commissioned officers and soldiers the lower grades of the Civil Service.
I am not sure that I quite understand the scope of the proposal. If
it be only that ex-soldiers should be admissible for examination, who
would otherwise be excluded on account of age, the concession would,
at all events, be free from objection ; though the inducement it would
offer to recruits for the army would seem to be small. On the other
hand, if it be meant that service in the army should be substituted for
competitive examination as the qualification for the Civil Service, there
would, I think, be strong reasons against such a change. But, for our
present purpose, the important point is that the proposed privilege, what-
ever it be, would apply only to the regular army, i.e., as I understand Sir
Charles, to the small permanently embodied force, not to the masses of
militiamen filling the reserves. Thus the difficulty which I have pointed
out would still remain. What Sir Charles would seem to rely upon
mainly for rallying the militiamen to the ranks is the strength and per-
manence of the military spirit in the country. But I venture to think
one of the capital facts of modern civilization, and also one of the most
hopeful, is the decline of the military spirit. The phenomenon is, I
think, apparent enough in this country. In the United States it is too
plain to be questioned. The decreasing taste for military life is not
indeed at all inconsistent with a sudden and even sustained martial
enthusiasm under the stimulus of what the nation regards as a worthy
cause for war. The volunteering in America during the civil war, and
the sudden rise of our own volunteer force, are sufficient proofs of this.
But we must distinguish between what people will do under the excite-
ment of a great emergency and from a sense of duty, and the tastes
which determine them in their ordinary pursuits. Where are now the
great armies of the civil war ? What proportion of the American people


is difficult to imagine the prospective benefits which
could weigh with any large proportion of our middle
and working classes, to draw them to the ranks in
disregard of the manifest inconveniences implied in
giving up an entire year of their life to military train-
ing. It is here that, it seems to me, Sir Charles
Trevelyan's plan would, as a practical scheme, be
destined to break down. He would no doubt get his
cadres of instruction, his general service battalions,
but where is the bait that is to attract the masses
to the reserves ? What is to bring the grist to his
military mill ? I confess I see no escape from the

Over and above the reforms recommended by Sir
Charles Trevelyan, Mr. Chadwick has advocated
with great earnestness and ability the introduction of
military exercises into schools ; and no one who has
read his publications upon this subject can entertain
a doubt of the high importance of his suggestions.
Indeed, the feeling his arguments produce, is not so
much acquiescence in his views, as surprise that a
measure, in every point of view of such obvious
utility, should not have been long ago adopted as a

now think of entering the army ? Nor can much be inferred from the
case of the English volunteers. Their number after all only 1 50,000
out of a population of 24,000,000 has been barely maintained ; and
it is yet to be seen if it will be so, when they are submitted to the
stricter discipline which must be enforced if they are to become really
efficient forces. In Belgium the volunteer element of the army is
declining. Between 1850 and 1860 (as I learn from a paper read at the
Berne Congress of the International Association), the decline reached
20 per cent. I observe from the article in Good Words that Sir Charles
does not object to the principle of compulsion ; for he adds : " If this
should not suffice, then no doubt a limited application of the conscription
would be necessary."

Q 2


national scheme. As Mr. Chadwick points out, the
practice would be attended with numerous advantages
quite irrespective of its military uses, advantages of a
physical, moral, and sanitary kind ; but, in connection
with the question of a popular army, the important
consideration is, that by this means the training of
soldiers might be largely transferred from the mature
to the juvenile period of life : that is to say, economi-
cally speaking, from the productive to the unproductive
stage. The plan, fully carried out, would thus, to a
large extent, remove one of the most serious objec-
tions to a system of universal military service the
interference it would cause with the industrial work
of the country. But the proposal may also be re-
garded in another light. It may reasonably be ex-
pected, that a system of universal school drill would
have some effect in developing military tastes as well
as aptitudes in rising generations. Would the bent
thus given to the youthful mind be powerful enough,
assisted as it would be by other reforms in our mili-
tary system, to draw to the ranks, under a volun-
tary regime, that abundant supply of recruits which
a popular army needs ? I frankly avow that, if I
thought so, the fact would with me be an argument
against the proposal strong enough to outweigh all
that can be said in its favour. A reform which would
so turn the mind of the people of the country to
military ideas, as to send them thronging to the
military schools, not with a view to make the army
a profession, for this would be out of the question in
the case of the great majority, but simply to gratify
a taste for military pursuits, would, in my view, be a


most fatal boon, and one which, I think, every friend
of civil liberty should repudiate. But, for my part,
I utterly disbelieve that the plan would possess any
such efficacy. The tide of things, in spite of the
present gloomy outlook of Europe, is setting far too
strongly towards the predominance of the civil and
industrial spirit in human affairs to render such a
result in the least degree probable. A European
crisis like the present, a threat of invasion such as
produced our Volunteers, a great cause like that
which in 1861 woke up the people of the United
States, may kindle a momentary access of military
fervour ; but the influences which work in favour of
industrial and civil life are abiding, and grow with
the growth of civilization. The introduction of mili-
tary exercises into schools would probably turn into
the channel of military enthusiasm some portion of
that extravagant zeal for athletic sports which now,
to so little purpose (to put the case mildly), engrosses
so much of the time and thoughts of our youth ; and
the elementary parts of a soldier's training having
been got over at school, the repugnance which would
now be widely felt to spending a year in the ranks
of the army, would probably be much diminished.
The path towards the goal in view would thus be
smoothed. But I believe that the mass of the popu-
lation would be as far as ever from looking to the
army as a career, or from regarding the obligation
of military service in the ranks as other than a dis-
agreeable necessity and a rather onerous tax. If so,
then the difficulty of recruiting a popular army would
still remain. The voluntary system, in a word, can



only be effective on the condition of offering to the
masses of the people an adequate motive to enter
the army ; to enter it, not as a profession, but as a
temporary condition entailing liabilities of a serious
kind. Then where is this motive to be found ?

But the principle of compulsory service, I shall be
told, will never be accepted by Englishmen. Perhaps
not ; and in that case Englishmen, as the foregoing
considerations lead me to believe, will never enjoy
that " cheap defence of nations " furnished by a
popular army. But if this principle is to be rejected,
let us at least know the reason why. From the
phrases current on the subject, the prevalent notion
appears to be that, in the claim of the State to the
personal services of the citizen in defence of the
commonwealth, there is something strangely abnormal
in relation to our political system and traditions,
violently unsuited to the habits and ideas of a free
people. The writer of the political article in the
Edinburgh Review talks of " the hard law which
dooms the capable citizen, will-he nill-he, to a certain
period of service." The tone taken, moreover, is
that of one conscious of occupying a position of
moral vantage, as the voluntary character of the
English military system is contrasted with the coercive
systems of Continental countries. But let us look at
these assumptions a little more closely ; and, in the
first place, it must be remembered that the very
existence of a nation as an organized community is
founded upon the recognition of duties obligatory
upon all, and which the State may at need enforce.
In the early and simple stages of political union, the


discharge of those duties takes mainly the form of
personal service ; and if with the progress of society
the performance of personal service has been com-
muted for money payment, this has been done solely
upon considerations of convenience, and not in the
least as the assertion of any political principle what-
ever. In point of historical fact, the transmutation
of the obligation generally accompanied, and was
indeed made the instrument of, an abridgment of
popular liberties. Military service, as it was the
most important public duty in primitive societies,
offered the earliest example of the practice of pecu-
niary commutation ; but gradually the same grounds
of convenience led to its extension to other spheres
of political action, until now the general right of the
State to command the services of its citizens finds
practical assertion almost exclusively in the single
act of taxation a form in which it for the most part
eludes observation. This is the state of things which
we have reached in this country, though only within
half a century. Even now the permanent law of the
country requires that every one (with specified ex-
ceptions) shall, if called upon, venture his body in
the militia, and only fails of being enforced through
the enactment of an annual Act suspending the militia
ballot. Nor is this the only example in point. In
the civil sphere compulsory attendance on juries and
the obligation to give evidence in person in courts of
justice still attest and illustrate the original practice.
In point of principle, therefore, the right of the State
to compel the services of its citizens, " to doom the
capable man, will-he nill-he," to defend his country,


is implied in the right of taxation ; the question of
enforcing the primitive obligation in one form or
another being merely one of convenience. So little
is the prerogative out of harmony with our general
institutions, that it is, in fact, the foundation and
origin of them all.

But then the public feeling revolts against the
practice " in a country where the sentiment of indivi-
dual freedom and conscience is as highly developed
as here."* Now the times are serious; let us purge
our souls of cant. What does this system of " volun-
tary " recruiting, which we are asked to believe is the
only system suited to our highly-developed political
and moral feelings, mean ? Simply this, that people
who have .sufficient means, instead of being required
to pay their just debt to their country in their own
persons, are allowed to hire others, who have little
choice but to accept the offer, to expose their persons
in their behalf. No less lofty principle than this, it
seems, can satisfy the highly-developed consciences
of the English people. The moral fastidiousness
displayed is only surpassed in China, where, it is
said, men may procure substitutes for the gallows.
The principle would, indeed, need to be high ; for it
is certainly not redeemed by the practice by what is
known as "our pot-house system of recruiting," in
which men are entrapped, to borrow the words of the
late Sidney Herbert, " by every kind of cajolery and
inducement we can devise and in our necessity we
descend to those means which men do not have
recourse to till they think all others are exhausted."

* Lord Derby's speech at Liverpool.


Well, all this may be highly convenient ; but, in the
name of common decency, let us cease to put it
forward as a national distinction to be proud of a
practice entitling the people who employ it to look
down, as from a lofty height, on the nations who

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Online LibraryJohn Elliott CairnesPolitical essays → online text (page 17 of 27)