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In conclusion, Mr. Sheridan moved for a copy of the appointment of the board of naval and military officers, of such parts of their instructions, and of their report, as His Majesty's discretion might deem proper to be made public with perfect consistency to the safety of the state.
As the board in question had been constituted by circular letters from the king, without any official commission or appointment, Mr. Pitt substituted another motion, the same in effect as the foregoing, but more conformable to the fact, which passed unanimously.
FORTIFICATIONS FOR PROTECTION OF DOCK
The papers moved for on the 16th being laid before the house, Mr. Pitt introduced the measures in the form of a general resolution, to the following effect:-"That it appears to this house, that to provide effectually for securing His Majesty's dock-yard at Portsmouth and Plymouth, by a permanent system of fortification, founded on the most economical principles, and requiring the smallest number of troops possible to answer the purpose of such security, is an essential object for the safety of the state, internally connected with the general defence of the kingdom, and necessary for enabling the fleet to act with full vigour aud effect for the protection of commerce, the support of our distant possessions, and the prosecution of offensive operations, in any war in which the nation may hereafter be engaged." In opposition to the measure, it was moved as an amendment by Mr. Bastard, to leave out of the resolution all the words from the word "house," to the end of the question, and to insert "that fortifications on so extensive a plan as proposed by the Board are inexpedient."
Mr. SHERIDAN declared, that he gave the nobleviscount full credit for the principles he had professed with respect to the constitution; and that he did sincerely believe that the noble viscount would not vote for the measure then under discussion; but, upon a supposition, that its tendency was rather to diminish than augment the military power of the crown. Upon this ground, therefore, he would meet him; and he was sanguine enough to believe, that the noble viscount might be induced to alter the
opinion which he had declared, unless indeed he was restrained from exercising his free judgment upon the subject; an apprehension which a late speech of his had suggested, a speech in which the noble viscount had expressed himself so full of dread and horror, at the means by which a Tory foe, in another place, had, both by sap and storm, assailed those constitutional bulwarks which the noble viscount had so zealously endeavoured to erect for the protection of our decayed election rights, that it was almost reasonable to presume that the noble viscount might have entered into a serious compact with a noble duke, his former ally, on this subject, for reciprocal assistance on their two favourite objects; by which the noble viscount was peremptorily to support the plan of fortifying the dock-yards in that house, or the noble duke would no longer engage to assist him in fortifying the constitution in the other. But what was the noble viscount's argument? He had rested the matter entirely upon the ground taken by his right honorable friend (Mr. Pitt) that the pursuing this system of fortification would actually diminish the standing army in this country; and that the number of troops being so diminished, there would be proportionably less cause for that constitutional jealousy, with which all parties agreed it was our duty to regard the increasing military power of the crown. That this system of defence by fortifications, could, under any circumstances, have the effect of reducing the standing army, he must beg leave utterly to deny. Some plausible arguments indeed had been adduced in support of this notion, which, however, when sifted, would be found fallacious and contradictory. For the present, however, he would wave that point, and admit implicitly, that the standing army of the country would be reduced by the measure proposed, precisely in the proportion stated by the noble viscount; it then, however, remained to be proved, that, giving the noble viscount his premises, he
was right in his conclusion. When we talked of a constitutional jealousy of the military power of the crown, what was the real object to which we pointed our suspicion? What was the datum, as the fashionable phrase was, upon which they proceeded? What! but that it was in the nature of kings to love power, and in the constitution of armies to obey kings. This, doubtless, was most delicate ground to touch upon; but the circumstances of the present question called for plain dealing; and for his part he could not be suspected, even in the smallest degree, of alluding either to the present monarch upon the throne, or to the army under his command. He agreed most sincerely to the distinctions taken with respect to both, by a worthy baronet who had spoken before him; but at the same time it must be admitted, that whenever we spoke of a constitutional jealousy of the army, it was upon a supposition, that the unhappy time might come, when a prince, misled by evil counsellors, and against the suggestions of his own gracious temper, of course might cherish the disastrous notion, that he could become greater by making his subjects less, and that an army might be found so forgetful of their duty as citizens, so warped by feelings of false honour, or so degraded by habits of implicit obedience, as to support their military head in an attempt upon the rights and liberties of their country! The possible existence of this case, and the probable coincidence of these circumstances, was that to which every gentleman's mind must point, when he admitted an argument upon the subject; otherwise we burlesqued and derided the wisdom of our ancestors, in their provisions of the Bill of Rights; and made a mere mockery of the salutary and sacred reserve with which, for a short and limited period, we annually entrusted the executive magistrate with the necessary defence of the country. This plain statement being really the case, to what, in such a crisis, were we to look? Were our apprehensions only to be directed to the length of the muster-roll
of men in the King's pay? Were we to calculate only the number of soldiers whom he could encamp at Hounslow, or the force of the detachment which he might spare to surround the lobby of the house of commons? No; the jet and substance of the question lay briefly here. In which of the two situations now argued upon, would the King and his evil advisers find themselves in a state of the greatest military force and preparation, and most likely to command and to receive a military support? In this point of view, would it be argued, that these fortresses, which were to become capable of resisting the siege of a foreign enemy landed in force, would serve as a sufficient strength in the hands of the crown, when the enemy was his people? Would no stress be given to the great and important distinction, already ably urged, between troops elected and separated from their fellow-citizens in garrisons and forts, and men living scattered and entangled in all the common duties and connections of their countrymen? Was this an argument of no weight when applied to the militia, who were to form a part of these garrisons? or would it, even for a moment, be pretended, that men under such circumstances, and in such disciplined habits, were not a thousand times more likely to despise the breath of parliament, and to lend themselves to the active purposes of tyranny and ambition, than the loose and unconnected bodies which exist even with jealousy under the present system? It was necessary to press the distinction; the fact was, that these strong military holds, if maintained as they must be in peace, by full and disciplined garrisons; if well provided, and calculated to stand regular sieges, as the present plan professed; and if extended to all the objects to which the system must inevitably lead, whether they were to be considered as inducements to tempt a weak prince to evil views, or as engines of power, in case of an actual rupture; would, in truth, promise tenfold the means of curbing and subduing the country,
than could be stated to arise even from doubling the present military establishment; with this extraordinary aggravation attending the folly of consenting to such a system, that those very naval stores and magazines, the seed and sources of our future navy, the effectual preservation of which was the pretence for these unassailable fortresses, would, in that case, become a pledge and hostage in the hands of the crown, which, in a country circumstanced as this was, must insure an unconditional submission to the most extravagant claims which despotism could dictate.
What could possibly prove more fallacious than holding out expectations, that a system of defence by fortifications could, in fact, end in a retrenchment of the standing army! The first fallacy in this argument stood forward in the supposition that the system of defence by fortifications was necessarily to stop, when Portsmouth and Plymouth should become secured; and that the reasoning upon which the extensive works for those places were justified, would not apply to any other parts of the kingdom, however their importance called for defence, or their situation exposed them to attack. The shortest method of refuting this idea, was simply to suppose the same board of officers, acting under the same instructions, and deliberating under the same data, going a circuit round the coast of the kingdom, and directed to report upon the various places in their progress; and let any person fairly consider the suppositions under which they make their present report, and then hesitate to confess, that they must, of necessity, recommend a similar plan of defence proportioned to the importance of every place to which their attention was directed. It was superfluous to dwell upon the circumstances which no longer permitted us to consider Holland, in future, otherwise than as a province of France; or which made it equally reasonable to look with an eye of apprehension to the neigh