Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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ARMIES, Standing. The first half of the 19th century will be forever memorable in the history of mankind as the most productive period in industrial wonders. The results which we have succeeded in obtaining from steam, from atmospheric pressure, from electricity, and other natural forces are, in certain respects, so wonderful, that had they been predicted a century ago, such a prediction would have been regarded as an extravagant illusion.


—Who, for instance, in 1750, could have believed that we should find in the expansive force of steam a power of such utility as compared with which all human and animal strength would scarcely admit of comparison; and that this force when applied to great ships would impel them against the most rapid currents, and across the whole width of the Atlantic in eight days; that when applied to our railroads, we would be able to travel at the rate of from 45 to 60 miles an hour; that our cities and dwellings would be brilliantly illuminated with a gas extracted from coal; that an engineer would search in the bowels of the earth, at a depth of 1,700 feet beneath the soil of Paris for an inexhaustible fountain of pure water, which he would cause to spout to a height of 60 feet above that same soil; that an artist would be able to compel rays of light to work for him, that is to say, to fix permanently the image of objects, with an exactness and faithfulness that neither the pencil nor the brush will ever be able to equal; that we would succeed, at last, by means of the electric telegraph, in subduing an invisible, intangible agent, of a nature entirely unknown to us, to such an extent as to compel it at will to transmit words at the distance of hundreds and thousands of miles? Assuredly, if these wonders and many others could have been predicted a hundred years ago, their prediction would have been overwhelmed with ridicule.


—Nevertheless, whatever power these unlooked-for evidences of progress may have added to our productive agents, to our comfort and civilization, our social existence remains imperfect, or improves but very slowly; politics, so far from following in the wake of industrial progress, actually seems to retrograde; the conditions of its amelioration appear so uncertain, or are so generally ignored, that after decades of commotion and of revolution, France, for instance, is still in search of a form of government which will be able, without the imposition of too heavy taxes, to fairly guarantee its freedom and protection.


—It is here that human intelligence has to contend not only against forces which bend to its service from the moment their secrets are discovered, but against passion, against old prejudices propped up by vanity, against interests founded on ignorance and injustice. These obstacles, however, are not insurmountable; and although they may be able to retard the progress of political or economic order, they can not stop that progress, for the truths of this order, as they become better known, derive very great support from all interests suffering unjustly, while time inevitably weakens everything founded on error or iniquity.


—The political reform of the greatest consequence and the one most earnestly demanded by the requirements of the age will consist, if not entirely doing away with, at least in greatly lessening the standing armies maintained by the nations of Europe. We venture to assert that this reform will take effect in the near future, however opposed by the ambition of certain classes, and the pusillanimity of others. It seems to us impossible that Europe, industrious and civilized Europe, can for any length of time persist in that strange policy, which, spite of the evident wishes of its citizens to avoid all international warfare, and notwithstanding the effective peace of thirty years which preceded the revolutionary crisis of 1848, has compelled them to maintain both land and sea armaments more extensive and more ruinous than they had ever been before.


—It is now some time since enlightened men of the United States, of England, of Germany, and of France exerted themselves to give practical effect to the idea of extirpating this cause of ruin and misery which, everywhere diametrically opposed to industrial pursuits, renders almost null the most brilliant and most fruitful discoveries for the bettering the condition of the masses. The idea of the Abbé de Saint Pierre, considered chimerical by many, that of substituting arbitration for brute force in great international questions, obtained in England such a number of supporters as to induce Mr. Cobden, the famous leader of the free trade party, to believe it possible to successfully bring the subject before the house of commons. In a session of parliament he made a motion tending to commit the English government to the policy advocated by the Abbé de St. Pierre; and this motion, notwithstanding its somewhat unusual and eccentric nature, was supported by seventy-nine votes. If one reflects upon the determination that the English have ever evinced in the matter of reforms, of which they have once felt the propriety or usefulness; if we will but call to mind what obstacles, apparently insurmountable, have been overcome by the agitators of the abolition of slavery, the changes effected in the system of promotion, in the old laws of navigation, etc., we can not but hope that a new idea which in its very incipiency obtained 79 adherents in the national parliament, is destined to triumph in a future not far off; and if the English government some day joins sides and co-operates with the advocates of this measure, and furthers their salutary wishes with that immense influence which it exerts in Europe and the world over, the system of great standing armies will indeed be near its dissolution.


—It will most probably be in France that this great reform will meet with the greatest opposition. The French people are as a class imbued with what is called "the military spirit," which is nothing else than a spirit of silly vanity, with a touch of aversion for useful labor. It appears as if the French were to make good the prediction of Montesquieu: "The military of France will be its ruin." However, the French working classes begin to understand that this military spirit is one of the causes which have most impeded the amelioration of their condition. They are still, indeed, imbued with a large amount of national vanity. The words: "preëminence, supremacy of France," still sway their minds a great deal too much, and they are only too easily governed by the notion that it becomes them to dictate the destinies of other nations; but they no longer admit the right of maintaining at their expense, in times of peace, of from 400,000 to 500,000 men. This agency of ruin now finds its only supports in those directly interested in its continued existence, and in the exaggerated fears of an influential but relatively small portion of the population. Even in France then we may look for the growth and spread of the principle which seeks to deliver the nations of Europe from the greatest part of the burden imposed upon them by their standing armies. Now one of the most efficacious methods of accelerating the progress of this principle, is to keep constantly before the public eye a statement of the enormous sacrifices required for the maintenance of large armies.


—Among the number of economists who have busied themselves with the nature and formation of forces necessary for purposes of national defense and to the maintenance of state government, Adam Smith is, as far as we know, the only one who considered a standing army preferable to a national militia force. According to him the civilization of a country could not be perpetuated or preserved long without a standing army. This opinion he dwells upon at length in the first chapter of the 5th book of his "Wealth of Nations," but his statements indicate that he based his opinions on a social condition of affairs which has long ceased to prevail among the states of Europe. We can judge of this from the following extract: "When a civilized nation depends for its defense upon a militia, it is at all times exposed to be conquered by any barbarous nation which happens to be in its neighborhood. The frequent conquests of all the civilized countries in Asia by the Tartars, sufficiently demonstrates the natural superiority which the militia of a barbarous has over that of a civilized nation. A well regulated standing army is superior to every militia. Such an army, as it can best be maintained by an opulent and civilized nation, can alone defend such a nation against the invasion of a poor and barbarous neighbor. It is only by means of a standing army, therefore, that the civilization of any country can be perpetuated, or even preserved for any considerable time."


—J. B. Say thinks, that far from protecting national independence, a great military establishment is that which compromises it the most, by reason of the aggressive tendencies which it incites among those who have the control of it. "England," he says, "would not have interfered with the intrigues of all Europe, if she had not been possessed of great fleets which she could send out in all directions; and Napoleon, if he had not had at his command the bravest and the best drilled troops of the world, would have directed his ambition toward ameliorating the affairs of France." In this way, the very existence of large armaments incite to war; and war always brings about, in the end, cruel retaliation on those who provoked it. "The ambassadors of Louis XIV.," adds J. B. Say, "at the congress of Gertruydenberg were obliged to be silent spectators at the deliberations concerning their master's fate." England, in its war with America, was compelled to surrender its sovereignty over the colonies, and, later on, it was her insular position alone that saved her from threatened invasion. Bonaparte, with a better army than that of any other nation, suffered a more signal defeat than all others. Everywhere the more formidable the army, the more inevitably has it been the cause of war and all its attendant evils. There is not one that has ever saved its country from invasion. J. B. Say further considers whether, in the present condition of Europe, militia forces would be sufficient to preserve the independence of the individual states, and relying upon the opinion of experienced military men, such as Guibert, Lieutenant General Tarayre and others, he decides the question in the affirmative; only, he thinks that for the military corps which require an intricate course of instruction, as the engineers, the artillery and the cavalry, which could not be formed at a moment's notice, permanent provision must be made, but only to such an extent as a purely defensive system may demand. He shows how the maintenance of large naval forces, usually justified on the grounds of protecting and extending commerce, is ruinous to nations, and how little, in reality, they contribute to the extension of commerce. The fact of England's great commerce proves nothing in favor of the excessive increase of its marine service, for its commerce would be quite as great without this appendage. "Is it with sword in hand," asks Say, "that business is successfully transacted? The reason that England can sell her wares as well in the Archipelago, as in the East, and in America, both north and south, is because she understands how to manufacture those things which the consumers of those various countries require, and can make them cheap. Her cannon has nothing to do with it." (J B. Say, Cours Complet, vol. ii. pp. 280-297.). The maritime commerce of the United States is next to that of England the most extensive, and will probably soon equal and even surpass it, and yet the naval power of that great republic is one of the least important. As regards the naval service of France, we can not do better than quote from the excellent remarks on the subject by Mons. Bastiat: "Is a powerful naval service not necessary, it is asked, in order to open up to our commerce new foreign markets? Truly the measures of government in respect to commerce are singular! It begins by flattering it, impeding it, restraining it, and that at enormous expense; then, if any small portion of it has escaped its vigilance, at once government is seized with a tender solicitude for the petty articles which have successfully eluded the meshes of the custom house. We wish to protect our merchants, it is said, and for that reason we exact another 150 millions from the people, in order to cover the seas with armed vessels. But, in the first place, ninety-nine hundreths of the commerce of France is with countries where our flag-ships have never yet, and never will be seen. Have we naval stations in England, or in the United States, in Belgium, in Spain, in the Zollverein, or in Russia? And so we are taxed more in francs than we will ever possibly gain in centimes from the trade of those places.


—Moreover, what is it that establishes new channels of commerce? One thing alone, viz.: cheapness. Send where you will goods which cost five or six cents more than like goods of English or Scotch manufacture, neither your ships nor your cannon will effect a sale of them for you. Send thither products five or six cents cheaper, and you will have no need of either cannon or ships to enable you to dispose of them. Is it not a fact, that Switzerland, with not even a brigantine, unless it be on its lakes, has driven from Gibraltar itself certain qualities of English goods, and this spite of the guard ever at its gates? If then cheapness be the sure protector of commerce, in what manner is it that our government sets about to take advantage of it? In the first place, it raises, by its tariff, the price of raw material, of all the instruments of labor, of all articles of consumption; and in the next place, under the pretext of sending out vessels in search of new channels of commerce, it overburdens us with taxes. It is stupidity, the grossest stupidity; and the time is not far off when it will be said of us: The French people of the 19th century had strange systems of commerce, but they ought at least to have refrained from believing themselves to have already reached the epoch of universal knowledge. A very able German author, Mr. Rotteck, published, in 1816, an important work entitled, "Standing Armies and National Militia." He proves, from the history of all wars, from those of the most ancient peoples down to the termination of the wars of 1815, that standing armies, or paid troops, under the sole control of their officers, and knowing no duty but toward them, have never served except to destroy the liberty of nations, and that the liberty and independence of subject peoples has been regained only by its citizen soldiery. "When France had to defend its liberty against the allied sovereigns," he says, "it was the citizen soldiery, mere raw recruits, who effected the triumph of the revolution, and later it was the militia of the Germans, that restored the independence of their fatherland." Mr. Rotteck in that work lays special stress on the mischievous influence of a standing army upon the morals of a people, particularly as it weakens among all classes of citizens the feeling of responsibility, by habituating them to rely upon others for the defense of their dearest interests, and tends but to relax those bonds of solidarity which would otherwise exist.


—"A nation," says Mr. Rotteck, "which surrenders the defense of its liberties to any special class, becomes cowardly and incapable of opposing the most unjust aggression."


—The same thought has been elaborated by an eminent French author. "What innumerable pretexts for war do you not cultivate by the creation of an army of which each member has a career to work out, and in which war is the primary, the only means of success! And the existence of an army of this nature is rendered the more serious, as it is almost impossible to change its tendency, inasmuch as it is not to be expected that men will willingly remain stationary in a profession once embraced as the business of life. * * * Let us add that if such an army by its natural bent is ever ready to compromise our safety, it compromises that safety still more by the extreme weakness to which it reduces us. While it increases our dangers, it at the same time paralyzes the greatest part of our national strength. It dwarfs the nation; it reduces it, in a certain sense, to the size of the army. France, in relation to her enemies, is no longer a people of 30 millions; she is a power of three hundred thousand men. All her strength is inventoried in the roll call of her troops. Beyond this, one sees but a sparse population, inactive, feeble in proportion as the army is strong; and, as they believe themselves, exempt from the necessity of self-defense. * * * * * Is such an army the best guarantee of our liberties? In order to determine this question, it is sufficient to consider what there is in common between the interests of liberty and the interests of the army as established by the law of enlistment. That law, as we have said, makes a profession of the military service. Are the interests of that profession compatible with those of liberty? Is it possible that the army should prosper, and at the same time that liberty should flourish? The profession of arms flourishes in times of war, liberty in times of peace. The army flourishes by the tribute it exacts, and liberty by labor. The greatest interest of liberty is to curtail power, while to extend it is of the greatest importance to the army. One of the chief interests of the army is to yield nothing to the spirit of reform, because, were this desire for reformation to prevail, it might extend even to the army itself. * * * * * It is evident that as regards liberty and the profession of arms there exists no conditions of mutual welfare, that the very reverse is the case, and that members of the army, professional soldiers, as such, far from having the interests of liberty to defend, have but the interests of despotism to maintain. It might be true, undoubtedly, that an army such as ours would not lend itself to the maintenance of despotism; but this is rather a disposition we could wish it to have, than one we can do it the honor of attributing to its nature."


—It has been frequently urged that militia or a national guard would never acquire that disposition and those habits of discipline which constitute the strength of standing armies; but this assertion, which has some foundation, perhaps, in the case of the militia of those states which have for a long time past maintained great standing armies, and the militia of which, consequently, is almost reduced to a service of parade, is not at all applicable to the militia which constitute the sole defensive force of their country. The militia of Switzerland have often enough proved that they could sustain the fight against the best troops, and as much can be said of those of the United States. There is nothing that appears to us more instructive and more fit to shake the prejudices prevailing on the subject with which we are engaged than the testimony which we are about to adduce. It is taken from the message addressed to the congress of the Union in December, 1848, by president Polk:—"One of the most important results of the war into which we were recently forced with a neighboring nation, is the demonstration it has afforded of the military strength of our country. Before the late war with Mexico. European and other foreign powers entertained imperfect and erroneous views of our physical strength as a nation, and of our ability to prosecute war, and especially a war waged out of our own country. They saw that our standing army on the peace establishment did not exceed 10,000 men. Accustomed themselves to maintain in peace large standing armies for the protection of thrones against their own subjects, as well as against foreign enemies, they had not conceived that it was possible for a nation without such an army, well disciplined and of long service, to wage war successfully. They held in low repute our militia, and were far from regarding them as an effective force, unless it might be for temporary defensive operations when invaded on our own soil. The events of the late war with Mexico have not only undeceived them, but have removed erroneous impressions which prevailed to some extent even among a portion of our own countrymen. That war has demonstrated, that upon the breaking out of hostilities not anticipated, and for which no previous preparation had been made a volunteer army of citizen-soldiers equal to veteran troops, and in numbers equal to any emergency, can in a short period be brought into the field. Unlike what would have occurred in any other country, we were under no necessity of resorting to drafts or conscriptions. On the contrary, such was the number of volunteers who patriotically tendered their services, that the chief difficulty was in making selections and determining who should be disappointed and compelled to remain at home. Our citizen-soldiers are unlike those drawn from the population of any other country. They are composed indiscriminately of all professions and pursuits: of farmers, lawyers physicians, merchants, manufacturers, mechanics, and laborers; and this, not only among the officers but the private soldiers in the ranks. Our citizen-soldiers are unlike those of any other country in other respects. They are armed, and have been accustomed from their youth up to handle and use fire-arms; and a large proportion of them, especially in the western and more newly-settled states, are expert marksmen. They are men who have a reputation to maintain at home by their good conduct in the field. They are intelligent, and there is an individuality of character which is found in the ranks of no other army. In battle, each private man, as well as every officer, fights not only for his country, but for glory and distinction among his fellow-citizens, when he shall return to civil life."


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