« PreviousContinue »
the passing of this bill be real or imaginary, is a question that may certainly admit of some dispute: but there is a maxim that never was yet disputed, and that is the maxim often repeated by our best lawyers and greatest patriots• Nolumus leges Angliæ mutari '; for it has always been allowed, that no new law ought to be introduced, unless there appear to be a very manifest defect in the old, and a defect which is attended with some public inconvenience of a very pernicious nature.
To imagine that any human regulation can be so perfect as to be attended by no inconveniences, is surely chimerical; and human foresight is so short, that it is impossible for us to see all the inconveniences which an alteration of any standing law may be attended with. We should not therefore fly to alterations and what we may call amendments, upon every little inconvenience that may arise ; for if we did, we should every session be altering the whole body of our laws; and very probably, like the tinkers, where we mended one hole, we should make two: where we removed an old inconvenience, we should introduce two new ones, which has so often been the case, that in a conversation about mending the law, a very learned and experienced judge now deceased, gave it as his opinion, that the best way to amend the law, would be to repeal all the laws that had been made for one hundred
years past. Now, sir, before we agree to the passing of this bill into a law, I should be glad to know what inconvenience there is, either of a public or a private nature, in detaining a listed soldier in the service, until his Majesty should think fit to disband the regiment, or his officer should think fit to grant him his discharge? As to the public, I am sure it is, instead of an inconvenience, a very signal advantage; for in case of a war, it is surely better for the public to be served by veterans, or well disciplined soldiers, than by men newly listed, and quite ignorant of any
sort of military discipline. And as to private men, I shall grant it is an inconvenience for a man to be bound to the performance of any contract he makes : but for that reason, I hope you would not make a law for rendering all contracts made, or to be made, invalid, unless both parties are willing to perform the same ; for such a law would put an end to all commerce and intercourse among mankind, and consequently would be a greater inconvenience to every private man, than that which arises from the law as it stands at present: and I can see no reason why a listed soldier should not be bound to the performance of the contract he enters into by listing, as well as to that of any other contract he makes; for as the law now stands, no one can say he is drawn
into it by his own rashness, or by any trick in the person that lists him, because he has four days to consider and avoid what he has done, which is more than is allowed with regard to any other contract, not excepting that of marriage, which is a contract for life, as well as that of listing for a soldier. The bill now before us cannot therefore be founded upon any known inconvenience in the law military, as it now stands, but must rest wholly upon the advantages expected from it; and there is a very strong argument from experience, against our having any imputation of that kind; for if giving our soldiers a right to demand their discharge after ten years' service, could make recruiting easier, or increase the number of disciplined men in the kingdom, surely the giving them a right to demand their discharge after three years' service, would have a much greater effect in both these respects; yet I never heard that the law made for the purpose, after the peace of Utrecht, was attended with any of those advantages in the least degree. From hence, I think, I am well founded in supposing, that as to both these advantages, the bill would have no effect at all; and as far as I can recollect, these two are the only advantages which the promoters of this bill expect from it. But besides being founded upon experience, my supposition is likewise
upon the nature of mankind; for what is it that induces a man to enlist in the army? It is generally either his natural disposition, or some misfortune he has met with in his place of birth or residence; and let it be which of them you will, the same cause that made him enlist, will make him continue in the army as long as he can, unless he meets with some extraordinary good fortune, such as a rich wife, large legacy, or the like; so that even this bill passed into law, as it would produce no alteration in the nature of mankind, recruiting would remain as difficult and expensive as it is now. Few of those once listed, would ever demand their discharge, or make room for others to enlist, as long as there appeared no likelihood of a war; consequently we should never, by such a bill as this, have more disciplined men in the kingdom than we have at present.
“I therefore think it evident, that this bill, should it be passed into a law, could produce no one good effect; but might, nay, I think it would certainly produce several bad effects; for either the colonel of every regiment must dismiss every man in his regiment as soon as his time of service was expired, or he could never depend, so much as for one day, upon having his regiment complete; and the soldiers would be every day changing from regiment to regi
ment, or from company to company. I do not say they would leave the army ; but whenever a soldier, whose time was expired, took a dislike to his captain, he would demand his discharge, go a rioting for a few days, and then enlist in another company, perhaps, of the same regiment. And if the soldiers of a regiment took a fancy that their major or adjutant was a little too severe, all such of them as had served out the time allotted by law, would demand their discharge and enlist in other regiments; nor can we suppose, that the officers of other regiments, who wanted recruits, would refuse to receive them ; for officers will always choose to have a disciplined, rather than an undisciplined man, because it saves them the trouble of teaching them their exercise ; and very probably, too, they might always have them at a cheaper rate than first recruits.
“ What a confusion this would occasion in our musters ! what a nonplus a colonel might be put to, when his regiment was just going to be reviewed, perhaps by his Sovereign, may easily be imagined; and this, I am sure, cannot be said to be a chimerical apprehension. Then, sir, with regard to the cloathing, can we suppose
soldier entitled to his discharge, would demand it with old regimentals upon his back ? No, sir, we may rest assured, that he would