Sunday, May 12, 2013

"It is when public spirit is despised, and avarice, indolence, and effeminacy of manners predominate..."

   "An improvement in tactics, which gives advantages to the professed soldier who fights for conquest, over the citizen who bears arms only in the defence of his country, is, perhaps, to be regretted, and no alternative is left to the latter but to perfect himself in the same arts and discipline. lt is believed that there is no instance on record of a republic, whose citizens had been trained to the use of arms, having been conquered by a nation possessing a different form of government. Small republics have been overthrown by those which were more powerful; as Saguntum, destroyed by Carthage, and Numantia, by Rome. But it has been observed of those governments, that "their walls and towers became their funeral piles, leaving nothing to their conquerors but their ashes." The committee cannot conceive that any aspect, however pacific it may be, which the Governments of Europe may for the present have assumed towards this country, should he used as an argument to procrastinate, even for a day, any measure calculated to render their future hostility abortive. It cannot be believed that any real friendship can exist in the breast of the sovereigns of that continent for a Government which has been founded upon principles so opposite to theirs, and which, by the happiness it diffuses, affords an eternal satire and reproach upon their conduct. Whatever security there may be derived from their policy, none can certainly be expected from their forbearance; whenever, from a change of circumstances, they may think it proper to change their policy. The liberties of America must then be preserved, as they were won by the arms, the discipline, and the valor of her freeborn

   "But the defence of our country against a foreign enemy does not constitute the only (perhaps not the chief motive) of military improvements to the extent contemplated by the proposition we are considering. The safety of a republic depends as much upon the equality in the use of arms amongst its citizens, as upon the equality of rights. Nothing can be more dangerous in such a Government than to have a knowledge of the military art confined to a part of the people: for sooner or later that part will govern.

   "The effects of discipline possessed by a few, to control numbers without, is to be seen in all the despotic Governments of modern, as well as ancient times.

   "In general, however, the subjects of those despotic Governments, which preserve their authority by standing armies, are not allowed the use of arms; but the use of arms is not alone sufficient. A striking example of this is to be found in one of the Grecian republics: The Spartans were enabled, by the force of discipline alone, to keep in subjection for ages the Helots and other ancient inhabitants of Laconia. These men were not only allowed the use of arms, but upon almost every occasion formed the greater part of the Lacedemonian army: nor were they deficient in bravery. But they were not permitted to learn that admirable discipline which distinguished the oplites or heavy armed infantry of Sparta.

   "Another important consideration, urging the diffusion of a military spirit amongst our citizens, is the counterpoise it will afford to that inordinate desire of wealth which seems to have pervaded the whole nation, bringing with it habits of luxury, manners, and principles highly unfavorable to our republican institutions.

   "The first effect of this state of society is the substitution of a standing army for a national militia. Upon this subject the committee beg leave to make a quotation from the report of General Knox, corrected by President Washington. "It is," says the patriotic Secretary, "the introduction of vice and corruption of manners into the mass of the people that renders a standing army necessary. It is when public spirit is despised, and avarice, indolence, and effeminacy of manners predominate, and prevent the establishment of institutions which would elevate the minds of the youth in the paths of virtue and honor, that a standing army is formed and riveted forever." So true is the principle here contended for, that it is believed, that there is no instance in history of a nation losing its liberties where the military spirit of the people did not decline in the same proportion that the corruption of manners advanced. Nor was any free Government ever overturned by an internal convulsion, until the destruction of that spirit had been first reduced in the body of the people. It was not until the amusements of the theatre, the baths, and the public gardens, had superseded the exercises of the Campus Martius, that a Roman army dared to revolt against its country and with the power of the sword to substitute, for its free institutions, the arbitrary will of a dictator.

   "Eighty years before the successful usurpation of Caesar, the revolt of an army could have produced no such consequence. But the habits of the people had been changed. No longer in every Roman citizen was to be found a trained and practised soldier; the higher tactics were cultivated, indeed, with zeal and success by a martial nobility. No period had been more prolific of great generals. At none, had the discipline of the legions been so perfect, but they were no longer filled by citizens taking their routine of service. The military had become a distinct profession, composed of men who, in the habits of war and pillage, had forgotten the sacred obligations attached to their character as citizens, and who were ever as ready, upon the suggestion of their leader, to turn their arms against their country as the enemy whom they were raised to oppose.

   "As in every age, then, and in every country, the same causes will produce the same effects, the palladium of American liberty must be the diffusion of military discipline and a military spirit through the whole body of the people.

- Mr. Harrington, Jan. 17,1817, Report to the U.S. House of Representatives, 14th Congress, 2nd Session. No. 152 Reorganization of the Militia. 

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