Speech on the motion to recruit forces: 1705

Pages 120-122

The History and Proceedings of the House of Commons: Volume 5, 1713-1714. Originally published by Chandler, London, 1742.

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During the second Session of this Parliament, a very remarkable Bill was brought into the House of Commons, for Recruiting her Majesty's Land Forces, by obliging the several Parishes, or Corporations in England, to furnish a certain Number of Men. This Project was set on Foot, and promoted by some Courtiers, who thereby endeavour'd to curry Favour with the Duke of Marlborough; but being a Copy of what is practised in France, and other Despotic Governments, the Bill was dropp'd. Upon this Occasion an eminent Member made a Speech, that deserves to be preserv'd to Posterity, and is as follows:

Mr. Speaker,

'The fatal Consequences of all Arbitrary Power, are generally Oppression and Slavery, which dismal Effects are the same, whether they be felt under an English, French, Dutch, or Spanish Government; for the Nature of all Tyranny, in itself, is alike, let it be exercised where, and by what Authority soever: But if there be any Difference in the Grievance of it, it will appear to be most unnatural, when used and settled by a Power, that ought to be the strongest Bulwark against: If, therefore, the Liberty of the Subject be restrained, forced, and taken away, by consent of the People's Representatives, the Guardians of it, the Loss of it will certainly seem to be so much the more intolerable, by how much the more it is their Duty, and their Interest, to defend and preserve the People's Rights, entire from all Violence.

'Under every free and just Government, the People enjoy an equal Right in the Liberty of their Persons and Estates, and have one and the same common Benefit of the same Law; where, and to whomsoever this Justice is denied, I am sure, the People must-fall under the heaviest Tyranny, Oppression, and Slavery in the World.

'That this Bill, as now brought into the House, does restrain and deprive the much greater, and more industrious Part of the People, of that Freedom and Property, which the rest of their Fellow-Subjects enjoy, is very plain and evident by the Exceptions of such Persons as are only exempted from being forced from their Country, their Wives and their Children, into Foreign Service: The Persons only exempted, I find, are Clergymen, the Scholars of the Two Universities, the Students of the Inns of Court, all Free-holder, and Copy holders, and their Sons, that have Land to the Yearly Value of —or that did pay to the late Subsidy Act; all Electors and Voters for any County, City or Borough; so that all Apprentices and Servants, all Graziers, Farmers, Labourers, and all other Persons whatsoever, not exempted by the Qualifications above specified, (which extend not to one Third of the People of England) are liable to be banish'd their Country, and forced from their Masters and their Families, without any Limitation of Time, and almost Hopes of Return; whilst every small Free-holder, and Copy-holder, every corrupt Voter and Elector of any City or Borough, (of whom a great Number might, of all People, be the best spared) shall stay at Home, in Luxury, Sloth, and all the other Crimes that attend our Elections; so that the best Consequence that can be expected of this Bill will be, that all Cities and Boroughs will be crowded with the most idle Persons of the Country, who are able at any Rate, or by any Way, to make themselves Voters, in order to exempt themselves from the Fatigue and Danger of War; and the Country, by this Means, will be drain'd and depriv'd of Servants, Farmers and Labourers, who are the most laborious and necessary Persons of the Commonwealth, to till and cultivate the Land.

'It is impossible, Mr. Speaker, to foresee all the fatal Consequences of this Bill. One of the greatest Shocks that ever happen'd to the Roman State, was from their Slaves, who took up Arms to recover the Liberty of their Persons. The Rebellion of Naples, and several other dangerous popular Insurrections, both in our own and neighbouring States, have been the Effects of less Causes: How can it then be thought, that Free-born Englishmen, without the least Accusation, or Suspicion of a Crime, will patiently endure to be condemn'd to Death, or perpetual Slavery?

'Lucius Manlius, the Dictator, having, contrary to the Custom of the Romans, from the Foundation of their State to his Time, caus'd some Persons to be whipp'd, and others to be imprison'd, for refusing to list themselves, was accus'd before the People, as guilty of the highest Crime, and had certainly suffer'd Death, or some other exemplary Punishment, but that his Son, going privately arm'd to the Tribune of the People, threatned, and resolv'd his Death, 'till the Tribune was forc'd solemnly to swear he would drop the Accusation.

'The Usage of the Soldiers has been very hard and severe, and this Bill will certainly make it worse; for what Concern can it be thought the Officers will have for their Men, when they are sensible they must be supply'd by the Country, without any Charge or Trouble to themselves? I must here take Notice, that this great Oppression is not restrain'd only to recruit her Majesty's Army in the Netherlands, but her Forces in general; so that Persons thus constrain'd may be sent into either of the Indies as well as into the Low-Countries. A Hardship beyond Expression! In my Opinion, Mr. Speaker, this is a ready Way to depopulate the Land, to sell the Lives of our Subjects, and to establish and confirm, or at least promote, the Sale of them, both at Home and Abroad, by a Law in which there is not any Strain of popular Applause.

'It was generally expected, that at least the Design of this Bill should have been specious and plausible; that it should only have rid and eased the Country of loose, idle and disorderly Persons, who are a Pest and Burthen to a Common-wealth; but had due Care been taken to put so fair a Gloss upon it, I am afraid it would have proved in the End as false, and as fatal to us, as the Justice of the Lacedemonians did to the Athenians, who, after the Reduction of Athens under their Power, first began to put to Death only such Persons as were obnoxious to the People; but after the Establishment of their Tyranny, the best of the Citizens suffer'd, and were executed with the rest. This also was Sylla's Maxim, when he had subdu'd the Liberty of Rome. Damasippus, a cruel Favourer of Marius, was thought to suffer as a worthy Example of his Justice, and his Death was attended with the loud Applause and Acclamations of the People: But it was soon found, that this Punishment was only a specious Pretence, and a plausible Beginning to that succeeding Slaughter, with which he fill'd the Senate and the Forum. The Promoters of this Bill, Mr. Speaker, are not Masters of such refin'd Politicks; they have not endeavour'd to conceal, or put any Colour upon their Intentions, but have at once discover'd what they always in their Hearts design'd should be the Practices of it, when obtain'd, upon what Pretence soever.

'The Difficulties of proportioning the Number each County or Parish is to find, as well as where to lodge the coercive Power, are so many, and so great, that they seem to be almost insuperable; so that I shall not enter into those Particulars, but agree with the Sentiments of this House upon another Occasion, That the promoting the Interest of this Bill, in general, does directly tend to subject the Rights of the Commons of England to an Illegal and Arbitrary Power; and therefore desire, that it may be left to be the Act of a more Arbitrary King or Queen, and a more servile House of Commons.'