Debate on a Standing Army, 1798-1800
[Excerpted from Great Debates in American History, Marion Mills Miller, ed, vol. 9 (New York: Current Literature Publishing Company, 1913), pp. 202-224]
During the strained relations between France and the United States in the closing years of the eighteenth century (Administration of John Adams) the party in power (Federalist) advocated a vigorous military and naval policy for the defense of the country.
In April, 1798, a bill was passed by the Senate to raise a provisional army of 20,000 men. Coming before the House on the 24th of the month it was vigorously opposed by the opposition (Republican).
ON THE PROVISIONAL ARMY
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, APRIL 2O-MAY 10, 1798
John Nicholas [Va.] opposed the first reading of the bill because of its principle; it transferred to the Executive the highest act of legislative power, the raising of an army which the President was to use at his pleasure.
If an army was necessary the legislature ought to raise it; but he did not think it was necessary at present. Indeed, when discussing the bill for providing a naval armament, gentlemen had said that members had been willing to make preparations for defense on the land, where there was no danger, but were unwilling to do it at sea, where the greatest might be expected. He did not believe there could be any necessity for going into a measure of this kind at the present session. In case of predatory attack the militia would be equal to repelling them. Mr. N. said he lived in a part of the country perhaps more defenceless than any other; but, so far as he or his constituents were concerned, he did not wish for a force of this kind. He was willing to confide for defense on the militia of the country.
Harrison Gray Otis [Mass.] was of opinion that the gentleman anticipated objections to the bill which did not lie against it; he seemed to suppose that it proposed raising a standing army.
It does no such thing; it only declares that, if existing circumstances shall make it necessary, then the President shall raise an army not exceeding a certain number of men. It may happen that the necessity may not exist; but the gentleman from Virginia must be able to fathom the intentions of France further than he could pretend to do, if he could say that no such necessity would exist. If what was said by the agents of that government to our envoys could be relied on, there was a direct threat to ravage our coasts. What is to prevent Victor Hugues [a San Domingo adventurer] sending over two or three frigates? It had been said that Hugues expected open war, and that he was ready for it. In short, it would be the most disgraceful conduct that ever was attempted in that House if the bill should be rejected without a second reading. It would be in vain to talk of unanimity if a bill from the Senate was to be treated in this way.
Albert Gallatin [Pa.] wondered that the gentleman from Massachusetts should be so greatly surprised at a motion of this kind, because, if he had attended to the rules of the House, he would have found that it was a course expressly prescribed by them. It had been acted upon before during this session. The principle, he said, was well understood. When a member disapproves of the principle of a bill altogether, and does not wish to go at all into a discussion of the detail, he moves to reject it before it goes to a second reading.
This bill goes to authorize the President to raise an army. He did not know what was meant by a provisional army. He did not find anything said in the Constitution of the United States relative to provisional armies, or of giving the President power to raise armies. He found mentioned there no other kind of defense than an army and militia. It says Congress shall raise and support an army, not provide for the raising of an army; but this bill is to enable the President of the United States to raise an army. The Constitution has declared that the raising of an army is placed in Congress, but this bill goes to declare that this power shall be vested by law in the President. That is the principle of the bill; and if Congress were once to admit the principle that they have a right to vest in the President powers placed in their hands by the Constitution that instrument would become a piece of blank paper. If it were to be admitted in one case, it would be admitted in another; and, if admitted in one department, it might be admitted in another. The power to raise taxes, he said, is contained in the same article of the Constitution which says Congress shall raise armies. And if they could delegate the power of raising an army to the President, why not do the same with respect to the power of raising taxes? He supposed the House would next hear of provisional taxes, to be raised if the President shall think fit. Mr. G., therefore, thought the principle inadmissible. If the circumstances of the Union required an army, let it be raised; if not, he wished to give no power to raise it--especially, as the President, if he saw necessity, could call Congress together, if he should find that the circumstances of the country required it.
Robert G. Harper [S. C.] believed, notwithstanding what had been advanced by the gentleman from Pennsylvania [Mr. Gallatin], that this was a very unprecedented measure; because, however prepared the House may be on some occasions, at the first blush of business, to decide upon the abstract principle, yet it was perfectly novel in their proceedings to reject a bill on its first reading, which contains such a variety of propositions, and which is capable of such a variety of modifications as the present.
Gentlemen say this bill ought to be rejected, because it is unconstitutional. Could gentlemen be serious in making this objection? Were troops ever raised in a different manner? And if they had the power to authorize the President to raise troops immediately they could certainly do it under such contingencies as they thought proper. Did not Congress intrust the President with the discretionary power of borrowing money, of, in some cases, fixing salaries, etc., which powers were equally vested in them with the power of raising armies; and this must be the case, except gentlemen insist that Congress should itself do all the acts committed to it; and, if so, they must always be in session.
But the gentleman from Pennsylvania says that if this power be delegated to the President Congress may as well intrust the President with the power of raising provisional taxes. He had no hesitation in saying that he believed this might be done; that the House might determine upon a tax, and authorize the collecting of it only in case the President should find it necessary, or in case a certain event should take place.
With respect, then, to the expediency of the measure--what is the internal and external state of this country? Do we not know that the enemy have in view a plan upon which they place great reliance--of gaining over to their cause a certain class of men, who abound in the Southern part of this country, and by whose means they intend to subjugate or destroy the country? We do know this--gentlemen from the Southern States know it; yet they say it is impossible to raise any regular force to repel the enemy. He could not believe that, when we had to meet an enemy who has always fought by means of domestic insurrection, who is now subverting the most ancient government in the world by these means, it would be consistent with any maxim of common sense to be unprepared for the worst.
What, said he, is our external situation? Do we not see the nation with whom we are at variance find quarrels with every country who is not strong enough to resist here Does she not injure us on every side? Do we not hear of depredatory threats, and the mischiefs she has the power of doing us, urged as reasons why we should submit to her? And yet, after being told of these designs, shall we sit with our arms folded and make no defense? For the measures already taken will be nothing without this. Fortifications would be nothing except supported by a sufficient number of infantry and cavalry.
What, he asked, is the situation of the West Indies? Were they not told that Victor Hugues, with 5,000 of his best troops, is ready to make a blow upon the Southern country whenever the word of command shall be given? They knew that these troops existed; they had been seen, and the desperate character of their leader was also known. Yet, with this enemy upon our threshold, within four or five days' sail of us, we still fold our arms and say we will make no defense.
When he reflected upon these things he could not help deploring that fatal blindness, that stubborn spirit of opposition, in certain gentlemen, which could hide from their view the danger of our present situation; that, at a period when the veil is rending from before the eyes of the community; when those who have been the most blind out-of-doors begin to see, that those gentlemen in this House who, from their ancient birth and fortunes, might be supposed to possess the true American spirit should still persist in their blind, their destructive, course was greatly to be lamented. And though he could not doubt the fate of this bill, yet that there should be a few men found supporting measures which tend directly to the destruction of the country he could not help lamenting.
Abraham Baldwin [Ga.] did not agree with the gentleman who had just sat down that the present motion was either unprecedented or improper. When it is proposed to make a law on any subject it presents itself to discussion on two grounds, the principles of the law and the details. The proper stages to debate the general principle on which the law is to be founded, by the rules of this House, are when it is proposed to introduce the law, and at the third reading, when it is considered as finished, and on its passage; the intermediate stages of the discussion are all supposed to be employed to settle and adjust the detail.
As to the principle of the bill, he must say it did not meet his approbation. If the House is convinced it is necessary to raise an army of twenty thousand men, as the bill now proposes, they ought to say so at once and let it be done; if they are not convinced that it is necessary the law ought not to pass, the army ought not to be raised till they are convinced it is necessary. The Constitution made the legislature the sole judge on this subject. The present bill says it is not necessary to raise this army now, but perhaps it may be before Congress meets again; it therefore proposes to transfer the right of judging on this subject to the Executive; he thought it a very improper transfer of legislative power. It has been said that all our troops are raised thus provisionally. If attention is paid to those laws it will be seen that they did not pass till the legislature was convinced that circumstances then required the troops to be raised; a clause is added that, if circumstances should alter so as to make the troops unnecessary, the President might forbear to raise, or discharge them; it gives him power to disband the army, but not to raise one.
John Rutledge, Jr. [S. C.] adduced, as in point, the law enabling the President to call out troops in consequence of the Western rising [the Whisky Insurrection], and that making provision for the effectual protection of the frontiers of the United States.
Joseph McDowell was in favor of the motion for rejecting the bill, as it contained two principles which he thought inadmissible; the first, because it delegated legislative power to the President; the other, as it respects volunteer corps. The first, he believed, would be unconstitutional, and the last would go to the destruction of the militia of the United States.
It was well known that it had been the wish of the late President, that it was also the wish of the present President, of the heads of departments, and many members of Congress, to increase our military establishment, and to fix a standing army in this country. It has heretofore, however, been opposed with success, except in time of war. If we were to be involved in war an army must be resorted to in aid of the militia; but, in the first instance, the militia might be depended upon as a sure and safe defense of this country.
Mr. Gallatin said: If our danger be, as it is represented, likely to come from Victor Hugues and his troops, from an insurrection of the negroes, from disaffected persons, from our enemy being at the door, it is the duty of Congress to raise an army themselves, and not to give the President the power of doing it; but if it is not believed that this representation of danger rests upon any specific ground, but that it is merely imaginary, then there is no necessity for giving the President the power, as he can call Congress together whenever he thinks proper.
If any danger was to be apprehended from the negroes they would be best suppressed by the people in the States where they are. A militia is everywhere; whereas a standing army may be very distant from any attack which may take place. A standing army in Virginia, for instance, would do little good against insurgents in South Carolina; and if an insurrection of that kind was not immediately suppressed by the people the mischief would be incalculable.
General Thomas Sumter [S. C.] closed the debate.
This favorite scheme of raising a standing army must be pushed forward by every aid of fact and fiction, and that its success may be insured the Southern members are to be terrified into its adoption.
Here General Sumter eulogized at length the bravery of the Southern militia during the revolution.
Knowing the ardor and firmness of the Southern militia, and not doubting but the militia of the several States in the Union possess equal motives for their exertions, equal spirit and activity, I cannot but rely on them as the natural and main support of our national independence--a support fully effectual without a recurrence to a standing army. The instances which
I have brought forward tend to show that the charges brought against the militia generally are as unfounded as they are cruel to their feelings; while, at the same time, they demonstrate that, if an invasion (which is a contingency by no means likely to happen) should actually take place, we may rely with confidence on the manly exertions of the militia to meet the attack, and to resist every effort, at least for such a period as until more effective aid shall be drawn down to their support, and more permanent measures adopted.
The bill passed on May 18 by a vote of 51 to 40.
Two years later, when negotiations for peace and amity were proceeding with France with high prospect of success, Mr. Nicholas brought forward a motion to reduce the army.
The chief supporters of the motion were: Mr. Gallatin, Robert Williams [N. C.], and John Randolph [Va.]; conspicuous among its opponents were: John Marshall [Va.], James A. Bayard, Sr. [Del.], General Henry Lee [Va.], Mr. Otis and Mr. Harper.
REDUCTION OF THE ARMY
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, JANUARY 1-11, 1800
Mr. Nicholas.--Sir, the finances of this country would be in an alarming state if all the present expenses were necessary, but my opinion is that they are not necessary, for that this additional army is in no wise useful. I cannot conceive for what they are wanted. The idea of invasion, the only ground upon which their necessity could be founded, is quite out of the question--an event of that sort in the present state of Europe is absolutely impossible.
I suppose very little will be said about the usefulness of the present army, but we shall hear more of the effects which a measure of this kind would have on the state of our negotiation in Europe. I suppose, therefore that the question will turn on the propriety of dismissing this army while our commissioners are treating, and therefore this view of the subject may merit a few remarks.
It is desirable, I should imagine, that at entering on a negotiation our country should be so situated as to be able to make a firm and obstinate stand against unjust demands. If this is a desirable situation, I ask gentlemen to say whether this army does not lessen, instead of increasing, our importance with that country to which we go to negotiate, when it is apparent to the world that for its support we borrow money of more than one half the amount of the revenue, and pay interest on that loan at an enormous rate. This being known, will it not operate as a strong ground for suspicion that you are forced to the negotiation from pecuniary considerations; that your present state of exertion is greater than you can bear for any length of time, and thus lessen your respectability with that nation? While it may hurry you to submit to terms less advantageous than could be wished, it may make the terms proposed for your acceptance harder than they would otherwise have been.
I do not hesitate to say if preference is due to one arm of the Government it is to our naval preparations for defense. Sir, if you part with one [the army], which has never proved useful, will you not be better enabled to keep up the other [the navy], which is certainly more favorable to your interest and local situation?
Mr. Marshall.--It has been urged, not only that the army is useless, but that there is in the United States a positive inability to maintain it. To prove this our revenue and expenditure have been stated. Suppose this had been the language of '75? Suppose, at the commencement of our Revolution, a gentleman had risen on the floor of Congress, to compare our revenues with our expenses--what would have been the result of the calculation'! Would not the same system of reasoning which the gentleman from Virginia has adopted have proved that our resources were totally inadequate to the prosecution of the war? Yet it was prosecuted, and with success. If vast exertions were then made to acquire independence, will not the same exertions be now made to maintain it? The question now is whether self-government and national liberty be worth the money which must be expended to preserve them.
The reduction of the army would certainly diminish the expense of the present year; but if it should have any operation on the existing negotiation with France the present saving it would produce would bear no proportion to the immense waste of blood, as well as treasure, which it might occasion us. To determine in what manner this measure might, and probably would, bear on the existing negotiation, it became indispensable to take into our view what had preceded the actual state of things between the United States and Entrance.
While prayers for peace were returned for indignities of every sort, while America was humbly supplicating for peace, and that her complaints might be heard, France spurned her contemptuously and refused to enter on a discussion of differences unless that discussion was preceded by a substantial surrender of the essential attributes of independence. America was at length goaded into resistance, and resolved on the system of defense of which the army now sought to be disbanded forms a part. Immediately the tone of France was changed, and she consented to treat us as an independent nation. What could have produced this change e Can any other motive be assigned than the defensive system which America had adopted If no other did exist is it wise immediately to change the system which has alone been effectual? Is it not to be apprehended that this change may revive those sentiments which existed before that system was adopted?
In a few months the fate of the present negotiations will be decided. Should they terminate favorably the army expires by the law which gave it being, and the additional expense to be incurred will be very inconsiderable. Should they fail, and the state of affairs then require even an augmentation of the existing force, the injury occasioned by our precipitation (in having reduced the army) might be very considerable.
Mr. Nicholas.--As usual, I fear that this wrong step (the establishment of a provisional army) will never be got over. Where is the end of it? In vain do we seek for it. The gentleman says that, on the moment of failure in the negotiation, an army may be crossing the ocean, and then we shall want these troops. Sir, this may occur at any period, and if we are never to disband our army, under apprehensions of that event, it will never be done, and our expense will be perpetual.
The gentleman considers this armament to be the measure which extorted the overtures from France. But this is not so. It is a little extraordinary that he should have ascribed an effort to a measure that existed previous to the knowledge of that measure; for the propositions, and the avowed willingness on the part of the Directory to meet our complaints by an honorable adjustment, were made known to our ministers in August, which was before the law of July, 1798, which created the army we wish should be disbanded, could have reached that nation.
Mr. Bayard said he could perceive in the resolution a connection with a system which had long been pursued by a party in the United States--a system which had for its object the debilitation and degradation of the general Government. A knowledge of the party and a knowledge of their views prevented any astonishment at the present measure they proposed. This measure he did not regard as a single operation. It was part of a general plan, which, if it were successful, would soon be unfolded.
The conduct of France in relation to this country had compelled the United States to adopt a system of defense. The nation had found that no reliance could be placed on the moderation or justice of the French Government. Their own energies were the only ground on which their independence could be maintained. They did not hesitate as to the alternative of defense or submission. Having resolved to resist the aggressions and pretensions of the French Government, they found themselves forced into a state of hostility. The commercial intercourse with France was suspended, the treaty of alliance was abolished, a navy was created for the protection of trade, and an army ordered to be raised. Our ships of war were instructed to seize and destroy the armed ships of the French Republic, and a war, though deprecated, was expected without dread. The national sentiment coincided with the temper of the Government, and its measures were approved and applauded. The system which was adopted was connected in its parts, and the objection which went to one part applied with equal force to the whole. The naval hostilities authorized against France rendered an army necessary against invasion from Europe or the islands, which might reasonably be expected.
If gentlemen now said an army was not necessary it must be because they thought the French Government was not hostile, but friendly. If they thought that government friendly, surely there could be no occasion for the navy. The same reason would induce us to revive the treaty with Prance and open the commercial intercourse.
We are told that in case of invasion an army is not necessary, because we can rely on the patriotism of the nation. Sir, said Mr. B., I am not insensible to the melody of the word, but I must doubt of the efficacy of one thing. There was a time when everybody understood what was meant by patriotism; it indicated an attachment to our country. But a modern patriot was a character not so well understood. Patriotism has become a furious spirit of revolution; the ties of blood, the inspirations of nature, the principles of truth and honor are consumed by the devouring flame. The natale solum had lost its charm. To be a patriot you must forget your country, abjure your religion, suppress the impulses of nature, and maintain the equality of vice and virtue. He knew there were a sect of patriots who attributed to themselves exclusive merit. Was it on these patriots the country was to rely in case of invasion?
Sir, said he, let the French come with their cap of liberty mounted on their standards, singing Ma try, planting liberty poles, and denouncing the Government as an aristocratical and British faction, and I fear you would see some patriots forgetting their country, and, under the ardent impression of their political fanaticism, ready to imbrue their hands in their brothers' blood. Revolution was not confined to politics--religion and morals were revolutionized. The sacred love of country, once ranked among the best principles of man's nature, was now shamefully sacrificed to the very sound of equality.
It is not from any view of a possible operation of the army against France that the disbanding could influence the negotiation, but from the impression such a measure would necessarily make on the French Government, as to the state of affairs in this country. If, after having raised an army against them, without any change of conduct on their part, they were to see us disband it, what would they infer? Either that extreme imbecility pervaded our councils, or that there was a want of means on the part of the Government to maintain a small military force. Or, perhaps they would make an inference still more, that those whom they called and supposed their party in this country had become more powerful than the Government. In either case they would perceive less difficulty in the accomplishment of any views which they had on the country than our plans of defense may have caused them to apprehend; and, of consequence, the inducements to an accommodation of differences would be diminished. It was a wise axiom in politics that a nation which would negotiate to advantage should be prepared to fight. The resolution was predicted on an opposite principle, and was repugnant to the plain evidences of experience and common sense.
Mr. Gallatin.--We are told by the gentleman from Delaware that the people of this country would pay fifty per cent. for money rather than submit to a foreign invasion. I admit that if the danger was imminent and real they would agree to pay anything. We do not conceive there would be any reluctance to pay taxes were such our situation, but, when it is not, it will be difficult to convince them of the propriety of additional taxation. Yet the confidence expressed by that gentleman in the willingness of the people to pay does not very well comport with another part of his argument, wherein he insinuated a want of confidence in a considerable part of the people, whom he supposes so far as even to wish that our Government should be overturned. In support of his opinion he alluded to several legislative declarations and official addresses and answers [the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions]. I am astonished at the palpable inconsistency of the gentleman--that the people would willingly pay fifty per cent. of their property for defense against an enemy, and yet no reliance is to be placed on those very people when the enemy comes!
We are, however, told that any increase of debt that may be created in consequence of our present situation is trifling in itself, and holds no proportion to the supposed increase of resources resulting from our growing population. But is this not a most extraordinary and novel mode of calculating, not on the present resources of the country, but on those which posterity may have? Are we then so sure that our posterity will have no dangers of their own to encounter, and no additional expenditures which will require every additional resource they may possess? Let us provide, out of our own resources, for our own wants, instead of mortgaging, not only our actual revenue, but even that which may hereafter be raised by posterity.
Gen. Lee.--Gentlemen say regular troops are not necessary: militia, of themselves, are an adequate defense. This I deny; and much as I wish to see our militia placed on a respectable footing, much as I count on their aid whenever danger approaches, yet I never can be brought to trust the defense of the country solely to them. The experience of the last war justifies the opinion. Look at the battle of Long Island--braver men on the part of America were never brought into action, but vain was their courage. The best blood of America was prodigally and ineffectually expended during the war for want of the aid to be derived from discipline and skill. See what the same sort of men did at the close of the war when properly trained. The battle of the Eutaws is a distinguished example of the effect of discipline on the American soldiery. But really it is trifling with the committee to press farther this truth; the history of man, from the beginning of the world to this day? throughout maintains the folly of placing the defense of a nation on what we call militia only: economy, too, forbids it. But, because we firmly maintain this truth, insinuations go forth inculcating a belief that we are inimical to the militia and friendly to a standing army. This is untrue and unwarranted by our declarations. We hold no such sentiments. We wish for the best and cheapest defence, and that we believe to consist of an adequate regular force. calculated for the occasion, and dismissed as soon as the object is answered; to be seconded by seasonable reinforcements from the militia.
But, says the honorable member, let us reduce the army and use the saving in augmentation of the navy. I very much respect this last establishment; I prefer it, and will always be ready to cherish and invigorate it, but not now, in the way suggested, nor at the expense of the army. Until we are assured of peace we must hold both, and I doubt not we shall hold both.
Mr. Nicholas.--The gentleman from Delaware [Mr.. Bayard] supposes the French Government will think that we are either too poor to bear the expense, that we are foolishly versatile, or that there is a party in our country to support their views. I wish the gentleman would prove that the rejection of the resolution would not have the effect to prove our foolishness in continuing a great needless expense. Sir, is a nation never to alter its course? Is it never to determine whether it has done right or wrong, and change its system? Is it to persevere in doing the very work of its enemy, and never to retrench an expense, though ever so extravagant?
Mr. R. Williams.--It is said that this army must be kept up for what may happen. I ask whether the same argument may not always hold good, with respect to any nation, between whom and us there may be but little friendship. When is the moment in which we might not be exposed to this danger? This argument will always apply to keep up a standing force in this country, greater than we ought to bear. When gentlemen use these arguments I take it for granted this is the force they mean to keep upon a permanent establishment, whatever name they may give it; for I can see no bounds to an argument of the kind, or line at which we are to stop; it goes, sir, too far to answer the purpose intended.
Mr. Randolph.--I oppose the establishment of a standing army in this country, not only as a useless and enormous expense, but upon the ground of the Constitution. The spirit of that instrument and the genius of a free people are equally hostile to this dangerous institution, which ought to be resorted to (if at all) only in extreme cases of difficulty and danger. Yet let it be remembered that usage, that immemorial custom, is paramount in every written obligation, and let us beware of ingrafting this abuse upon our Constitution. A people who mean to continue free must be prepared to meet danger in person; not to rely upon the fallacious protection of mercenary armies.
I am friendly to the resolution on your table, sir, on another ground. I believe that it will remove a considerable cause of irritation. The raising of these troops has had a deleterious effect upon the public temper. The military parade which meets the eye in almost every direction excites the gall of our citizens; they feel a just indignation at the sight of loungers, who live upon the public, who consume the fruits of their honest industry, under the pretext of protecting them from a foreign yoke. They put no confidence, sir, in the protection of a handful of ragamuffins; they know that when danger comes they must meet it, and they only ask arms at your hands. Gentlemen hake talked of organizing the militia; I call upon them to make good what they have said. Instead of reducing this force I could wish to see the whole of it, reprobated as it is by our citizens, abandoned, and the defense of the country placed in proper hands, those of the people.
Our citizens are confident in their strength; they know themselves to be capable of protecting their own property and liberties; they do not want their noses held to the grindstone to pay protectors; the surplusage of their labor they wish to employ in increasing their property, in providing for their offspring--that numerous and increasing population of which gentlemen have said so much; they do not wish to have money forced out of their pockets to pay hirelings, under the stale pretext of keeping off Entrench invasion.
Mr. Otis.--Sir, I would ask gentlemen what right the people of this country have to expect to escape the conflagration in which the other three-quarters of the globe are involved without some pains and expense to erect barriers against its destructive progress? Are we chosen by heaven to live in a sequestered corner of the world, exempt from the troubles and distresses of other nations, to grow rich by their spoils, and to fatten on their misfortunes, without any additional burdens? While the Old World is wasted by fire and sword, while cities are sacked and unpeopled, their fields made desolate, and their commerce destroyed, are we privileged to count in quiet the gains of the counting-house and the produce of our acres without deduction or alloy? Do we presume that the Atlantic will open and swallow up an invading army, as the host of Pharaoh was swallowed up in the Red Sea? Confident as I am in the justice of our cause, I do not expect the assistance of miracles for our protection. We must rely, under Heaven, upon the arm of flesh. If we do not, if we neglect to make necessary preparation against natural accidents, we may be overwhelmed in the common fate of those nations which, lulled into a delusive security, have lost their liberties and perished in the general wreck of the social union.
This very year, for aught we know, our liberties may be required at our hands. Sir, we are told that the present establishment shows an annual deficit of five millions of dollars. But suppose, for the sake of the argument, the calculation to be just and the establishment certainly necessary; what are five millions of dollars? Or suppose that the price of our safety and independence should be twenty, forty, or, if you please, eighty millions of dollars, in addition to the present debt. This, indeed, sir, is money--as M. Talleyrand observed--is a great deal of money; but money is cheaper than blood, it is less precious than honor. Who would hesitate between the evils of doubling the national debt or relinquishing the rights of an independent nation?
This alarm relative to standing armies has been at least rung a thousand times a year since the first British army was landed in this country; and, if the objection is well founded, it goes to the destruction of the old regiments as well as of the new, and we must have immediate recourse to militia for every ordinary object. That gentleman further contends that this country cannot be defended by a standing army, but requires a force raised by requisition. Wherein lies the difference between a standing army and a force raised for a limited time by requisition? The gentleman may distinguish the first by the hard names of ragamuffins and mercenaries, if he thinks proper, I shall not dispute with him about terms. Yet, why troops raised according to his ideas of requisition, who are to be organized, disciplined, and compelled into service, to receive pay and march wherever they are ordered, are less ragamuffins and mercenaries than troops raised in any other mode is for that gentleman to explain. Sir, far be it from me to question the importance of the great national resource, the militia. I well know they are the palladium of the country, the fund on which we must rely for soldiers and defense.
But I contend that militia in itself is calculated only for sudden emergencies. They will fight bravely while they continue in the field. - They will resist an invading army, but they will not endure a series of campaigns. I call on gentlemen to produce an instance wherein militia have been alone equal to cope with an army that had once got a footing in a country.
Mr. Harper.--On what do gentlemen rely when they say that France cannot invade this country? Do they rely on her want of troops? If so, let them remember that she found forty thousand men to send to Egypt. Do they rely on her having full employment for all her troops against the Austrians and Russians? Let them remember she may suddenly make peace with the Austrians and Russians, as she did with the Austrians in 1797; that such an event grows every day more probable; and should it take place she will have troops very fit for such an enterprise, and very ready to be employed in it. Do they rely on a want of ships? Let them remember that she found ships enough to transport forty thousand men to Egypt, and a fleet of thirteen sail-of-the-line to escort them, and that, having gained possession of the Spanish fleet, she has now a much greater naval force at her disposal than heretofore. Do they rely on the superior power of the British at sea, and on the vigilance of their fleets? Let them remember that when Bonaparte sailed from the ports of France on his Egyptian expedition he was watched by a superior British fleet, under the command of one of the ablest, most active, and most enterprising naval commanders that ever England could boast; that he eluded this fleet, arrived safe at Malta, and had time to conquer that important place before the British admiral could find out where :,he was, and come up with him; that he sailed from Malta, and, \ notwithstanding this fleet was in full pursuit of him, arrived in Egypt and made good his landing, without the least molestation; t hat his fleet might, after landing him, have returned safe to France, had not some unaccountable fatality induced the admiral who commanded it to remain for many days in a situation where it was exposed to the attack of the British. Do they rely, sir, on the distance? Let them remember that during our revolutionary war the French did find means, notwithstanding the distance and the naval superiority of England, to send fleets and armies to this country.
Sir, we must have a trained army to oppose this invasion. Where will be the reliance of this Government on the militia for the defense of the country if the militia, or considerable portions of them, should at length be induced, by the unceasing efforts which are employed, to regard the Government itself as their greatest enemy? Is there no danger that their efforts may be successful, Sir, I trust there is not. I have always relied on the good sense and prudence of the American people, and I have never yet been disappointed. But when we consider the greatness of the efforts, the increasing zeal with which they are renewed, the systematic form which they have assumed, and the hand whereby they are guided, can we say there is no danger of their success?
Shall I not speak of a most virulent manifesto [the Kentucky Resolutions] l lately issued by a legislature of this country against the Government of the United States, under the name of instructions, where the highest sanction is given to the vilest calumny, and the Administration is plainly charged with laboring for the introduction of monarchy? If these persons should at length succeed by dint of repeated calumnies in persuading the people of America, or even certain portions of them, that the Executive of the United States, the whole Administration, and a majority of both Houses of Congress are embarked in a scheme for the gradual introduction of monarchy, and are pushing it with might and main, at every favorable opportunity, and under every plausible pretext; I ask what reliance could be had on the aid of the people, in resisting invaders who should declare, as the French never fail to do, that they come to rescue the people from oppression, to subvert aristocracy, and establish true liberty? When we see these artifices practiced, with increasing industry, and more extensive combination, ought we not to retain, in case our quarrel with France should continue, some force that may be more perfectly relied on?
Mr. Randolph.--The gentleman from South Carolina [Mr. Harper] has talked of modern patriotism, which he evidently thinks to consist in declamation against public burdens and a devotion to France. When it is recollected that those against whom these insinuations were thrown were supposed to have been peculiarly friendly to the mission to Prance, and to be highly anxious for its success, while the opponents to the resolution exhibited a great coolness with regard to a compromise of differences with that republic, he trusted that the alarm with respect to the effect of the measure under discussion upon that negotiation would wear off.
Mr. R. said that, although this army had been ordered into existence so long, yet scarcely 4,000 men were raised; and, if the recruiting went on, it would take a year perhaps to fill the regiments. Would not this be a stronger proof to France of our debility than the disbanding of them, which would indicate only a prudent application of resources to proper objects. But, in fact, sir, this circumstance is a proof the most decisive of the inutility of this force. In spite of the system of alarm, and the cry of danger from French invasion, the good sense of the country still prevailed. Our people knew that there was no immediate danger, nor can they hear it in every breeze; they therefore refused to enter a service into which the indolent and worthless had been allured by the potent consideration of being clothed and fed at public expense. Would this tardiness to defend their country, sir, be exhibited were the danger imminent, as gentlemen had alleged? He cautioned the members of the House, particularly from the South, against lavishing, by the smallest estimate which had any pretension to correctness, at least two and a half millions, perhaps four, upon so worthless an object.
The committee now rose and reported their disagreement to the resolution.
The question was taken that the House do agree with the Committee of the Whole in their said disagreement, and resolved in the affirmative--yeas 60, nays 39.
RANDOLPH'S BREACH OF PRIVILEGE
The speech of Mr. Randolph rendered him obnoxious to the officers of the army, who objected to his epithets of "ragamuffins" and "mercenaries" applied to soldiers. Accordingly, a night or so afterwards certain of them insulted him publicly in a theater. Randolph seized the opportunity thus afforded, and wrote to the President an account of the incident, with incidental observations not at all complimentary to the policies of the Administration. He addressed the letter to " John Adams, President of the United States," without the customary title of "Your Excellency," and signed it, "Your fellow-citizen, John Randolph."
Mr. Adams sent the letter to the House, where the question of dealing with it as a "breach of privilege" was debated at great length, finally ending in a deadlock.