MODIFICATION OF THE PURCHASE SYSTEM.
Sin DE LACY EVANS has moved his resolution for an address to the Crown praying her Majesty to effect the gradual reduction of the system of buying and selling commissions in the Army, and to substitute therefore a mixed system of seniority and selection. As we ventured to anticipate early in February, Mr. Sidney Her- bert has agreed to draw up a scheme taking the rank of Lieu- tenant-Colonel out of the list of pnrchaseable 'offices, and making it the duty of the Commander-in-chief to promote officers to the command of Regiments by selection. We cannot complain that he does not carry the limitation of the market lower in the scale of rank. It is quite enough for the present that the articles supplied to the great military exchange will not include that of Lieutenant-Colonel. We may very well go on with the existing system, thus materially. modified, until the pressure of fact and of argument, and of opinion, the result of these two forces, impels some future Minister of iirar to go a step further. We should have heen better pleased had the limitation been carried below the rank of Major, or had the rank of Major been abolished. But what is to be done is intended to remove the abuses and scandals of a bad system ; and in good time we shall come to the abolition of the system itself. Any defence of it on principle has long been abandoned. Another outwork is now to be surrendered. We are content to leave the rest to time.
The debate on the motion of Sir De Lacy Evans—the division was of no importance as an indication of the opinion of the House —will produce very opposite feelings. Men of the old school, like Mr. Ellice, who has himself known the pleasant feel of red-tape, will be shocked at the proposed change. They tell us that we should abolish the system or not touch it. They might as well say that we should have perfect free trade with France or none at all; that we should not touch the franchise or else have recourse to universal suffrage ; that we should either leave an oppressive tax alone or abolish it altogether. This is sheer revolutionary principle. It is the argument of all men who demand sweeping changes and refuse compromises or modifications, as well as of those, apparently, who object to any changes at all ; and it is a principle the contrary of that upon which we have always pro- ceeded in England,—that of reforming without revolutionizing our institutions. And certainly, in dealing with a question so complicated and difficult as this of buying and selling offices in the Army—a thing bad in its inception, but endured on. ac- count of its age—we should proceed by loppino- off abuses, and preparing the way for eventual abolition by limiting the field in which evil disports itself. Nor is the argument that selection is impracticable, because it throws a heavy burden and great re- sponsibility upon the Commander-in-chief, more tenable than the argument that we must make an entire change or none at all. Is the Army a club that a Commander-in-chief must make things pleasant, and pass over fitness to promote mediocrity, lest all the fellow me- diocrities cry out upon him ? Nothing is more notorious than this ; that while all men are tolerably good up to a certain rank, all are not good when thrust beyond it. As one man may be a good workman and a bad foreman, and another man a good foreman but a bad master, so a gentleman may be a good Captain, and a bad Lieute- nant-Colonel, or a good Lieutenant-Colonel and a poor brigade or divisional commander. Offices of great trust and responsibility demand officers possessed of ability proportionate to the trust. You cannot get them by routine. Money is a good rough test of many things, but a bad rough test of soldiership. A Commander- in-Chief who shrinks from selecting regimental commanders, lacks one of the most essential qualifications of a Commander-in-Chief —moral courage; while a Commander-in-chief who cannot se- lect, lacks an equally essential qualification—sound judgment. These may be arguments against a Commander-in-chief, but they are not arguments against the duty or practicability of selection. We are glad to see that Mr. Sidney Herbert stands firmly by the conclusion he arrived at after the investigation by the Duke of Somerset's commission, and that he has at length determined to reduce it to practice.
Some of the arguments of the young-old school—the Leicester Vernons and Percy Herberts—are far sounder than those we have just examined. To abolish the purchase system without pro- viding some artificial means of stimulating promotion, would be more injurious than to continue it. Upon the adequate solution of that question the duration of the purchase system will, in a great measure, depend. We quite agree with Mr. Sidney Herbert that if the purchase system were abolished, the officers of the army would still come from pretty much the same classes ; with this qualification that there would be a sprinkling of young men of no means or small means lured into the army by pure military tastes and instincts. That class is shut out now. There is no inducement leading a superior class of young men to enter the ranks, to endure all inconveniences and serve up to a commission ; because, the moment they leave the ranks, their promotion depends not on iheir exertions or military ability, but on the possession of money. The low pay of an officer is also an argument against abolition ; but while there are many who seek opportunities of making money before all things, there are still some left among
us who value higher things, and are willing to take position, reputation, and a career suited to their dispositions, in lieu of high pay ; and many of these would enter the army in spite of the low pay, if there were any avenues to promotion besides those closed to all except the possessors of the golden key. Nor must we forget that the chance of obtaining one, of the high prizes to be found in Staff employments would alone induce
ambitious and capable, but poor men, to forego mere money making, in exchange for distinction and competence.