OUR MILITIA AS IT IS AND AS IT OUGHT TO
BE. WHAT shall be done with the Militia ? The question smacks somewhat of irony, for at present we have no Militia. There are certain regiments raised as Militia which have been embodied and have acquired a proficiency entitling them to rank with some of the crack corps of the Line. There are certain disembodied re- giments called out at stated times to receive a paltry amount of training. But a Militia, in the old constitutional sense, that is something we have not. As a paper force, when a Minister wishes to parade the troops we could command for actual service, it makes a fine show. But the nominal array, far from representing the real state of things, is a pure deception. Those strong bat- talions have no existence. The real force, the force that comes out when it is called out, is fifty per cent below the nominal force. We are told we have 120,000 militiamen ; we have barely 60,000. The other half is here there, everywhere, but in the ranks. One regiment enrols 900 men ; at a moment of emergency 400 Men join the colours. Another regiment on paper musters 700 or SOO names ; on parade 206 answer to their names. A third has 1270 "on the books" ; embodied, the corps mustered 487 men. Never was there such a failure as this attempt to organize a British Militia.
The causes are not far to seek. They will be found partly in the fact that the service is voluntary ; partly in the system of en- rolment; partly in the practice of giving bounties ; and partly in the decay of public spirit in those whose business it should be to treat the subject seriously. As a matter of theory Lord Kings- down's dictum is perfectly sound=that every man in a free country should give his person as well as his purse in her de- fence. Practically we have got beyond such sound opinions into amore enlightened era, when the theory is that no man who can buy the services of another should stir a hand in defence of his country. We are told to depend solely on regular soldiers, who are paid to do the disagreeable work of guarding the national home ; that it is their business, and that having provided a sufficient number of hired lighters every man should go to sleep and fear not. Is it to be supposed that these exquisite notions have no influence on those classes who must supply the bulk of a militia force ? Hodge, the countryman, imbibes the virus and thinks that as he pays taxes he ought not to be called upon to offer his person in addition. Timothy, the townsman, is of the same opinion. Has he not read it in the speeches of the popular orators; and if the great millowner, the flourishing lawyer, or the Radical squire may hire out his fighting, why not Hodge and Timothy ? Thus the national spirit, that cheap defence of nations, is tainted at its source. As the service is voluntary, and, besides, not deemed very respectable by the pseudo-economists, Hodge and Timothy, respectable men, do not volunteer; and the consequence is that recruits in the main are picked up from what are called the "migratory classes." And verily they do migrate. "A man," says a Militia Colonel in giving evidence before the late Com- mission, " comes and is sworn in ; he takes his bounty and goes off—and you do not see him again." It has become a trade : men take the ten shillings in one regiment ; they are enrolled ; their names figure in the nominal return of the corps ; then they go to another regiment and play the part of Jeremy Diddler on a small scale over again. No doubt the uncertainty of the service, and the practice of recruiting any body a. surgeon will pass, increase the evil; but there must be something wrong in the system when half the men enrolled are engaged in this business of cheating the public. There are few means, sometimes none, of identifying a deserter. The staff officers who enrol him see him but a moment, and after they have handed him his ten shillings, he vanishes into thick darkness. When ordered to embody the regiment the unfortunate adjutant shrieks vainly into the dark after his men. It is like Owen Glendower calling for his spirits. Hotspur sug- gested they might net come, and in the case of the Militia they do not. Why should they ? Have they ever been inspired with the eoldierlike feeling ; have they ever been drilled or taught a soldier's duties ; has any kind of care been taken of them ? Not a whit. They take an oath and are paid ten shillings for taking it, and they repeat the profitable transaction as often as possible. What a miserable basis for the national defensive force of a great country ! An enrolment of the migratory classes effected by the temptation of a bounty—such is the foundation of the National Militia. It is literally building upon sand. But how is it to be changed ? Criticism is easy, reconstruction not so easy. We could do it at once by the Militia ballot, and seeing the ease of the thing it is no wonder that venerable states- men like Lord Stratford de Redeliffe and Lord Ellenborough, long
for the ballot. But the problem is to do it without the ballot, for in the present temper of the nation, the ballot, except in a real case of emergency, could not be enforced for a week. Without the ballot then the work must be done. Thus we must hold fast to the voluntary system ; but the voluntary system is impaired by the false teachings of those who tell us that a nation should de- fend itself, and maintain its position by hiring out the work. In this direction then lies one remedy. The false teaching should be shown to be false by those who have the knowledge and the in- fluence, and the old constitutional spirit should be revived by those who have the power to revive it, and Englishmen should once more be led back to the conviction that the defence of a free country rests upon every free man. That is the only sound basis for a genuine National Militia. It matters not whether the youth of the country learn their duties as its defenders in the Militia or in the Volunteers corps, but, as we believe, they should be taught that into one or the other they should enter. In this view, the Militia must be a totally different force from what it is now. It
should, as the Commissioners suggest, be locally recruited, the mere locally the better. It should consist of the fixed ed inhabitants
of a county, township, or parish. None of the migratory classes should find a place in it. Let them migrate into the Line, where the Articles of War and the Mutiny Act would find material
wherewith to make them put off their migratory habits to a more convenient season. Drilled when first enrolled, called out at stated intervals, as nearly as possible on the same day, led by
their natural leaders, paid a fair remuneration, the soldiers of snob a force would have few temptations to desert, and would learn their duties with more completeness because they would know and feel that they were the permanent reserve of the fluctuating guar- dian force of England. But no Militia of this stamp can be raised unless those who consider themselves, and who ought to be, the natural leaders of the people really take the lead, and spend them- selves in their country's service.
As to the present system it is so bad as to be removed from the field of discussion. It is an opprobrium, and should be wiped out as soon as possible. In his evidence before the Commission Lord Grey stated this opinion in the frankest possible manner ; and in the place of the present, he proposed another plan which deserves consideration. He proposes corps of " Volunteers," to consist mainly of married men, and 'of persons of fixed habitation, who should be under the command of gentlemen of influence, and practised with rifles or artillery, during times of leisure, chiefly in the summer evenings. No bounty should be given to these men, but a fixed allowance at the end of the period of training. They should be inspected regularly once a year, and if found to have acquired, in their own way, a knowledge of what is wanted, they should get an additional premium for that year. On the whole the conditions of this service should be very much the same as those of the Yeomanry ; and above all they should not be bound for a lengthy term of service. " I would rather have a man who was not bound and who came, than a man who was bound and who did not come, which is what you have now," Earl Grey quaintly exclaims at the end of his evidence ; and there are few, we venture to say, who will disagree with him on this par- ticular point. The Commissioners cling, however, to the present system as a basis, and suggest what can only be palliatives. To check the great and growing evil of -desertion, it is proposed that deserters shall be more stringently punished ; that henceforth the bounty payable to the recruit shall only be given him at the end of his first period of training ; that, further, the Militia shall be em- bodied regularly every year at a fixed day, and, as far the local circumstances of the several districts will permit, simultaneously; and that regiments shall be restricted in the enrolment of Volun- teers to the inhabitants of the county to which the corps belong, and in counties where there are more than one regiment, to their own district, the limits of which are to be determined by the Lerd Lieutenant. They should be trained for twenty-eight days, and instructed in musketry. Volunteering to the army to be sys- tematic and periodic. As regards the Permanent Staff, it is pro- posed that the salaries of all the officers attached to it shall be increased, and that especially that of the adjutants, sergeants, and drillmasters be raised, irrespective of embodiment, to a uni- form rate throughout the year. "The existing rates," says the report, " were granted on the understanding that the officers of the staff should be permitted to pursue their trades and other avocations when not on military duty ; but we consider that this practice of allowing them to engage in civil employment is in- jurious to their efficiency, and one which should no longer be per- mitted." The Commissioners finally express their hope that under the improved regulations thus broadly sketched, the Militia force will soon be brought to a high state of efficiency, so as to be made—what they silently imply it has never been at present—a " valuable auxiliary of her Majesty's regular forces." What strange things men will hope !
It may be more than doubted whether, if these recommenda- tions, assuming that they are sound, were all carried out, the character, efficiency, or numbers of the Militia would be improved. They change nothing in the principle on which the force rests. They leave in operation nearly all the causes that have produced the lamentable failure which we have discussed. They may mitigate, they cannot remove the main evils, nor restore the Militia to its old constitutional place as a reserve defensive force, incidentally, but not principally, the nursery of the Line, and the support of such regular army as we have, not the substitute for it. We have yet to seek a sound plan for a National Militia ; but, in the present state of public feeling, we hardly dare hope to find such a plan, even in the result of those mature deliberations on the whole question to which Mr. Sidney Herbert is about to devote the recess.