Sunday, February 25, 2018

"A Well Regulated Militia" - part 3

Scottish Republicans

The Alarming Andrew Fletcher

The 18ᵗʰ century ideal of a militia came from Saltoun, near Edinburgh, the holding of the alarming (in the words of historian John Robertson) Scottish republican Andrew Fletcher.[6] Scotland, like most European states of that time, had a monarch, but unlike the others, Scotland combined monarchy with the old highland tribal order of clans, martial prowess, and personal loyalty. Fletcher took this as a model for his militia. In his radical 1698 A Discourse of Government with Relation to Militias[7] Fletcher argued for a modernized Scotland equally capable martially and commercially. His Scots martial idealism found an intellectual rationale in the classical republican idea of the militia. In answer to the observation that militia consistently lost battles, he replied that these were “ordinary and ill-regulated militia.”[8]

Most Scotsmen were fighters, but it was difficult to organize them into effective fighting forces; in Fletcher’s language they were ill-regulated. The Scots, especially the Highland Scots and the Border clans, were strong and valorous as individuals and in small bands but unwilling to accept the discipline – the regulation – that forges individuals and bands into an army. Well-organized and well-trained – regular – military could and did overwhelm them. To replace the ordinary and ill-regulated militia, Fletcher proposed a “well-regulated militia,” that is, a force of citizen soldiers under military discipline.[9] Fletcher’s militia was to be created by universal conscription and military training. He wrote:

What I would offer is, that four camps be formed, one in Scotland, and three in England; into which all the young men of the respective countries should enter, on the first day of the two and twentieth year of their age; and remain there the space of two years, if they be of fortunes sufficient to maintain themselves; but if they are not, then to remain a year only, at the expense of the public.


they would learn to fence, to ride, and manage a horse for the war; to forage and live in a camp; to fortify, attack, and defend any place; and what is no less necessary, to undergo the greatest toils, and to give obedience to the severest orders.


But certainly it were no hard matter, for men that had passed through such a discipline as that of the camp I have described, to retain it after they should return to their several homes; if the people of every town and village, together with those of the adjacent habitations, were obliged to meet fifty times in the year, on such days as should be found most convenient; and exercise four hours every time: for all men being instructed in what they are to do; and the men of quality and estate most knowing, and expert of all others, the exercise might be performed in great perfection. There might also be yearly in the summertime, a camp of some thousands of the nearest neighbours brought and kept together for a week to do those exercises, which cannot be performed in any other place: every man of a certain estate being obliged to keep a horse fit for the war.[10]

Scotland loses and finds its militia

Scotland and England were combined into Great Britain by the Treaty of Union in 1706, and laws enacted that created a single British Parliament in London and did not create a Scottish militia; refusing royal assent to the Scottish Militia Bill in 1708 was the last veto by the British Crown to this date. This was felt to be a great loss, but with continuing revolutionary activity from the Jacobites, the Scottish supporters of Stuart pretenders to the British throne, London was not willing to allow the arming of the Scots. Fletcher died in 1716, having published nothing in the previous 12 years, and there the matter rested for 30 years.[11]

Then came the Scottish Enlightenment. The question of how to arm and defend the state was an issue of continuing discussion, the moreso since England and Scotland were both subject to the British crown but, somehow Scotland was John Bull’s neglected sister Peg in policy. It was a lack felt keenly, as Scots loyal to the Crown were first threatened by the Jacobites, and then by the American naval captain John Paul Jones, and had no way to raise a force to respond.

This history is recounted in John Robertson’s The Scottish Enlightenment and the Militia Issue.[12] During the Scottish Enlightenment, the question of how to defend Scotland was first addressed tangentially by none other than the famed philosopher David Hume in his 1752 Political Discourses[13]. He also briefly discussed the militia in his 1748 anonymously published pamphlet “A true account of the behaviour and conduct of Archibald Stewart” and in a few paragraphs of his History of Great Britain.[14] According to Robertson[15], in “Archibald Stewart,” Hume acidly observes that, in the 1745 Jacobite Rising, Edinburgh had been better-defended by its chamber pots than its available forces, the Scots still being forbidden a militia.

In the early 1750s, the militia ideal was taken up by friends of Hume, a politically influential group known as the Moderate Literati: William Robertson, Alexander Carlyle, Adam Ferguson, John Home, and Hugh Blair. It seems likely (John Robertson points out[16]) that the inability of Edinburgh to defend itself against the Jacobites in 1745 was a formative experience for the group. They agitated for a Scottish militia until 1783. Ultimately the political goals of this movement were to be achieved in other ways, and practical considerations ended the idea of putting all of the able manhood of Scotland under arms. The militia proposals never included specifics: not locations, lines of command, headquarters, or funding; the proponents were not practical people. Funding especially was an issue – Scotland was not a rich country. The idea that being required to enlist in the militia was a valuable right was one that was not widely shared by a public which would just as soon not be drafted. Long after the political goals of the Moderates were achieved, the Militia Act of 1797 was passed, empowering Scottish Lord Lieutenants to raise county militias.

The Scottish Enlightenment recounts an extensive and obscure history, far too much for even a longer summary here, but for our purposes let us note that discussion of the militia through the period always focused on Fletcher’s model of a well-regulated militia; one with officers and under military discipline.

Notes on Part 3

[6] John Robertson. 1985. “Ch. 2: The Challenge of Andrew Fletcher.” In The Scottish Enlightenment and the Militia Issue, 22–59. Edinburgh: John Donald publishers.
[7] Andrew Fletcher. 1698. A Discourse of Government with Relation to Militias. Edinburgh.
[8] ―, p. 42.
[9] This was apparently the first use of the phrase “well-regulated militia” in English, over which so much ink has been spilled.
[10] ―, pp. 51-56
[11] Robertson, The Scottish Enlightenment, p. 53
[12] Robertson. “Ch. 3: David Hume and the Moderate Literati.” In The Scottish Enlightenment.
[13] Hume, David. Political Discourses. 2nd ed. A. Kincaid and A. Donaldson, 1752.
[14] Hume, David. The History of Great Britain: Vol. I. Containing the Reigns of James I. and Charles I. Edinburgh: Hamilton, Balfour, and Neill, 1754.
[15] Robertson. The Scottish Enlightenment, p. 73.
[16] ibid., pp. 76-77.

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