The Standing Army Debate, European War and the Balance of Power

The Standing Army Debate, European War and the Balance of Power
‘Defoe believed that the Glorious revolution had established liberty firmly enough; what was needed now, he thought was the strength to protect it.’ [28] What can be understood from this is that Defoe did not trust that parliament could not rise up against the king’s Monarchy. There is an understanding that he feared without the king’s own army parliament was too strong and could prevent if necessary the king making war:

Defoe praised the change from the time when ‘the Misery and Slavery of the Common People’ was a fact of life, and stressed the significance of the growing wealth and independence of the House of Commons with its power of the purse, a power stronger than that of the sword. With such economic power the House can always prevent the King from making war. [29]

Defoe saw this as a problem and was opposed to the balance of power in favour of parliament; which led to him being involved in the standing army debate. (see PART II, p43-line starting ‘As laws Post Facto‘) To Defoe what was ‘more fearful than a standing Army is a parliament that goes against the will of the people and [has] a militia that has been used in the past’. [30] (see PART II, p45-line starting ‘Tyrannick Government’) It is upon this front that Defoe believed liberty had been obtained for the people after The Glorious Revolution and by not having a standing army some of this liberty was taken away. During the debate Defoe published a pamphlet entitled Some Reflections on a Pamphlet Lately Publish’d, Entituled, An Argument Shewing That a Standing Army Is Inconsistent with a Free Government which reflects his arguments in favour of a peacetime army (especially concerning that of the king’s) It was a response to John Trenchard’s An Argument Shewing That a Standing Army Is Inconsistent with a Free Government. Defoe showed his theoretical knowledge concerning the Monarchical government and its relationship with the army. For instance when he makes reference to an unattainable biblical state of affairs that he believes Trenchard is suggesting: ‘come ye blessed into freedom from Kings standing Armies […] like the Days when there was no King of Israel, but every Man, did what was right in his own Eyes’. [31] (see PART II, p40-line starting ‘In this to Ancient Israel’) Defoe in many ways argues throughout this pamphlet that a standing army is entirely necessary to maintain England’s safety and he falsifies any argument that Trenchard had against the king having his own army.

Defoe established himself as a fierce competitor against those arguing against a peacetime army. Lois G. Schwoerer suggests in an article titled ‘The Literature of the Standing Army Controversy, 1697-1699’ that Defoe was one of the main ‘Whigs’ arguing for the proposals of King William III-‘The controversy was carried on in the press by two groups of Whigs. Against a peacetime army were principally John Trenchard, Walter Moyle […] Arguing for the king’s proposal were chiefly the lord chancellor, John Somers [and] Daniel Defoe’ [32] The article is concerned with describing texts that contextualise the standing army debate. She briefly describes some of the important pro-standing army tracts that Defoe wrote, namely two editions of Some Reflections on a Pamphlet Lately Publish’d, as mentioned above. On the standing army debate, Trenchard was one of Defoe’s fiercest opponents. There is further evidence of their relationship with another reply to Trenchard by Defoe called A Brief Reply to the History of Standing Armies in England. These tracts provide an enriched contextual representation of how the debate was carried out.
The standing army debate is an important concept when considering further Defoe’s defence of King William III in relation to his political beliefs. Andreas Mueller describes that:

When read in the context of the standing army controversy, it becomes apparent that The True-Born Englishman was an at times rather thinly veiled attack on anti-army writers and their arguments, and constituted an important element of Defoe’s pro-army campaign.’ [33]

Following the Monmouth Rebellion and The Glorious Revolution, Defoe fully immersed himself in support of King William III as this commentary has shown. The standing army ideologically is important to Defoe when trying to maintain what he believes was the ideal Monarchical government through the king. What the standing army debate does is portray Defoe’s issues with the balance of power in England. He feared war from the powerful nations of Europe and ‘he wanted England to take its place among the powerful nations of Europe. A standing army was necessary for such a role at a time when the armies opposed to France had grown to 40,000 men during the war of the Grand Alliance’. [34] Defoe essentially was fighting Parliament on behalf of the king to allow the king to have his own personal army. Parliament resisted, saying it was unnecessary in peacetime as Defoe’s adversaries also argued. (see PART II, p40-Line starting ‘So jealous of’) Ideologically Defoe needed the king to have his own army to fit this archetypal image of the ‘warrior king, who was to redeem English and European Protestantism’ [35]. (see PART II, p46-line starting ‘To guide in War’) Defoe also felt a peacetime army was necessary to prevent a change in the balance of power; especially in cases of European war. (see PART II, p40-line starting ‘Harder to rule’)

(For a longer history of the standing army debate in relation to Defoe, Mueller’s The Public Voices of Daniel Defoe is available online, it contains a whole section on the debate, it starts with Chapter I to be specific)

Daniel Defoe, Some Reflections on a Pamphlet Lately Publish’d, Entituled, An Argument Shewing That a Standing Army Is Inconsistent with a Free Government, available sources: As part of a subscription to Early English Books Online, the digital facsimile can be viewed at: link

(ESTC R40379)

There is a cost-free digital facsimile as part of Queen’s University Library Archive: link https://archive.org/details/somereflectionso00defouoft

John Trenchard, An Argument Shewing That a Standing Army Is Inconsistent with a Free Government, available sources: As part of a subscription to Early English Books Online, the digital facsimile can be viewed at: link

(ESTC R16212)

There is a cost-free digital facsimile as part of Queen’s University Library Archive: link

Lois G. Schwoerer-‘The Literature of the Standing Army Controversy, 1697-1699’, available sources: unfortunately only available as part of a subscription to JSTOR, the full article can be viewed at: link

Daniel Defoe, A Brief Reply to the History of Standing Armies in England, available sources: As part of a subscription to Early English Books Online, the digital facsimile can be viewed at: link

(ESTC R215269)

There is a cost-free digital facsimile as part of Queen’s University Library Archive: link

Andreas Mueller, The Public Voices of Daniel Defoe, available sources: there is a cost free version as part of The University of Huddersfield online repository: link (Chapter I, starts on page 22)

Footnotes

[28] Novak, Maximillian E Daniel Defoe: Master of Fictions. p.124
[29] ibid, p.124
[30] ibid, p.124
[31] Defoe, Daniel Some Reflections on a Pamphlet Lately Publish’d, p.6
[32] Schwoerer, Lois G ‘The Literature of the Standing Army Controversy, 1697-1699′. In: Huntington Library Quarterly, Vol. 28, No.3. California: University of California Press, 1965. Accessed from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3816707. [Accessed 27/02/2014] pp.188-89
[33] Mueller, Andreas A Critical Study of Daniel Defoe’s Verse. p.174
[34] Novak, Maximillian E Daniel Defoe: Master of Fictions. p.123
[35] Schonhorn, Manuel Defoe’s Politics. p.16

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