Considered in Committee of the Whole, Motion made to amend the Preamble


Wednesday, November 15, 1775.

Resolved, That this House will, immediately, resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole House, upon the Bill to enable his Majesty to call out and assemble the Militia, in all cases of Rebellion, in any part of the Dominions belonging to the Crown of Great Britain.

The House accordingly resolved itself into the said Committee.

It was moved to amend the preamble with these words, "that the said power should not extend beyond the continuance of the present rebellion."

The Lord Mayor (Mr˙ Sawbridge) contended, that this bill would throw an additional weight into the hands of the Crown, already become too powerful, which might, and probably would, be productive of very dangerous consequences.

Lord John Cavendish said, if the friends of Administration opposed the amendment, it would convince him that his suspicions were well-founded, which were, that the present bill was no more than a mere colourable pretext for arming the Crown with power hitherto unknown to the Constitution.

Sir George Savile said the very point meant to be covertly carried by this bill, was what no King of England, even the most despotick, was ever able to gain; that on this was grounded the leading contest between Charles I and his Parliament, long before that assembly was charged with any "views of faction, or of overthrowing the Constitution. Hitherto, he said, no man in this country could be armed without the consent of Parliament; the army were armed by Parliament; so were the Militia: but if this bill should pass, the military would be, or at least might be, armed by the King, without the consent of Parliament. Many things might be urged on the ground that the Militia were the great constitutional force of the kingdom; that nothing, of course, can be feared from them, for they will act in a double capacity, of defenders of their country and its Constitution. The argument was plausible, and therefore the better calculated to deceive; but he begged leave to draw a very different conclusion. There were always two parties in this country; no matter as to their principles: the Prince would have it in his power, by this bill, to put the Militia under the command of which of those he thought fit, and to call them out into actual service when he pleased; for as to the condition of a rebellion being within the dominions of the Crown of Great Britain, he looked upon that as nothing; as means might be easily devised to furnish a pretence sufficient to justify the imbodying the Militia. What, then, may be the consequence, but that an ambitious or weak Prince, supported or urged by a revengeful persecuting faction, may create a civil war in some distant part of the empire, in order, at length, to give them an opportunity of exterminating or triumphing over their adversaries at home, and destroying the liberties of their country.

Mr˙ Herbert said, the liberties of no free country could be preserved, on the supposition that the people were in a state like that described by the honourable gentleman; that the Parliament must pay the Militia, consequently the Ministry would be cautious to assemble them without a just cause; and, while the present Constitution continued, it would be absurd to guard against Parliament, in whom we must continue to repose a confidence.


Mr˙ Serjeant Adair entered into several legal definitions of treason and rebellion. He adverted to a law passed in the reign of Edward I, in order to show the true; ancient ground on which the Militia of this kingdom rested, and so traced the subject down to the present times. He insisted that if the friends of the bill meant what they asserted, they would be amply content to have a temporary one. When they said the bill meant no more than it expressed, why did they not define and specify the sort of rebellion, the extent of it, and its locality? No; anything the governing powers thought proper to call rebellion would soon be deemed so. He instanced the various cases, or acts of violence, which in law are deemed levying war, such as levelling enclosures, pulling down meeting-houses, bawdy-houses, & c. He mentioned particularly the cases of the Oxford rioters, and the pulling down bawdy-houses in the reign of Charles II, and Burgess' s meeting-house, in the reign of Queen Anne, when some persons were tried and condemned for high treason, for being concerned in that riot. He observed, finally, that the British empire extended to the four quarters of the globe; that if any illegal or riotous act, of the nature now alluded to, should happen, no matter whether at Patna, Senegambia, or Boston, the Minister might construe it into rebellion, and call out the Militia.

Sir Grey Cooper contended, that the Minister could not call out the Militia without assigning his reasons for so doing, and submitting them to Parliament for their approbation, whenever they met, if not sitting at the time.

Mr˙ T˙ Townshend did not much approve of the bill, but would give his assent to its passing, because, if it should not pass, Germans would certainly be brought over; yet he hoped the bill would be properly limited. He never knew or read of a standing army which did not originate in a Militia. Several free Governments had been overturned by a Militia, particularly one near home. It was well known that Louis XI, of France, overturned, and completely destroyed the liberties of his country by a Militia.

Mr˙ Dempster was for the bill. He observed that the right honourable gentleman, [Mr˙ Townshend,] who said that all the free Governments of Europe had been destroyed by a Militia, was mistaken, for history would furnish many more instances in which they had been overthrown by standing armies; and he hoped that a Militia would be established in the north part, as well as the south part of the Island, for the defence of the nation in general.

The Right Hon˙ T˙ Townshend objected to the smallness of the qualifications of officers who were to serve, and said they ought to be raised.

Lord North, after paying great encomiums on this constitutional mode of defence, replied to the last objection, by observing, that qualifications were higher in the Militia than for the members to sit in that House to make laws.

Govemour Johnstone insisted that the old act, as it now stood, wanted no amendment, unless in case of rebellion being in Ireland; for the King, in case of rebellion or invasion in this kingdom, is already empowered to call the Militia out in fourteen days.

Sir George Tonge, for the amendment. He said that the House had always a right to be jealous and suspicious, when no reason was offered to be assigned.

Lord North said he saw no occasion; if the law was a good law, it ought not to be restrained to the continuance of the present disturbances in America.

The amendment was rejected, by a majority of 140 to 55.