Argument Showing That a Standing Army is Inconsistent

AMERICAN REVOLUTION   |   CONSTITUTION   |   John TRENCHARD   |   ENGLISH HISTORY

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"A STANDING ARMY IS INCONSISTENT WITH A FREE GOVERNMENT": RARE FIRST EDITION OF TRENCHARD'S ARGUMENT, 1697, A MAJOR INFLUENCE ON AMERICAN OPPOSITION TO BRITISH RULE IN ITS DEFENSE OF THE "RIGHTS OF THAT PRECIOUS JEWEL LIBERTY"

(AMERICAN REVOLUTION) [TRENCHARD, John]. An Argument Shewing, that a Standing Army Is inconsistent with A Free Government, and absolutely destructive to the Constitution of the English Monarchy. London: 1697. Slim quarto, disbound; pp. iv, 30.

First edition of Trenchard's controversial work, igniting fury as America erupted into open rebellion against British troops, one of the greatest influences on American founding principles over the cause of liberty and the balance of power between federal authority and the right to bear arms.

Not long after furor over standing armies was sparked by British attempts to stifle royal power, America's colonists seized on the debate. Colonial distrust of standing armies was "derived, like so much of their political thought, from the 17th century and articulated for them by earlier English writers—in this case most memorably by Trenchard in his famous Argument (1697). With him the colonists universally agreed that 'unhappy nations have lost that precious jewel liberty… [because] their necessities or indiscretion have permitted a standing army to be kept amongst them.' There was, they knew, no 'worse state of thraldom than a military power in any government, unchecked and uncontrolled by civil power'; and they had a vivid sense of what such armies were: gangs of restless mercenaries, responsible only to the whims of the rulers who paid them, capable of destroying all right, law and liberty that stood in their way" (Bailyn, Ideological Origins, 61-2).

Trenchard led those who opposed a standing army. Argument, his first pamphlet, "initiated the controversy… [offering] examples from history of how standing armies often led to arbitrary governments" (Barry, Dress Rehearsal for Revolution, 13-14). "The great ideologue of the militia movement, Trenchard warned against any situation where 'a standing army must be kept up to prey upon our entrails'" (Wills, To Keep and Bear Arms). To historian Gary Nash, Trenchard and Thomas Gordon "were the most important disseminators of ideas to Americans in the prerevolutionary generations" (Urban Crucible, 348). Trenchard's influence was also felt during the Revolution when many Founding Fathers believed a centrally unified Continental Army was "more dangerous than the British army already stationed among them… Even in the face of losing the revolutionary conflict, the politics of a standing army superseded the possible disintegration of the American Revolution as early as December 1775" (Charles, Second Amendment, 36-38). His claim "that a standing army is inconsistent with a free government" echoed in the debates of the 1787 Constitutional Convention and in the Federalist Papers. Trenchard continued to write on the subject in A Short History of Standing Armies in England (1698) and in Cato's Letters, co-authored with Gordon. Erroneously attributed by some to Samuel Johnson. Without two-page "Advertisement" at rear. ESTC R16212. Wing T2110.

A handsome wide-margined copy in fine condition.

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