Letter From the Author of the Argument Against a Standing Army

AMERICAN REVOLUTION   |   John TRENCHARD   |   John SOMERS

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Item#: 115619 price:$5,500.00

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"PLAYED A PART IN THE INDICTMENT OF GREAT BRITAIN, IN THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, IN THE COMING OF THE REVOLUTION, AND IN THE CREATION OF A CONSTITUTION WITH A BILL OF RIGHTS": RARE FIRST EDITION OF TRENCHARD'S LETTER FROM THE AUTHOR OF THE ARGUMENT AGAINST A STANDING ARMY, 1697

(AMERICAN REVOLUTION) (TRENCHARD, John). A Letter From the Author of the Argument Against A Standing Army, To the Author of the Balancing Letter. London: Printed in the Year, 1697. Slim quarto, period-style yellow paper-covered boards; pp. (1-2) 3-15 (1). $5500.

First edition of British radical John Trenchard's influential warning against standing armies, ranking them with absolutism—"capable of destroying all right, law and liberty that stood in their way"—pivotal in turning America toward revolution with Trenchard's writings regularly "quoted in every colonial newspaper from Boston to Savannah."

Britain's John Trenchard sparked a 17th-century pamphlet war that began, in October 1697, with his Argument, Shewing that a Standing Army is inconsistent with a Free Government. It quickly provoked a response from John Somers who, as lord chancellor of England, was "the most prestigious man who defended the king's need for a standing army." Somers' work, A Letter, Ballancing [sic], was promptly followed that December by Trenchard in this emphatic rebuttal, A Letter from the Author of the Argument… to the Author of the Ballancing Letter [sic]. In this core work and other writings Trenchard "equated a standing army in peacetime with absolutism" (Schwoerer, No Standing Armies!, 159, 180-84). Here he counters Somers' claim that yearly oversight would contain a standing army, and disputes his historical knowledge, claiming instead: "From the Praetorian Cohorts down to the our Modern Armies, enough can be gathered to give a very frightful Representation of a STANDING ARMY" (emphasis in original). Trenchard particularly notes that a king's "Title arises upon an equal distribution of power; and he that gets an over-ballance [sic] of Power… takes away the Title from the rest, and leaves them a Possession without a Right."

Trenchard was especially influential in America as it edged toward a revolution, and was "quoted in every colonial newspaper from Boston to Savannah." Colonists grew convinced there was no "'worse state of thraldom than a military power in any government, unchecked and uncontrolled by civil power'… capable of destroying all right, law and liberty that stood in their way" (Bailyn, Ideological Origins, 61-2). Trenchard's warnings resonated, as well, with "John Adams, Samuel Adams, John Dickinson, Elbridge Gerry, Jefferson, George Mason and Josiah Quincy, Jr." In a fundamental way he "reiterated the conviction that a standing army in peacetime was inimical to liberty, destructive of a mixed and balanced constitution, dangerous—no matter the restraints imposed on it—susceptible to corruption, and morally indefensible… One of the main considerations prompting Jefferson, Mason, Gerry, Melancton Smith and James Winthrop to argue that a Bill of Rights should be added to the federal Constitution was the conviction that security against a standing army in peacetime should be provided… American colonists then, inherited a tradition which had been developed in 17th-century England. That tradition played a part in the indictment of Great Britain, in the Declaration of Independence, in the coming of the Revolution, and in the creation of a constitution with a Bill of Rights" (Schwoerer, 195-200). Anonymously issued. With "Balancing" on the title page (line 8); page 7 with no press-figure; page 15 with paragraph beginning, "Now Sir, if a Parliament should subject all the Lands…" Copies found with "Ballancing" on the title page (line 8); page 7 with the press-figure of a dagger, on p.7; page 15 with no additional paragraph beginning: 'Now Sir, if a Parliament should subject all the Lands…'"; no priority established. Wing T2113. ESTC R16213. See ESTC R498634. Early numbering in an unidentified hand above title page and text leaves.

Text dark and crisp, tiny gutter-edge pinholes from original stitching. A fine wide-margined copy.

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