Short History of Standing Armies in England


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(TRENCHARD, John). A Short History of Standing Armies in England. London: Printed for A. Baldwin, 1698. Slim quarto (6 by 8 inches), full period-style mottled calf-gilt, red morocco spine label, marbled endpapers; pp. (i-ii) iii-vi, 7-32. $4600.

Third edition, issued same year as similarly rare earlier editions, of Trenchard's electrifying work that shaped American revolutionary thought and fundamentally "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," with Benjamin Franklin possessing a copy in his library.

More than any other single individual, Trenchard created the American suspicion of standing armies. The controversial Englishman's Short History of Standing Armies "seeded a tradition, whose echoes were heard for another century in England and the American colonies… 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, No Standing Armies, 190, 200). Here Trenchard argues: "If this Army does not make us slaves, we are the only People upon Earth in such Circumstances that ever escap'd it… such a Power is to be trusted to none, which if it does not find a Tyrant, commonly makes one; and of not him, to be sure a Successor" (27-8). At the time of its publication, American colonists similarly saw "the standing army as a repressive instrument of tyranny, a constant threat to civil liberties… and having had considerable experience with the regular armed forces in their midst, had also had occasion to see the king's men in their role as a police power" (Leach, Roots of Conflict, 24). Trenchard's work further convinced Americans that the appearance of British troops in America in 1768 was "one of the classic stages in the process of destroying free constitutions of government" (Bailyn, 113-14). His warnings appeared to be proven by the Boston Massacre. In the uproar which followed, the prominent Boston patriot Andrew Eliot spoke for many when he wrote that the Massacre "serves to show the impossibility of our living in peace with a standing army," and cited "Trenchard's Short History of Standing Armies, which… is excellent."

Colonial fear of standing armies was so deep that key writings by John Adams, Samuel Adams and Jefferson "reiterated the conviction that a standing army in peacetime was… dangerous—no matter the restraints imposed on it… The Declaration of Independence complained that a standing army in peacetime… '[rendered] the military independent of and superior to the civil'… One of main considerations prompting Jefferson, George Mason, Elbridge Gerry, Malancton 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. Article 2 of the Bill of Rights was designed to achieve that end" (Schwoerer, 197-200). Hamilton, as well, addressed Federalist essays #8 and #24 to the subject. Daniel Defoe, who strenuously objected to Trenchard's Short History, answered it the same year with his Brief Reply to the History of Standing Armies in England. Franklin had a copy of Short History in his library, bound with Defoe's Brief Reply (Wolf and Hayes, Library of Benjamin Franklin 3407). Published anonymously. Stated third edition, first issued with publisher's imprint: preceded by the same year's earlier printings with no imprint. ESTC R32892. Wing T2117. See Goldsmith's 3566.

Text generally fresh with occasional soiling, expert paper repairs to upper edges of rear leaves minimally affecting pagination.

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