Recruitment of the land forces in Great Britain. 1795-99
To mobilize the manpower of Britain for war was a task which no eighteenth century government could hope to perform with more than a modest degree of success. The army was disliked and despised by all classes as a danger to liberty and a repository of scoundrels and outcasts. Service in it, moreover, was known to be both unhealthy and degrading. Corporal punishment was too often the mainstay of discipline. Much of the army's duty lay in unhealthy foreign stations such as the West Indies where the ravages of disease were impressive and notorious. Even at home, where the soldiers lived in jerry-built barracks or temporary quarters, the death rate in the army was twice the national average. It was estimated that very few soldiers lived and survived for as long as twelve years in the service. Britain was at a serious disadvantage compared with the other great powers. Her army stood much lower in popular esteem. Its service was more often outside Europe and correspondingly less pleasant. The standard of living being higher than on the continent, it was less easy to tempt the lower classes to enlist, while effective conscription - now just beginning to emerge as a significant military factor - was not yet a possibility. Britain's population was small, in any case, to discharge the responsibilities of a great power. In an age of growing armies, she might find herself reduced to military impotence. Her great strength in war lay of course in her navy and her finances. These both to some extent contributed to reduce her landward striking power.The navy took a great deal of money and a good many men that might otherwise have gone to the army. The same might be said of the economic activities of the nation. There was a reluctance to take too many men out of employment and so send up wages. There was a passion for economy, a fear of over¬ burdening those national resources on which all else depended, that caused ministers even in wartime to reduce the strength of the land force at every opportunity and to refuse at all times to spend enough money on it to make it an attractive service.