The following is a letter written by James FitzGibbon in 1855 providing his opinion on the pros and cons of the Canadian militia to the Editor of the Niagara Mail, and reproduced in its entirety from “A Veteran of 1812: The Life of James Fitzgibbon by Mary Agnes Fitzgibbon”.
“Lower Ward, Windsor Castle,
"January 2th, 1855.
"To the Editor of the 'Niagara Mail.'
"Sir, — The following extract I take from a Toronto newspaper of the last month, just received by me:
" 'Against this it was urged by Mr. Brown and Mr. Mackenzie, and other members of the Assembly, that the whole militia system was a sort of farce; and that it served but to fill the Gazette with advertisements and to tickle the vanity of young fools, and some old ones too, at seeing their names in print, besides keeping up expensive offices.'
"Having been Assistant Adjutant-General in Upper Canada for many years, I gave my best attention to its militia. The two most frequent objections made to the existence of an organized militia were: first, the loss of time caused to the farmers in summer and harvest-time by attending on training days; and second, its utter uselessness or inefficiency because it was not drilled and kept always fit to take the field.
"The first question I put to myself was, 'Ought we or ought we not to have a militia?'
"The years I served in the militia were from 1816 to 1827, and then I was convinced that it would be most unsafe to be without an organized militia, even though we then had our chief cities and military posts garrisoned by British regular troops.
"But had I thought otherwise during those years, yet the rebellion in 1837, and the inroads made over our border in 1838 by robbers and ruffians from the neighbouring States, must have proved the absolute necessity of having our people so organized as to be available for self-defence with the least possible loss of time — say in three or four days, or in a week at the least.
"Let us now suppose our people not organized in any way, and that an emergency suddenly arose for calling them forth to defend their country, their property and their families — how long would it take to form those of any one county into companies and regiments of infantry, with colonels, majors, captains, and sub-alterns, and staff; and also to form companies of artillery and troops of cavalry, with all their officers ? How could all these officers be speedily selected, recommended for their several commissions and appointed to their several posts? Lieutenants of counties might, no doubt, be appointed, or even be kept always in existence to perform that duty on the occurrence of an emergency.
"Then every officer from the colonel to the ensign would have to be nominated and approved, all at once, and afterwards all the non-commissioned officers. Under such circumstances I would ask any reflecting man to consider what an amount of jealousy and ill-will would be created by such numerous appointments so hurriedly made, even if the person recommended were ever so impartially selected — which they would not be, for many would think themselves more eligible than those so appointed over them; and how long would it take to bring such discordant materials into harmony as to ensure from the juniors to the seniors that amount of willing obedience and cordial support so indispensable to success in the labors of military training and in all other military duties; and how long would it then take to bring them into the field in any tolerable state of organization, to say nothing of discipline?
"I take for granted that the reflecting men among the militia of Canada will never desire to be found, in an hour of danger, in such circumstances as these thus rapidly sketched. My own view of the militia is, that regiments of infantry, companies of artillery and troops of cavalry should continue to be formed as they are now. That their commander should be authorized to call out their several corps once in each year, or twice at the most. These parades I would not consider as for drill or training, but that the officers should see their men, and the men their officers; that each might know his place in the company, and the companies their place in the regiment.
"More than this could not well be done at a single day's meeting; but such a meeting would afford an opportunity of exchanging neighbourly and kindly greetings among all, and many would probably avail themselves of the occasion to dine together. A day so spent would not be mis-spent. Far otherwise; it would call into lively exercise the kindly feelings of patriotic men, assembled together in the noble character of their country's defenders, and as the mutual guardian of their own firesides and families. Every man of generous mind and manly spirit would cheerfully attend such meeting and then return to his home a more pleased and happy man.
"In the present mode of appointing officers to the militia, jealousy or envy can only be created on the appointment of each to the first commission; and if any reasonable impartiality be observed by commanders of regiments, seldom will cause of dissatisfaction be given, and then only in the one instance at a time.
"The regiments of militia of Canada can now, in any case of emergency, be assembled at their places of regimental rendezvous in the course of four, five or six days, according to the extent of the limits, and this would suffice for any domestic emergency which could arise. As for war, its approach must be known many months before it could appear in the shape of invasion, and in anticipation of it only should recourse be had to extensive drilling. Then would drilling be cheerfully attended to and the exercises eagerly and rapidly learned, as I witnessed in Montreal, in 1812, and as happened in Upper Canala at the same time.
“During peace the only drill I would recommend for the militia would be for volunteers, officers or men, in the regiments, troops of cavalry or companies of artillery, by such teachers among themselves as had retired from the regular army, of whom many are always to be found scattered in the Province. To all such, being purely volunteers, drill would be matter of amusement, as well as improvement, and in the event of war occurring these volunteers, so taught, would aid in training their comrades.
"Again I ask, can any reasoning man think of dispensing with the militia after the experience of 1837 and '38? The Province is now much richer than it was then. It is rapidly increasing in riches. Have riches ever been safe in this world without protection? If the British Provinces of North America were so rich as to excite the cupidity of ruffians and plunderers, both domestic and foreign, to make war upon the country in those days, how much more tempting must your continually and rapidly increasing riches be hereafter? Therefore do I earnestly counsel the people of Canada to cherish a militia system, notwithstanding the expense, which however is inconsiderable, improving such system as time and experience may hereafter suggest.
"Let them be assured that their safety from foreign aggression must ever be in proportion to their means of self-defence and their power to punish all aggression. Without the possession of such power, and a true manifestation of it before the eyes of all men, and a manly exercise of it when required, the people of Canada would soon cease to be respected by their neighbors, and would soon cease to respect themselves, and would ultimately become objects of contempt, insult and aggression to the hordes of lawless men in the United States, so well known as sympathizers or filibusters.
"Against all such, and against all foreign aggression, the people of the British Provinces, if duly prepared, are even now abundantly capable of self-defence. Let them cherish the remembrance of the campaigns of 1812, '13 and '14, the history of which their sons and successors must ever be proud of; and the example then set it must ever be their pride to follow, until their country becomes the envy of other nations, as unconquerable, contented and happy.
"I venture to give this advice through your journal to my old friends on the Niagara frontier, confident that they will appreciate my feelings and my motives. And from the Mail I venture to hope that other journals in Canada will copy it for the consideration of their readers.
"Praying for the continued prosperity of the North American Provinces,
"I remain, sir,
"Your obedient servant,
"James FitzGibbon. "
Research: A Veteran of 1812: The Life of James Fitzgibbon by Mary Agnes Fitzgibbon (1894).
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