By Kevin Linch (auth.)
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Additional resources for Britain and Wellington’s Army: Recruitment, Society and Tradition, 1807–15
39 Militia reforms gave significant political power to county elites and those involved in its administration. These people coalesced into an interest group whose voice in Parliament could be very loud and, given the increasing manpower demands of the wars with France, difficult to ignore. Having created a new political arena, the militia laws had to be enacted and the men recruited by ballots. Militia recruitment brought out the traditional and popular mistrust of military service such that a riot at Hexham, Northumbria, against the militia was the bloodiest of the eighteenth century.
46 The stability of Britain’s tax revenues was buttressed by a relatively transparent parliament, which approved taxation and ensured that this burden was not so objectionable, excepting, of course, the disputes with the American colonies after the Seven Years War. There is an element of historical hindsight within this survey, and it is too easy to accept that Britain was financially secure. Contemporaries were concerned with the size of the national debt, especially after the American War of Independence, and this became all the more worrisome as the wars with France went on and debts built up.
As the British Army became ‘empire winners’ campaigning in far-flung lands, so there needed to be troops to defend Britain’s expanding territories and safeguard the British Isles from invasion. Although the population of Britain was increasing and colonial growth provided a further pool of potential soldiers, the escalation of warfare required an even larger proportion of men in the armed forces. 38 One of the primary ways that this was achieved was by the rejuvenation of the militia (a force produced and maintained by English and Welsh counties for home defence) during the 1750s.