Hard Truths from General Napier

“Death to the robber and the murderer.  Such is the law of God who rules alike over the Mahometan, the Hindoo, and the Christian.  Let his will be done.”

Sir Charles James Napier, “Proclamation to the Peoples of Scinde” (1842)[1]

“If self-defense is permitted I am justified to kill these men as if struggling for life with an assassin: this some think contrary to the Christian religion; perhaps so, but then government must cease and ruffians rule . . .”

Sir Charles James Napier, Journal, November 17, 1844)[2]

Sir Charles James Napier wrote these lines as colonial governor of Scinde, in what is now Pakistan.  His purpose, as he saw it, was to protect the poor from the predatory rascals and parasitic demagogues who ensure that the poor will be with us always.  The first line is from a proclamation he had affixed to the scaffolds where the bodies of brigands were left to sway in the breeze.  The second he put down in his journal after slaughtering a robber band.

It is a hard truth but good men must treat ruffians roughly.  It is a hard truth that the shadow of a gallows falls on everything good.  It is a damn lie that robbers and murders are made in the image of God.  It is a damn lie that bad men are bad because good men do not treat them kindly enough.

* * * * *

“Civil rulers, especially republicans, have always been sanguinary and wasteful; they talk of war’s evils, but always wage war without care or scruple: and they create the necessity of it.  This is, however, human nature.  The military ruler takes at least into consideration his own personal suffering and danger in war; whereas the civilian makes war by proxy: his comforts are undisturbed.”

Sir Charles James Napier, Journal (June 10, 1845)[3]

Civil rulers, especially republican, are even more sanguinary and wasteful when they reside thousands of miles behind the front line and most of those thousands of miles are guarded by cold salt water.  The civil rulers of the United States are not only happy to wage sanguinary and wasteful wars, they are now equally happy to lose them.  I think American politicians would be less gleeful about war if, watching Saddam Hussein hung, they thought “there but for the grace of the Atlantic Ocean go I.”

* * * * *

“Cavalry are only useful to bully a mob, and save the lives of those who compose it, by chopping them a little instead of destroying them by fire-arms.  A hundred fellows may get ugly looking gashed that would frighten a thousand of their companions into the vigorous use of their legs.  But ninety of the chopped hundred men would be as well as ever in a week, and so proud of their wounds, as to resolve to live all their lives on their past glories, and never look a dragoon in the face.” 

Sir Charles James Napier, Letter, (Dec. 7, 1839)[4]

Napier wrote this line in England when Chartists mobs were threatened to topple the government and relive all the horrors of the French revolution.  Napier was himself confronting these mobs and doing so with “chopping” and not negotiation.  He would not charge a truly peaceful protest but he would not permit a riot on the excuse of grievance.  And I don’t think he would permit a riot because a riot would be bad optics for the Chartists.

* * * * *

“To get a large cantonment into order is difficult: the military have been all at sixes and sevens and it requires vigor to pull the jokers up, but it shall be done.  It a very fine force . . . but they have had no Commander, the camp is full of Suggestors,who would make a mob of the force in a week.”

Sir Charles James Napier, Journal (June 10, 1845)[5]

“Without obedience an army becomes a mob, a cantonment a bear-garden.”

Sir Charles James Napier, Journal (June 10, 1845)[6]

Where there is no “Commander,” men invariably become a “mob” of “jokers” who are no better than the hooting rabble in the grandstand of a “bear-garden.”  A “Suggestor” will not do because the only suggestion men heed is the suggestion that they become “jokers.”  Napier wrote the second line after cracking down on the jokers’ “furious riding” through the camp and native bazaar.  A bear-garden, by the way, was a theater where blood sports were performed for vulgar amusement.  It was a place in which bad men and women became worse.[7]

 “Were I dictator, the whole of the bishops and deacons, as by ‘law established,’ should go to New Zealand, there to eat or be eaten by the cannibals . . . . Noisy editors of newspapers should hang, and their property be divided among their relations, who should also have places to make them bless my justice in execution.  I would bestow grape [grapeshot] on the first mob, and hang the leaders, especially if they were Catholic priests; and I would make the country keep the families of the slain in great luxury.”

Sir Charles James Napier, Journal (January 1848)[8]

Napier wrote this line near the end of his life in answer to those who said he should be made governor of Ireland.  His point is that, next to murders and robbers, the greatest enemies of human happiness are demagogues and rabble rousers.  These were in Ireland the turbulent priests and editors, worthless wordsmiths both.  If only New Zealand were still available to serve as a dumping ground for these pests.  Napier shows great shrewdness in his proposal to buy off the families of disappeared troublemakers.  Men find it easy to forgive a fortunate injury to a near relation.


[1]) In  Sir William Francis Patrick Napier, The Life and Opinions of General Sir Charles James Napier, four vols. (London: J. Murray, 1957), vol. 2, p. 449.

[2]) In  Sir William Francis Patrick Napier, The Life and Opinions of General Sir Charles James Napier, four vols. (London: J. Murray, 1957), vol. 3, pp. 168-169.

[3]) in  Sir William Francis Patrick Napier, The Life and Opinions of General Sir Charles James Napier, four vols. (London: J. Murray, 1957), vol. 3, p. 303.

[4]) William Francis Patrick Napier, The Life and Opinions of General Sir Charles Napier, G.C.B., four vols. (London: J. Murray, 1857),  vol. 2, p. 94.

[5]) In William Francis Patrick Napier, The Life and Opinions of General Sir Charles Napier, G.C.B., four vols. (London: J. Murray, 1857),  vol. 2, pp. 240-241.

[6]) In William Francis Patrick Napier, The Life and Opinions of General Sir Charles Napier, G.C.B., four vols. (London: J. Murray, 1857),  vol. 2, p. 292.

[7]) See James Peller Malcolm, Anecdotes of the Manners and Customs of London During the Eighteenth Century, two vols., second ed. (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, 1810), vol. 2, p. 109.

[8]) in  Sir William Francis Patrick Napier, The Life and Opinions of General Sir Charles James Napier, four vols. (London: J. Murray, 1857), vol. 4, pp. 88.

16 thoughts on “Hard Truths from General Napier

  1. I was surprised (but pleased) to finally come across someone willing to deny the notion that everyone is made in the image of God — a notion that has done incalculable damage to society. Genuine Christianity teaches that everyone is made in the image of their father the devil, and that they only get the image of God restored to them when they become incorporated into Christ. Evil men are worthless trash.

    • As Paul says in half a dozen places, we are children by “adoption.” Adopted children don’t look like their adoptive Father.

      • St. Augustin said the Bible is to be read as poetry where it contradicts reality. The language is in any case “Man” not “men.”

    • The qualifier, “genuine Christianity” dooms you out of the gate. If you have to go to the original Greek/Aramaic, consult the Church fathers, and contextualize and cross-reference to point out that some people really do just need killing, you are going to lose the argument, period. Your own bishop will probably excommunicate you.

      Christianity (like classical liberalism) has painted itself into a corner where its own egalitarian tenets are used against it (“In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free…”).

  2. “Napier shows great shrewdness in his proposal to buy off the families of disappeared troublemakers.”

    Perhaps, he was recalling Machiavelli:

    “[W]hen it is necessary for him to proceed against the life of someone, he must do it on proper justification and for manifest cause, but above all things he must keep his hands off the property of others, because men more quickly forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony.” (The Prince cap XVII)

    After the execution of the Five Jacobite Lords, Parliament showed its wisdom in reversing their attainders and their heirs became loyal, or at least peaceful, subjects of the House of Hanover.

  3. Missed the boat with this post, wasting your poetic and linguistic talents on 1850’s lingo, entertaining Singapore extremist policies. This has no value for serious discussion whatsoever.
    You are providing agreeable footnotes to a high ranking highly biased victorian authoritarian figure for some reason that is never explained, while he advocates killing multiple times.
    Potentially damaging fluff, do not do it again. You do not get the courtesy of ‘please’ here because, in ironic reflection towards our current world state, this actually IS dangerous rhetoric.

    • Jesus said those who live by the sword will die by the sword, but it seems those who do not live by the sword are fated to die by the sword as well. Thus we must, like Napier, distinguish between men who use violence to prey on weaker men and men who use violence to protect the weak from violent men. Compassion for violent predators is just cruelty towards the innocent, and it is disgusting when it pretends to be holier than thou.

      • As an Irishman, I cannot apologise for our revolts against the Penal Laws. These were among the most oppressive in history and directly led to our Great Famine. One could counter that Ireland was more Catholic under these laws, but that still wouldn’t justify them.

      • I was afraid Napier’s statement might rankle good people I have no desire to rankle. But I still like his general point that the greatest enemies of “the people” are very often the professed “friends of the people.”

    • You have nothing to fear. Thugs will continue to slaughter, rape and pillage and white Christian men will do absolutely nothing. They will offer their own daughters up.

    • Remember the question Saint-Just posed to the Committee of Public Safety: “What do those people want, who want neither Virtue nor Terror?

      His answer: “They want corruption.”

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