The Federalist Papers Summary No 28: Hamilton
December 26, 1787
This paper continues the discussion of standing armies in peace time with the admission that there may be times when a national government will be required to use force to suppress seditions and insurrections. If disturbances are small and contained within a portion of a State then State militias can quell the violence. However, as shown in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania when the insurrection pervades the whole state it becomes necessary for the State to raise troops to restore order. Logically then if the insurrection pervades an extent larger than a State a national force would be required to restore peace. Even critics opposing a standing national army in peace time must admit “there might sometimes be a necessity to make use of a force constituted differently from the militia to preserve the peace of the community and to maintain the just authority of the laws against those violent invasions of them which amount to insurrections and rebellions”.
Independent of all other reasoning the safeguard against the use of a national army against the people is because the power of the proposed government is in the hands of the representatives of the people. If the representatives betray the people then the only recourse left is self defense where the people take up arms against the national force. But the people would be in a better position if the extent of the hostilities included a large region of the country for that would give opportunity to organize and mobilize a united force rather than in a single State where the battle may be over before the people are aware of it. State legislatures would quickly become aware of a national intrusion and alarm the people. The result of these arguments is that the people would be better able to defend themselves against a national army usurping power than an army raised by a State and the national army under control of the representatives from the entire country would be less likely to endanger the people, therefore the critics are wrong in resisting a national army in peace time.
Is the whole discussion of standing armies out of date? Consider the rhetorical question asked in the last paragraph; “When will the time arrive that the federal Government can raise and maintain an army capable of erecting a despotism over the great body of the people of an immense empire who are in a situation through the medium of their State Governments to take measure for their own defense?”. Hamilton assumes never but if desired our military of a million could easily defeat and disarm the three hundred million people because of the vast advantage in fire power Hamilton could not have foreseen. Our safety now is dependent on the restraint by our military and no longer in an ability to defend ourselves against it.
Summary Written by Donald Mellon
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