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The Federalist Papers (1787-1789)

The Founding Fathers

Federalist Essays No.23 - No.29

Federalist Essays No.18 - No.22

Federalist Essay No.30 - No.36


It is at least necessary to construct a constitution of equal power to the Articles of Confederation, which means a government that preserves the common peace, regulates commerce, and oversees relationships with foreign countries. Each job granted to the government should be granted along with the power to effectively carry out that job.

The national government is the logical choice to provide for common defense because it has the best understanding of the dangers that represents the whole nation so that it's concern extends to each part of the nation, and that has the ability to act uniformly.

The framers of the Articles of Confederation also believed that the unified government should provide for the common defense. However, the Confederation Congress failed to do so because it was given the responsibility of providing for the common defense without the power to do so. The unified government's only power existed through quotas and requisitions from the states. This failed because the responsibility was split from the power.

When the power to equip and fund a defense rests in the body that has the responsibility to do so, the responsible body will be able to provide for the common defense. There can be no restrictions placed upon a government's power to provide for common defense, as there is no way of knowing what kind of future threats may arise.

The threat to national security exists from Maine to Georgia, and an attack on the borders of one state is like an attack on all the states. If each state provided for its own defense, a state like New York will be burdened more than others. Furthermore, if an individual state does not provide adequate protection, then the entire nation is put in danger. If an individual state provides more than necessary and amasses more power than its neighbors, interstate tensions and jealousy could result in each state trying to out-do the others in military power. Competition could also arise between state military and national military.

The critics of the U.S. Constitution express concern about standing armies during times of peace. This should not be a concern because the legislature, as representatives of the people, are the ones to control the army and therefore cannot threaten the rights of the people without the people's approval. Furthermore, the clause that requires Congress to approve funding for only 2 years at a time will force the people, through their representatives, to vote frequently on the standing armies.

The current Constitution's clause on standing armies is actually safer to the rights of individuals than the previous Articles of Confederation which only restricted state legislatures from having standing armies. Furthermore, the state constitutions have not spoken out against standing armies. Only 2 states specifically mention preventing standing armies during times of peace, and both believe they "ought" not to, rather than "shall not be kept." Even these two states demonstrate that they would keep standing armies if it were necessary.

Standing armies are critical to the young nation because there are threats to national security all around. It will be necessary to keep small forts in the western region. And who will man them? Until we have cultivated a navy including docks, arsenals, etc., we require a standing army to defend our borders.

Critics believe that a clause allowing standing armies under a strong executive will be used to subvert the liberty of the people. They argue that once the executive has amassed a powerful army, it will be used to intimidate the people into allowing further maintenance of the armed forces through their elected representatives.

However, attempts to subvert the liberties of a great community can only be done gradually over time. What foe would warrant the approval of the people for such a mass army in the first place? This could only happen under the U.S. Constitution if the legislative and executive branch worked in sync over many years through various elections to Congress and changing representatives.

Do critics imply that a government should not raise or maintain armies during peacetime, even if to prepare for impending attack? If so, then the U.S. will be a nation incapacitated by its constitution to prepare for defense before actual invasion. The only hope of an effective defense against invasion by a disciplined army is by a disciplined army that is prepared, drilled and trained over time.

Critics also fear that the proposed form of government will require military authority to force the people to follow the federal law. People should be no less likely to follow federal law than state law. People will be obedient to a government in proportion to its goodness. The more that the federal government touches the lives of the people, the more accustomed the people will be with its authority. As federal jurisdiction will be the highest law of the land, local magistrates will be used to enforce the federal laws in the local communities of the people, making federal law indistinguishable from state and local laws.

If the government or military becomes abusive of the civil rights of the citizens, it is far better for the citizens that this happen on the national level where there is some organized recourse to protest these abuses. At the state level, the people will have no choice but to immediately rise up in arms. By spreading the power of the people over a larger territory, the people have much more power relative to the powers of the government.

The government also needs the authority to provide for a well-regulated and uniform militia that is of moderate size. This militia would be prepared to take the field at any time an individual state would need it, and will lessen the need to maintain a standing army. And as they will be citizens themselves, no harm will come from them upon the liberties of other citizens.

Furthermore, the fact that the officers of the militia are appointed by each state should eliminate any thoughts of this body of men threatening the individual liberty of citizens of the state. Placing the local militia under the control of the federal government insures that a militia from one state will come to the aid of a neighboring state.


The American people deeply feared the presence of a standing army because of their experience with Great Britain in the years leading up to the American Revolution, particularly the 1765 Quartering Act. A standing army not only symbolized tyranny, but also the stamping out of civil rights without recourse. It is to these fears that Publius addresses his arguments in favor of the presence of standing armies and a strong national militia.

In the years prior to the American Revolution, colonists saw their share of British Military or Redcoats. Initially brought in to fight alongside the colonists in the French and Indian War, the Redcoats did not seem to leave after the war ended. Once colonists in Massachusetts began staging peaceful protests against the King and parliament's taxation, the Redcoats supposedly stuck around to preserve the peace. In actuality the Redcoats incited violence and created further tension between the colonists and Great Britain.

As the King became more angered with the colonists, he further reduced the colonists' civil liberties and used the army to enforce his rulings. In 1770, the Redcoats enforced the King's ruling to shut down all local governmental assemblies and placed the colonies under military rule. The Redcoats were guarding the Boston State House when colonists pelted them with rocks and snowballs. They fired into the crowd, killing five in what soon became known as the Boston Massacre. Increasing the animosity, the Quartering Act forced colonists to house the Redcoats in their own homes.

With such a history, American's fear of a well-disciplined military in the hands of a strong central government outstripped their reverence for the Continental Army. However, the standing army established by the U.S. Constitution differs significantly from the one controlled by the King, in that its duration and size depends entirely on the vote of the legislative body, the body closest to the people. Therefore, the Federalists argued, the people should not fear a standing army because it was in their own hands through their representatives, and could not be put into the hands of the executive branch without the decision of the people.

The tradition of a local militia was also firmly rooted as one of the safeguards against a strong central government. The local militia served to successfully defend the colonies against British control prior to the establishment of the Continental Army. The U.S. Constitution maintains the presence of a militia but places it under national control. The national militia will still operate locally to put down disturbances, but can also be mobilized to neighboring states on orders from the national government. Critics of this change insist that without the control of a local militia, individual citizens have no protection against a national military power. However, the right of the citizens to bear arms is the final safeguard against usurpations of civil rights by a strong central government.

Publius insists that the common defense will be best provided by a unified and strong central government that has the command of a well-regulated army and a uniformly disciplined militia under its control. The need for military control was evidenced by the central government's ineffective response to Shays' Rebellion in 1787. A former army soldier and farmer from Massachusetts named Daniel Shays led a rebellion against the tax laws of the State of Massachusetts. The central government was unable to provide any military force to suppress the rebellion, and the Massachusetts legislature resorted to hiring a private citizen to stop the rebels.

Publius argues that the strong central government will not only serve to prevent such uprisings through intimidation, but also to be better equipped to suppress them when they occur.

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