The Federalist Papers (1787-1789)

by: The Founding Fathers

Federalist Essays No.23 - No.29

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.