The Federalist Papers (1787-1789)

by: The Founding Fathers

Federalist Essays No.23 - No.29

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.

Commentary

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.