In this midst of internal turmoil in the United States and the always looming threat from external enemies around the world, many Americans would balk at the idea of eliminating the standing military of the United States. While some in the country would advocate for less military spending, even they would have to agree that it would be foolish for America to completely rid themselves of the military altogether and rely solely on the armed citizenry of each state.
And yet, having no military was the position of most, if not all, the states in the founding era of the United States. Most states, if not all of them, had clauses in their Constitutions that declared a standing military a threat to liberty. At that time, a standing army was considered the tool, the weapon, of the tyrant. Why, in times of peace, would a government need a standing army?
Americans were done being oppressed by the British and their “standing armies”. They’d had enough of the constant fear that at any time their oppressors could militarily corral them into submission. They’d seen the results of a standing army in the hands of a monarch or dictator in Britain, France and many other countries throughout history.
So, when the Federalists—the proponents of the new Constitution—argued FOR a standing army, even in times of peace, this was a radical stance.
Since it was radical, Hamilton, Madison and Jay, took it upon themselves to defend the Constitution’s stance on this issue.
In Federalist 25, Hamilton does just that.
Hamilton emphasized the critical importance of such a standing army:
“If, to obviate this consequence, it should be resolved to extend the prohibition to the RAISING of armies in time of peace, the United States would then exhibit the most extraordinary spectacle which the world has yet seen, that of a nation incapacitated by its Constitution to prepare for defense, before it was actually invaded.”
The military should support and defend the Constitution, but the military should never be hampered by the Constitution, lest an attack from the outside come and the United States is ill-equipped to defend itself.
“As the ceremony of a formal denunciation of war has of late fallen into disuse, the presence of an enemy within our territories must be waited for, as the legal warrant to the government to begin its levies of men for the protection of the State. We must receive the blow, before we could even prepare to return it.”
Here, Hamilton mocks the idea that the military should only exist in times of war…complaining that, should a war begin, pulling together a competent military in the midst of war is foolish.
“All that kind of policy by which nations anticipate distant danger, and meet the gathering storm, must be abstained from, as contrary to the genuine maxims of a free government. We must expose our property and liberty to the mercy of foreign invaders, and invite them by our weakness to seize the naked and defenseless prey, because we are afraid that rulers, created by our choice, dependent on our will, might endanger that liberty, by an abuse of the means necessary to its preservation.”
Hamilton contends that those opposed to a standing military in times of peace are not afraid of losing their property and their liberty to foreign invaders because they are too busy being afraid of their own government. He says, we the people, created our own government, by our own will and held accountable to our own will, checks and balances and the Constitution. If the military were to abuse such power, they’d have to do so by doing against the very creators of its power.
“As far as an army may be considered as a dangerous weapon of power, it had better be in those hands of which the people are most likely to be jealous than in those of which they are least likely to be jealous. For it is a truth, which the experience of ages has attested, that the people are always most in danger when the means of injuring their rights are in the possession of those of whom they entertain the least suspicion.”
He makes an interesting claim. He says, it’s better for the “weapon” of a military to be held in the hands of the more dangerous government. He argues that we are more likely to be on the lookout for abuse if the military is given to the federal government than if we allowed for the less powerful government, state governments, to retain such power.
“The framers of the existing Confederation, fully aware of the danger to the Union from the separate possession of military forces by the States, have, in express terms, prohibited them from having either ships or troops, unless with the consent of Congress. The truth is, that the existence of a federal government and military establishments under State authority are not less at variance with each other than a due supply of the federal treasury and the system of quotas and requisitions.”
The military is only to be used if and when Congress, and by default, the people, deem it necessary. The U.S. Military is unique, special and not to be taken for granted. The fact that Americans are able to trust in rather than fear their military, speaks volumes of the American love of the law and Constitution that the founders instilled in the country from the start.
On September 29th, 1789, Congress, pressured by Washington, finally passed a bill establishing the U.S. military. Little changed at that time, but the military has grown in number and kind over the course of U.S. history.
Trust in the Military
I find it fascinating just how much confidence and trust the American people have in their standing army, navy and air-force. It’s beautiful really. The standing military in the U.S. is a testament to the values and spirit of the country. Really, the military is the litmus test for the country. An abusive, violent and oppressive military is indicative of an abusive, violent and oppressive citizenry that rejects law, order and true liberty.
To any current or former members of the military: your bravery, your allegiance to the country, and your belief in and support of the values of liberty, law and the Constitution, are truly miraculous and, as a citizenry, we should never take you or your virtues for granted.
For, rarely has there ever been a nation as powerful as the U.S., with a military as well-equipped, well-organized, and well-trained, as the U.S. military that did not also suffer abuse, control and oppression from such a military.
But, our military does not abuse, does not oppress and is not a weapon of force against its own citizenry and Hamilton, Madison and the founders predicted such a case.
We’ve been fortunate in this country to have never had a tyrant, in whose hands our military could become a weapon against its own citizenry. However, should a tyrant attempt to use the military as his weapon against the citizenry, something tells me, he would find resistance from the weapon itself.
The oath of office for the army goes, as follows: “I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
The founders firmly established the supremacy of the Constitution, above all else, in the founding of the country. This meant that, even the military (a part of the executive arm of the government) was subject first to the Constitution and then to the President and Congress. The Constitution’s power and importance here cannot be overstated.
If the military is subject first to the Constitution, rather than any man or men, this means that, should such man or men violate the Constitution or order the military to violate the Constitution, the military has the right and basis to refuse to follow such orders.
They are called upon to “support and defend” the Constitution—by default, liberty.
In today’s environment, there may be no more valuable resource to the American people than a standing military set on protecting and defending the Constitution. And yet, at the same time, there may be no more terrifying threat to liberty than a standing military who is not set on protecting and defending the Constitution.
The Constitution and liberty really do hinge on the actions and choices of our military, should push ever come to shove.
Liberty weighs in the balance, determined by the answer to the following question, a question our armed forces, our local police, our armed citizenry and our government must all answer and may be called to answer sooner than we’d like to believe.
Who are you going to serve?
The Liberty Belle