The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers Summary and Analysis of Essay 24

Summary

In this paper, Hamilton responds to the criticism that the proposed constitution does not have sufficient provisions against the existence of standing armies in times of peace. He does not deny that the constitution allows for the existence of standing armies in peacetime; however, he argues that the critics have left out the fact that the power to raise armies lies in the legislature, not the executive, and that there is little precedent in the state constitutions for prohibiting such forces. Since the power to raise armies lies with the legislature, the people do not need to fear that the government will use the army to violate their rights. Hamilton notes that the army’s budget must be approved at least every two years, which he says will help protect against the rise of an excessively powerful military establishment.

Finally, Hamilton argues that the discretion of the legislature to raise armies must not be restrained. He outlines the military threat posed by Spain, Britain, and the Native Americans, and contends that militias will be insufficient to counter them. Even in peacetime, it is necessary to guard the frontiers of the republic and protect seaports. Militias would not be ideal for this function since the volunteer, citizen-soldier militiamen would likely be unwilling to form “that most disagreeable duty” for extended periods of time, and taking militiamen away from their regular jobs would significantly increase expenses.

Analysis

This is the first in a series of papers that seek to address one of the most compelling criticisms of the proposed constitution: that it allowed for the creation of powerful standing armies which would constitute a fundamental threat to American liberty. There is a long tradition of anti-militarism in Anglo-American political thought. British and American political philosophers typically understood standing armies, i.e., professional fighting forces maintained even during peacetime, as instruments of tyranny. In monarchical systems with a strong executive, the sovereign could employ soldiers to impose his will on the people and deprive citizens of their basic rights.

Militias were seen as far safer sources of security since they were populated by the people themselves. Militiamen had regular jobs as farmers, laborers, craftsmen, merchants, etc. They simply trained periodically and fought during crises. In peacetime, they went back to their regular jobs. Militias were seen as inherently republican. Rather than entrusting the nation’s security to a band of professional fighters separated from the daily life and economy of the public, individual citizens were responsible for protecting their and their neighbors’ property and liberty.

Hamilton seeks to allay these concerns by assuring his readers that standing armies in America will be controlled by the people themselves through their elected representatives in the legislature. Furthermore, he contends that having a standing army is simply unavoidable given the security environment in which America found itself in the late 18th century. He adopts a somewhat mocking tone in addressing his critics and implies that they are exaggerating the risks posed by a standing army in order to stoke the traditional Anglo-American fear of military establishments.