In this paper, Hamilton continues to defend the Constitution’s provision authorizing the legislature to raise armies in times of peace. He first dismisses the proposal offered by opponents of the Constitution to entrust individual states with the responsibility of raising armies under the direction of the national government. He argues that the dangers facing America are common to all states and therefore ought to be dealt with by “common councils” and “a common treasury.” He argues that without a nationally controlled standing army, some states would end up bearing a greater share of the defense burden then others. Even more concerning, individual state armies would tempt state governments to use military force to resolve disputes with neighboring states and undermine the national authority.
Hamilton argues further that a national standing army would pose less of a threat to liberty than state armies since the people will be naturally more suspicious of the distant national government than the state governments. He asserts that “the people are commonly most in danger, when the means of injuring their rights are in the possession of those whom they entertain the least suspicion.”
Hamilton also asks whether the critics are demanding congress be prohibited from raising armies in times of peace or simply from “keeping them up,” i.e., funding an army already established. He argues that if Congress were prohibited from keeping up these forces, it would be unclear what constitutes “keeping them up.” Such ambiguity, Hamilton argues, could create an opportunity for the executive and the legislature to elude “the force of the provision” altogether. If, in order to prevent this, Congress were prohibited from raising armies in times of peace, then America would “exhibit the most extraordinary spectacle,” a country prohibited from preparing its defense until the enemy had already attacked.
Hamilton argues further that the militias, which train only part-time, will not provide adequate defense against professional armies: “War, like most other things, is a science to be acquired and perfected by diligence, by perseverance, by time, and by practice.” Hamilton uses examples of domestic strife in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts as evidence of the need for armies in times of peace to stand ready to quell domestic insurrections and foreign aggression at a moment’s notice.
Hamilton closes by arguing that standing armies are an absolute necessity. All societies inevitability look to them in times of danger to provide for public safety. If the American Constitution does not allow for such forces, they will still be created: “…how unequal are parchment provisions, to a struggle with public necessity.” These violations in the name of the necessity, however, will undermine the respect which politicians afford to the constitution, creating “a precedent for other breaches.”
Hamilton’s primary goal in this paper is to convince his New York audience of the necessity of granting the national legislature authority to raise and maintain armies during peacetime. He places New York in the category of states that are likely to be most directly exposed to foreign aggression—and thus one of the states in greatest need of protection by a standing army. Hamilton recalls several themes and arguments introduced in previous papers and uses them here in defense of the constitution’s provisions for standing armies. Specifically, he warns that multiple state armies will be lead to tensions and even war between the individual states and the unequal sharing of the burden of national defense.
One must be careful not to mistake Hamilton’s arguments here as a defense of standing armies in and of themselves. He does not deny that they are dangerous to liberty, but instead argues that they are unavoidable necessities and asserts that the proposed constitution contains sufficient provisions for keeping such national forces in check.
Hamilton’s argument here is rooted in a realists’ interpretation of national defense. In the wake of the Revolutionary War, in which citizen-soldiers played a pivotal role, Americans had idealistic notions of militias as supreme guardians of republican virtue and national defense. Hamilton, however, contends that in the modern era, professional armies are a necessity.
Hamilton furthermore introduces the notion of the reverence for the Constitution in this paper. He fears that if the document does not provide for standing armies, necessity will nevertheless lead to their creation. Such a violation of the fundamental laws of the country could, Hamilton fears, lead to a diminishing of the esteem with which those laws are held. This would make it easier for politicians down the road to violate the constitution again, even when not circumstances do not necessitate such violations.