In this paper, Hamilton continues his defense of the proposed constitution’s provisions for standing armies in times of peace. He argues that his critics are motivated by a “zeal for liberty more ardent than enlightened,” and insists that the nation must adopt a political system that affords government the power it needs to govern while also protecting private rights. He points out that most state constitutions recognize that “confidence must be placed somewhere.” That is, although Americans fear an excessively powerful government, it would be far more dangerous to put so many restrictions on the legislative authority that the government cannot do its job.
Hamilton traces American fear of standing armies to the country’s British ancestry. Over the course of British history there were numerous examples of kings using armies to enforce absolute rule. It took many generations for the British to limit the power of the monarch and deny him sole control over the military. The Americans have taken this traditional British wariness of standing armies too far, however, and placed too many restrictions on their elected representatives under the Articles of Confederation.
In the proposed constitution, Hamilton argues, the legislature will be required to debate funding for the military every two years. This will ensure that the military never gets too powerful to overthrow American liberties. Two years is too short for the military to acquire overwhelming force and become an instrument of tyranny.
Hamilton concludes by repeating the necessity of having an army. He admits that there will always be some risk of the military becoming a force for tyranny, especially if war necessitates the creation of a very large and powerful military. However, the alternative of lacking an army to defend against foreign aggression and domestic insurrection would be even worse.
This paper illustrates one of the central themes of the Constitution: a balance between the “energy” of government and the rights of the people. Armies were traditionally viewed as a threat to the liberties of a people. Professional soldiers, it was feared, could be used by the executive to oppress a lightly armed, inadequately trained population. However, at the same time, armies are necessary to protect the nation.
Hamilton asserts that the constitution adequately balances these competing concerns. It allows for a standing army to be created and maintained, but places the authority for such an action in the hands of the legislature and not the executive. By taking this approach, the constitution balances the necessity of having a standing army with the moral imperative of protecting the rights of the people.