The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers Summary and Analysis of Essay 28

Summary

In this paper, Hamilton acknowledges that there may be times in which the government must use force to maintain law and order. However, he contends that this is an unavoidable possibility in any political system. He argues that having a standing army, as opposed to just a militia, will be necessary at times to subdue large scale domestic insurrections or foreign aggression.

Hamilton emphasizes that the people need not fear the military establishment because it will be controlled by a government run by the representatives of the people. However, if for some reason, the representatives of the people were to betray their constituents, the people would be better able to resist “the usurpation of the national rulers” than “those of the rulers of an individual state.” If the national government were to use standing armies to usurp power, the people could rally around the state governments and resist the national rulers. The larger the polity, the harder it is for a government to gain absolute control.

In the system designed by the proposed constitution, the state governments would act as natural checks on the national government and vice versa: “power being almost always the rival of power.” However, if each state were totally independent and no national army existed, then state governments could more easily violate the rights of the people, who would have very limited means for organizing a strong resistance.

Analysis

In this paper, Hamilton is describing a hypothetical worst-case scenario. Although it may seem unthinkable in 21st century America, the Americans of the 18th century were deeply concerned about an excessively powerful national government using the military to oppress the people. Hamilton is arguing that not only is a national military at times necessary to ensure public safety, but, even were this military to become an instrument of tyranny, the state governments would act as natural centers of resistance.

Hamilton frequently takes the approach of acknowledging a widespread fear among the population—e.g., the fear of violent usurpation of political liberties—and then using a hypothetical situation to illustrate how the proposed constitution offers the best protection against that fear. However, Hamilton also buttresses his hypothetical with current events in order to make his arguments more plausible to his audience. In this paper, he refers to New York state’s claim to certain sections of Vermont to illustrate that, although militias can deal with small local issues, they will not be sufficient to deal with major conflicts.