The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers Summary and Analysis of Essay 29

Summary

Hamilton address criticisms of the constitution’s provisions for federal control of the militia. Specifically, the constitution empowers the union “to provide for organizing, arming and disciplining the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving the states respectively the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by congress.” Hamilton defends this provision by stating that it will reduce the need for large standing armies, which were widely viewed as a threat to liberty.

He furthermore rejects the criticism that the authors of the constitution intended to create a system in which military force would be the primary instrument for enforcing legislation. The critics based their claim on the fact that the constitution lacks any provision for magistrates employing the use of the posse comitatus, which is the authority of a magistrate to enlist the services of able-bodied men to assist him in enforcing the law. Essentially, the critics are claiming that by not specifically authorizing posse comitatus, the constitution is setting up a system under which the government would have to resort to military forces to execute its duties rather than relying the citizens themselves. However, Hamilton points out that the authority granted to congress to “pass all laws necessary and proper to execute its declared powers” would include the authority to require citizens to help officers enforce the law.

Hamilton also suggests how the national government may choose to regulate the militia. He suggests that most militiamen would only muster once a year to ensure that they are properly armed and equipped. In addition there would be a select force that would be more highly trained and stand ready to quickly take to the field whenever the defense of the state required it.

Hamilton furthermore dismisses the claim that granting the federal government authority over state militias would lead to the government using these militias as instruments of tyranny. In particular, critics claimed that one state militia would be used to oppress the people of a different state. Hamilton argues that state militias would never be willing to do such a thing and would instead overthrow the tyrants who issued such orders. Furthermore, the states would retain the right to appoint the officers of the militia, which would guard against them becoming instruments of tyranny.

Finally, Hamilton asserts that federal control over the militia would allow the national government to deploy state militias to different states in times of war. If the national government did not have the authority to do this, then some states might end up bearing a disproportionately high burden during wartime.

Analysis

This paper brings to a close several papers discussing the role of military forces under the proposed constitution. Hamilton’s tone in this paper is highly combative and exhibits a high degree of frustration with what he believes to be the unreasonable criticisms of the constitution’s opponents. He essentially accuses the critics of disingenuous fear-mongering devoid of all common sense. He sees the fear of a federally controlled militia as particularly absurd since the militia would be composed of “our sons, our brothers, our neighbors, our fellow citizens…”. In refuting these counterarguments, Hamilton methodically talks through how the constitutional provisions for the militia would likely play out in the years to follow. He appeals to readers’ common sense in arguing that the citizen-soldiers who constitute militias would never willingly become an instrument of tyranny.

This relates to a very important and influential belief of 18th century Americans: militiamen are more trustworthy than active-duty soldiers. It was widely believed in the early years of the republic that full-time soldiers in standing armies were generally of low moral character. They devote their life to fighting and will do anything for money. By contrast, militiamen were believed to be a direct extension of the citizenry into the realm of military activity. Militias were seen as a direct reflection of the people themselves fighting for their own rights and freedom. Serving in the militia was perhaps the highest form of civic virtue. Hamilton draws on this faith in the civic virtue of militias to convince his readers that just because the federal government has some authority over them does not mean that militiamen will suddenly lose their moral character and become the means by which an ambitious politician establishes his autocratic rule.