Mini-Federalist #28 – The Same Subject Continued: The Idea of Restraining the Legislative Authority in Regard to the Common Defense Considered

This is a continuation of a series of posts that are intended to be shorter, more understandable versions of the Federalist Papers. This post deals with Federalist #28, the original text of which can be read here: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_28.html

Originally published December 26, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, Alexander Hamilton.

It’s always possible that governments will have to use force. We know this from world history as well as our own experience. It’s totally natural that there will be revolts from time to time. No government can avoid that and rely only on the rule of law.

In such a case, all the government can do is resort to force. Now, of course the response must be proportional – if only a small rebellion is underway, then only a small force should oppose it – but some force is still needed. Any rebellion would eventually threaten everyone if not stopped in time, so it is within the power of the Federal government to step in if needed.

If an insurrection overtakes an entire State, the militia may not be enough – troops may need to be raised. Some States (like Massachusetts and Pennsylvania) have already considered this in specific cases. Since the Federal government faces the same threats as the States, shouldn’t it have the same power to counter them? I don’t know how anyone that is pro-Union can think it would be bad for the Union to defend itself.

Even for people that favor the plan of 3 or 4 confederacies, wouldn’t the same problem exist for those confederacies as for our proposed Federal government? You have to admit that this same objection would apply just as much to that scenario. Even if we remain as 13 individual, separate States, a time may come when the militia just isn’t enough to keep the peace.

Setting aside all other arguments, isn’t it really enough of an answer to say that in our plan, the power to raise troops is under the direct control of Congress, which is under the control of the people. This is really the best security for individual rights that can be had.

Even if Congress goes out of control, the people can resort to defending themselves with their own weapons. It may sound counter-intuitive, but this would be easier to do against the Federal government than against a State. For one thing, there are not enough organized subdivisions within one State to provide for effective raising of troops. It would be every man for himself. The tyrannical forces in government would be able to take them down piecemeal – perhaps even using the legal system to do it. It would be extremely difficult for any kind of citizen resistance.

The larger the scope of the government, the harder it will be for tyrannical elements to take it over (especially if the people are aware of and protective of their rights). A larger group of citizens would also be more effective against such a government. The other advantage of our particular arrangement will be that the States will always want to defend their power from Federal encroachments (and vice versa). That will serve as a natural defense against tyranny, and if the people throw their weight on one side or the other, they will tip the balance of power. The people hold the deciding vote at all times.

But the State governments will be able to see these problems coming – the people won’t need to be involved too often. There will be smart, engaged people running the States, and if the Federal government becomes tyrannical, they can take action to stop it (at the very least, they can raise the alarm and coordinate actions with other States).

The sheer size of our country will also be a bulwark against a tyrannical military power. Think of how much trouble the British had maintaining military control here. Even if one part of the country is quelled, the others can come to its rescue.

And remember, of course, that we have to be able to pay for an army. With the state of our economy, we won’t be able to afford a huge military force for quite some time. Even if the Federal government gets richer, so will the States and the people. Will there ever be a time that the freedom of the people can be overpowered in this way? I doubt it. Anyone who thinks this is a serious threat obviously isn’t thinking clearly.

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