Mini-Federalist #29 – Concerning the Militia

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 #29, the original text of which can be read here: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_29.html

Originally published January 9, 1788 by “Publius” – who was in this case, Alexander Hamilton.

Control of the militia is clearly a natural part of providing for the common defense, and protecting peace at home.

It doesn’t take a military genius to realize that having a well-trained and uniform militia is a good thing. A militia with this kind of experience is best equipped to help if an emergency arises, and that type of consistent training can only be provided by the national government. That’s why Congress is given this power under the proposed Constitution (leaving the selection of the officers and the implementation of the national standard training to the States).

Even though this arrangement makes a lot of sense, the opponents of the Constitution have still attacked it. Think about it – if the militia is our best national defense, it should be under the control of the government that is responsible for the national defense. And shouldn’t the government’s control of the militia ease the temptation to create a dangerous standing army? Without some force to use in providing for the common defense, the Federal government may resort to using standing armies more often. Isn’t the most effective defense against a standing army, the removal of the need for one?

In order to make the militia powers look bad, there are those who argue that the proposed Constitution doesn’t allow for the executive to call for the citizens to help enforce the laws. They imply that the use of military force is his only legal option. Of course, we know that they’re talking out of both sides of their mouths. You can’t simultaneously claim that the Federal government is too powerful, but that it is powerless to even call for the citizens’ help. Of course we know that the Federal government has all powers necessary and proper to carry out its responsibilities. It’s completely clear that the power to call forth the citizens is part of that. It’s nonsense to assume that just because the Federal government can use the military, that it is the only option available to it. What kind of people make this argument?

Those people have even gone so far as to suggest to us that the militia is to be feared. They suggest that special units (comprised of the young and impressionable) could be formed for nefarious purposes. Of course, we don’t know what the actual regulations will be on the militia. Let me tell you what I would want if we ratified the Constitution:

Keeping the whole population organized in a militia is a huge task. It takes more than a couple days to really master the skills you need to be successful in the military – we’d need almost constant drilling for everyone. If the people themselves don’t outright object to that inconvenience, our State budgets surely will. All we could really do is make sure the people have proper weapons and equipment, and maybe get them together once or twice a year.

What seems like a better idea is to have a small core of people that will be more highly-trained. This militia can serve in an emergency (maybe well enough that we wouldn’t need an army) and can act as a check against the power of an army if one is ever needed. This is probably our best available option.

I arrive at a very different conclusion than the opponents of the Constitution, even though we’re talking about the same document. I see safeguards where they imagine danger. But we do have to keep in mind, none of us really knows how the militia will actually be regulated.

The whole idea that the militia could be a threat to liberty is so insane that I don’t really know how to respond. Is it just some kind of rhetorical exercise? A kind of trick to get people against the proposed Constitution? Or the product of a fanatical mind? If we can’t even trust our friends and neighbors, we’re in serious trouble. What possible danger can exist from the people in our own community, living and struggling side-by-side with us? If the States are the only ones who can appoint the militia’s officers, what do we have to fear from Federal control of the militia? That fact alone should be enough to allay any fears – the States will always hold the upper hand.

When you look at what these opponents of the Constitution write, their objections read like a trashy novel; full of lies and so many made-up boogiemen.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the examples they bring up about the militia. They assert that men will be sent all over the country, and even used as mercenaries to pay off foreign creditors. At the same time, we are told there will be a massive army destroying our liberties, we’re also going to have militia men sent hundreds of miles from their homes to threaten the people of other States. Do they really think we’ll believe this stuff?

Think about it: if the government can raise an army to use against the people, why would they need the militia for that purpose? Even if they tried to use the militia – to send them far from home, and force them to fight against their countrymen – isn’t it more likely that the militia will turn their fight against that corrupt government instead? Would such a government ever stand a chance if they tried to use the militia like this? It would only raise the alarm among the people. So, is it more likely that the opponents of the Constitution who are raising these objections have actual concerns, or that they’re just trying to foment hate of the Constitution? Even if a tyrant came to power eventually, they wouldn’t be this stupid.

Naturally, if there’s a crisis of some kind, the militia from one State may come to the aid of its neighbor. This happened a lot during the Revolution, and it’s one of the reasons we have a Union in the first place. If the Federal government controls this process, it’s far more likely that help will be there when it’s needed (and before it’s too late).

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