Overnight Trip to Philadelphia

From my travels, January 13 & 14, 2024

One of the things we’ve done with the boys the last few years is give “experiences” rather than “big gifts” for various holidays. This year, we decided to go in with their grandparents on an overnight trip to Philadelphia. Neither the boys, nor Emily, nor “Nene” and “Baba” had ever seen the sights of Independence National Historical Park, so this would be a good opportunity for that.

We went up on Saturday morning, and started with the new visitors center. This is jointly-run by the NPS and the city. We had lunch at the little cafe there (which was honestly, pretty disappointing) and then checked out the small museum exhibits, the orientation film, and got maps and Junior Ranger activity sheets.

John stands by as Isaac presides over the signing of the Constitution. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
John stands by as Isaac presides over the signing of the Constitution. – Photo by the author

They do Junior Rangers a little differently here. Instead of an activity book, they give out kind of a cartoon map of the park that has suggestions for activities and questions to ponder on it. I think the idea is that it gets the whole family involved. Once you’ve done your tour, I think you just need to convince a ranger that you’ve seen and learned a few new things and you’re all set.

With the introductory things out of the way, we walked across the street to the site of the old President’s House. The structure has been gone for a long time, but it has been partially re-created, and there are some cut-outs in the ground to show the archaeological work that was done at the site. It’s a pretty interesting presentation. From there, we got in line to go through security for the Liberty Bell.

The boys pose in front of the Liberty Bell. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The boys pose in front of the Liberty Bell. – Photo by the author

The boys were excited for this, as it is a symbol of modern Philadelphia – it even plays a role at the baseball games – but I think it didn’t have quite as much historical significance at the time of the founding.

“Baba” didn’t feel up to doing much more walking, so he headed back to the visitors center while the rest of us went over to see Benjamin Franklin’s house a few blocks away. The house itself no longer stands, but there is a large frame outline of where it would have stood. His print shop is still there, and the NPS does a great job of running demonstrations of the techniques that Franklin and his associates would have used. They even sell items that have been printed there, but we didn’t buy any.

Next to his house, there is an underground museum that walks through the many accomplishments that Franklin had in his life. He was certainly a renaissance man with a huge variety of life experiences. I think he knack for invention really resonated with my guys.

We met back up with “Baba” and drove over to our hotel to get checked in. We got dinner at the Reading Terminal Market so that we had plenty of variety to choose from. “Nene”, John, and I ended up getting cheesesteaks from Spataros. After such a hearty dinner, we had an evening swim at the pool, and got to bed to rest up for the next day.

We got some pretty good cheesesteaks at Reading Terminal Market. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
We got some pretty good cheesesteaks at Reading Terminal Market. – Photo by the author

Keeping it simple, we got up in the morning and met up for the hotel breakfast. We got checked out, and then made our way back over to Independence Hall for a 10:30am tour.

It was really cool to stand in the room where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were debated and – ultimately – adopted. It’s awe-inspiring to contemplate the weight of the decisions that were made here. The story of George Washington’s chair – it’s actually still there in that room, by the way – with sort of a half-sun motif near the top, and Franklin’s open rhetorical question as to whether the sun was rising or setting as they talked through the founding of our nation: that was a favorite moment for me.

Standing in the room where it actually happened. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Standing in the room where it actually happened. – Photo by the author

We didn’t end up finishing the Junior Ranger program on this trip. But you can probably guess, that’s only an excuse to go back.

Honeymoon in Key West, Part 3: Truman’s Little White House

November 19, 2023

Truman’s Little White House

When we were planning our trip initially, this was one of those places that jumped right out at me. We made a reservation for one of the morning tours at Truman’s Little White House and made our way up to that side of the island.

Exterior view of the "Little White House" - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Exterior view of the “Little White House” – Photo by the author

Originally built as housing for officers on the Naval base in 1890, this house ended up being associated with President Truman because of a vacation ordered by his doctor. Truman had been feeling ill and was advised to go somewhere warm in November of 1946. FADM Chester Nimitz had recently visited Naval Station Key West and knew that this house was available. Truman felt so invigorated here, that he made it a regular part of his presidency – spending something like 10% of his time in office here.

One of the things that I found interesting about the house itself is that it was originally situated on waterfront property, but over the years the island has been expanded by depositing fill from dredging operations. The west side of the island changed a lot because of this.

Our tour guide, Chet, was awesome. He had a lot of really great stories, and made us feel welcome. Many of the furnishings in the house are original to the Trumans’ time here. The whole interior decorating scheme is very 1950s. Parts of it felt like it could have been my grandmother’s house.

I swear I have seen these very chairs at my grandparents' house! - <i>Photo by the author</i>
I swear I have seen these very chairs at my grandparents’ house! – Photo by the author

One of the highlights of the tour was this custom card table, built by some of the guys on the Naval Station for Truman to use. He apparently enjoyed playing cards with guests that would come down – in fact, it seemed like the whole atmosphere here was very relaxed – I can see why Truman loved it so much. The story is that it was seen as very uncouth for the President to be seen playing cards, so a top was made to be fitted over the card playing surface for when the press was around.

Chet talks about the card table. The top cover rests behind him. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Chet talks about the card table. The top cover rests behind him. – Photo by the author

The other thing that was interesting was that a company in Miami (I believe) had heard about Truman’s frequent vacations here and send him some Hawaiian shirts they made. Truman decided that this was to be the “Key West Uniform” and all the staffers were encouraged to participate. They even have one of the original shirts that Truman wore still in their collection.

The case on the right holds a shirt that Truman actually wore in Key West. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The case on the right holds a shirt that Truman actually wore in Key West. – Photo by the author

Truman’s personal office and bedroom upstairs were pretty cool. His wife and daughter slept in the next room over – the idea being that if there was some emergency in the middle of the night, his family would not be disturbed. Mrs. Truman didn’t travel down here very often though, as she thought this was more of a hangout spot for the “boys.”

Truman's bed in Key West. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Truman’s bed in Key West. – Photo by the author

There were some notable historical events that took place here. In 1948, this is where the plan to consolidate the Department of the Navy and the Department of War into the Department of Defense was devised. Much later, in 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell chose to host peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan here. When asked why, he said that it was because of his tremendous respect for Truman, who had made a very personal impact on his life by desegregating the US military.

Once our tour was finished, I was able to get a photo of Emily out front with Truman’s grill. He was known to use the fine silver as a tray for hot dogs. Now I feel like I need to take her to visit Eisenhower’s house!

Emily with Truman's grill. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Emily with Truman’s grill. – Photo by the author

Lunch at DJ’s Clam Shack

My wife Emily is definitely a foodie, and the number of options for restaurants on Key West was nearly overwhelming. I think we need to make a return trip just to try out some other places.

One of the food stops that she really wanted to make on Duval Street was DJ’s Clam Shack. This place had been featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, so it had something of a famous reputation.

Emily inspects the menu at DJ's Clam Shack - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Emily inspects the menu at DJ’s Clam Shack – Photo by the author

In the end, Emily chose to go with their famous fried clams. I had some chicken fingers. We split an order of sweet potato fries. It was all delicious.

Dinner at Bo’s Fish Wagon

When we told people we were going to Key West, we got a ton of recommendations. One of the loudest was from my boss – herself a frequent visitor to the island – about a little joint that she thought Emily would really like. We had to check out Bo’s Fish Wagon.

Bo's Fish Wagon, on the northern side of the island. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Bo’s Fish Wagon, on the northern side of the island. – Photo by the author

I’ll be honest, the look of the place from the outside was…interesting. I ended up getting a hotdog (because I’m boring) and some really great black beans and rice on the side. Emily got fish tacos with crispy fries, and said that the fish was some of the freshest she had ever had.

We walked around the seaport district for a while and then headed back to the hotel. The big adventure of our honeymoon was planned for the next day, and we needed to be well-rested.

John Dickinson Plantation

From my travels, February 4, 2023.

Several months back, a good friend of mine who had grown up in Delaware, suggested that I check out the John Dickinson Plantation. We had a free afternoon, so it seemed like a good time to explore a bit.

Dickinson was an interesting guy. He is one of the rare founding fathers to have participated in all three of the important early documents: the Declaration of Independence (though he refused to sign it), the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution (which he signed as a representative from Delaware. A native Marylander, he was among the wealthiest men in the colonies, with holdings in Pennsylvania as well. He was a prolific writer, but seemed to hold a more moderate view than some of the others – perhaps because of his Quaker beliefs. He preferred the idea of a negotiated settlement of the grievances that existed with the British crown. Toward the end of his life, he expressed limited abolitionist sentiments, eventually freeing all his slaves.

Checking out the orientation film at the visitors center. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Checking out the orientation film at the visitors center. – Photo by the author

The historical site here consists mainly of the mansion on the property. There is a small visitors center with a very sparse museum, though the introductory film was good. One of the more bizarre aspects of the site is how it is affiliated. Up until the 1990s, Delaware had no NPS sites. There was a push to create what became First State National Historical Park by involving the NPS in a few of the state historic sites. There were no NPS employees here – it’s primarily run by Delaware, but they offer a limited Junior Ranger program. There was no book – simply participating in a tour earns the badge. They did have a few activity books about sounds in nature, so we took those, but that part of the park experience seems a little disjointed.

Moving on to the main house, the tour was interesting, but not as impressive as some of the other founders’ homes. For one thing, this was not Dickinson’s main residence, but I also think this was due to his Quaker lifestyle. Despite his wealth, he attempted to maintain a plain, modest lifestyle. One of the more interesting things that the tour guide pointed out is that his wealth was displayed in subtle ways in the home. They had extremely high ceilings, and portraits of the family members included their hands – notoriously hard to paint, and thus much more expensive.

In the end, we learned quite a bit about this founding father, and the boys got their First State Junior Ranger badges. It was a good use of a few hours.

Old State House, Dover, DE

From my travels, September 5, 2021.

Since the boys and I had started hanging around in Delaware more, I thought it might be good to check out some of the local historical sites. Emily had visited the Old State House before, and thought it would be a fun outing, so the next time we visited with “Nene” and “Baba” we took a short drive down to Dover.

The site was originally a smaller 25′ x 25′ courthouse. That building was where the Declaration of Independence was first read aloud in Delaware – the spot is marked by a monument out front. Downstairs in the “new” building served as a county courthouse originally, and the House and Senate met in chambers upstairs. Both of those meeting rooms were surprisingly small – the Senate only had 9 members back in those days, while the House had 21.

Our group listens to the guide's presentation in the House chamber. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Our group listens to the guide’s presentation in the House chamber. – Photo by the author

The building has been beautifully restored. They even let us sit at the legislative desks – super cool for the boys. Each desk had the name of a member of the legislature from the 18th century, with a short biographical sketch.

The boys sit in the Senate chamber. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The boys sit in the Senate chamber. – Photo by the author

Our tour concluded in a room upstairs where some Underground Railroad and abolitionist history was shared.

It was a very nice presentation and tour – especially considering that it was free.

Mini-Federalist #30 – Concerning the General Power of Taxation

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 #30, the original text of which can be read here: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_30.html

Originally published December 28, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, Alexander Hamilton.

We already discussed how the Federal government should provide for the military including raising troops, building a navy, and anything else that might be needed for defense. Of course, this isn’t the only thing that the government should be able to collect tax money for. The Federal government needs to be able to pay off national debts, and pay for other things that have a national scope. Clearly, the proposed Constitution must give the Federal government a general power to collect taxes.

It’s obvious that any government needs money, so it follows that the government ought to be allowed to regularly collect enough of it to do its work. If mechanisms for this collection aren’t in-place, then either the people are going to be hit up for money whenever there’s a crisis, or the government will quickly go bankrupt.

As an example, think of the Ottoman Empire – the Sultan has no power to impose a tax on his citizens. Instead, the governors of the individual provinces are allowed to rob their citizens so that the Emperor has the money he needs for his own (as well as the government’s) use. We face the other problem here: our government has been allowed to whither down to almost nothing. Wouldn’t it be better for both countries to have a well-established, regular tax system?

Our current system was supposed to give the Federal government the means to collect all the funds it needed, but the design is flawed. Congress is allowed to figure out what it needs and ask the States (who are legally obliged to comply) to provide it. The States aren’t supposed to get a say in the matter – except in how they collect the necessary funds – but in practice, they drag their feet if they disagree with Congress’ demand. Things will always be like this as long as Congress is dependent upon the States for funding. Even people who don’t care about politics know that this is going on, and we’ve already talked about it at length in these papers. This is the main reason that our government is a mess, and it is a bad thing for us, and a good thing for our would-be enemies.

How can we fix this other than by changing the whole system? We can’t rely on quotas imposed on the States anymore. We have to allow the Federal government to collect its own taxes. Even smart people can disagree about this at first, but there’s no other solution to keep us from going bankrupt.

Some of our smarter opponents will admit that our solution has merit, but they suggest that we limit the Federal government to so-called “external” taxes, like duties on imported goods, while leaving the “internal” taxes – those against the citizens directly – to the States. This idea doesn’t make any sense. The Federal government would still be depended on the States for funding. We can’t possibly bring in enough money to meet our current needs with these purely “external” taxes. And that is to say nothing of our future needs! We need our government to have maximum flexibility in collecting funds.

These opponents go on to say that any lack of Federal funding can be made up by the States. On the one hand, this admits that we can’t really rely on their solution, but that we ought to for any needs we have above a certain amount. Anyone who has really thought through this problem (or read my other papers) will be horrified at the idea of entrusting our national interests to this system. This proposal would make our country weaker, and lay the groundwork for conflict between the States. What makes us think that the same problems won’t crop up just because the Federal government will theoretically be asking for less money from the States? As if there is some point at which the States could decide that the Federal government doesn’t really need any more money. How could any government operate in a state of constant neediness like this? It can’t possibly have stability or establish credit – either at home or abroad. It can’t address anything but short-term issues, and always in “crisis mode”. There can be no long-term planning to advance the greater good.

What would happen if we’re ever drawn into a war? Let’s assume for the moment that the “external” taxes are enough to handle our day-to-day needs during peacetime. How would the Federal government handle an unexpected attack against us? We already know from experience that we can’t rely on the States to provide the Federal government with money – even during a time of great danger. So the Federal government would be forced to divert funds from normal operations (like paying off our debt) to cover the cost of the military. I can’t imagine any other way. And if that happened, our credit would be ruined at a time when we may need it most. Even countries that are richer than ours need to borrow money when they get involved in a war, and if we can’t be trusted to pay our debts, the amounts and terms of the loans we’ll be able to secure will be far from ideal.

You might argue that even with the Federal government having a full power to tax as it needs to, that we may still find ourselves in a position where we have to divert funds from normal operations like debt repayment during a war. There are still two advantages to the system where the Federal government has its own tax power: 1) we know that all the resources possible will be acquired and used, and 2) it will be easier to get loans to cover any gaps.

If the Federal government has the power to tax as much as it needs to, there will be no problem getting loans from either foreign or domestic sources. But if the Federal government is fully dependent upon the whims of 13 other State governments in order to pay it’s own bills, no creditor is going to loan to it.

These may seem like small concerns to people who imagine that we are building some kind of utopia here in this country. But those of us who know the problems and crises that have been experienced by other countries don’t expect that we’ll be able to completely avoid them. These matters deserve our serious consideration.

Cambridge Cemetery

Late last week, I ended up taking a trip over to the Eastern Shore of Maryland with my boss (whom we affectionately call “The Dude”) and in the process, we got the chance to visit Cambridge Cemetery in Cambridge, MD together. There’s some really cool Civil War history in that cemetery that matches up well with the research that I’ve been doing recently.

Colonel James Wallace
Colonel James Wallace

The grave that I went there to find is that of Col. James Wallace, the commander of the 1st MD Eastern Shore. This regiment was raised by Col. Wallace as a home guard unit, but ended up being pressed into service at Gettysburg since the Confederates had invaded the north. Not all the men in the 1st MD:ES saw it that way though, and at least one company resigned over that issue before they left the State of Maryland.

The bulk of the unit made it to Gettysburg where it was attached to Brig. Gen. Henry Lockwood’s independent brigade. Col. Wallace led the men in the counter-attack at Culp’s Hill on July 3, and it was these men who fired on the 1st MD (later 2nd MD) battalion CSA – a unit that contained many of their friends and neighbors, and in at least one instance, relatives. These Union men got the better of their Confederate counterparts; taking only 25 casualties out of the 532 men present for duty.

Col. Wallace was an interesting character himself. He grew up as a member of a prominent family in Dorchester county, going on to study law at Dickinson College. He got involved in State politics as a member of the American party (better known as the “Know-Nothings” – a mainly anti-immigrant political movement). Wallace was opposed to secession, but was also pro-slavery – mainly because he was a slave-owner himself. In fact, he would resign from the army in December of 1863 over the issue of black men being armed for the war effort.

His grave is located near the entrance to the cemetery on the appropriately-named Cemetery Ave. My boss located it immediately:

Location of James Wallace's gravesite.
Location of James Wallace’s gravesite. Map by Apple Maps.

James Wallace's Monument.
James Wallace’s Monument. Photo by the author.

Nearby, there’s another grave of historical significance in the context of the Civil War: that of Maryland Governor Thomas Holliday Hicks.

Governor Thomas Holliday Hicks.
Governor Thomas Holliday Hicks.

Like Col. Wallace, Gov. Hicks was born in Dorchester county, and became involved with the Know-Nothing Party. Serving as Governor from 1858-1862, he was in office for the start of the Civil War. While it may seem like a contradictory position to us, Gov. Hicks was both pro-slavery and anti-secession. He felt that if there was to be a Civil War, Maryland as a border state may become the main theater of battle, and he wanted to avoid bringing that conflict to his native State. This led him to attempt to forge a neutral path for Maryland.

He avoided calling the legislature into session for several months, and in that time many of the pro-secession members were jailed. When he finally did begin the session, he did so in the pro-union town of Frederick, MD, far from it’s normal place in the pro-southern capital of Annapolis.

After his term was up, Gov. Hicks was appointed to fill the vacant seat in the U.S. Senate left by the death of James Pearce, and went on to become a strong ally of President Lincoln – even going so far as to endorse his re-election in 1864.

His gravesite is located just to the east of Col. Wallace’s, and is marked by a large statue of him placed there by the State of Maryland in 1868. It’s very hard to miss:

Location of Thomas Holliday Hicks' gravesite.
Location of Thomas Holliday Hicks’ gravesite. Map by Apple Maps.

Thomas Holiday Hicks' Monument.
Thomas Holliday Hicks’ Monument. Photo by the author.

Detail of the plaque on Gov. Hick's monument.
Detail of the plaque on Gov. Hicks’ monument. Photo by the author.

I can’t help but think that these two men were at least close associates, if not friends; though I haven’t found any evidence of a relationship. Colonel Wallace was from a prominent family with political connections. Both men grew up in the same area, and with similar political beliefs. The Colonel’s commission that Wallace received was given by Governor Hicks, too – and those were generally not given out based on military merit so much as on who you knew in the State capital.

Even if they weren’t close friends, these two men worked together to try and keep Maryland out of trouble and in a peaceful state in the opening days of the Civil War. Misguided as their politics may have been, they deserve to be remembered for their place in our history.

“Legitimate State Interest”

27 years ago today, in 1987, the case of Nollan v. California Coastal Commission was argued before the Supreme Court of the United States.

A few months later, when the opinion was delivered, it included one of the dumbest (or maybe scariest) lines in the history of American law:

Our cases have not elaborated on the standards for determining what constitutes a “legitimate state interest”…

To paraphrase Tim Sandefur‘s thoughts on the matter: On the 200th anniversary of the Constitution of the United States – even with the aid of the Federalist Papers – the nation’s best lawyers, on the highest court in the land, still have no idea what the government exists to do.

This is the state of things, folks.


I make no secret of the fact that I’m a libertarian. I’m also a recently-converted Christian. Some people (on both “sides”, as it were) see this as being something of a conflict. Libertarians are supposed to be free spirits – we’re not supposed to like authority, so we’d naturally hate church, and church people wouldn’t be accepting of us because we wouldn’t be as rigid and controlling as they are.

In reality, these two traits are totally compatible. For one thing, not all churches are stuffy and authoritarian. And part of being free to choose how you want to live your own life means that you are free to live in a “conservative” way, too. In fact, there’s quite a bit that libertarians and Christians have in common – one of those is on how we look at charity.

It’s well known that libertarians don’t look at government programs (or taxes that go toward them) as being charitable – they are even seen as forced theft to some of us. REAL charity we say, comes from giving of yourself because you want to, not because someone else is making you do it. Christians see it the same way. When the collection plate comes past, or when a friend or neighbor needs help, it’s not enough to say, “I already paid my taxes.” You’re supposed to have a giving spirit, and that means going above and beyond.

I was thinking about all this in church this morning. Last week, my pastor Mike approached me about leading a tour of Gettysburg when some of the men in our church head up there for a retreat this coming spring. He knows about my interest in Civil War history and especially Gettysburg. In fact, we went up there together a little over a year ago. One of the things that I mentioned to him on that visit was about how practically all the buildings in town became hospitals in some sense. Of course, there were major hospitals set up in big buildings in town: one was at Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church. There was an outdoor hospital – Camp Letterman – set up on the east side of town, too. But there were so many wounded that those hospitals weren’t enough, and many citizens took a few wounded men into their own homes to care for them. It was a point that resonated enough for Mike that he mentioned it in a sermon last fall.

The story I relayed to him was one I’d picked up from the diary of Sarah Broadhead. She was one of the 2,400 residents of Gettysburg left to deal with the 50,000+ casualties left over from the battle. Here’s what she wrote on July 9, 1863 – less than a week after the fighting ended:

Nearly every house is a hospital, besides the churches and warehouses and there are many field hospitals scattered over the country near the scene of the battle. A man called to-day and requested me to take into our house three wounded men from one of the field hospitals. I agreed to take them, for I can attend to them and not be compelled to leave my family so long every day as I have done.

You can see why Mike wanted to use this as part of a message about Christian charity. Sarah was “compelled” to leave her family for a long time each day to help these men. Indeed, having these sick, wounded, needy people in her own home was a convenience for her.

I think we’ve lost some of that spirit as a culture. What Sarah’s story embodies is true charity. When we see stories like hers on the news nowadays, we think, “what a remarkable person.” Actions like hers are special and noteworthy – even abnormal – in these times, but in the Gettysburg of 1863, she was just one of many (as she notes) who were doing the very same thing.

You have to remember – there was no FEMA (and you have to wonder how effective they’d be anyway), no PEMA, no CDC, not even a Red Cross (yet). There were no telethons to raise money for the victims. No “change your Facebook profile pic to support…” campaigns. All of these organizations that we have in our modern, so-called advanced society have come together to remove our individual responsibility to help others. And it’s not just that either – our culture is so litigious that if you try to help but fail, you may face legal consequences. Everything is set up to actively prevent us from helping each other. In 1863, people had no option but to help each other directly – person to person. Taking in people who need help, getting their entire family involved, altering their own routines, making sacrifices for their fellow man.

Isn’t that more like the kind of world we want?

As libertarians, as Christians, as humans – this is what we are “called” to do. To help each other, not to sub-contract that out to someone else, or some private or government organization who we make “responsible”. We’re ALL responsible.

It’s a message I believe in, and one you can be sure I’ll be talking about with our group in a few months.

September 17

Today is a big day in American history.

226 years ago, the US Constitution was signed. Its brilliance has yet to be matched by any other political document. While it certainly wasn’t perfect, it has the ability to be made better as time goes on.

151 years ago, the bloodiest single day in American history – the Battle of Antietam – took place. Despite their overwhelming numerical advantage, the Union Army of the Potomac under Maj. Gen. George McClellan fought the Confederates under Gen. Robert E. Lee to a stalemate, claiming around 24,000 casualties in the process. While it was a Union victory strategically (as it ended Lee’s invasion of the north), it didn’t make anyone feel good.

Sadly though, today isn’t marked on many people’s calendars. For whatever reason, these two events don’t reach even the level of Flag Day in the American schedule. I’m not calling for a national holiday or anything – I mean, do we really need another Congressionally-mandated 3-day weekend that everyone uses to go to the beach?

So take a few minutes today and learn about these events. If you’re inclined, plan a trip to Antietam. Read the Constitution (or better yet, the Federalist). Let’s bring some meaning to this day.

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).