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The Federalist Papers: No. 24

On this day in 1787, Federalist Paper No. 24 is published. The Federalist Papers are a collection of essays that were published in New York newspapers in late 1787 and early 1788. They argued FOR the new Constitution, then being considered for ratification by the states.

Alexander Hamilton (a.ka. “Publius”) addresses one specific objection that has been made to the proposed Constitution: Some claimed that “proper provision has not been made against the existence of standing armies in time of peace.”


By way of background, you should know that the founding generation generally distrusted standing armies. They saw them as a threat to liberty. And don’t forget that the Founders had just fought a Revolution in which some of them had been subject to the abuses of the British army. For instance, their homes had been taken over and used by British soldiers. At other times (for instance when the British were pursuing the Americans across New Jersey in 1776), the soldiers had plundered villages and raped women.


No, the founding generation did not trust standing armies. And now Publius addresses this particular concern.


Publius observes, first, that the arguments being made bear no relation to the actual language of the Constitution. To listen to opponents, you’d think that the President had the exclusive power to call up troops. But if you actually read the Constitution, you discover that “the whole power of raising armies was lodged in [a popularly elected] LEGISLATURE, not in the EXECUTIVE.” Moreover, a check is placed on the legislature: It may not appropriate money “for the support of an army for any longer period than two years . . . a great and real security against the keeping up of troops without evident necessity.”


Moreover, most of the state constitutions are silent on the subject, as is the Articles of Confederation. Why, then, are some so upset about a state of affairs that has already existed in America?


Finally, Publius notes the reasons for having a standing army and frontier garrisons: Britain and Spain both have territories nearby. Indian tribes live on the Western frontier. Americans should “not to be too sanguine in considering ourselves as entirely out of the reach of danger.”


My post with more background on the Federalist Papers and their authorship can be found in the Federalist Paper No. 1 summary (see October 27 history post, here).

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