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The Federalist Papers: No. 29

On this day in 1788, Federalist Paper 29 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.

We are turning to a subject that is better than taxes!

Alexander Hamilton (a.k.a. “Publius”) is defending the prospect of giving Congress the authority “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.” The proposed provision was controversial. Remember that the founding generation viewed the militia as kind of a last defense: It is not the army. Instead, its members are taken out of the people themselves, and its job is to defend the people’s liberty. If the job of the militia is to defend the states against an oppressive national government, how can this job be performed while the militia is under the control of Congress?

Patrick Henry expressed this thought during the Virginia ratifying convention: “The militia, sir, is our ultimate safety. We can have no security without it. . . . The great object is, that every man be armed.”

But Publius does not believe that national control of the militia is dangerous. Instead, he views it as merely practical: Such a step must be taken if there is to be “uniformity in the organization and discipline of the militia . . . whenever they were called into service for the public defense.” Moreover, an organized and efficient militia will help to achieve another goal, near and dear to Americans’ hearts: It will “take away the inducement and the pretext” for unnecessary standing armies. The militia (more trusted) will sometimes take the place of the standing army (less trusted).

Publius wonders how some have come to fear the (trusted) militia, just because the national government will have power to “prescribe regulations for the militia, and to command its services when necessary”? “Where in the name of common-sense,” he asks, “are our fears to end if we may not trust our sons, our brothers, our neighbors, our fellow-citizens?” And, he reiterates, the people may rely upon the provision giving the states “SOLE AND EXCLUSIVE APPOINTMENT OF THE OFFICERS” (See U.S. Const, art. I, sec. 8, cl. 16) He concludes: “If it were possible seriously to indulge a jealousy of the militia upon any conceivable establishment under the federal government, the circumstance of the officers being in the appointment of the States ought at once to extinguish it. There can be no doubt that this circumstance will always secure to them a preponderating influence over the militia.”

Unfortunately, a creative Congress seems to have gotten around much of that latter provision. Ugh.

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).

A few logistical publication notes for those who care:

You are not imagining things! This paper is out of sequence. It was originally published on January 9, immediately after the paper that we think of as Federalist No. 36. It was moved earlier in the order when the final collection was later published