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Article 1, Section 8, Clause 12



Document 11

A Democratic Federalist

17 Oct. 1787Storing 3.5.10--12

But Mr. Wilson has not stopped here--he has told us that a STANDING ARMY, that great support of tyrants, not only was not dangerous, but that it was absolutely necessary.--O! my much respected fellow citizens! and are you then reduced to such a degree of insensibility, that assertions like these will not rouse your warmest resentment and indignation? Are we then, after the experience of past ages, and the result of the enquiries of the best and most celebrated patriots have taught us to dread a standing army above all earthly evils, are we then to go over all the thread-bare common place arguments that have been used without success by the advocates of tyranny, and which have been for a long time past so gloriously refuted! Read the excellent Burgh in his political disquisitions, on this hackneyed subject, and then say, whether you think that a standing army is necessary in a free country? Even Mr. Hume, an aristocratical writer, has candidly confessed, that an army is a mortal distemper in a government, of which it must at last inevitably perish (2d Burgh 349) and the Earl of Oxford (Oxford the friend of France, and the pretender, the attainted Oxford) said in the British parliament, in a speech on the mutiny bill; that "while he had breath, he would speak for the liberties of his country, and against courts martial and a standing army in peace as dangerous to the constitution," (Ibid page 455 [356]). Such were the speeches even of the enemies to liberty, when Britain had yet a right to be called free. But, says Mr. Wilson, "It is necessary to maintain the appearance of strength even in times of the most profound tranquillity." And what is this more than a thread-bare hackneyed argument, which has been answered over and over in different ages, and does not deserve even the smallest consideration?--Had we a standing army, when the British invaded our peaceful shores? Was it a standing army that gained the battles of Lexington, and Bunker's Hill, and took the ill fated Burgoyne? Is not a well regulated militia sufficient for every purpose of internal defence? And which of you, my fellow citizens, is afraid of any invasion from foreign powers, that our brave militia would not be able immediately to repel?

Mr. Wilson says that he does not know of any nation in the world which has not found it necessary to maintain the appearance of strength in a season of the most profound tranquility: if by this equivocal assertion, he has meant to say that there is no nation in the world without a standing army in time of peace, he has been mistaken. I need only adduce the example of Switzerland, which, like us, is a republic, whose thirteen cantons, like our thirteen States, are under a federal government, and which besides is surrounded by the most powerful nations in Europe, all jealous of its liberty and prosperity: And yet that nation has preserved its freedom for many ages, with the sole help of a militia, and has never been known to have a standing army, except when in actual war.--Why should we not follow so glorious an example, and are we less able to defend our liberty without an army, than that brave but small nation, which with its militia alone has hitherto defied all Europe?

It is said likewise, that a standing army is not a new thing in America--Congress even at this moment have a standing army on foot.--I answer, that precedent is not principle--Congress have no right to keep up a standing army in time of peace:--If they do, it is an infringement of the liberties of the people--wrong can never be justified by wrong--but it is well known that the assertion is groundless, the few troops that are on the banks of the Ohio, were sent for the express purpose of repelling the invasion of the savages, and protecting the inhabitants of the frontiers.--It is our misfortune that we are never at peace with those inhuman butchers of their species, and while they remain in our neighbourhood, we are always, with respect to them, in a state of war--as soon as the danger is over, there is no doubt but Congress will disband their handful of soldiers: --it is therefore not true, that Congress keep up a standing army in a time of peace and profound security.


The Founders' Constitution
Volume 3, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 12, Document 11
http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/a1_8_12s11.html
The University of Chicago Press

Storing, Herbert J., ed. The Complete Anti-Federalist. 7 vols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.

Easy to print version.


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