Article 1, Section 8, Clause 15

Document 12

Luther Martin, Letters, no. 3

14 Mar. 1788Essays 358--59

That a system may enable government wantonly to exercise power over the militia, to call out an unreasonable number from any particular state without its permission, and to march them upon, and continue them in, remote and improper services; that the same system should enable the government totally to discard, render useless, and even disarm, the militia, when it would remove them out of the way of opposing its ambitious views, is by no means inconsistent, and is really the case in the proposed constitution. In both these respects it is, in my opinion, highly faulty, and ought to be amended. In the proposed system the general government has a power not only without the consent, but contrary to the will of the state government, to call out the whole of its militia, without regard to religious scruples, or any other consideration, and to continue them in service as long as it pleases, thereby subjecting the freemen of a whole state to martial law and reducing them to the situation of slaves. It has also, by another clause, the powers by which only the militia can be organized and armed, and by the neglect of which they may be rendered utterly useless and insignificant, when it suits the ambitious purposes of government. Nor is the suggestion unreasonable, even if it had been made, that the government might improperly oppress and harass the militia, the better to reconcile them to the idea of regular troops, who might relieve them from the burthen, and to render them less opposed to the measures it might be disposed to adopt for the purpose of reducing them to that state of insignificancy and uselessness. When the Landholder declared that "I contended the powers and authorities of the new constitution must destroy the liberties of the people," he for once stumbled on the truth, but even this he could not avoid coupling with an assertion utterly false. I never suggested that "the same powers could be safely entrusted to the old Congress;" on the contrary, I opposed many of the powers as being of that nature that, in my opinion, they could not be entrusted to any government whatever consistent with the freedom of the states and their citizens, and I earnestly recommended, what I wish my fellow citizens deeply to impress on your minds, that in altering or amending our federal government no greater powers ought to be given than experience has shown to be necessary, since it will be easy to delegate further power when time shall dictate the expediency or necessity, but powers once bestowed upon a government, should they be found ever so dangerous or destructive to freedom, cannot be resumed or wrested from government but by another revolution.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 3, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 15, Document 12
The University of Chicago Press

Ford, Paul Leicester, ed. Essays on the Constitution of the United States, Published during Its Discussion by the People, 1787--1788. Brooklyn: Historical Printing Club, 1892.

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