Article 1, Section 8, Clause 16

Document 15

Gouverneur Morris to Moss Kent

12 Jan. 1815Life 3:328--29

When, in framing the Constitution, we restricted so closely the power of government over our fellow citizens of the militia, it was not because we supposed there would ever be a Congress so mad as to attempt tyrannizing over the people or militia, by the militia. The danger we meant chiefly to provide against was, the hazarding of the national safety by a reliance on that expensive and inefficient force. An overweening vanity leads the fond many, each man against the conviction of his own heart, to believe or affect to believe, that militia can beat veteran troops in the open field and even play of battle. This idle notion, fed by vaunting demagogues, alarmed us for our country, when in the course of that time and chance, which happen to all, she should be at war with a great power.

Those, who, during the Revolutionary storm, had confidential acquaintance with the conduct of affairs, knew well that to rely on militia was to lean on a broken reed. We knew, also, that to coop up in a camp those habituated to the freedom and comforts of social life, without subjecting them to the strict observation and severe control of officers regularly bred, would expose them to such fell disease, that pestilence would make more havoc than the sword. We knew that when militia were of necessity called out, and nothing but necessity can justify the call, mercy as well as policy requires, that they be led immediately to attack their foe. This gives them a tolerable chance; and when superior in number, possessing, as they must, a correct knowledge of the country, it is not improbable that their efforts may be crowned with success. To that end, nevertheless, it is proper to maintain in them a good opinion of themselves, for despondency is not the road to victory.

But to rely on undisciplined, ill-officered men, though each were individually as brave as Caesar, to resist the well-directed impulse of veterans, is to act in defiance of reason and experience. We flattered ourselves, that the constitutional restriction on the use of militia, combined with the just apprehension of danger to liberty from a standing army, would force those entrusted with the conduct of national affairs, to make seasonable provision for a naval force. We were not ignorant of the puerile notions entertained by some on that subject, but we hoped, alas! we vainly hoped, that our councils would not be swayed by chattering boys, nor become the sport of senseless declamation.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 3, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 16, Document 15
The University of Chicago Press

The Life of Gouverneur Morris, with Selections from His Correspondence and Miscellaneous Papers. Edited by Jared Sparks. 3 vols. Boston, 1832.

Easy to print version.