Article 1, Section 8, Clause 16

Document 8

Luther Martin, Genuine Information

1788Storing 2.4.61--62

By the next paragraph, Congress is to have the power 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.

For this extraordinary provision, by which the militia, the only defence and protection which the State can have for the security of their rights against arbitrary encroachments of the general government, is taken entirely out of the power of their respective States, and placed under the power of Congress, it was speciously assigned as a reason, that the general government would cause the militia to be better regulated and better disciplined than the State governments, and that it would be proper for the whole militia of the union to have a uniformity in their arms and exercise. To this it was answered, that the reason, however specious, was not just; that it would be absurd the militia of the western settlements, who were exposed to an Indian enemy, should either be confined to the same arms or exercise as the militia of the eastern or middle States; that the same penalties which would be sufficient to enforce an obedience to militia laws in some States, would be totally disregarded in others--That leaving the power to the several States, they would respectively best know the situation and circumstances of their citizens, and the regulations that would be necessary and sufficient to effect a well regulated militia in each--That we were satisfied the militia had heretofore been as well disciplined, as if they had been under the regulations of Congress; and the States would now have an additional motive to keep their militia in proper order, and fit for service, as it would be the only chance to preserve their existence against a general government, armed with powers sufficient to destroy them. These observations, Sir, procured from some of the members an open avowal of those reasons, by which we believed before that they were actuated. They said, that as the States would be opposed to the general government, and at enmity with it, which, as I have already observed, they assumed as a principle, if the militia was under the controul and the authority of the respective States, it would enable them to thwart and oppose the general government:--They said the States ought to be at the mercy of the general government, and, therefore, that the militia ought to be put under its power, and not suffered to remain under the power of the respective States. In answer to these declarations, it was urged, that if after having obtained to the general government the great powers already granted, and among those, that of raising and keeping up regular troops without limitation, the power over the militia should be taken away from the States, and also given to the general government, it ought to be considered as the last coup de grace to the State governments; that it must be the most convincing proof, the advocates of this system design the destruction of the State governments, and that no professions, to the contrary, ought to be trusted; and that every State in the union ought to reject such a system with indignation, since, if the general government should attempt to oppress and enslave them, they could not have any possible means of self defence; because the proposed system, taking away from the States the right of organizing, arming and disciplining of the militia, the first attempt made by a State to put the militia in a situation to counteract the arbitrary measures of the general government, would be construed into an act of rebellion, or treason; and Congress would instantly march their troops into the State.--It was further observed, that when a government wishes to deprive their citizens of freedom, and reduce them to slavery, it generally makes use of a standing army for that purpose, and leaves the militia in a situation as contemptible as possible, [lest] they might oppose its arbitrary designs--That in this system, we give the general government every provision it could wish for, and even invite it to subvert the liberties of the States and their citizens, since we give them the right to encrease and keep up a standing army as numerous as it would wish, and by placing the militia under its power, enable it to leave the militia totally unorganized, undisciplined, and even to disarm them; while the citizens, so far from complaining of this neglect, might even esteem it a favor in the general government, as thereby they would be freed from the burthen of militia duties, and left to their own private occupations or pleasures. However, all arguments, and every reason that could be urged on this subject, as well as on many others, were obliged to yield to one that was unanswerable, a majority upon the division.

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

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

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