Article 1, Section 8, Clause 16

Document 9

A Native of Virginia, Observations upon the Proposed Plan of Federal Government

1788Monroe Writings 1:371--72

By these clauses, the appointment of the militia officers, and training the militia, are reserved to the respective States; except that Congress have a right to direct in what manner they are to be disciplined, and the time when they are to be ordered out.

These clauses have been extremely misunderstood, or purposely misconstrued, by the enemies to the Constitution. Some have said, "the absolute unqualified command that Congress have over the militia may be instrumental to the destruction of all liberty, both public and private, whether of a personal, civil, or religious nature."

Is this the result of reason, or is it the dictate of resentment? How can the command of Congress over the militia be either absolute or unqualified, when its officers are appointed by the States, and consequently can by no possibility become its creatures?

They will generally be men of property and probity: And can any one for a moment suppose that such men will ever be so lost to a sense of liberty, the rights of their country, and their own dignity, as to become the instruments of arbitrary measures? Whenever that shall be the case, we may in vain contend for forms of government; the spirit of liberty will have taken its flight from America, and nothing but an arbitrary government will be fit for such a people, however accurately defined the powers of her Constitution may be. But so long as there shall be a militia so officered, or the majority of the people landholders, America will have little to fear for liberty. Congress have the power of organizing the militia; and can it be put into better hands? They can have no interest in destroying the personal liberty of any man, or raising his fortune in the mode of organization: They can make no law upon this, or any other subject, which will not affect themselves, their children, or their connexions.

Can any one seriously suppose, that Congress will ever think of drawing the militia of one State out, in order to destroy the liberties of another? Of Virginia, for instance, to destroy the liberties of Pennsylvania? Or should they be so wicked, that an American militia, officered by the States, would obey so odious a mandate? The supposition is monstrous.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 3, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 16, Document 9
The University of Chicago Press

The Writings of James Monroe. Edited by Stanislaus Murray Hamilton. 7 vols. New York and London: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1898--1903.

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