Article 1, Section 8, Clause 12

[Volume 3, Page 131]

Document 8

Richard Henry Lee to James Monroe

5 Jan. 1784Letters 2:287--88

You are perfectly right Sir in your observation concerning the consequence of a standing army--that it has constantly terminated in the destruction of liberty--It has not only been constantly so, but I think it clear from the construction of human nature, that it will always be so--And it is realy unfortunate for human freedom, safety, and happiness, that so many plausible arguments are ever at hand to support a system which both reason & experience prove to be productive of the greatest human evils, Slavery--But it may well be questioned, why, to avoid possible ills, should we adopt measures which in their nature produce the highest evil? The spirit of the 4th section of the 6th article of the Confederation plainly discourages the idea of standing army, by the special injunctions concerning a well regulated militia, which is indeed the best defence, and only proper security for a free people to venture upon. To guard our frontiers from Indian invasion, to prevent irregular settlements, and to secure the possessions of foreign powers from the encroachments of our people which may provoke foreign or indian wars; seem to be the reasons assigned for the adoption of this mischief working system, a standing military force. But surely it is the business of other powers to secure their own possessions and punish the violators of them--And it would be as new as it would be improper to keep a standing army to prevent the encroachments of our own citizens upon foreign states--it will ever be sufficient to disavow such proceedings and to give the Culprits up to justice, or punish them ourselves. As to the protection of our own frontiers, it would seem best to leave it to the people themselves, as hath ever been the case, and if at any time the frontier men should be too hard pressed, they may be assisted by the midland militia. This will always secure to us a hardy set of men on the frontiers, used to arms, and ready to assist against invasions on other parts. Whereas, if they are protected by regulars, security will necessarily produce inattention to arms, and the whole of our people becoming disused to War, render the Curse of a standing army Necessary. In this light the Indians may be considered as a [Volume 3, Page 132] useful people, as it is surely fortunate for a free community to be under some necessity of keeping the whole body acquainted with the use of Arms.

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

The Letters of Richard Henry Lee. Edited by James Curtis Ballagh. 2 vols. New York: Macmillan Co., 1911--14.

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All rights reserved. Published 2000