The Same Subject Continued
(The Powers Necessary to the Common Defense Further Considered)
From the New York Packet.
Friday, December 21, 1787.


To the People of the State of New York:

IT MAY perhaps be urged that the objects enumerated in the preceding
number ought to be provided for by the State governments, under the
direction of the Union. But this would be, in reality, an inversion of
the primary principle of our political association, as it would in
practice transfer the care of the common defense from the federal head
to the individual members: a project oppressive to some States,
dangerous to all, and baneful to the Confederacy.

The territories of Britain, Spain, and of the Indian nations in our
neighborhood do not border on particular States, but encircle the Union
from Maine to Georgia. The danger, though in different degrees, is
therefore common. And the means of guarding against it ought, in like
manner, to be the objects of common councils and of a common treasury.
It happens that some States, from local situation, are more directly
exposed. New York is of this class. Upon the plan of separate
provisions, New York would have to sustain the whole weight of the
establishments requisite to her immediate safety, and to the mediate or
ultimate protection of her neighbors. This would neither be equitable as
it respected New York nor safe as it respected the other States. Various
inconveniences would attend such a system. The States, to whose lot it
might fall to support the necessary establishments, would be as little
able as willing, for a considerable time to come, to bear the burden of
competent provisions. The security of all would thus be subjected to the
parsimony, improvidence, or inability of a part. If the resources of
such part becoming more abundant and extensive, its provisions should be
proportionally enlarged, the other States would quickly take the alarm
at seeing the whole military force of the Union in the hands of two or
three of its members, and those probably amongst the most powerful. They
would each choose to have some counterpoise, and pretenses could easily
be contrived. In this situation, military establishments, nourished by
mutual jealousy, would be apt to swell beyond their natural or proper
size; and being at the separate disposal of the members, they would be
engines for the abridgment or demolition of the national authority.

Reasons have been already given to induce a supposition that the State
governments will too naturally be prone to a rivalship with that of the
Union, the foundation of which will be the love of power; and that in
any contest between the federal head and one of its members the people
will be most apt to unite with their local government. If, in addition
to this immense advantage, the ambition of the members should be
stimulated by the separate and independent possession of military
forces, it would afford too strong a temptation and too great a facility
to them to make enterprises upon, and finally to subvert, the
constitutional authority of the Union. On the other hand, the liberty of
the people would be less safe in this state of things than in that which
left the national forces in the hands of the national government. As far
as an army may be considered as a dangerous weapon of power, it had
better be in those hands of which the people are most likely to be
jealous than in those of which they are least likely to be jealous. For
it is a truth, which the experience of ages has attested, that the
people are always most in danger when the means of injuring their rights
are in the possession of those of whom they entertain the least

The framers of the existing Confederation, fully aware of the danger to
the Union from the separate possession of military forces by the States,
have, in express terms, prohibited them from having either ships or
troops, unless with the consent of Congress. The truth is, that the
existence of a federal government and military establishments under
State authority are not less at variance with each other than a due
supply of the federal treasury and the system of quotas and

There are other lights besides those already taken notice of, in which
the impropriety of restraints on the discretion of the national
legislature will be equally manifest. The design of the objection, which
has been mentioned, is to preclude standing armies in time of peace,
though we have never been informed how far it is designed the
prohibition should extend; whether to raising armies as well as to
KEEPING THEM UP in a season of tranquillity or not. If it be confined to
the latter it will have no precise signification, and it will be
ineffectual for the purpose intended. When armies are once raised what
shall be denominated "keeping them up," contrary to the sense of the
Constitution? What time shall be requisite to ascertain the violation?
Shall it be a week, a month, a year? Or shall we say they may be
continued as long as the danger which occasioned their being raised
continues? This would be to admit that they might be kept up IN TIME OF
PEACE, against threatening or impending danger, which would be at once
to deviate from the literal meaning of the prohibition, and to introduce
an extensive latitude of construction. Who shall judge of the
continuance of the danger? This must undoubtedly be submitted to the
national government, and the matter would then be brought to this issue,
that the national government, to provide against apprehended danger,
might in the first instance raise troops, and might afterwards keep them
on foot as long as they supposed the peace or safety of the community
was in any degree of jeopardy. It is easy to perceive that a discretion
so latitudinary as this would afford ample room for eluding the force of
the provision.

The supposed utility of a provision of this kind can only be founded on
the supposed probability, or at least possibility, of a combination
between the executive and the legislative, in some scheme of usurpation.
Should this at any time happen, how easy would it be to fabricate
pretenses of approaching danger! Indian hostilities, instigated by Spain
or Britain, would always be at hand. Provocations to produce the desired
appearances might even be given to some foreign power, and appeased
again by timely concessions. If we can reasonably presume such a
combination to have been formed, and that the enterprise is warranted by
a sufficient prospect of success, the army, when once raised, from
whatever cause, or on whatever pretext, may be applied to the execution
of the project.

If, to obviate this consequence, it should be resolved to extend the
prohibition to the RAISING of armies in time of peace, the United States
would then exhibit the most extraordinary spectacle which the world has
yet seen, that of a nation incapacitated by its Constitution to prepare
for defense, before it was actually invaded. As the ceremony of a formal
denunciation of war has of late fallen into disuse, the presence of an
enemy within our territories must be waited for, as the legal warrant to
the government to begin its levies of men for the protection of the
State. We must receive the blow, before we could even prepare to return
it. All that kind of policy by which nations anticipate distant danger,
and meet the gathering storm, must be abstained from, as contrary to the
genuine maxims of a free government. We must expose our property and
liberty to the mercy of foreign invaders, and invite them by our
weakness to seize the naked and defenseless prey, because we are afraid
that rulers, created by our choice, dependent on our will, might
endanger that liberty, by an abuse of the means necessary to its

Here I expect we shall be told that the militia of the country is its
natural bulwark, and would be at all times equal to the national
defense. This doctrine, in substance, had like to have lost us our
independence. It cost millions to the United States that might have been
saved. The facts which, from our own experience, forbid a reliance of
this kind, are too recent to permit us to be the dupes of such a
suggestion. The steady operations of war against a regular and
disciplined army can only be successfully conducted by a force of the
same kind. Considerations of economy, not less than of stability and
vigor, confirm this position. The American militia, in the course of the
late war, have, by their valor on numerous occasions, erected eternal
monuments to their fame; but the bravest of them feel and know that the
liberty of their country could not have been established by their
efforts alone, however great and valuable they were. War, like most
other things, is a science to be acquired and perfected by diligence, by
perserverance, by time, and by practice.

All violent policy, as it is contrary to the natural and experienced
course of human affairs, defeats itself. Pennsylvania, at this instant,
affords an example of the truth of this remark. The Bill of Rights of
that State declares that standing armies are dangerous to liberty, and
ought not to be kept up in time of peace. Pennsylvania, nevertheless, in
a time of profound peace, from the existence of partial disorders in one
or two of her counties, has resolved to raise a body of troops; and in
all probability will keep them up as long as there is any appearance of
danger to the public peace. The conduct of Massachusetts affords a
lesson on the same subject, though on different ground. That State
(without waiting for the sanction of Congress, as the articles of the
Confederation require) was compelled to raise troops to quell a domestic
insurrection, and still keeps a corps in pay to prevent a revival of the
spirit of revolt. The particular constitution of Massachusetts opposed
no obstacle to the measure; but the instance is still of use to instruct
us that cases are likely to occur under our government, as well as under
those of other nations, which will sometimes render a military force in
time of peace essential to the security of the society, and that it is
therefore improper in this respect to control the legislative
discretion. It also teaches us, in its application to the United States,
how little the rights of a feeble government are likely to be respected,
even by its own constituents. And it teaches us, in addition to the
rest, how unequal parchment provisions are to a struggle with public

It was a fundamental maxim of the Lacedaemonian commonwealth, that the
post of admiral should not be conferred twice on the same person. The
Peloponnesian confederates, having suffered a severe defeat at sea from
the Athenians, demanded Lysander, who had before served with success in
that capacity, to command the combined fleets. The Lacedaemonians, to
gratify their allies, and yet preserve the semblance of an adherence to
their ancient institutions, had recourse to the flimsy subterfuge of
investing Lysander with the real power of admiral, under the nominal
title of vice-admiral. This instance is selected from among a multitude
that might be cited to confirm the truth already advanced and
illustrated by domestic examples; which is, that nations pay little
regard to rules and maxims calculated in their very nature to run
counter to the necessities of society. Wise politicians will be cautious
about fettering the government with restrictions that cannot be
observed, because they know that every breach of the fundamental laws,
though dictated by necessity, impairs that sacred reverence which ought
to be maintained in the breast of rulers towards the constitution of a
country, and forms a precedent for other breaches where the same plea of
necessity does not exist at all, or is less urgent and palpable.