Federalist #8 - Alexander Hamilton - Federalist Fridays
In Federalist Paper #8, Alexander Hamilton discusses how the Constitution might keep the United States from creating standing armies.
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November 20, 1787
The Consequence of Hostilities Between the States
In Federalist #8, Alexander Hamilton writes regarding standing armies, and how the Constitution can protect citizens from them.
This is the first Paper which begins to espouse a uniquely American political philosophy. While the Federalist Papers as a whole is often considered the first truly American writing on political theory, there are a select few which stand out in this regard and, in my opinion, #8 is the first of these.
Hamilton begins Federalist #8 with the assumption that the arguments presented in several of the recent Papers (that failure to ratify the Constitution would lead to armed conflicts between the States) has come to fruition.
Alexander notes the difficulty these States would have in fighting their wars by comparing the American Continent to Europe.
European nations, he says, have fortifications around their boarders which slow progress and their wars consist, “of towns taken and retaken; of battles that decide nothing; of retreats more beneficial than victories; of much effort and little acquisition.”
The States, on the other hand, do not have these preparations. Quite the opposite, Hamilton argues:
“The want of fortifications, leaving the frontiers of one state open to another, would facilitate inroads. The populous States would, with little difficulty, overrun their less populous neighbors. Conquests would be as easy to be made as difficult to be retained.”
In other words, due to the openness of the frontier, there would be little to stop the armies of larger States from storming through the smaller ones, though these open territories would be hard to control.
Hamilton proceeds to discuss how conflicts would inevitably lead to standing armies.
The smaller States, always concerned about possible hostilities from their larger neighbors, would (justifiably) determine that they would need a professional military ever ready to defend against invasion.
This, in turn, would lead the larger States, suspicious of the smaller’s intentions, to follow suit.
These events, Alexander warns, will lead to tyranny as the States would:
“be necessitated to strengthen the executive arm of government, in doing which their constitutions would acquire a progressive direction toward monarchy. It is of the nature of war to increase the executive at the expense of the legislative authority.”
Hamilton continues to warn against standing armies by discussing the mental dangers in addition to the physical ones, stating:
“The military state becomes elevated above the civil…and by degrees the people are brought to consider the soldiery not only as their protectors, but as their superiors.“
This attitude among the people is dangerous as their rights might slowly disappear without resistance. The changes would be so gradual, citizens won’t realize there is a problem.
Avoiding Land Wars
Hamilton concludes Federalist #8 by comparing a United States under the Constitution to that of the Kingdom of Great Britain.
Britain, as an island, has a strong navy which keeps enemies off that nation’s land. They also have militias, made up of the people, which can be called out in case an opponent succeeds in making landfall.
In his estimation, the Constitution can provide the same type of defense for the United States, making standing armies obsolete.
While he does acknowledge other colonies in North America (but mysteriously not the Native Americans), Alexander believes they will remain, “too much disproportioned in strength to be able to give us any dangerous annoyance.”
What Would the Anti-Federalists Argue?
As always, I like to discuss the Anti-Federalist argument to each Federalist Paper.
The trouble is, Federalist #8 argues succinctly with sound logic in favor of a topic the Founders almost completely agreed on.
Paper #8 is by far the most persuasive of the Federalists to this point. A substantial reason for this is Hamilton’s assumption that his previous Papers had been accepted by the reader, as most debates with the points herein have already been discussed in those earlier essays.
Perhaps it could be argued that the British way of going about things could lead to standing armies. That is what happened leading up the Revolution, right? Perhaps leaving each State’s defense up to the people of those States would make them feel more secure, reducing the need for hostility. Or perhaps, as had been done before, the States would settle disagreements by setting up Conferences or having a third State act as an arbitrator.
What do you think? Do you have an argument against Hamilton’s assessment? Let me know in the comments!
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