Debate Magazine

The Best Question for "Individual Rights Scholars"

Posted on the 14 December 2011 by Mikeb302000
What about the issue of standing armies? Wasn't that a significant aspect of the debates surrounding the adoption of the Constitution?
The Anti-Federalist who called himself "Centinel" wrote a series of letters that appeared in the Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer in late 1787 and early 1788. He referred to standing armies in his second letter as "that grand engine of oppression."
The "Federal Farmer" wrote a series of letters that were published in the Poughkeepsie Country Journal in late 1787 and early 1788. In his third letter, he lamented that under the new Constitution Congress "will have unlimited power to raise armies, and to engage officers and men for any number of years." He then voiced his objection to standing armies:
I see so many men in American fond of a standing army, and especially among those who probably will have a large share in administering the federal system; it is very evident to me, that we shall have a large standing army as soon as the monies to support them can be possibly found. An army is not a very agreeable place of employment for the young gentlemen of many families.
He also stated in his thirteenth letter that "we all agree, that a large standing army has a strong tendency to depress and inslave the people."
Those in the Pennsylvania ratification convention who objected to the proposed Constitution published their views in the Pennsylvania Packet and Daily Advertiser on December 18, 1787, as The Address and Reasons of Dissent of the Minority of the Convention of Pennsylvania to Their Constituents. In their address, these Pennsylvania delegates remarked that one of the helps to Congress completing "the system of despotism" is "when a numerous standing army shall render opposition vain." The delegates in the minority also stated that in case the new government "must be executed by force," the framers of the Constitution "have therefore made a provision for this purpose in a permanent STANDING ARMY, and a MILITIA that may be subjected to as strict discipline and government." They objected to a standing army because:
A standing army in the hands of a government placed so independent of the people, may be made a fatal instrument to overturn the public liberties; it may be employed to enforce the collection of the most oppressive taxes, and to carry into execution the most arbitrary measures. An ambitious man who may have the army at his devotion, may step up into the throne, and seize upon absolute power.
The Anti-Federalist who signed his 1788 essays in the Baltimore Maryland Gazette "A Farmer" gave historical examples in his second essay to show that "both political and civil liberty have long since ceased to exist in almost all the countries that now employ standing troops, and that their slavery has in every instance been effected and maintained by the instrumentality and invariable obedience of these living machines to their chief." He mentions not only that in England "a standing army is declared to be contrary to their constitution, and a militia the only natural and safe defense of a free people," but also that in America "the constitutions of all the States positively forbid any standing troops at all, much less laws for them." For example:
Massachusetts: "And as in times of peace, armies are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be maintained without the consent of the legislature."
Pennsylvania & North Carolina: "And as standing armies in the time of peace, are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be kept up."
Maryland & Delaware: "That standing armies are dangerous to liberty, and ought not to be raised or kept without consent of the legislature."
"A Farmer" also mused in this essay: "I was persuaded that the grave would have closed on my bones, before this question would be publicly proposed in America. — Are we then to look up to a standing army for the defence of this soil from foreign invasion?" In his sixth essay, he included as a "great and manifest" defect in the proposed government "the manifest danger to public liberty from a standing army, without limitation of number, in time of peace."
If you read the literature, you find the issue was standing armies: in particular, a Federal Standing Army--not personal weapons.

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