Tuesday, January 22, 2013
If Men Were Angels
The convulsive events, generated by the inordinate pursuit of riches or ambition, require that the Government should possess a strong corrective arm.
- Henry Knox, Secretary of War for President Washington
Saw this referenced in a treatise "debunking" the idea that slave suppression was related to the 2nd Amendment:
JAMES MADISON, assured Americans that they could not be tyrannized by
the new federal government "because of the advantage of being armed,
which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other
nation."6 Madison was a Southerner but his endorsement of an armed
people was a truism among 18th Century American whether slave-holders or
You know the full context from Federalist 46 was coming, right?
The only refuge left for those who prophesy the downfall of the State governments is the visionary supposition that the federal government may previously accumulate a military force for the projects of ambition. The reasonings contained in these papers must have been employed to little purpose indeed, if it could be necessary now to disprove the reality of this danger.
That the people and the States should, for a sufficient period of time, elect an uninterupted succession of men ready to betray both; that the traitors should, throughout this period, uniformly and systematically pursue some fixed plan for the extension of the military establishment; that the governments and the people of the States should silently and patiently behold the gathering storm, and continue to supply the materials, until it should be prepared to burst on their own heads, must appear to every one more like the incoherent dreams of a delirious jealousy, or the misjudged exaggerations of a counterfeit zeal, than like the sober apprehensions of genuine patriotism.
Extravagant as the supposition is, let it however be made. Let a regular army, fully equal to the resources of the country, be formed; and let it be entirely at the devotion of the federal government; still it would not be going too far to say, that the State governments, with the people on their side, would be able to repel the danger. The highest number to which, according to the best computation, a standing army can be carried in any country, does not exceed one hundredth part of the whole number of souls; or one twenty-fifth part of the number able to bear arms. This proportion would not yield, in the United States, an army of more than twenty-five or thirty thousand men. To these would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for their common liberties, and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence...
Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of. Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.
And it is not certain, that with this aid alone they would not be able to shake off their yokes. But were the people to possess the additional advantages of local governments chosen by themselves, who could collect the national will and direct the national force, and of officers appointed out of the militia, by these governments, and attached both to them and to the militia, it may be affirmed with the greatest assurance, that the throne of every tyranny in Europe would be speedily overturned in spite of the legions which surround it.
Let us not insult the free and gallant citizens of America with the suspicion, that they would be less able to defend the rights of which they would be in actual possession, than the debased subjects of arbitrary power would be to rescue theirs from the hands of their oppressors. Let us rather no longer insult them with the supposition that they can ever reduce themselves to the necessity of making the experiment, by a blind and tame submission to the long train of insidious measures which must precede and produce it.
Indeed, Madison was acknowledging that militias could form a bulwark against standing armies if everything else failed. He wasn't saying, however, "golly, we need the militia to fend off tyrants."
Quite the contrary, he was effectively mocking anti-Federalist alarums. Folks like Patrick Henry were (not entirely wrongly) worried about allowing the General Government to have both the power to raise an army and have great control over the militia. So Madison, writing in answer to these reservations, said, "It's silly, but sure, let's stipulate what you say. There's still a gajillion more things that have to go wrong first."
To suggest that Madison was doing anything stronger than hypothetically accepting a supposition he thought unlikely for the sake of argument, only to knock it down, is to misread/misrepresent him entirely. He and the other Framers focused time and again on threats from invasion and insurrection (as well as Native Americans on the frontier, which drove the Militia Acts of 1792), and the need for a well-organized national militia to mitigate reliance on a standing army, which was a danger to liberty.
Notice, too, that he thought security from tyranny was not provided merely by being armed. Rather, it was multiple layers of governance built into our republican structure that would be the ultimate defense. The very government itself, derived from the people, protects our freedom.
PS--It's quite possible there are many different reasons for the 2nd. And from the Southern slaveholder POV, it's clear that suppressing slave uprisings was part of it, no matter what else Madison et al wrote (read Patrick Henry, for Gun's sake). Duh.
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