Federalist No.27

The Same Subject Continued

(The Idea Of Restraining The Legislative Authority In Regard To The Common Defense Considered)

Tuesday, December 25, 1787

Alexander Hamilton


While this paper purports to continue the discussion concerning the need of the legislature to be able to support a standing army, that assertion is mostly not addressed directly in this paper, only implied. Instead, Hamilton addresses a criticism by opponents of the proposed Constitution, that a constitution cannot operate without the aid of a military force to execute its laws. Hamilton claims not to understand the basis of their argument, except that there is a presupposition that the people will be disinclined to the exercise of federal authority.


However, it is an important issue for him to address, since he has spent the last three papers arguing that a federal authority needs to keep a standing army for the safety of the country. A cynical reading of this would imply that the army was needed to impose federal authority and this would have been a basis upon which to discredit the new Constitution as oppressive and divisive.


For this reason, Hamilton focusses upon the question of whether force would be needed to impose the constitutional running of government, rather than the need of an army for protection, in this paper.


Hamilton begins with a familiar argument: that a federal government which subsumes states within a strong union would be more stable than separate states; that a single state which hoped to thwart the authority of the federal government – that is, sedition – would find it difficult to gain support from all the other States, so that a turbulent faction in a State may easily suppose itself able to contend with the friends to the government in that State; but can hardly be so infatuated as to imagine itself a match for the combined efforts of the Union. Ironically, Hamilton points out that the model proposed by opponents of the new Constitution is more likely to need force in order to make it operate, since independent States within a confederacy would be more likely to act independently for their own interests, as has been argued in previous papers.


Hamilton also appeals to a reading of human nature to argue that the model proposed by the Constitutional Convention would be less likely to require force. He explains that the state legislatures, courts, and magistrates, of the respective members, will be incorporated into the operations of the national government as far as its just and constitutional authority extends. His argument is that human nature is governed by habit and familiarity, and that once the workings of a federal government become commonplace in their lives through the agency of their State and Local courts, the less likely it will be that there will be opposition to it. In short, order will be maintained through common laws and the judiciary rather than the use of force which is more likely under a confederation of independent States.


Hamilton finishes by arguing that critics of the proposed Constitution assume a worst case scenario, in which the laws of the Union would not be administered with a common share of prudence. But they have not considered how undermining the Constitution and creating conflict would serve the public good, the obligations of duty of government members or their own self-interest and ambition. On the whole, it will be in everyone’s self-interest to serve the Constitution.


In this way, Hamilton answers the criticism that a standing army is only needed to enforce the will of the federal government upon states.

23 May 2018

Revised and updated 10 April 2022