Federalist No.28

The Same Subject Continued

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

Wednesday, December 26, 1787

Alexander Hamilton


In this paper Hamilton continues his support of the need for the federal government to have the legislative power to keep a standing army by addressing an obvious point: the state must be defended. He makes two main points here.


First, is that whether a community is large or small, it faces the potential for external threat or wide scale insurrection. So, even those opponents of the federal governments powers in the proposed constitution would need to make provision for a militia, at least, to secure the community. Small republics, Hamilton argues, are inherently more unstable, and therefore in greater need of a force against insurrection or attack. If a smaller government would find this a necessity, he argues, what objections can be raised against the same precaution in the proposed constitution for the Union? While republics should be ruled by law, Hamilton says, one cannot dismiss the possibility that force may be needed to protect the peace.


The second point addresses the concern that the army might become the instrument of a despot or conspiracy that seeks power. This has been addressed in previous papers, but Hamilton again makes some pertinent points. If the people’s will has been usurped (since the government is representative of the people’s will) the only recourse left is to take up arms themselves against the force used to oppress them. In a smaller community, Hamilton argues, it will be more difficult to mobilise against a government power and that opposition will be sooner defeated. In a larger community, there will be a greater power to resist, not to mention a greater degree of oversight and communication which would make this final need less likely, anyway.


Hamilton ends the paper by pointing out that it will be a long time before America can afford a military force large enough to threaten the rights of the people. The real problem, in Hamilton’s estimation, is the fear (apprehension) of a military power formed to protect the community which he compares to a disease, for which there can be found no cure in the resources of argument and reason.

27 May 2018