Federalist No.29

Concerning The Militia

Wednesday, January 9, 1788

Alexander Hamilton


This paper concludes the series of papers concerning national defence and standing armies. In previous papers Hamilton has answered concerns by those opposed to the new Constitution concerning their fears of maintaining a standing army in times of peace. In this paper he turns his attention to concerns raised about militias. The proposed Constitution puts the power to regulate militias in the hands of the national government. Specifically, the Union would have the power for organising, arming, and disciplining in the militia. The States would appoint militia officers to train the militia according to the rules prescribed by Congress.


In regard to the fears raised in the previous few papers, Hamilton points out that such a militia would in fact be the best guarantee against the fears of a standing army. Hamilton makes his argument more credible by putting a face on the militia. Instead of a faceless force with the potential to threaten liberty, or to be used by a despot against other States or the Union, itself, he asks, Where in the name of common-sense, are our fears to end if we may not trust our sons, our brothers, our neighbours, our fellow-citizens? He points out that the States maintain the control over the appointment of officers, too.


He also makes the point that the Constitution encompasses many provisions for the making and maintaining of laws, and that to suppose that the only instrument of the magistracy is to mobilize a military force to enforce its powers is absurd: What reason could there be to infer, that force was to be the sole instrument of authority, merely because there is a power to make use of it when necessary?


In addition to this that it would be impractical to try to turn the militia into a professional fighting force, given the commitments of citizens to their own businesses and families. The time needed to achieve this goal would, in fact, be counterproductive and cause grievance.


Finally, Hamilton makes the point that local militias are not suited to the needs of a putative despot who might wish to threaten other States or the Union. Local militias are not easily pressed into the machinations of despots, since it is difficult to encourage a broader tyranny on the basis of local issues.


However, at the same time, a militia trained along the lines of the proposed Constitution is needed to resist a common enemy, or guard the republic against the violence of faction or sedition.

10 June 2018

Revised and updated 21 April 2022