The Federalist Papers | Study Guide

Alexander Hamilton

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The Federalist Papers | Essays 25–27 | Summary

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Summary

Essay 25: The Same Subject Continued (The Powers Necessary to the Common Defense Further Considered)

At the beginning of this essay, Hamilton rejects out of hand the suggestion that perhaps the states, rather than the national government, should provide for the common defense. He says this arrangement would be an "inversion" of the main principle of political association.

Hamilton then reminds his readers that the United States borders Spanish, British, and Indian territory. Astutely, he reminds New Yorkers that they are particularly exposed to these potentially hostile neighbors. Hamilton also reminds his audience that state governments will be prone to rivalry with the Union and that people will be most likely to unite with their local government rather than with the national government. These tendencies have the effect of reducing the dangers that standing armies might otherwise pose. He mentions the authors of the existing Articles of Confederation have specifically prohibited the states from maintaining either ships or troops without the consent of Congress.

Hamilton believes it will be improper to place any restraints on the national legislature in the matter of armies. He deplores a situation in which any Constitution would disable a nation from making military preparations before it was actually attacked or invaded, and he comments on the vital lessons that Americans learned about military matters from their experience during the Revolutionary War. However valuable the contributions of the militia were in that conflict, there is a substantial difference between a militia, or part-time soldiery, and a standing army, whose training and professionalism thoroughly equip it to operate in wartime.

Despite the fact that states are technically prohibited from raising armies, it is still the case, according to Hamilton, that Pennsylvania and Massachusetts maintain troops to quell domestic insurrection.

Hamilton closes the essay with another reference to ancient Greek confederacies, and he also includes a pragmatic admonition: "Nations pay little regard to rules and maxims calculated in their very nature to run counter to the necessities of society."

Essay 26: The Idea of Restraining the Legislative Authority in Regard to the Common Defense Considered

This essay continues Hamilton's discussion of the complex and controversial issue of standing armies in times of peace. Those who would restrain the national government, he alleges, may be motivated by their love of liberty, but this is a zeal "more ardent than enlightened." Once again, Hamilton describes restrictions placed on the legislative authority as "impolitic." Hamilton relies on the experience and discernment of his readers, which will prevent them from being "argued into anarchy."

Hamilton next turns to English history for an explanation of the American visceral sensitivity and suspicion about standing armies. Monarchs abused such armies to enforce absolute rule. By one of the most significant achievements of the Glorious Revolution in 1688, however, Parliament adopted a measure that made standing armies in peacetime illegal without the consent of that body.

To support his position, Hamilton references the states of Pennsylvania and North Carolina, who use "monitory" rather than "prohibitory" language regarding standing armies in peacetime. He also repeats his point that the national legislature will be obliged to review every two years the propriety of maintaining a military force and the budget for supporting it. Congress will not be at liberty to empower the executive with any permanent funds for an army's support. An army is a necessity, but Hamilton seriously doubts that, in times of peace, any steadily increasing or menacing augmentation of a military force could take place. As he ends the essay, Hamilton comments once more on the advantages and safety of the Union versus the drawbacks and dangers of disunion.

Essay 27: The Same Subject Continued (The Idea of Restraining the Legislative Authority in Regard to the Common Defense Considered)

In this paper, Hamilton deals with the claim that a new Constitution will require a military force to enforce its laws. He rejects this claim as merely an unsupported allegation. Rather than simple acquiescence with the hypothesis that the people will not accept national government, Hamilton exhorts his readers to consider citizens' attitudes will be shaped by the goodness or badness of government's administration. Citizens, in other words, will respond with good judgment in their evaluation of the quality of their government.

It is entirely likely, Hamilton asserts, that the standard of performance in the national government will be of high quality, considering that federal officials will be drawn from the entire country and will be less prone to faction. The more citizens become familiar with the national government, the more its peaceful authority will increase, Hamilton predicts, since "man is very much a creature of habit." Hamilton believes that the proposed government will be far less likely to use force than the type of confederation endorsed by the new Constitution's critics. Although the new Constitution will be the apex of authority ("the supreme law of the land"), it is sophistic to claim its adoption will entail the destruction of the state governments.

Analysis

Hamilton's preoccupation with the military in Essays 24–29 is readily understandable when readers recall two of the fundamental goals showcased in the Preamble to the Constitution: to "insure domestic tranquility" and "provide for the common defense." Throughout these discussions it is essential to bear in mind several important elements of context.

First, Hamilton employs a basic distinction between a "standing army" and a "militia." A standing army is a professional force systematically trained and maintained over a substantial period of time. A militia is a part-time citizen soldiery called up in times of emergency. The Revolutionary War witnessed types of military service in combat.

Second, Hamilton is acutely sensitive to American fears about potential abuse of the military. Such abuse was a salient fact of British history, during which monarchs had all too often used armies as instruments of tyranny. Many readers of The Federalist Papers, for example, could remember the Quartering Acts of 1765 and 1774, by which the British required colonial Americans to furnish shelter and food to British troops.

Finally, in his discussions of this topic Hamilton had to tread a fine line between reassurances against tyranny on the one hand and a refusal on the other to acquiesce with limitations on the national government's power. He repeatedly emphasizes that curbing the authority of Congress to raise and maintain an army would hobble American interests and expose the country to numerous dangers from foreign nations and from the Indian tribes on its periphery. Balancing Hamilton's two potentially conflicting goals in this area required considerable rhetorical skill.

Rhetorical questions are questions posed for persuasive and emotional effect. Such questions commonly do not expect a concrete or specific response. Toward the end of Essay 26, Hamilton poses a series of rhetorical questions in order to underline his conviction that it is totally improbable for a military tyranny to gather force or even to come into existence.

In Essay 27, Hamilton makes effective use of the devices of metaphor and antithesis. In an architectural metaphor that occurs more than once in The Federalist Papers, he compares the new governmental structure of the Constitution to an "edifice." Building a physical structure was a readily recognizable art and trade for Hamilton's readers. By contrast, government and its structures or frameworks must have seemed somewhat abstract. By comparing the unfamiliar with the more familiar, Hamilton hoped to maximize understanding among his readers.

In an antithetical statement of comparison and contrast, Hamilton declares, "The hope of impunity is a strong incitement to sedition; the dread of punishment, a proportionably strong discouragement to it." Antithesis is a strikingly pointed, balanced contrast between two unlike things. In this antithetical comment, Hamilton forcefully draws a distinction between a "hope for impunity" and "the dread of punishment." Hamilton, of course, is on the side of deterrence. He wants potential traitors or rebels to realize very clearly that they will be caught and punished.

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