The Federalist Papers | Study Guide

Alexander Hamilton

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The Federalist Papers | Essays 28–30 | Summary



Essay 28: The Same Subject Continued (The Idea of Restraining the Legislative Authority in Regard to the Common Defense Considered)

Once again Hamilton embarks on a discussion of the use of force by government and of the maintenance of standing armies in peacetime. At the outset of this paper Hamilton concedes that a resort to force may be necessary in certain circumstances. Likewise, maintenance of a standing army—as opposed to a citizen militia—may be required to deal with certain exigencies. Yet Hamilton assures his readers there are several potent safeguards for possible dangers in this sphere. First, military forces will be subject to the control of a government consisting of the people's representatives. And second, state and national governments will operate as checks and balances on each other: in Hamilton's phrase, "power being almost always the rival of power." Finally, Hamilton emphasizes the great geographical extent of the United States as a further source of security.

Essay 29: Concerning the Militia

In this paper, Hamilton responds to criticism of the new national government's proposed control of the militia. He begins by calling such control a "natural incident" to the duty of supervising the common defense. The national government will ensure uniformity in the militia, which is highly desirable.

Critics have also complained that the national government under the new Constitution has no provision for using the posse comitatus, a body of citizens that may be summoned by a magistrate to assist in enforcing the law. Hamilton responds by declaring that this contingency is covered by the constitutional proviso that Congress be empowered to enact any legislation "necessary and proper" for the fulfillment of its legislative duty and declared powers.

Hamilton dismisses the objection that the federal government might use state militias as instruments of tyranny. In addition, he declares that the flexibility the national government would have in deploying militias in different states in times of emergency would be an advantage, preventing any individual state from suffering disproportionately.

Essay 30: Concerning the General Power of Taxation

In this essay, Hamilton departs from military issues to launch a series of papers on the subject of taxation and finance, discussions that will occupy Essays 30–36. The national government, he declares, must have the power to tax American citizens directly. The illusory and fallacious taxation and revenue arrangements of the Articles of Confederation—whereby Congress could only request funds from the states—must be abandoned. If a government is unable to raise revenue in a regular and reliable fashion, its credit will wither away. Without credit a government will be unable to borrow money in times of emergency or war, and it will be crippled to the point of destruction.


In Essay 28, Hamilton uses medical metaphor and analogy several times. For example, at the beginning of his paper he refers to seditions and insurrections as "maladies" of the body politic that may be compared to "tumors and eruptions" in the natural body. At the end of his paper Hamilton writes that undue apprehension may be considered a "disease," for which argument and reasoning do not offer a "cure." The effect of these analogies is to make the abstract issue of governmental disorder as tangible and vivid as possible for Hamilton's readers. In Essay 29 Hamilton employs several noteworthy rhetorical techniques. The first is an imaginary discourse that the author devises on the subject of the militia. His hypothetical interlocutor is a member of the federal legislature. Why is this device effective? It creates a vivid, dramatic situation in which Hamilton addresses a specific audience rather than the general reader. Hamilton is no longer engaged in a project of persuading a large set of readers; he is personally exhorting an individual member of Congress. The imagined discourse demonstrates that Hamilton has thought through carefully the topic of disciplining the militia and addresses this challenge in realistic terms.

After the hypothetical discourse, Hamilton makes an emotional appeal to his readers when he asks rhetorically how common sense can have been deserted in the distrust of the militia as a danger to liberty. He combines classical allusion with hyperbole when he refers to "Gorgons, hydras, and chimeras dire." Finally, he caricatures the opposition when he asks, "Do the persons who rave at this rate imagine that their art or their eloquence can impose any conceits or absurdities upon the people of America?" Here Hamilton's tone has turned from realistic to stringently sarcastic. Within the context of debates in the late 1780s about the Constitution, both pro and con, sarcasm was not unusual, and readers presumably both appreciated and enjoyed it, at least upon occasion.

In Essay 30, Hamilton leaves no doubt that he believes the system for financial quotas and requisitions under the Articles of Confederation needs to be abandoned. He calls it by the Latin phrase ignis fatuus, which means literally an "illusory fire." The phrase denotes a will-o'-the-wisp, or deceptive hope.

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