John DeWitt IV

John DeWitt

December 1787

They have the power of “organizing, arming and disciplining the militia, and of governing them when in service of the United States, giving to the separate States the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.” Let us enquire, why they have assumed this power, for if it is for the purpose of forming you into one uniform, solid body throughout the United States, making you respectable both at home and abroad—of arming you more compleatly and exercising you oftener—of strengthening the power which is now lodged in your hands, and relying upon you and you solely for aid and support to the civil power in the execution of all the laws of the New Congress, it certainly can be no where better placed under the restrictions therein mentioned, than in that body. But is this probable. Does the complection of the proceedings countenance such a supposition? When they unprecedently claim the power of raising and supporting standing armies, do they tell you for what purposes they are to be raised?—How they are to be employed?—How many they are to consist of, and where to be stationed?—Is this power fettered with any one of these necessary restrictions which will shew they depend upon the militia, and not upon this infernal engine of oppression to execute their civil laws. The nature of the demand in itself contradicts such a supposition, and forces you to believe that it is for none of these causes—but rather for the purpose of consolidating and finally destroying your strength, as your respective Governments are to be destroyed.

They well know the impolicy of putting or keeping arms in the hands of a nervous people, at a distance from the Seat of Government, upon whom they mean to exercise the powers granted in that Government.—They have no idea of calling upon the party aggrieved to support and enforce their own grievances. They are aware of the necessity of catching Samson asleep to trim him of his locks. It is asserted by the most respectable writers upon Government, that a well regulated militia, composed of the yeomanry of the country have ever been considered as the bulwark of a free people; and, says the celebrated Mr. Hume, “without it, it is folly to think any free government will have stability or security—When the sword is introduced, as in our constitution (speaking of the British) the person entrusted will always neglect to discipline the militia, in order to have a pretext for keeping up a standing army; and it is evident this is a mortal distemper in the British parliament, of which it must finally inevitably perish.”—If they have not the same design, why do they wish a standing army unrestrained? It is universally agreed, that a militia and a standing body of troops never yet flourished in the same soil. Tyrants have uniformly depended upon the latter, at the expence of the former. Experience has taught them, that a standing body of regular forces, where ever they can be compleatly introduced, are always efficacious in enforcing their edicts, however arbitrary, and slaves by profession themselves, are “nothing loath” to break down the barriers of freedom with a gout.—No, my fellow-citizens, this plainly shews they do not mean to depend upon the citizens of the States alone to enforce their powers, wherefore it is their policy to neglect them, and lean upon something more substantial and summary. It is true, they have left the appointment of officers in the breast of the several States; but this to me, appears an insult, rather than a priveledge, for what avails this right, if they in their pleasure should choose to neglect to arm, organize and discipline the men over whom such Officers are to be appointed. It is a bait, that you might be led to suppose they did intend to apply to them in all cases, and to pay particular attention to making them the bulwark of this Continent.—And would they not be equal to such an undertaking? Are they not abundantly able to give security and stability to your government as long as it is free? Are they not the only proper persons to do it? Are they not the most respectable body of yeomanry in that character upon earth? Have they not been deeply engaged in some of the most brilliant actions in America, and more than once decided the fate of armies? In short, do they not preclude the necessity of any standing army whatsoever, unless in case of invasion; and in that case it would be time enough to raise them, for no free government under Heaven, with a well disciplined militia was ever yet subdued by mercenary troups.

The advocates at the present day, for a standing army in the New Congress pretend it is necessary for the respectability of government. I defy them to produce an instance in any country, in the Old or New World, where they have not finally done away the liberties of the people:—Every writer upon government,—Lock, Sidney, Hamden, and a list of others have uniformly asserted, that standing armies are a solecism in any government; that no nation ever supported them, that did not resort to, rely on, and finally become a prey to them.—No Western Historians have yet been hardy enough to advance principles that look a different way. What historians have asserted, all the Grecian Republicks have verified.—They are brought up to obedience and unconditional submission.—With arms in their hands, they are taught to feel the weight of rigid discipline:—They are excluded from the enjoyments which liberty gives to its votaries, they, in consequence, hate and envy the rest of the community in which they are placed, and indulge a malignant pleasure in destroying those privileges to which they never can be admitted.

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