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Federalist No. 26 eLesson


Federalist No. 26 is a defense of the Constitution’s provisions allowing the legislature to raise and fund a standing army in times of peace. According to Alexander Hamilton, many state constitutions had recognized that confidence to do so, and that power had to be placed somewhere within the Federal government. It would be better to risk the abuse of that confidence than to embarrass the government and endanger the public safety with excessive restrictions on the legislature. Such restrictions would be far more dangerous because they would prevent the government from being able to efficiently protect the American people from foreign invasion.

The origin of Americans’ fears of standing armies can be traced back to the country’s British ancestry. According to Hamilton, when “the pulse of liberty was at its highest pitch” in Britain, it was not thought necessary to prevent the establishment of a standing army, so long as that army was maintained by the legislature and was not under the sole authority of the executive. Hence, Britain’s bill of rights at the time included an article which stated that raising or keeping a standing army within the kingdom in time of peace, unless with the consent of parliament,was against the law.” As long as the consent of parliament was secured, raising or keeping an army during a time of peace was legal. Hamilton believed that power equal to every possible unpredictable threat had to exist somewhere in the government. Placing the exercise of such power in the legislature was the ultimate precaution because they were the direct representatives of the people.Under Article I, Section 8 of the proposed Constitution, the legislature would have the authority to raise and  support an army, but it would be required deliberate over military funding every two years. The legislature would not be able to provide the executive department with permanent funds for the support of an army. This provision would prevent an army from obtaining overwhelming force and becoming an instrument of tyranny. According to Hamilton, “schemes to subvert the liberties of a great community, require time to mature them for execution.” An army large enough to become an instrument of tyranny would necessarily be the result of a continued conspiracy over a number of years between the legislative and executive branches. Furthermore, the success of such a conspiracy was not only improbable but impracticable as well. The very act of augmenting the army to so great an extent in a time of peace would reveal the tyrannical motives of the legislature and executive branches. Hamilton recognized that there would always be a slight risk of the military becoming an instrument of tyranny. However, the alternative of lacking a sufficient army for defense during foreign invasion would be a more significant and costly risk.


Have students read Federalist No. 26 and answer these questions:

  1. Do you agree that Congress should have the authority to raise and support an army during times of peace? If so, why? If not, why not?
  2. Should the U.S. continue to fund the military in times of peace? If so, should the strength of the military be reduced or upheld during times of peace? If not, explain what dangers this may pose.
  3. Today, the U.S. military is the largest in world. Do you believe that this is a potential threat to personal liberty? Or, is it necessary to protect the American people against foreign invasion?
  4. Do you believe Alexander Hamilton was correct in arguing that Article I, Section 8, effectively reduces the odds of the military obtaining overwhelming force and becoming an instrument of tyranny?

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