09 10

15 September 2010

The Militia

Article II Section 2:
The President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into actual service of the United States...

Amendment II:
A well-regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

A free people ought not only to be armed and disciplined, but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own government.
- George Washington

If standing armies are dangerous to liberty, an efficacious power over the militia in those emergencies, which call for the military arm in support of the civil magistrate, it can the better dispense with the employment of a different kind of force. If it cannot avail itself of the former, it will be obliged to recur to the latter. To render an army unnecessary, will be more certain method of preventing its existence, than a thousand prohibitions on paper.
-Alexander Hamilton
Federalist #29

The Constitution of most of our states (and of the United States) assert that all power is inherent in the people; that they may exercise it by themselves; that it is their right and duty to be at all times armed.
- Thomas Jefferson

Historical militias and the Founders' attitudes toward them are interesting. Although militias, at present, are considered rouge groups outside the law, this wasn't always the case. As I understand it, historically militias were groups of armed citizens, organized with State-appointed officers. George Mason, father the Bill of Rights, said that the militia is "the whole people except for a few politicians." Thus each individual carried his own portion of the responsibility for maintaining our freedoms. Interestingly, I have yet to read a favorable opinion from the Founders on the subject of standing armies. Every comment I have seen thus far in my studies indicates that the speaker felt that standing armies are a tremendous threat to liberty, and a tool all too easily turned against the body of the people, to force them into subjection, rather than to protect and defend them.

Perhaps, here in America, this could never happen. Certainly, it should not happen. However. The Japanese-Americans in the western states should not have been forced into what were essentially concentration camps. The Sedition Act of 1798, the Espionage Act of 1917, and the Sedition Act of 1918 all essentially made it illegal to criticize the government and the conflict (with France in 1798, and WWI in 1917-18). In each of these cases, no foreign spies, no legitimate threats to the government were found. However, each of these laws was used to persecute political opponents of the party then in power. The laws were used to silence legitimate 1st Amendment-protected speech in opposition to the policies of the current government. There is little comfort and less security in the statement, "that could never happen in America."

The Founders, apparently, hoped that by rendering a standing army unnecessary through the use of militias they could avoid the abuses that come when armies are used tyrannically. This check on the federal government was dismantled after the Civil War, due to the role that the militias played in the rebellion. Let us hope that we never have need of this sort of check on the government in the future, as it is now lost to us.

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