What does this quote mean by the Founding Father James Madison?
May 14, 2020 5:10 PM   Subscribe

James Madison helped write the Federalists Papers with John Jay and Alexander Hamilton. I am having difficulty understanding this quote. I am trying to read through some of the Federalists Papers and Anti-Federalists Papers.

James Madison said: "The clearest marks of this prudence are stamped on the proposed Constitution. The Union itself, which it cements and secures, destroys every pretext for a military establishment which could be dangerous. America united, with a handful of troops, or without a single soldier, exhibits a more forbidding posture to foreign ambition than America disunited, with a hundred thousand veterans ready for combat.”

What exactly does this mean? I know that the Anti-Federalists were in favour of a smaller government and more states' rights - though I am not sure what they felt towards a national military.
posted by RearWindow to Law & Government (3 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
You've left out some context that is key to answering your question. From the preceding paragraph:
A standing force, therefore, is dangerous, at the same time that it may be a necessary provision. On the smallest scale, it has its inconveniences. On an extensive scale, its consequences may be fatal. On any scale, it is an object of laudable circumspection and precaution. A wise nation will combine all these considerations; and, whilst it does not rashly preclude itself from any resource which may become essential to its safety, will exert all its prudence in diminishing both the necessity and the danger of resorting to one, which may be inauspicious to its liberties.

The clearest marks of this prudence are stamped on the proposed Constitution. The Union itself, which it cements and secures, destroys every pretext for a military establishment which could be dangerous. America united, with a handful of troops, or without a single soldier, exhibits a more forbidding posture to foreign ambition than America disunited, with a hundred thousand veterans ready for combat.
In my opinion, what this is saying is that a wise nation will consider the dangers and inconveniences of having a standing force, against it being a resource potentially essential to its safety, and that Madison says the Constitution does this, in that it eliminates dangerous pretexts for having a standing force by virtue of us being a United States, a single entity with a single purpose with a "handful of troops", as opposed to a Disunited States, multiple government entities with their own goals and intents, with the "hundred thousand veterans".

And as a side note, the paragraphs that directly follow the above were, I must admit, a little disheartening to read in light of immediate events.

My own take on reading it – I'm open to any correction from more knowledgeable people.
posted by WCityMike at 5:34 PM on May 14 [6 favorites]


The context for these quotes would have been completely obvious to the pre-modern authors, but it needs some reminding for us. They had little, if any, experience of military forces that could be depended upon not to take sides or be disinterested in politics, or keep taking orders. National supreme commands were a thing of the future, forces in European wars were raised locally, paid haphazardly, and led by prominent people with political roles and ambition. They could, and did, change sides in the middle of conflicts. They thought of military forces mainly as instruments for winning religious or political arguments, based on the pre-Napoleonic wars of Europe, for which the Italian early modern wars between cities, the absolutely devastating Thirty Years' War, and most of all the English Civil War, were their most obvious examples. These are arguments with the reasonable context that if you bring an American New Model Army or the like into being, it risks becoming its own power, and risks an American Cromwell, or worse, an American thirty years of bloodshed.

So what Madison is saying is, who cares about the technical rules about standing national/state armies, we all know they're dangerous, but the main thing is to keep a united states united, and avoid intra-civil conflict in the first place.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:41 PM on May 14 [5 favorites]


The clearest marks of this prudence are stamped on the proposed Constitution.

The proposed Constitution clearly shows this prudence. ("This prudence" meaning caution about having a standing army.)

The Union itself, which it cements and secures, destroys every pretext for a military establishment which could be dangerous.

The Union, which is held together by the Constitution, eliminates reasons for having a potentially dangerous standing army.

America united, with a handful of troops, or without a single soldier, exhibits a more forbidding posture to foreign ambition than America disunited, with a hundred thousand veterans ready for combat.”

A united America with a few troops or no troops is less likely to be attacked by foreign countries than a disunited America with a hundred thousand experienced soldiers.

It sounds like he's saying that if the states are united in a single nation, its perceived strength will protect it from foreign attacks, so there will be no need for a standing army.
posted by Redstart at 7:04 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


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