3 thoughts on “Notes on The Federalist Papers by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay

  1. I accept many of the authors’ reading about people and government, as many fall in line with my experience and understanding of both. But in #8, Hamilton describes the differences between the relationship between the citizenry and the military in a state that must have an army because it’s under constant threat versus one that does not. While I find his claims believable, I can’t draw on my experiences and understanding to confirm these points. Anyway, here’s what he says about a state that need not have a sizable army

    These armies being, in the first case, rarely, if at all, called into activity for interior defense, the people are in no danger of being broken to military subordination. The laws are not accustomed to relaxations, in favor of military exigencies; the civil state remains in full vigor, neither corrupted, nor confounded with the principles or propensities of the other state. The smallness of the army renders the natural strength of the community an over-match for it; and the citizens, not habituated to look up to the military power for protection, or to submit to its oppressions, neither love nor fear the soldiery; they view them with a spirit of jealous acquiescence in a necessary evil, and stand ready to resist a power which they suppose may be exerted to the prejudice of their rights. The army under such circumstances may usefully aid the magistrate to suppress a small faction, or an occasional mob, or insurrection; but it will be unable to enforce encroachments against the united efforts of the great body of the people.

    In contrast this is the nature of the relationship between the citizenry and the army in a state that needs to constant military presence:

    The perpetual menacings of danger oblige the government to be always prepared to repel it; its armies must be numerous enough for instant defense. The continual necessity for their services enhances the importance of the soldier, and proportionably degrades the condition of the citizen. The military state becomes elevated above the civil. The inhabitants of territories, often the theatre of war, are unavoidably subjected to frequent infringements on their rights, which serve to weaken their sense of those rights; and by degrees the people are brought to consider the soldiery not only as their protectors, but as their superiors. The transition from this disposition to that of considering them masters, is neither remote nor difficult; but it is very difficult to prevail upon a people under such impressions, to make a bold or effectual resistance to usurpations supported by the military power.

    Both passages make me think of Trump’s use of the military to break up protests. Hamilton’s analysis provides a reason a POTUS should be wary of using the military on civilians–and in our federalist system, the POTUS would almost never do this without the request of governors and/or mayors.

    On another note, I wasn’t sure about the meaning of this sentence:

    There is a wide difference, also, between military establishments in a country seldom exposed by its situation to internal invasions, and in one which is often subject to them, and always apprehensive of them.

    Specifically, what does Hamilton mean by “internal invasions?” Does he mean domestic threats? Or does he mean a foreign power poses a threat on land–as opposed to a naval threat? I think he may mean the latter, because late when he talks about Great Britain, he says the following:

    The kingdom of Great Britain falls within the first description. An insular situation, and a powerful marine, guarding it in a great measure against the possibility of foreign invasion, supersede the necessity of a numerous army within the kingdom.

    (emphasis added)

    I assume “marine” refers to the navy–or both the navy and English Channel and its elements.


    It’s worth noting that States and cities have the responsibility of domestic law enforcement. And even if the military is needed, in our system, the states would call to the national guard, which I believe governors serve as an equivalent of the commander in chief–at least for domestic purposes. (There is a military general, I believe, who would command the national guard, and that general is a part of the governor’s office–if I’m not mistaken.)

    Now, the federal government also has the FBI, and they are a form of domestic police. But they serve a more complementary versus primary role in law enforcement. It’s also worth noting that there has been strict norms that create a kind of wall between the White House and the FBI and DOJ (a wall that Trump has been taking a part, brick by brick).

  2. I read a good number of these papers in an American lit course. Okay reading, but terrible literature. Not sure what the anthologists were thinking.

    1. A part of me feels like I could make the opposite argument–good decent literature, terrible reading. I say that because there are passage that are good in a literary sense, but they’re not very good in terms of clarity and concision. I suspect that part of this has to do with the style of writing, during that time. I actually spent time “translating,” or more like revising, some passages to make it more clear and concise for myself–just to help me understand the passages better. The sentences are often long and complex. I feel like they could break them into more sentences and pare down the sentences.

      Did you recall having difficulty understanding the passages? I’ll frequently reading a paragraph, and I feel like they mean to say the opposite of what’s written on the page. Do you recall having that experience?

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