Alexander Hamilton, a man tagged in modern times with authoritarian inclinations, left no doubt what the sovereign people were to do in the face of ongoing oppression. The great vehicle of oppression to enforce tyranny in the 17th and 18th centuries was a king’s standing army.
For centuries after the Norman Conquest, the prerogative of English kings to raise armies was nearly unlimited. This ages-old right, of which Spanish and French kings shared, did not end in England until the close of the Glorious Revolution in 1688. Subsequent to a 1689 Bill of Rights, English kings needed the consent of parliament in order to raise armies in times of peace.
Against this background, and having endured a series of British military occupations in colonial cities before and during the Revolutionary War, it was only natural that the Constitution, like the Articles of Confederation and state constitutions, would address the danger that domestic military forces posed to liberty. Through a two-year limit on military appropriations, and state control of militias during times of peace, the Constitution provided the means to keep a lid on the ability of a president to turn military might inward on the nation.
Martial law is an expensive and clumsy instrument. It wrecks commerce and the people’s residual trust in government. Its practical use is limited to control of rioting populations bent on physical destruction and the intimidation of ruling officials. But what of the proclivity of rulers in the face of building popular resistance that falls short of violent confrontation?
The fear that 18th century Americans had for standing army forces subject to congressional consent has been replaced in the 21st century with dread of militarized civilian forces increasingly under sole control of the president. When the president can, without an appropriation from congress, pay over $400 million in ransom to fund the terror state of Iran, rest assured he can and has funded garrisons of well-equipped civilians ever ready to do his bidding. Among the startling findings in a fifty page, June 2016 report by OpenTheBooks.com, is that sixty-seven non-military agencies and fifteen cabinet level departments have more than 200,000 federal officers with firearm authority, which exceeds the size of the 182,000 man United State Marine Corps.
Similarly, under threat from the Department of Justice, municipal police increasingly dance to its social justice tune. Through consent agreements, local police must shape their policies to meet DOJ diktats. As more come under administrative influence of the DOJ, and if the trend continues, they will eventually be little more than auxiliary forces under operational control of the Attorney General. While our modern oppressors regularly use lawfare, regulations and court decisions, this velvet glove of outward civility contains the mailed fist of paramilitary might to keep us in check.
In the Federalist #26, Alexander Hamilton relates how James II lost his throne in 1688, largely in response to his 30,000 man army, an army not authorized by parliament. Like the post-Glorious Revolution parliament, our congress may not establish, nor can the president utilize, appropriations dedicated to the civil list to maintain military forces. In order for the president to form and maintain a private army, Hamilton argued that every congressman and senator would have to participate in a conspiracy of such breadth and depth as to be utterly fantastical and ridiculous!
But, to answer critics of the new Constitution, Hamilton played along. Should the unimaginable occur in the form of an executive army, Hamilton advised the nation to rise up and start over:
“If such presumptions can fairly be made, there ought to be at once an end of all delegated authority. The people should resolve to recall all the powers they have heretofore parted with out of their own hands, and to divide themselves into as many states as there are counties in order that they may be able to manage their own concerns in person.”
Like John Locke, Alexander Hamilton advised the people in such situations to consider themselves in a State of Nature and reformulate government to once again serve as security of their unalienable rights.
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