Summary and Analysis
Section I: General Introduction: Federalist No. 8 (Hamilton)
If accepted as an "established truth" that war between separate parts was probable if the Union were dismembered, such wars between the states would occasion much greater distress than in countries that maintained regular standing armies. Such armies, though dangerous to liberty and economy, had the advantage of rendering sudden conquest impractical and of preventing that rapid desolation which once marked the course of war. The art of fortification had contributed to the same end. Because of their mistrust, the states would delay in setting up regular military establishments. In want of fortifications, the frontiers of one state would be open to another. The populous states, with little difficulty, would overrun their less populous neighbors.
But this condition would not long prevail. Wars and the constant threat of war always "compel nations the most attached to liberty, to resort for repose and security, to institutions, which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe they, at length, become willing to run the risk of being less free. The institutions alluded to are STANDING ARMIES, and the correspondent appendages of military establishments." Circumstances would compel the several confederacies at the same time to strengthen the executive arm of government, which would give their constitutions "a progressive direction towards monarchy. It is of the nature of war to increase the executive at the expense of the legislative authority."
In countries requiring standing armies, the continual need for military services "enhances the importance of the soldier, and proportionably degrades the condition of the citizen. The military state becomes elevated above the civil. . . . and by degrees the people are brought to consider the soldiery not only as their protectors, but as their supervisors."
Great Britain was an example of a country that, being insular and protected by a strong navy, had found no need to maintain a large standing army within the kingdom. To this, in large measure, could be attributed the liberty that Britons had long enjoyed.
If the American union were preserved, it would enjoy something of Britain's "insulated situation." Europe was far away. Her colonies in the New World were too weak to be a menace. Extensive military establishments, therefore, would not be needed for American security, but only if the nation stood united under a strong central government.
Having demonstrated to his own satisfaction the "established truth" that if the union were dismembered, war between the separate parts was "probable," Hamilton sagely observed that the constant threat of war always compels nations, even those most attached to liberty, to seek security in institutions having a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights — such institutions being "STANDING ARMIES, and the correspondent appendages of military establishments."
Such armies were a standing threat to the liberties of the people, elevating the soldier over the civilian. They tended to strengthen the executive arm of government so that it moved in a "progressive direction towards monarchy . . . at the expense of the legislative authority."
Britons had long enjoyed a large measure of civil liberties, and Hamilton was partly right in attributing this to the fact that Britain, being insular and protected by a strong navy, had not found it necessary to keep a large standing army. Americans enjoyed a somewhat similar "insulated situation." If the union were preserved and had a strong volunteer militia under a national commander-in-chief, the country would have no need of a standing army and extensive military establishments. This would save vast sums of money better spent on more productive things than killing and being killed.