Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Thomas Jefferson on Standing Armies

The following quotes are all from Thomas Jefferson at various times and occasions:

"There are instruments so dangerous to the rights of the nation and which place them so totally at the mercy of their governors that those governors, whether legislative or executive, should be restrained from keeping such instruments on foot but in well-defined cases. Such an instrument is a standing army." -1789

"I do not like the omission of a Bill of Rights providing clearly and without the aid of sophisms for... protection against standing armies." -1787

"Nor is it conceived needful or safe that a standing army should be kept up in time of peace for [defense against invasion]." -1801

"A well-disciplined militia, our best reliance in peace and for the first moments of war till regulars may relieve them, I deem [one of] the essential principles of our Government, and consequently [one of] those which ought to shape its administration." -1801

"There shall be no standing army but in time of actual war." -1776
(Found in a draft of the Virginia Constitution
.)


I would like to note that the idea of the U.S. not having a standing army, at least today, is as foreign to us as gun control would be to Jefferson. What was Jefferson's idea of the structure of our national defense? The following quotes should explain:

"None but an armed nation can dispense with a standing army. To keep ours armed and disciplined is therefore at all times important, but especially so at a moment when rights the most essential to our welfare have been violated." -1803

"A well-disciplined militia, our best reliance in peace and for the first moments of war till regulars may relieve them, I deem [one of] the essential principles of our Government, and consequently [one of] those which ought to shape its administration." -1801

"A militia so organized that its effective portions can be called to any point in the Union, or volunteers instead of them to serve a sufficient time, are means which may always be ready yet never preying on our resources until actually called into use. They will maintain the public interests while a more permanent force shall be in course of preparation. But much will depend on the promptitude with which these means can be brought into activity. If war be forced upon us in spite of our long and vain appeals to the justice of nations, rapid and vigorous movements in its outset will go far toward securing us in its course and issue, and toward throwing its burdens on those who render necessary the resort from reason to force." -1806

"Militia do well for hasty enterprises but cannot be relied on for lengthy service and out of their own country." -1787

"[The] governor [is] constitutionally the commander of the militia of the State, that is to say, of every man in it able to bear arms." -1811

"Uncertain as we must ever be of the particular point in our circumference where an enemy may choose to invade us, the only force which can be ready at every point and competent to oppose them, is the body of neighboring citizens as formed into a militia. On these, collected from the parts most convenient, in numbers proportioned to the invading foe, it is best to rely, not only to meet the first attack, but if it threatens to be permanent, to maintain the defence until regulars may be engaged to relieve them." -1801

"Every rational citizen must wish to see an effective instrument of coercion, and should fear to see it on any other element than the water. A naval force can never endanger our liberties, nor occasion bloodshed; a land force would do both." -1786

"I am for relying for internal defense on our militia solely till actual invasion, and for such a naval force only as may protect our coasts and harbors from such depredations as we have experienced; and not for a standing army in time of peace which may overawe the public sentiment; nor for a navy which, by its own expenses and the eternal wars in which it will implicate us, will grind us with public burthens and sink us under them." -1799


I would say, in my interpretation of his words, that he almost overstated his view that there should be no standing army, but there should always be a trained militia - an armed citizenry, comprising the whole of the people; and that, in time of war, the U.S. would then begin actively raising "regulars" - Federally trained troops. But, a Federal navy would have a constant presence on our coasts, and this would be increased in time of war.

This fits well with the conservative interpretation of the Second Amendment, "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."

It is my opinion that we have strayed quite far from our country's founders' intent when it comes to our military and defense policies.

9 comments:

Johann Van De Leeuw said...

Amen! What an awesome string of quotes! Thank you for posting this Son3! Keep up the good work/keep the fire burning/keep your powder dry!

Son3 said...

Thank you, Johann.

Bryan said...

While a major offensive in the 1700's would take weeks, today it's just hours. Is that enough time to respond? In the hands of a true republic I believe a military presence is a justifiable deterrent. But controlled by a fascist government, it's use upon it's own is ever present and plausible. When the rights of the people are removed to protect themselves from an oppressive establishment, we then are subjects. Welcome to the new order.

In short... danged if you do, danged if you don't.

Son3 said...

Thanks for the comment, Bryan!

Isn't it true, though, that any immediate threat to us would be stopped by our Navy and Air Force, and if such threat somehow got through those defenses, an armed citizenry would be called out?

In perhaps a month's time, they would be relieved by regular troops.

Our Navy and Air Force are unstoppable, and could hold off any sort of invasion for an indefinite amount of time.

Warfare has changed, of course, but so has our technology, so I think Jefferson's ideas still stand.

Bryan said...

The vote from the senate on concealed carry today affirmed their distrust of the American people to protect themselves.

Maybe we could send them all a copy of Red Dawn. Then again, it may inspire them.

Son3 said...

Red Dawn, The Patriot, Braveheart... there's a list of movies we could send them.

Maybe Endgame!

AdamS said...

What was it Alex Jones said, the military 'kills people and breaks things', and that's what they are good at.

I think when a nation has a standing army, the temptation/opportunity to use it 'pre-emptively', ie to start wars, is great, even if the nation's leaders are well-intentioned.

I take a slightly different view on navies and air forces since these are not generally operating on the mainland of the country anyway - these groups need to be on permanent alert anyway, and it's a lot harder to be a 'minuteman' when you need to be near a ship or aircraft than when you need to be near a rifle!

The new technology and ways of war definitely pose a problem for a nation wishing to be without a standing army - but I see no reason why even specialist training could not be carried out on a community basis as part of the citizen militia. (They are supposed to be 'well-regulated', after all.)

The best security IMO is to have any permanent standing forces be under the control of government below the national level. This would make it harder to use them abroad as regular troops (as has been done with our Territorial Army and your National Guard).

The most important thing is, how are we ever going to sell the idea of not having a standing army, when one half of the political population thinks they need police and military to be the only ones with guns, and the other half thinks any cut to the military budget will allow Russia to invade?

I leave that one to you.

Son3 said...

Well said.

A permanently standing state-run military corps, as opposed to regular, citizen militia, was proposed in the Federalist Papers.

They were to be harder trained than militia, and on constant alert, but of less widespread use than regulars.

I suppose they could be best likened to the modern National Guard.

I didn't know y'all had a "Territorial Army", I'll have to look into that.

Thanks for the comment!

Hasibur Rahman said...

Personally I like Thomas Jefferson quotes. Excellent compilation. Thanks for sharing!!

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