In Federalist No. 41, Madison takes up the powers confided to the federal government under the Constitution, the first class of which provided for security against foreign danger. As a “primitive object of civil society,” the provision of such security was “an avowed and essential object of the American union.” Giving the union the power to declare war, to raise armies, and to provide and maintain a navy followed from the essential task of security provision. Those powers had to be indefinite, Madison argued, because it would not make sense to limit the forces necessary for defense unless one could also limit the offensive forces of other nations, and this no constitution could do. In the course of his demonstration, Madison gives a history of war and standing armies in Europe that brilliantly summarizes the via media sought by the Founders. Neither the imperial despotism of Rome nor the anarchical balance of power system of Europe could provide a mechanism for the establishment of ordered liberty, and the Federal Constitution was seen by its architects as an escape from both specters.
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How could a readiness for war in time of peace be safely prohibited, unless we could prohibit, in like manner, the preparations and establishments of every hostile nation? The means of security can only be regulated by the means and danger of attack. They will in fact be ever determined by these rules, and by no others. It is in vain to oppose constitutional barriers to the impulse of self-preservation. It is worse than in vain: because it plants in the constitution itself necessary usurpations of power, every precedent of which is a germ of unnecessary and multiplied repetitions. If one nation maintains constantly a disciplined army, ready for the service of ambition or revenge, it obliges the most pacific nations, who may be within the reach of its enterprises, to take corresponding precautions. The fifteenth century was the unhappy epoch of military establishments in time of peace. They were introduced by Charles VII of France. All Europe has followed, or been forced into the example. Had the example not been followed by other nations, all Europe must long ago have worn the chains of a universal monarch. Were every nation, except France, now to disband its peace establishment, the same event might follow. The veteran legions of Rome were an overmatch for the undisciplined valour of all other nations, and rendered her mistress of the world.
Not the less true is it, that the liberties of Rome proved the final victim to her military triumphs; and that the liberties of Europe, as far as they ever existed, have, with few exceptions, been the price of her military establishments. A standing force, therefore, is a dangerous, at the same time that it may be a necessary, provision. On the smaller 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. It was remarked, on a former occasion, that the want of this pretext had saved the liberties of one nation in Europe. Being rendered by her insular situation, and her maritime resources, impregnable to the armies of her neighbours, the rulers of Great Britain have never been able, by real or artificial dangers, to cheat the public into an extensive peace establishment. The distance of the United States from the powerful nations of the world, gives them the same happy security. A dangerous establishment can never be necessary or plausible, so long as they continue a united people. But let it never for a moment be forgotten, that they are indebted for this advantage to their union alone. The moment of its dissolution will be the date of a new order of things. The fears of the weaker, or the ambition of the stronger states, or confederacies, will set the same example in the new as Charles VII did in the old world. The example will be followed here, from the same motives which produced universal imitation there. Instead of deriving from our situation the precious advantage which Great Britain has derived from hers, the face of America will be but a copy of that of the continent of Europe. It will present liberty everywhere crushed between standing armies, and perpetual taxes. The fortunes of disunited America, will be even more disastrous than those of Europe. The sources of evil in the latter are confined to her own limits. No superiour powers of another quarter of the globe intrigue among her rival nations, inflame their mutual animosities, and render them the instruments of foreign ambition, jealousy, and revenge. In America, the miseries springing from her internal jealousies, contentions, and wars, would form a part only of her lot. A plentiful addition of evils, would have their source in that relation in which Europe stands to this quarter of the earth, and which no other quarter of the earth bears to Europe.
This picture of the consequences of disunion cannot be too highly coloured, or too often exhibited. Every man who loves peace; every man who loves his country; every man who loves liberty, ought to have it ever before his eyes, that he may cherish in his heart a due attachment to the union of America, and be able to set a due value on the means of preserving it.