|The Future of Freedom Foundation|
It is unappreciated today that an earlier American culture was anti-militarist. In his classic study The Civilian and the Military: A History of the American Antimilitarist Tradition (1956), historian Arthur A. Ekirch Jr. wrote, "The tradition of antimilitarism has been an important factor in the shaping of some two hundred years of American history." This tradition, Ekirch notes, stretched back to England, where until the seventeenth century the militia, not a standing army, provided defense and was unsuited to aggressive war.
This attitude was carried to the New World, where "subordination of military to civil power became the cardinal principle it was in England." Anti-militarism colored much political thinking as the new country took shape. The Pennsylvania constitution declared a peacetime standing army a "danger to liberty [and] ought not to be kept up." All state constitutions contained language subordinating military to civil authority. The Declaration of Independence criticized the standing army and military independence. The Articles of Confederation, Americas first constitution, withheld from Congress the power to create a peacetime army (although attempts to expressly forbid its creation were unsuccessful in the rush to submit the Articles to the states for approval).
The Revolutionary War itself did not change the American attitude in a pro-military direction; Ekirch reported that states had trouble getting the required number of militiamen. When conscription was resorted to, it was not well received. Those who did don the uniform hardly exhibited the martial spirit.
After the Revolution, the conservative aristocracy that had emerged during the Colonial period wanted a strong central state with a powerful army. But the radical liberals of the day wanted a decentralized power structure and a militia. A standing army was anathema -- its potential for domestic oppression was too well known. "The idea of any sort of a regular army in peacetime at once met with strong opposition in Congress," Ekirch wrote. James Monroe and Richard Henry Lee warned of the danger to liberty, and Benjamin Franklin worried that a soldiers training made him accepting of war.
At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the suspicion of the military led to the separation of the power of the commander in chief from the power to declare and finance war. (This has proven to be a weak protection against executive warmaking.) It was said of Convention delegate George Mason, "He was for clogging rather than facilitating war; but for facilitating peace."
Although James Madison was a leader of the centralists, he warned, "A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive, will not long be safe companions to liberty."
The anti-militarists won only partial victories in the Convention, among them subordination of the military to the civilian authority. During the debates over the proposed Constitution, some of the writers known as Anti-Federalists railed against the standing army. "Centinel" proclaimed it "that grand engine of oppression."
is that the conservative fawning over the military displays an attitude
that would have infuriated those first generations of Americans who actually
built this country.
Gary D. Barnett is president of Barnett Financial Services, Inc., in Missoula, Montana
Tibor Machan is a Hoover research fellow, Professor Emeritus, Department of Philosophy, Auburn University, Alabama, holds the R.C. Hoiles Chair in Business Ethics and Free Enterprise at Chapman Universitys Argyros School of B and E and is a research fellow at the Pacific Research Institute and Hoover Institution (Stanford). He is an advisor to Freedom Communications. His most recent book is Libertarianism Defended, (Ashgate, 2006).
Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va., author of Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State, and editor of The Freeman magazine. Visit his blog Free Association."
Scott McPherson is a policy advisor at The Future of Freedom Foundation.
Samuel Bostaph is head of the economics department at the University of Dallas and an academic advisor to The Future of Freedom Foundation
Anthony Gregory is a policy advisor at The Future of Freedom Foundation
James Bovard is the author of Attention Deficit Democracy (Palgrave, January 2006) and Terrorism & Tyranny (Palgrave, 2003), and is policy advisor at The Future of Freedom Foundation
Benedict LaRosa is a historian and writer and serves as a policy advisor to The Future of Freedom Foundation
Bart Frazier is program director at The Future of Freedom Foundation.
Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. Send him email.