Today, it is rather difficult to imagine a violent uprising in New York threatening the stability of the national government. Yet during America’s earlier years, a time characterized by the fires of revolution, such a scenario was not nearly as farfetched. In Federalist 28, Publius devotes his entire paper to addressing the menace that violent dissent and rebellion poses towards the safety of the fledgling union. Throughout the essay, he employs a dazzling combination of pathos, ethos, and logos to convince readers of what he believes is the best method of sustaining order. Nationwide peace may only be attained, he claims, when order is defended by the presence of a standing army and reinforced by a resolute unity upheld among the states.
Publius introduces his two-step argument by first persuading readers that a national standing army is an integral part of an ideal republic. He shrewdly frames his argument in a historical context, appealing to readers’ memories of the plethora of rebellions that had hitherto broken out under every prior system of government. He reminds them: “Our own experience has corroborated the lessons… that seditions and insurrections are unhappy maladies as inseparable from the body politic, as tumors and eruptions from the natural body” (6). Such revolts are routine aspects of every republic, he tells readers reassuringly-they are as typical as illnesses are to the human body, and are therefore to be expected. He effectively normalizes sporadic surges of rebellion in readers’ minds and incites them to ponder a remedy to such revolts, events which he claims devolve invariably into anarchy and “eventually endanger all government” (17).
Yet Publius already has the panacea prepared: “Should such emergencies at any time happen,” he asserts, “there could be no remedy but force” (11). State militias, he acknowledges, suffice for subduing “slight commotions in a small part of a state,” but ultimately, “the means to be employed [for pacifying revolts] must be proportioned to the extent of the mischief” (13). It follows, then, that in extreme circumstances in which rebellions intensify in scope and in size, it will be necessary to call in a more regular, practiced authority independent from the militias. “Suppose the state of New-York had been inclined to reestablish her lost jurisdiction over the inhabitants of Vermont,” poses Publius. “Could she have hoped for success in such an enterprise from the efforts of militia alone?… Would she not have been compelled to raise and to maintain a more regular force for the execution of her design?” (28). He points out quite astutely that when local rebellion has escalated into a full-blown insurrection, no haphazardly-maintained state militia (composed of amateur citizens) would possess the organization, skill, and numbers necessary to restore order. In such cases, Publius suggests, only a larger force regularly trained and prepared for the sole purpose of upholding the peace could successfully suppress the threat.
Publius next expands his argument, applying an identical form of reasoning to a broader circumstance: “If the necessity of recurring to a force different from the militia… is applicable to state governments,” he reasons, “why should the possibility that the national government might be under a like necessity… be made an objection to its existence?” (34) Since the states require a regular force independent from militias to handle greater insurrections, in their own jurisdictions, then it is only logical that the government should require an analogous force for revolts too widespread (i.e. endemic to multiple states) for individual states to handle themselves. This “standing army,” Publius explains, would constitute a regular, third-party force specifically trained for containing the “contagions” of faction and insurgency that disrupt the public peace.
Knowing that many Americans connote the idea of a standing army with tyrannical subjugation (based on their recent “scuffle” with Britain), Publius corroborates his argument from a different, ethical angle. By securing “military establishments in the time of peace,” he claims, “the whole power of the proposed government is to be [placed] in the hands of the representatives of the people” (59). Thus, while the act may seem authoritarian in nature, establishing a standing army actually embodies the spirit of a republic, as the task of overseeing the army would be relegated to federal officials-and by extension, to the people who elect them. Thus, not only does establishing the army maintain peace, according to Publius, but the action also promotes democratic ideals by granting the people ultimate authority over it. Publius’ shift in tone from didactic to patriotic serves to placate readers’ fears: he reminds them that common citizens holds the trump cards in a republic, and implies that the army could “technically” never disobey their authority and abuse its power without their indirect consent.
Publius continues, introducing the other ingredient that he deems necessary to complement the army’s creation. He builds his case by first acknowledging the dangers inherent in establishing the army, noting that “usurpers, cloathed with the forms of legal authority, can too often crush [their] opposition in embryo” if empowered by physical might. In this scenario, a hodge-podge group of ordinary citizens would rebel futilely against the usurpers’ army “without concert, without system,