Does the U.S. Constitution allow the United States to have a standing Army? One of our participants raised this topic because they and many other Americans believe we are only constitutionally allowed to maintain a Navy. Let’s prepare ourselves to answer this question from a Constitutional perspective.
First, what does the Constitution say?
“The Congress shall have Power To …provide and maintain a Navy….”
(See Article 1, section 8, clause 13)
“The Congress shall have Power To …raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years….” (See Article 1, section 8, clause 12 for reference)
The Founders Preference
The Founders preferred trade to tyrants. Maintaining a navy allowed for commerce and protection of the enormous Atlantic seaboard. History showed at that time that a naval force could do much good in protecting the country’s borders.
On the other hand, Armies were champions of skill and weapons of war. Increasingly, armies on land won wars, not ships at sea. The King could raise up an army at his pleasure and station the troops close to your settlement. Imagine an American president being able to place armed soldiers at the end of your street because the Commander-in-chief considered you a threat. It was like that.
The Federalist and Anti-Federalist Constitution Preference
During the time of Constitution ratification, the Anti-Federalists did not favor a standing army. Founder George Mason said it this way: “What havoc, desolation, and destruction, have been perpetrated by standing armies!” The Anti-Federalists were okay with state militias. However, no federal standing armies and no navy for them. They argued that having a navy incentivized powerful governments to wage war on the new nation.
On the other hand, the Federalists believed it was a practical matter to have a standing army. Alexander Hamilton defended a standing army as essential in Federalist #23. Furthermore, the Federalists advocated for national defense under the federal government’s control. The Army was to be funded through congressional appropriations (and evaluated every two years (Article I), and the Commander-in-Chief would be the president of the United States (Article II).
The Federalist Position Prevailed in the Constitution
So, as you know, the Federalist position prevailed. It is constitutional to raise armies and maintain a navy. The other branches of the military are included in Clause 14 of Article 1, section 8:
To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;
The Air Force originally came under the jurisdiction of the Army. The Marines are considered a part of the Navy. According to military.com, “The president of the United States is the commander in chief, who is responsible for all final decisions. The secretary of the Department of Defense (DoD) has control over the military and each branch — except the Coast Guard, which is under the Department of Homeland Security.”
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