The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday comes from Article I.8.12: "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." This clause is known as the "Army Clause." Simply stated, by including this clause in the United States Constitution, the Founders gave Congress the power and authority to raise the money and support necessary for a national military force by taxing the people of the nation. This was not an easy power for the Founders to bestow.
The American colonists did not want a standing army, and their representatives in the Constitutional Convention greatly opposed the very idea of giving a President the power to mobilize an army. They absolutely did not want either the President or the Congress to have the power to set up a military dictatorship. They did however understand the need to defend their nation from foreign enemies or from internal rebellions.
"For most Americans after the Revolution, a standing army was one of the most dangerous threats to liberty. In thinking about the potential dangers of a standing army, the Founding generation had before them the precedents of
Rome and . In the first case, Julius Caesar marched his provincial army into England , overthrowing the power of the Senate, destroying the republic, and laying the foundation of empire. In the second, Cromwell used the army to abolish Parliament and to rule as dictator. In addition, in the period leading up to the Revolution, the British Crown had forced the American colonists to quarter and otherwise support its troops, which the colonists saw as nothing more than an army of occupation. Under British practice, the king was not only the commander in chief; it was he who raised the armed forces. The Framers were determined not to lodge the power of raising an army with the executive" (Mackubin Owens, The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, p. 132). Rome
By giving the power to raise taxes for an army to the Congress and limiting the authority to two years, the Founders felt that they could provide for their defense without threatening their freedoms. They accepted the need for an army, but they also wanted to control the power of Congress to appropriate the funds to support an army. During the ratification of the Constitution, both Federalists and Anti-Federalists expressed concerns about a standing army. The Anti-Federalists wanted their defense to be provided by state militias because they held the opinion that a standing army would support tyrants. The Federalists believed that it was wisdom as well as essential for any government to have an army available for defense.
It is interesting that the concerns about a standing army were not part of the discussion about a navy or militias. This clause is the only one in the Constitution that sets a time limit on the appropriations of funds for military powers. The time limit of two years on the appropriation of funds to support an army coincides with the length of time of service in the House of Representatives.
W. Cleon Skousen quoted an explanation by Thomas Dawes, Jr.: "When we consider that this branch is to be elected every two years, there is great propriety in its being restrained from making any grants in support of the army for a longer space than that of their existence. If the election of this popular branch were for seven years, as in
, the men who would make the first grant, might also be the second and third, for the continuance of the army; and such an acquaintance might exist between the representatives in Congress and the leaders of the army as might be unfavorable to liberty. But the wisdom of the late Convention has avoided this difficulty. The army must expire of itself in two years after it shall be raised, unless renewed by representatives, who, at that time, will have just come fresh from the body of the people. It will share the same fate as that of a temporary law, which dies at the time mentioned in the act itself, unless revived by some future legislature" (The Making of America: The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution, pp. 445-446). England
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