06 April 2012

A Founding Father speaks about war

Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.
  • "Political Observations" (1795-04-20); also in Letters and Other Writings of James Madison (1865), Vol. IV, p. 491

In time of actual war, great discretionary powers are constantly given to the Executive Magistrate. Constant apprehension of War, has the same tendency to render the head too large for the body. A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence agst. foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.
  • Speech, Constitutional Convention (1787-06-29), from Max Farrand's Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, vol. I (1911), p. 465
More at Wikiquote.


  1. Ironically, James Madison lobbied for and signed a declaration war against Great Britain — a war that the United States was not equipped to fight. During that war the White House and all other government buildings in Washington were burned by British troops who were able to raid the U.S. Atlantic coast at will. After the War of 1812, Congress fully abandoned Madison's notions of keeping the United States with a weak central government without the taxation power to properly arm forces.

  2. When Posse Comitatus in the US is legitimately threatened, I'll be worried. --a.


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