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….
The clause we’re going to look at today, the Army Clause, is fairly straightforward! Here we see two things: 1) that the Constitution gives the raising and support of the army as one of the eighteen enumerated powers of Congress, and; 2) appropriations for the support of the army would not exceed that necessary for two years.
Raise and Support
Many Americans after the American War for Independence believed that a standing army could result in arbitrary power, especially if it was a branch of the federal government. However, some thought that the need for a form of a standing army would be necessary to defend the new nation against attack, both foreign and domestic.
The belief on whether or not America wanted or needed a standing army was debated amongst both federalists and antifederalists — the federalists being supportive of a standing army, and the antifederalists being opposed to it. In an essay from the Heritage Foundation, Mackubin Owens writes of the antifederalists that,
“They largely shared the perspective of James Burgh, who, in his Political Disquisitions (1774), called a ‘standing army in times of peace, one of the most hurtful, and most dangerous of abuses.’ The Anti-Federalist paper A Democratic Federalist called a standing army ‘that great support of tyrants.’ And Brutus, the most influential series of essays opposing ratification, argued that standing armies ‘are dangerous to the liberties of a people…not only because the rulers may employ them for the purposes of supporting themselves in any usurpation of powers, which they may see proper to exercise, but there is a great hazard, that any army will subvert the forms of government, under whose authority, they are raised, and establish one, according to the pleasure of their leader.'”
On the contrary, the federalists, Owens writes, felt as though “the power of a government to raise an army was a dictate of prudence. Thus, during the Pennsylvania ratifying convention, James Wilson argued that ‘the power of raising and keeping up an army, in time of peace, is essential to every government. No government can secure its citizens against dangers, internal and external, without possessing it, and sometimes carrying it into execution.'”
Therefore, they sought a solution for the Constitution by making this — the raising and support of the army — Congress’ jurisdiction, instead of a jurisdiction of the executive branch as they had seen in England and other nations. They felt as though Congress, being the branch closest to the people, would best bring balance between the concern of either too much or too little power.
As is to be expected, many things, including the way we appropriate money for the army has changed since the ratification of our Constitution. Again quoting Owens from the Heritage Foundation, since “the establishment of a Department of Defense in 1947, Army appropriations have been subsumed by a single department-wide appropriation that includes the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force (established in 1947), as well as other agencies of the department. Despite periodic congressional efforts to move to a two-year appropriations cycle, the annual appropriations for the military are the rule, although not for the reasons that animated Elbridge Gerry during the Constitutional Convention. In addition, the Armed Services Committees of Congress have taken on the responsibility of authorizing almost all aspects of the defense budget as well as appropriating the funds for the services.”
I hope you’ve enjoyed and learned something from today’s Constitution post! Keep studying, and let me know in the comments what you think of a standing army and why or why not you support it!