Let me express gratitude to a debate partner on David Frum's blog for drawing my attention to the following passage from No. 46:
The federal and State governments are in fact but different agents and trustees of the people, constituted with different powers, and designed for different purposes. The adversaries of the Constitution seem to have lost sight of the people altogether in their reasonings on this subject; and to have viewed these different establishments, not only as mutual rivals and enemies, but as uncontrolled by any common superior in their efforts to usurp the authorities of each other. These gentlemen must here be reminded of their error. They must be told that the ultimate authority, wherever the derivative may be found, resides in the people alone, and that it will not depend merely on the comparative ambition or address of the different governments, whether either, or which of them, will be able to enlarge its sphere of jurisdiction at the expense of the other.My debate partner took this to mean that since ultimate power rests with the people, not the government, since the people should be seen as the superiors of the government, the people retain the right of revolution. While this letter does later make that point, it is not the point being made here. The point here is simply that, since both the federal and state governments are agents of the people, transferring power from the states to the federal government is not denying power to the people, but simply transferring power from one set of agents to another. In other words, the federal government, no less than states, is a government of the people. Anti-federalist forgot that point at the time; some insurrectionists forget it to this day.
Madison then continues with a long discussion of why the states will generally hold the upper hand (proven wrong, in hindsight), and why the federal government will not be able to bring about the end of the states by any means short of military force. These discussions need not concern us, until he gets to the subject of military force:
The only refuge left for those who prophesy the downfall of the State governments is the visionary supposition that the federal government may previously accumulate a military force for the projects of ambition. The reasonings contained in these papers must have been employed to little purpose indeed, if it could be necessary now to disprove the reality of this danger. That the people and the States should, for a sufficient period of time, elect an uninterupted succession of men ready to betray both; that the traitors should, throughout this period, uniformly and systematically pursue some fixed plan for the extension of the military establishment; that the governments and the people of the States should silently and patiently behold the gathering storm, and continue to supply the materials, until it should be prepared to burst on their own heads, must appear to every one more like the incoherent dreams of a delirious jealousy, or the misjudged exaggerations of a counterfeit zeal, than like the sober apprehensions of genuine patriotism.In other words, he sees no danger of such a thing actually happening. But let us say Madison was wrong. The federal government in 1787 did not have a standing army large enough to impose a military dictatorship; today it does; no one seriously proposes to disband it. So, supposing someone actually intends to use our army to create a dictatorship, how does Madison propose to counter the threat:
Extravagant as the supposition is, let it however be made. Let a regular army, fully equal to the resources of the country, be formed; and let it be entirely at the devotion of the federal government; still it would not be going too far to say, that the State governments, with the people on their side, would be able to repel the danger. The highest number to which, according to the best computation, a standing army can be carried in any country, does not exceed one hundredth part of the whole number of souls; or one twenty-fifth part of the number able to bear arms. This proportion would not yield, in the United States, an army of more than twenty-five or thirty thousand men. To these would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for their common liberties, and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence. It may well be doubted, whether a militia thus circumstanced could ever be conquered by such a proportion of regular troops. Those who are best acquainted with the last successful resistance of this country against the British arms, will be most inclined to deny the possibility of it. Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of. Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms. And it is not certain, that with this aid alone they would not be able to shake off their yokes. But were the people to possess the additional advantages of local governments chosen by themselves, who could collect the national will and direct the national force, and of officers appointed out of the militia, by these governments, and attached both to them and to the militia, it may be affirmed with the greatest assurance, that the throne of every tyranny in Europe would be speedily overturned in spite of the legions which surround it.We can start by seriously questioning Madison's assumptions that an army cannot exceed 1% of the population. Within five years of Madison writing this, the Napoleonic Wars began, and countries began fielding armies on a scale hitherto unimagined. Some estimates of the armies the US fielded in the Civil War are as high as 10% of the population. And what about his comment on that "able to bear arms." Despite the assumption that to "bear arms" simply means to carry a gun, it seems unlikely that he means those physically capable of carrying a gun. The other meaning of "to bear arms," i.e., military service, seems more likely. In other words, a standing army cannot exceed 1% of the total population, or 4% of those eligible for military service.
"To these would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for their common liberties, and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence." Clearly then, while Hamilton favored a select militia, Madison, believed it would consist of every man and his gun. But not every man and his gun acting on his own, outside of military structure or government authority. To the contrary, this militia will have officers and be commanded by the state governments.
"Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of." Supporters of the insurrectionist theory like quoting Madison's comment that the American people possess the advantage over everyone else of being armed and thus able to overthrow their government. They do not usually quote his next comment, on the existence of subordinate governments, let alone that these subordinate governments appoint militia officers. This once again refers to the Constitution Article I, Section 8, Clause 16 which authorizes Congress the power "To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia . . . reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers." The fact that Madison expects the militia resisting the federal government to have officers appointed by the states makes clear that he expects any revolution against the federal government to be fought by the militia as described in this clause, and he expects it to be commanded by the states.
"Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms. And it is not certain, that with this aid alone they would not be able to shake off their yokes. But were the people to possess the additional advantages of local governments chosen by themselves, who could collect the national will and direct the national force, and of officers appointed out of the militia, by these governments, and attached both to them and to the militia, it may be affirmed with the greatest assurance, that the throne of every tyranny in Europe would be speedily overturned in spite of the legions which surround it." Once again, insurrectionists like to cite the part of Madison's quote in which he says that European governments are afraid to trust the people with arms, for fear of overthrow. But they neglect to mention that he adds, "And it is not certain that with this aid alone they would be able to shake off their yokes." Madison then goes on, once again, not just to talk about the importance of state governments, but to mention that states appoint militia officers and that these officers are "attached both to them [state governments] and to the militia."
In short, when Madison conceives of a revolution against the federal government, he assumes that it will be fought by the organized militia, as described in Article I, Section 8, Clause 16, and commanded by the state governments. This is consistent with Hamilton's warning that if "citizens must rush tumultuously to arms, without concert, without system, without resource; except in their courage and despair," they are unlikely to prevail, but with state governments to command them, the people will succeed. It is also consistent with Hamilton's assumption that the select militia, not the general public, will be the ones to resist usurpations by a standing army.
In short, neither Madison nor Hamilton had any use for revolts by every man and his gun. These were the "rebellions," "insurrections," and "seditions" they believed were properly suppressed. True revolution would be fought by the state militias, commanded by the state governments, just as had been the case during the revolutionary war. I will next address how Anti-Federalists responded.