Blog National Security Politics

Brutus I and Trump’s Troops on the Border

First, if you aren’t regularly listening to the Bombshell podcast over at War On The Rocks, you’re wrong. The pod “…brings together Radha Iyengar Plumb, Loren DeJonge Schulman, and Erin Simpson to unpack the craziest national security and defense issues while debating the best cocktails known to (wo)man.”

I highly recommend you check out the latest episode here.

This week’s episode featured a discussion of President Trump’s deployment of active duty military forces to the southern border. The pod dives deep into the post-Posse Comitatus history of domestic US military deployments and the discussion reveals that Trump’s actions are not really an aberration from the actions of past presidents. This was a great history lesson for me.

I do have one thing I would like to add to the discussion, however. At one point the hosts try to hammer down where Americans derive their deep revulsion to the idea of the military conducting operations on US soil. No firm conclusion is reached. I would posit that this notion can be traced back (at least) as far as the British Army’s abuses on American soil during the lead up to the American Revolution. This fear of a standing army getting involved in domestic affairs is probably best expressed, however in the famous Anti-Federalist Paper, Brutus I:

“The confidence which the people have in their rulers, in a free republic, arises from their knowing them, from their being responsible to them for their conduct, and from the power they have of displacing them when they misbehave: but in a republic of the extent of this continent, the people in general would be acquainted with very few of their rulers: the people at large would know little of their proceedings, and it would be extremely difficult to change them. The people in Georgia and New-Hampshire would not know one another’s mind, and therefore could not act in concert to enable them to effect a general change of representatives. The different parts of so extensive a country could not possibly be made acquainted with the conduct of their representatives, nor be informed of the reasons upon which measures were founded. The consequence will be, they will have no confidence in their legislature, suspect them of ambitious views, be jealous of every measure they adopt, and will not support the laws they pass. Hence the government will be nerveless and inefficient, and no way will be left to render it otherwise, but by establishing an armed force to execute the laws at the point of the bayonet — a government of all others the most to be dreaded.”

The thesis of Brutus I is that the American republic will be too large to govern; a standing armed force will have to enforce the laws and tyranny will ensue. Clearly, the fear of the military getting involved in law enforcement was alive and well in 1787 when Brutus I was penned.

Brutus, of course, was famously refuted by James Madison in the Federalist #10.

Image Credit: Troops sent to LA during riots May 1, 1992, Robert Cause-Baker, Creative Commons 2.0 Generic license.