Before the US Constitution of 1787 was ratified, its proponents have claimed a centralized and powerful American state was necessary for the purposes of military defense.
But, as the Anti-Federalists of the time pointed out, the original constitution (known as the Articles of Confederation) had already been sufficient to allow the colonies to defeat what was the most powerful state on earth — the British Empire.
By the time the Federalists were advocating for a new, stronger, more costly constitution, the US was, as Richard Henry Lee put it, “in no immediate danger of any commotions; we are in a state of perfect peace, and in no danger of invasions.”
Then as now, though, advocates for more government intervention wrapped up their agenda in calls for more “security” through a larger, stronger state.
As has happened so many times in American history, the trick worked, and the voters accepted much stronger and expansive government in the name of peace and security.
What they ended up with, though, went far beyond mere military matters.
The new constitution contained a bevy of new powers for the central state to exercise including new powers of taxation, new regulations, and new courts.
These powers on domestic matters were so broad that within two years, Congress had passed the Judiciary Act of 1789 creating a network of domestic federal courts. By 1791, the United States had a central bank. By 1803, with Marbury vs. Madison, the Supreme Court had invented the power of judicial review, deciding for itself what were the limits of federal power.
By the end of the 19th Century, the US government had established itself as able to regulate countless industries under the guise of promoting “competition” and fair labor relations.
None of these powers, of course, are key in providing for the so-called “common defense,” although that’s what voters were told was the primary reason for the new constitution.
And to this day, apologists for the current constitution recoil in horror at the suggestion that the Union be disbanded or that member states be allowed to go their own way.
“Why, we’ll be invaded by foreign powers!” is the refrain, either implied, or stated explicitly.
In truth, nothing nearly so broad and unrestrained as the current constitution is remotely necessary to provide for an immense military establishment in the United States.