Thomas Gordon on standing armies as a power which is inconsistent with liberty (1722)

Thomas Gordon

Thomas Gordon, who also wrote under the name of Cato, was an adamant opponent of standing armies, seeing in them a key method of undermining ancient English liberties as he argues in his Discourse of 1722:

There are but two Ways in Nature to enslave a People, and continue that Slavery over them; the first is Superstition, and the last is Force: By the one, we are perswaded that it is our Duty to be undone; and the other undoes us whether we will or no. I take it, that we are pretty much out of Danger of the first, at present; and, I think, we cannot be too much upon our guard against the other; for, tho’ we have nothing to fear from the best Prince in the World, yet we have every thing to fear from those who would give him a Power inconsistent with Liberty, and with a Constitution which has lasted almost a Thousand Years without such a Power…

Thomas Gordon was much read in the American colonies on the eve of the Revolution. One of his great concerns, shared by many in the 18th century “commonwealthman” tradition,“ was that standing armies were a threat to liberty. Their danger came from two sources: one was the sheer cost to taxpayers of having a large an permanent body of troops equipped and stationed at home during peace time; the other was the fact that it provided a tempting tool to despotically minded "Princes” or monarchs to use against their own people should they object too strenuously against government policy. It was for this reason that it became embedded in the American constitution that there was a right to bear arms and to form local militias as an alternative to monarchical standing armies.