Does the individual belong to the state or does the state belong to the people? The question is a tricky one in the way I have worded it. Note that "the individual" (singular) in the first clause is supplanted by "the people" in the second. Whereas we may rightly maintain that no individual belongs to the state, it is equally true that no state belongs to an individual — nay, not even King Louis XIV of France or Obama the First of the United States.
The sovereignty of the individual extends to his own life and is a matter to be settled between the individual and God, leaving the state out of it altogether. The sovereignty of the people over the state is, in our land, an understanding of the people who did "ordain and establish the Constitution of the United States" for themselves and their posterity. On that we invoke the blessing of God who has left political arrangements, for the most part, up to the genius of man.
So far, so good. But the classical liberal understanding of the proper relationship between the individual and the state eventually gave way in America to the Prussian model, fashioned largely by Otto von Bismark. Recall that the Framers did not even like the idea of a standing army, with Jefferson in particular likening it to the menace of a national bank. They favored a defense of the nation by state militias, each made up of citizens keeping and bearing their own arms for the defense of a free people. While many of us grew up in an age when conscription into a national army was taken for granted, nothing could have been further from the ideals of the Founders of our Republic.
The militias have received mixed reviews, generally regarded as having performed well during our War for Independence and not well at all during the war of 1812. Even in that latter war, however, the mighty British empire was not able to recapture its former colonies, any more than the United States was able to subdue and capture any part of Canada.
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