A standing army is a permanent, often professional, army. It is composed of full-time soldiers (who may be either career soldiers or conscripts) and is not disbanded during times of peace. It differs from army reserves, who are enrolled for the long term, but activated only during wars or natural disasters, and temporary armies, which are raised from the civilian population only during a war or threat of war and disbanded once the war or threat is over. Standing armies tend to be better equipped, better trained, and better prepared for emergencies, defensive deterrence and, particularly, wars. The term dates from approximately 1600, although the phenomenon it describes is much older.
The first record of a standing army is the army of Sumer in Mesopotamia, recorded on the Stele of the Vultures, between 2600-2350 BCE. The first 'modern' standing armies in Europe were the Janissaries of the Ottoman Empire, formed in the fourteenth century CE. In western Europe the first standing army was established by Charles VII of France in the year 1445. The Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus had a standing army from the 1460s called the Fekete Sereg, which was an unusually big army in its age, accomplishing a series of victories and capturing parts of Austria, Vienna (1485) and parts of Bohemia. The establishment of a standing army in Britain in 1685 by King James II and the later assumption of control over the British colonies in America by the British Army were controversial, leading to distrust of peacetime armies too much under the power of the head of state, versus civilian control of the military, resulting in tyranny.
In his influential work The Wealth of Nations (1776), economist Adam Smith comments that standing armies are a sign of modernizing society as modern warfare requires increased skill and discipline of regularly trained standing armies. Since the eighteenth century standing armies have been an integral part of the defense of the majority of more economically developed countries.
In Great Britain, and the British Colonies in America, there was a sentiment of distrust of a standing army not under civilian control. In England, this led to the Bill of Rights 1689, which reserves authority over a standing army to Parliament, not the King, and in the United States, led to the U.S. Constitution (Article 1, Section 8) which reserves by virtue of "power of the purse" similar authority to Congress, instead of to the President. The President, however, retains command of the armed forces when they are raised, as commander-in-chief. In the course of this constitutional debate, Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, arguing against a large standing army, compared it, memorably and mischievously, to a standing penis:
Countries with no standing army
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- Smith, Adam. (1776) An Inquiry into the Nature And Causes of the Wealth of Nations Book 5. Chapter 1. Part 1.
- Hamner, Christopher. "American Resistance to a Standing Army". Teachinghistory.org. Accessed 30 June 2011.
- Isaacson, Walter (2003). Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. p. 456. ISBN 0-684-80761-0.