In the course of the Presidential reading program, I have been reminded that before the Civil War, the idea of a large standing army was considered a frightening threat to freedom. Indeed, one of the reasons why Washington was considered such a great statesman was that he commanded an army to victory and then relinquished control as soon as the battle was over. Few at the time could believe that he would have the strength of character to do such a thing.
The notion that civilian volunteer militias, called up only when there was a threat, would be more effective fighting forces than a regular army corps was prevalent in the thinking of most Presidents right up to Franklin Pierce. Gradually, the experience of the Mexican War and the Civil War, along with the advance of military technology, would make it clear that militias were not as effective as a regular, trained army. But even up to the beginning of World War II, the notion of a large standing army fit uncomfortably in the American psyche. In some sense, it still fits uncomfortably and I happen to think that is a good thing.