UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Organized Militia

From the very earliest days of the Republic it had been the pride of its people that no great standing army had been necessary for the maintenance of its authority at home or its influence abroad. A determination to shun anything like militarism was impressed upon the people by Washington and Jefferson, and given renewed emphasis by observation of the lamentable results which the creation and maintenance of enormous armies have entailed upon the peoples of Europe.

Throughout American history, the bulk of U.S. military forces fighting during the nation's major warsat least through the end of the 19th Century were men who volunteered for state militia units, whether organized or unorganized. In accordance with the militia tradition of the United States, all able-bodied young and middle-aged men were members in a particular state's branch. Traditionally, militia units have provided for their own equipment, met at periodic musters, and elected officers from the ranks. The militias would serve limited tours of active duty for discrete periods of time within defined geographical areas. They could be quickly organized and just as expeditiously disbanded, all at a minimal expense in comparison to the maintenance of large standing armies.

In the U.S. Constitution, Congress was given powers to raise armies for a period of two years, after which time funding would be cut off. Article I, Section 8, incorporated the original Confederation articles regarding state control of the militia and its officers. Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution mandated consent of the Congress for states to keep military units during peacetime. The Second Amendment allowed the states to retain their militias. Title 32 U.S. Code Sec. 109 also reaffirmed for a state the right to maintain troops "within its borders in time of peace" or for policing actions. Washington also was instrumental in putting forward what becomethe Uniform Militia Act of 1792, which defined militia membership and specified that Adjutant Generals would be in charge for the military in every state.

The U.S. Army's mobilization scheme for national defense basically relied upon the states to provide troops. This reached its ultimate end-state during the Civil War, when eventually almost all Union and Confederate forces were volunteers. In spite of being circumscribed in the postwar years, during Reconstruction, many of the Southern militias were entirely black in racial makeup. Following the negative political fallout from the use of the Army for occupation duty in the South and for policing of northern labor strikes, Congress passed the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 (18 USC 1385), the provisions of which prohibited the federal military from engaging in civil affairs. This exclusion did not apply to state militias, however, since these were not federal military troops.

The federal regulation of militias accelerated soon after the Spanish-American War. In late 1903, Representative Charles Dick, a Republican from Ohio and a state militia general himself, sponsored legislation for a new militia act. The Dick Act of 1903 designated the state militias as the reserve forces of the nation. In turn, the federal government dramatically increased funding for the organized state militias. An organized militia was termed "National Guard", and an unorganized militia (which was the traditional militia of the minutemen and essentially were the state guards) was also defined as the "reserve militia". This law was the first step towards the eventual federalization of the traditional organized militia.

The National Guard is the organized militia reserved to the states by the Constitution of the United States under Article 1, Section 8. In peacetime, the National Guard is commanded by the governor of each respective state or territory. When ordered to active duty for mobilization or called into federal service for emergencies, units of the Guard are under the control of the appropriate service secretary. The militia clause reserves the appointment of officers and the authority of training the militia (according to Congressionally prescribed standards) to the states. In 1903, Congress officially designated the organized militia as the National Guard and established procedures for training and equipping the Guard to active duty military standards.

The State Defense Force is a form of militia and is authorized to the states by federal statute (Title 32 U.S. Code 109). State Defense Forces are not entities of the federal government. They are organized, equipped, trained, employed and funded according to state laws and are under the exclusive jurisdiction of the governor. Should the National Guard be mobilized for war, specialized operations such as humanitarian or peacekeeping missions or called into federal service during national emergencies, the State Defense Force will assume the National Guard's mission for the state's security.

Federal and state laws generally define the militia as "all able-bodied males between ages 17 and 45." Federal statute (Title 10 U.S. Code 311) defines the unorganized militia as all members of the militia who are not members of the National Guard or Naval Militia. Some private individuals, without government sanction, have banded together and styled themselves "militias." These militias answer to no government, they have no formal or informal relationship with the National Guard and are not state-recognized organizations. They are private organizations, some paramilitary in nature, that use the term militia in their names.

The next significant legislation of relevance was promulgated during the First World War. The federal government would subsequently assume control over much of this militia apparatus, and by the advent of World War I had activated organized National Guard units to federal service domestically or overseas, which in effect removed these units from the control of the state governor. The National Defense Act of 1916 both created an Army Reserve organization and gave the federal government greater powers to call the militias into federal service. The act doubled the National Guard it received federal funding, but in exchange for this support the act basically gave the President full authority over the National Guard and authorized its federalization at the President's order. It also mandated that National Guardsmen take dual oaths of loyalty to both the state governor and the President. Under this act, the federal government also recognized the state commissions of militia officers. As well, the term "National Guard" became legislated nomenclature.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 24-07-2012 12:45:07 ZULU