Militia (United States)

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Nevada Army National Guardsmen working a security check point outside the New Orleans, La., civic center where an aid station and evacuation point had been established, Sept. 8, 2005. The military performed various functions in New Orleans to assist with the cleanup efforts following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
The role of militia, also known as civilian military service and duty, in the United States is complex and has transformed over time.[1] The term militia'' can be used to describe any number of groups within the United States. Types of militia within modern US:
  • The organized militia created by the Militia Act of 1903, which split from the 1792 Uniform Militia forces, and consist of State and Federal militia forces, notably the National Guard and the Naval Militia[1].
  • The reserve militia[2] or unorganized militia, also created by the Militia Act of 1903 which presently consist of every able-bodied man of at least 17 and under 45 years of age who are not members of the National Guard or Naval Militia. (that is, anyone who would be eligible for the draft)[1]
  • Private militia forces, not necessarily illegal, which are made up of non-officially organized individuals who have formed paramilitary organizations based on their own interpretation of the concept of the militia.


From Old English milite meaning soldiers (plural), militisc meaning military and also classical Latin milit-, miles meaning soldier.

The Modern English term militia dates to the year 1590, with the original meaning now obsolete: "the body of soldiers in the service of a sovereign or a state". Subsequently, since approximately 1665, militia has taken the meaning "a military force raised from the civilian population of a country or region, especially to supplement a regular army in an emergency, frequently as distinguished from mercenaries or professional soldiers". [4]


Colonial era, pre-1774

The early colonists of America considered the militia an important social structure, necessary to defend their colonies from Indian attacks. All able-bodied males were expected to be members of the local militia, though in practice there were many possible exemptions to service including: conscientious objection, attendance at college and engagement in important business. The important and wealthy could avoid service, if they wanted, by paying others to go in their place. The colony of Pennsylvania did not have a militia, prior to the Revolutionary war, due to the large and pacifist Quaker population.[5]

During the French and Indian Wars, town militia formed a recruiting pool for the Provincial Forces. The legislature of the colony would authorize a certain force level for the season's campaign, based on that set recruitment quotas for each local militia. In theory, militia members could be drafted by lot if there were inadequate forces for the Provincial Regulars; however, the draft was rarely resorted to because provincial regulars were highly paid (more highly paid than their regular British Army counterparts) and rarely engaged in combat.

In September 1755, George Washington, then adjutant-general of the Virginia militia, upon a frustrating and futile attempt to call up the militia to respond to a frontier Indian attack:[6]

"...he experienced all the evils of insubordination among the troups, perverseness in the militia, inactivity in the officers, disregard of orders, and reluctance in the civil authorities to render a proper support. And what added to his mortification was, that the laws gave him no power to correct these evils, either by enforcing discipline, or compelling the indolent and refractory to their duty" ... "The militia system was suited for only to times of peace. It provided for calling out men to repel invasion; but the powers granted for effecting it were so limited, as to be almost inoperative.[6]"

See New Hampshire Provincial Regiment for a history of a Provincial unit during the French and Indian War.

A major factor that made universal militia service during this period impossible was the drastic lack of guns. The vast majority of New England men in the late Eighteenth Century did not own a working firearm. A study of probate records from that time found only 7% of white males owned a working gun. The predominate source of meat for food was either by hunting by trapping, not guns, or the slaughter of domesticated pigs and cows. Additionally there was a serious problem mobilizing the militia prior to the Revolutionary war because so few men had any experience shooting a rifle, and so few blacksmith had any experience repairing guns. The predominate source of guns was Europe, a source cut off by the British embargo.[7]

Revolutionary War (1775-1783)

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The Battle of Lexington, April 19th, 1775. Blue coated militiamen in the foreground flee running from the volley of gunshots from the red coated British Army line in the background with dead and wounded militiamen on the ground.
Just prior to the American Revolutionary War, October 26th, 1774, after observing the British military buildup, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress found their militia resources to be short, "...including the sick and absent, amounted to about seventeen thousand men...this was far short of the number wanted, that the council recommended an immediate application to the New England governments to make up the deficiency...", resolving to better organize the militia[8]:
"...they recommended to the militia to form themselves into companies of minute-men, who should be equipped and prepared to march at the shortest notice. These minute-men were to consist of one quarter of the whole militia, to be enlisted under the direction of the field-officers, and divide into companies, consisting of at least fifty men each. The privates were to choose their captains and subalterns, and these officers were to form the companies into battalions, and chose the field-officers to command the same. Hence the minute-men became a body distinct from the rest of the militia, and, by being more devoted to military exercises, they acquired skill in the use of arms. More attention than formerly was likewise bestowed on the training and drilling of militia."[8]

The Affair At Lexington Massachusetts's militia featured prominently in the opening bloodshedof the Revolutionary War. On April 19th, 1775 a force of 800 men from the British Army marched out of Boston intending to seize the Patriot stores and provisions at Concord. At 5 O'Clock in the morning they met about 70 armed militiamen at Lexington whom they ordered to disperse, but the militiamen refused. The British opened fire, killing three or four militiamen, upon which the remainder took flight. The British continued on to Concord and destroyed the Patriot's provisions, as they intended. In the meantime, Patriot militiamen assembled along the return route to Boston, taking advantage of cover behind stone walls, harassing the British as they attempted return. It was only with the help of an addition detachment of 900 British troops that the British Army was able to return to Boston.[9] This marked the beginning of the war "...three days after the affair of Lexington and Concord that any movement was made towards embodying a regular army." [10]

In 1777, the Second Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation to provide for States militia. Militia were only allowed be activated upon ratification of 9 of the 13 States, severely restricting federal power. Article VI of the Articles of Confederation state:

"...every State shall always keep up a well-regulated and disciplined militia, sufficiently armed and accoutered, and shall provide and constantly have ready for use, in public stores, a due number of filed pieces and tents, and a proper quantity of arms, ammunition and camp equipage."

Some militia units appeared without adequate arms, as evidenced in this letter from John Adams to his wife, dated August 26th, 1777:

"The militia are turning out with great alacrity both in Maryland and Pennsylvania. They are distressed for want of arms. Many have none, we shall rake and scrape enough to do Howe's business, by favor of the Heaven."[11]

The beginning of Revolutionary War saw a spectacular militia success with a militia victory at the Battle of Lexington and Concord, followed by widespread enthusiasm. But, as the war dragged on that enthusiasm waned. The historian Garry Wills explains:

The fevor of the early days in the reorganized militias wore off in the long grind of an eight-year war. Now the right to elect their own officers was used to demand that the men not serve away from their state. Men evaded service, bought substitutes to go for them as in the old days, and had to be bribed with higher and higher bounties to join the effort - which is why Jefferson and Samuel Adams called them so expensive. As wartime inflation devalued the currency, other pledges had to be offered, including land grants and the promise of 'a healty slave' at the end of the war. Some men would take a bounty and not show up. Or they would show up for a while, desert, and then, when they felt the need for another bounty, sign up again in a different place... . This practice was common enough to have its own technical term - 'bounty jumping'."[12]

The role fighting in the Revolutionary War shifted to a large extent to the standing army, the Continental Army. The stay-at-home militia tended then to perform the important role of the internal police to keep order. British forces sought to disrupt American communities by instigating slave rebellions and the use of Indian allies with raiding parties. The militia kept a close watch on the slave population, and with a history of rangers on guard, fended off the Indian raids. Also, Loyalists in the American communities hoping to agitate, or denounce the Revolution, were closely scrutinized by the militia. In Albany County, New York, the Militia established a Committee for Detecting and Defeating Conspiracies, to investigate and lookout for people with suspicious allegiances. [13]

Confederation period (1783-1787)

Politically, the militia was highly popular during the post war period, though to some extent, based more on on pride of victory in the recent war than on the realities.[13] This skepticism of the actual value of relying upon the militia for national defense, versus a trained regular army was expressed by Gouverneur Morris:
"...An overweening vanity leads the fond many, each man against the conviction of his own heart, to believe or affect to believe, that militia can beat veteran troops in the open field and even play of battle. This idle notion, fed by vaunting demagogues, alarmed us for our country, when in the course of that time and chance, which happen to all, she should be at war with a great power."[14]

Robert Spitzer, citing Daniel Boorstin, describes this political dichotomy of the public popularity of the militia versus the military value: ''"While the reliance upon militias was politically satisfying, it proved to be an administrative and military nightmare. State detachments could not be easily combined into larger fighting units; soldiers could not be relied on to serve for extended periods, and desertions were common; officers were elected, based on popularity rather than experience or training; discipline and uniformity were almost nonexistent."[13]

General George Washington defended the militia in public, but in correspondence with Congress expressed his opinion of the militia quite to the contrary:

"To place any dependence on the Militia, is, assuredly, resting upon a broken staff. Men just dragged from the tender Scenes of domestic life; unaccustomed to the din of Arms; totally unacquainted with every kind of military skill, which being followed by a want of confidence in themselves, when oppsed to Troops regularly train'd, disciplined, and appointed, superior in knowledge and superior in Arms, makes them timid, and ready to fly from their own shadows...if I was called upon to declare upon Oath, whether the Militia have been most serviceable or hurtful upon the whole, I should subscribe to the latter."[15]

Shays' Rebellion. A Massachusetts militia that had been raised as a private army defeated the main Shay site force on February 3, 1787. There was a lack of an institutional response to the uprising, which energized calls to reevaluate the Articles of Confederation and gave strong impetus to the Constitutional Convention which began in May 1787.

At the end of the Revolutionary War, a political atmosphere developed at the local level where the militia was seen with fondness, despite their spotty record on the battlefield. Typically, when the militia did act well was when the battle came into the locale of the militia, and local inhabitants tended to exaggerate the performance of the local militia versus the performance of the Continental Army. The Continental Army was seen as the protector of the States, though it also was viewed as a dominating force over the local communities. Joseph Reed, president of Pennsylvania viewed this jealousy between the militia forces and the standing army as similar to the prior frictions between the militia and the British Regular Army a generation before during the French and Indian War. Tensions came to a head at the end of the war when the Continental Army officers demanded pensions and set up the Society of the Cincinnati to honor their own wartime deeds. The local communities did not want to pay national taxes to cover the Army pensions, when the local militiamen received none.[16]

Constitution and Bill of Rights (1787-1789)

The delegates of the Constitutional Convention (the founding fathers/framers of the United States Constitution) under Article 1; section 8, paragraphs 15 and 16 of the federal constitution, granted Congress the power to "provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining (regulating/training) the Militia," as well as, and in distinction to, the power to raise an army and a navy. The US Congress is granted the power to use the militia of the United States for three specific missions, as described in Article 1, section 8, paragraph 15: "To provide for the calling for of the militia to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions." The Militia Act of 1792[17] clarified whom the militia consists of; " Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That each and every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective States, resident therein, who is or shall be of age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years (except as is herein after excepted) shall severally and respectively be enrolled in the militia, by the Captain or Commanding Officer of the company, within whose bounds such citizen shall reside, and that within twelve months after the passing of this Act."

Civilian control of a peacetime army

At the time of the drafting of the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, a political sentiment existed in the newly formed United States involving suspicion of peacetime armies not under civilian control. This political belief has been identified as stemming from the memory of the abuses of the standing army of Oliver Cromwell and King James II, in Great Britain in the prior century, which led to the Glorious Revolution and resulted in placing the standing army under the control of Parliament.[18] During the Congressional debates, James Madison discussed how a militia could help defend liberty against tyranny and oppression:
The highest number to which a standing army can be carried in any country does not exceed one hundredth part of the souls, or one twenty-fifth part of the number able to bear arms. This portion would not yield, in the United States, an army of more than twenty-five or thirty thousand men. To these would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for their common liberties and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence. It may well be doubted whether a militia thus circumstanced could ever be conquered by such a proportion of regular troops. Besides the advantage of being armed, it forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of. The governments of Europe are afraid to trust the people with arms. If they did, the people would surely shake off the yoke of tyranny, as America did. Let us not insult the free and gallant citizens of America with the suspicion that they would be less able to defend the rights of which they would be in actual possession than the debased subjects of arbitrary power would be to rescue theirs from the hands of their oppressors."- (Source I Annals of Congress 434, June 8, 1789)
Though during his presidency, after enduring the failures of the militia in the War of 1812, James Madison came to favor the maintenance of a strong standing army.

Tench Coxe, a prominent American political economist of the day (1755-1824) who attended the earlier constitutional convention in Annapolis, explained (in the Pennsylvania Federal Gazette on June 18th, 1789) the founders' definition of who the militia was intended to be and their inherent distrust of standing armies under the direct control of 'civil rulers' when he wrote:
The militia of these free commonwealths, entitled and accustomed to their arms, when compared with any possible army, must be tremendous and irresistible. Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves? Is it feared, then, that we shall turn our arms each man against his own bosom. Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birth-right of an American ...the unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people.

The militia, who are in fact the effective part of the people at large, will render many troops quite unnecessary. They will form a powerful check upon the regular troops, and will generally be sufficient to over-awe them.''

Whereas civil rulers, not having their duty to the people duly before them, may attempt to tyrannize, and as military forces, which must be occasionally raised to defend our country, might pervert their power to the injury of their fellow citizens, the people are confirmed by the article in their right to keep and bear their private arms.

The shift from States' power to Federal power

A major concern of the various delegates during the constitutional debates over the Constitution and the Second Amendment to the Constitution revolved around the issue of transferring militia power held by the States' (under the existing Articles of Confederation), to Federal control. The new Constitution effected a dramatic shift of military power from being militia based and predominately controlled by the States towards being controlled by the federal Congress and the federal President with the addition of a federal army.[13]

Political debate regarding compulsory militia service for pacifists

Records of the constitudional debate over the early drafts of the language of the Second Amendment included significant discussion of whether service in the militia should be compulsory for all able bodied men, or should there be an exemption for the 'religiously scrupulous' conscientious objector.

The concern about risks of a 'religiously scrupulous' exemption clause within the second amendment to the Federal Constitution was expressed by Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts (from 1 Annals of Congress at 750, 17 August 1789): "Now, I am apprehensive, sir, that this clause would give an opportunity to the people in power to destroy the constitution itself. They can declare who are those religiously scrupulous, and prevent them from bearing arms. What, sir, is the use of a militia? It is to prevent the establishment of a standing army, the bane of liberty. Now it must be evident, that under this provision, together with their other powers, congress could take such measures with respect to a militia, as make a standing army necessary. Whenever Governments mean to invade the rights and liberties of the people, they always attempt to destroy the militia, in order to raise an army upon their ruins."

The 'religiously scrupulous'clause was ultimately stricken from the final draft of second amendment to the Federal Constitution though the militia clause was retained. It should be noted that since the ratification of the Federal Constitution, the Supreme Court of the United States has consistently upheld that consciencious objection to military service does not exempt a citizen of the United States from compulsory military service.

Nineteenth century

Prior to the Civil War

In 1794, a militia numbering approximately 13,000 was raised and personally led by President George Washington to quell the Whiskey Rebellion in Pennsylvania. From this experience, a major weakness of a States' based citizen militia system was found to be the lack of systematic army organization, and a lack of training for engineers and officers. George Washington repeatedly warned of these shortcomings up until his death in 1799. Two days before his death, in a letter to General Alexander Hamilton, George Washington wrote: "The establishment of a Military Academy upon a respectable and extensive basis has ever been considered by me as an object of primary importance to this country; and while I was in the chair of government, I omitted no proper opportunity of recommending it in my public speeches, and otherwise to the attention of the legislature."[20]

In 1802, the federal military academy at West Point was established, in part to rectify the failings of irregular training inherent in a States' based militia system. [20]

In the War of 1812, the United States militia were routed by British regulars, and it was determined that militia were not adequate for the national defense. Military budgets were greatly increased at this time, and a standing federal army rather than States' militias was deemed better for the national defense.

Though the States' militia continued service, notably in the slave holding states to maintain public order performing the duty to round up runaway slaves.

Responding to criticisms of failures of the militia, Adjutant General William Sumner wrote an analysis and rebuttal in a letter to John Adams, May 3rd, 1823:

"The disasters of the militia may be ascribed chiefly to two causes, of which the failure to train the men is a principle one; but, the omission to train the officers is a so much greater, that I think the history of its conduct, where it has been unfortunate, will prove that its defects are attributable, more to their want of knowledge or the best mode of applying the force under their authority to their attainment of their object than to all others. It may almost be stated, as an axiom, that the larger the body of undisciplined men is, the less is its chance of success;..."[21]

During this inter war period of the Nineteenth Century, the States' militia tended towards being disorderly and unprepared.

"The demoralizing influences even of our own militia drills has long been notorious to a proverb. It has been a source of general corruptions to the community, and formed habits of idleness, dissipation and profligacy. ... musterfields have generally been scenes or occasions of gambling, licentiousness, and almost every vice. ... An eye-witness of a New England training, so late as 1845, says, "beastly drunkenness, and other immoralities, were enough to make good men shudder at the very name of a muster."[22]

Joseph Story laments in 1842 how the militia has fallen into serious decline:

"And yet, though this truth would seem so clear, and the importance of a well regulated militia would seem so undeniable, it cannot be disguised, that among the American people there is a growing indifference to any system of militia discipline, and a strong disposition, from a sense of its burdens, to be rid of all regulations. How it is practicable to keep the people duly armed without some organization, it is difficult to see. There is certainly no small danger, that indifference may lead to disgust, and disgust to contempt; and thus gradually undermine all the protection intended by this clause of our National Bill of Rights.[23]''"

The Mormon militia, in 1857 and 1858, fought against US federal troops in the Utah War over control of government territory.

Civil War

At the beginning of the Civil War, neither the North or the South was nearly well enough prepared for war, and few people imagined the demands and hardships the war would bring. Just prior to the war the total peacetime army consisted of a paltry 16,000 men. Both sides issued an immediate call to forces from the militia, followed by the immediate awareness of an acute shortage of weapons, uniforms and trained officers. Among the available States' militia regiments there existed an uneven quality, and none had anything resembling combat training. The typical militia drilling at the time amounted to, at best, parade-ground marching. The militia units, from local communities, had never drilled together as a larger regiment. Thereby lacking in the extremely important skill, critically necessary for the war style of the time, to maneuver from a marching line into a fighting line. Yet, both sides were equally unready, and rushed to prepare.[24]

Union militia

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New York State militia, Civil War
Company "E", 22nd N.Y. State Militia, near Harpers Ferry,
Following the Confederate taking of Fort Sumter, which marked the beginning of the Civil War, President Lincoln called up States' militia to retake the seized Federal property and found that the militia "...strength was far short of what the Congressional statute provided and required."[25]

In the summer of 1861, military camps circled around Washington D.C. comprised of new three-year army volunteers and 90 day militia units. The generals in charge of this gathering had never handled large bodies of men before, and the men were simply inexperienced civilians with arms having little discipline and less understanding of the importance of discipline.[26]

Confederate militia

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Confederate troops dragging guns up Kennesaw Mountain, in defense of Atlanta, Georgia.
Georgia Militia...

Reconstruction era

Immediately following the end of the Civil War, the role of policing the southern states fell upon provisional militia units comprised of formal rebel soldiers who persisted in wearing their Confederate gray uniforms. Per historian Otis Singletary: Their activities were frankly terroristic and were aimed directly at Negroes who displayed a tendency to assert their newly granted independence.[27] National outrage at abuses of these provisional rebel militias led to their disbandment on March 2, 1867 as part of the Radical Reconstruction. With passage of federal reconstruction laws between 1866 and 1870 individual ex-Confederate states were re-admitted to the Union, and militia laws were re-established. In this post war interim period, to a varying degree from state to state, political and racial turmoil occurred.[28]

Between 1866 and 1870, the federal congress allowed the re-creation of state militia, as long as the militia were loyal, that is black or white Republicans. In effect, the majority of militiamen were black.[29] Racial tension and conflict, sometimes intense, existed between the Negro freedmen and the ex-Confederate white population.[30]

In almost every Southern county, white paramilitary groups, rifle clubs, etc. were formed to counter this black militia; regardless of the laws prohibiting drilling, organizing or parading except for duly authorized militia. The white rifle clubs engaged in a prolonged series of retaliatory, vengeful, and hostile acts against this black militia.[31]

"A white rifle-club was organized in every town, village, and hamlet. They attended the public meetings wit their guns, drilled in front of the speaker' stands, yelled, hooted, hissed, cursed, and jeered at the orators who dared to champion or apologize for Negro rule. At night the hoof-beat of squadrons of pale horsemen and the crack of their revolvers struck terror to the heart of every negro, carpet-bagger, and scalawag."[32]

Tensions ran high in the aftermath of the Civil War, with conflict between the official Republican negro militia and the ad hoc Democratic white militia:

"...the milita companies were composed almost entirely of negroes and their marching and counter-marching through the country drove the white people to frenzy. Even a cool-headed man like General George advised the Democrats to form military organizations that should be able to maintain a front against the negro militia. Many indications pointed to trouble. A hardware merchant of Vicksburg reported that with the exceptions of the first year of the war his trade had never been so brisk. It was said that 10,000 Spencer rifles had been brought into the State." [33]

The activity of the official Black Militia, and the unofficial illegal White militia typically peaked in the autumn surrounding elections, for instance the race riot of Clinton, Mississippi in September 1875, and the following month in Jackson, Mississippi, an eyewitness account:

"I found the town in great excitement; ununiformed militia were parading the streets, both white and colored. I found that the white people--democrats--were very much excited in consequence of the governor organizing the militia force of the state. ... I found that these people were determined to resist his marching the militia (to Clinton) with arms, and they threatened to kill his militiamen."[34]

Outright war between these opposing militia was avoided only by the complete surrender of one of the belligerents, though tensions escalated in the following months leading to a December riot in Vicksburg, Mississippi resulting in the deaths of two whites and thirty-five Negroes. Reaction to this riot was mixed, with the local Conservatives upset at the influx of federal troops that followed, and the Northern press expressing outrage: "Once more, as always, it is the negroes that are slaughtered while the whites escape."[35]

The Posse Comitatus Act

Enacted in the wake of the Civil War, the Federal Congress passed the Posse Comitatus Act intended to prohibit federal troops and militia from supervising elections. This act substantially limits the powers of the Federal government to use the militia for law enforcement.

Spanish American War

Failure of the militia to meet expectations in the Spanish American War.[36]

World War I

The Plattsburg Movement. The Hays Law. [37]

Twentieth century

Organized militia

The United States National Guard and Naval Militia, created by the Militia Act of 1903, was a federalized portion of the State militia which were converted into regular troops kept in reserve for the United States Army. The National Defense Act of 1916[38] placed all state militia units under the National Guard. This act was later amended in 1933 under the National Guard Mobilization, Act[39] to place all National Guard units under the control of the United States Army, making them regular troops and effectively ending their status as constitutional militia forces under Article 1, section 8, paragraphs 15,16, of the Federal Constitution and the Second Amendment of the Federal Constitution.

The current United States Code, Title 10 (Armed forces), section 311 (Militia: Composition and Classes), paragraph (a) states: "The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard." Section 313 of Title 32 refers to persons with prior military experience who could serve as officers. These persons remain members of the militia until age 64. Paragraph (b) further states, "The classes of the militia are: (1) the organized militia, which consists of the National Guard and the Naval Militia; and (2) the unorganized militia, which consists of the members of the militia who are not members of the National Guard or the Naval Militia."[40]

The National Guard is the largest of the organized federal reserve military forces in the United States. The National Guard is classified (under title 10, see above) as the organized federal militia as it is under both federal and state control, and both the President of the United States and state governors can call upon it. Since the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, many National Guard units have served overseas (under the Total Force Policy of 1973[41] which effectively combined the National Guard with the armed forces making them regular troops.) This can lead to problems for states that also face internal emergencies while the Guard is deployed overseas. To address such issues, many of the states, such as New York and Maryland also have organized state "militia" forces or State Guards which are under the control of the governor of a state, however many of these "militia" also act as a reserve for the National Guard and are thus a part of it (varies from state to state depending on individual state statutory laws). New York and Ohio also have active naval militias, and a few other states have on-call or proposed ones. In 1990, the United States Supreme Court ruled in the case of Perpich v. Department of Defense that the Federal government has plenary power over the National Guard, and greatly reduced (to the point of nonexistence) the state government's ability to withhold consent to Federal deployments and training missions of the National Guard.[42]

Numerous states have their own Guard units separate from the National Guard; authorized by the states themselves, like the Alabama State Defense Force or Georgia State Guard.These units work closely with the National Guard and have the same commanding general the TAG of the State.

The reserve militia/unorganized militia

All able bodied men, 17 to 45 of age, are ultimately eligible to be called up into military service and belong to the class known as the Reserve Militia, also known as the unorganized militia. Able bodied men who are not eligible for inclusion in the unorganized militia pool are those aliens not having declared their intent to become citizens of the United States (10 USC 311) and former regular component veterans of the armed forces who have reached the age of 64 (32 USC 313). All female citizens who are members of National Guard units are also included in the unorganized militia pool (10 USC 311).

Other persons who are exempt from call to duty (10 USC 312) and are not therefore in the unorganized militia pool include:
  • The Vice President (also constitutionally the President of the Senate, that body which confirms the appointment of senior armed forces officers made by the Commander in Chief).
  • The judicial and executive officers of the United States, the several States and Territories, and Puerto Rico.
  • Members of the armed forces, except members who are not on active duty.
  • Customhouse clerks.
  • Persons employed by the United States in the transmission of mail.
  • Workmen employed in armories, arsenals, and naval shipyards of the United States.
  • Pilots on navigable waters.
  • Mariners in the sea service of a citizen of, or a merchant in, the United States.
Many individudal states have additional statutes describing their residents as part of the state militia; for example Washington law specifies all able-bodied citizens or intended citizens over the age of eighteen as members of the state militia, as explicitly distinct from the National Guard and Washington State Guard.[43]

The Ludlow massacre

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Militia at Ludlow, 1914
In 1914 in Ludlow, Colorado the militia was called out to calm the situation during a coal mine strike, but the sympathies of the militia leaders allied with company management resulting in the deaths of 17 people.

Modern private militia organizations

Within the United States since approximately 1992, there are social political organizations, self-described individualists struggling against a cultural opposition, notably the New World Order[44], that call themselves "militia" or "unorganised militia"[45]. Variously, they claim legitimacy based on colonial writings, and Article 1, section 8 and the 2nd Amendment of the United States Constitution, the militia act of 1792, Title 10 section 311, and a concept of an armed citizenry that they perceive in the common law. Some of these groups refer to themselves as citizen's militia,[46] others refer to themselves as simply militia,[47] many use the term "unorganised militia" and others do not use the term "militia" at all,[48] though most espouse similar ideological beliefs.

These private "militia" groups have not been formally called into service by the Federal congress. They are not linked to a state or federal government organization or military force, nor are any they known to be registered with the Civilian Marksmanship Program.[49] These organizations are known to speak out against the political actions of many State governments and the Federal government, due to what they consider to be unconstitutional (or non-constitutional) federal statutory laws, policies, treaties with foreign powers, and many federal agencies. Educational, fitness, training and commissioning standards for these private militia are minimal when compared to the Regular Army, National Guard or Reserve Forces.

These private militia are believed to have been spawned from the independent survivalist movement, tax-protester movement and other movements in the subculture of what is collectively called the "Patriot" movement in the United States. A few small private-militia groups developed within the United States during the 1970s and 1980s, but the movement experienced a wave of growth in the 1990s for various reasons including the Gordon Kahl, Ruby Ridge, and Waco incidents and the passage of the Brady law, and the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban.

Historian Mark Pitcavage describes this private militia of the late 1990s:[50]
"The militia movement is a right-wing movement that arose following controversial standoffs in the 1990s. It inherited paramilitary traditions of earlier groups, especially the conspiratorial, antigovernment Posse Comitatus. The militia movement claims that militia groups are sanctioned by law but uncontrolled by government; in fact, they are designed to oppose a tyrannical government. Adherents believe that behind the "tyranny" is a left-wing, globalist conspiracy known as the New World Order. The movement's ideology has led some adherents to commit criminal acts, including stockpiling illegal weapons and explosives and plotting to destroy buildings or assassinate public officials, as well as lesser confrontations."

Private-militia activities range from organized lawful protesting of government policies to criminal activities including the illegal modification and manufacture of firearms and explosives. However, the majority of private-militia groups are non-violent and only a small segment of the private-militia actually commit acts of violence to advance their political goals and beliefs.

A number of leaders of these groups, such as Lynn Van Huizen of the Michigan Militia Corps-Wolverines, have gone to some effort to rid their ranks of radical members who are inclined to carry out acts of violence and/or terrorism. Officials at the FBI Academy classify private-militia groups within four categories, ranging from moderate groups who do not engage in criminal activity to radical cells which commit violent acts of terrorism.

Private-militia anxiety, opposition to Globalism, and millenarianism relating to the year 2000 were based mainly on a political ideology, as opposed to religious beliefs. Private-militia leaders espoused the idea that the year 2000 would lead to political and personal repression enforced by the United Nations and countenanced by a compliant U.S. government. This ideology centers around what is known as the New World Order (NWO) conspiracy theory. Other issues which have served as motivating factors for the private-militia movement include gun control, illegal immigration, the incidents at Ruby Ridge (1992) and Waco (1993), the publishing of the controversial novel Unintended Consequences by John Ross (1996), the Montana Freemen standoff (1996) and the restriction of land use by federal agencies, as well as present and past circuit and Supreme Court decisions regarding both the constitution and its amendments (specifically the first 10).

List of militia in the United States

U.S. Federal militia forces

U.S. States' militia

Private militia

See also

External links




  • Samuel J. Newland The Pennsylvania militia: Defending the Commonwealth and the nation, 1669-1870 Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Dept. of Military and Veterans Affairs (2002)
  • Fischer, David Hackett (2004), Washington's Crossing, New York: Oxford University Press, 564 pages, Awarded the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for History
  • Singletary, Otis, Negro militia and Reconstruction, Austin: University of Texas Press. (1957) ISBN 0-313-24573-8

Critical of contemporary private militias

  • Lamy, Philip. 1996. Millennium Rage: Survivalists, White Supremacists, and the Doomsday Prophecy. New York: Plenum.
  • Stern, Kenneth S. 1996. A Force Upon the Plain: The American Militia Movement and the Politics of Hate. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  • Gibson, James William. 1994. Warrior Dreams: Paramilitary Culture in Post-Viet Nam America. New York: Hill and Wang.
  • Gibson, James William. 1997. "Is the Apocalypse Coming? Paramilitary Culture after the Cold War." In The Year 2000: Essays on the End, ed. Charles B. Strozier and Michael Flynn. New York: New York University Press.
  • Levitas, Daniel. 2002. The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right. New York: St. Martin's.

Critical of government (works which influenced private-militia ideology)

  • Larry Pratt Safeguarding Liberty: The Constitution and Citizens Militias Legacy Communications (May, 1995)
  • Gary Allen, Larry Abraham, Senator John G. Schmitz, 1976 None Dare Call it Conspiracy Concord Press
  • John A. Stormer 1968 The Death of a Nation Liberty Bell Press
  • John A Stormer 1964 None Dare Call it Treason Liberty Bell Press
  • G. Edward Griffith July 1964The Fearful Master: A second look at the United Nations Western Islands Publishing
  • David M. Kirkham 1993 The New World Order: In Historical Perspective Wyoming: High Plains Publishing Company
  • Jim Keith 1994 Black Helicopters Over America: Strike Force for the New World Order. Illuminet Press
  • Mack Tanner Armed-Citizen Solution to Crime in the Streets: So Many Criminals, So Few Bullets. ISBN 0-87364-806-4


  • Leonard C. Lewin 1967 The Report From Iron Mountain: On the Possibility and Desirability of Peace (A hoax document written as a subtle satire widely believed to be authentic within many right wing political groups), Dial Press


1. ^ Spitzer, Robert J.: The Politics of Gun Control, Page 36. Chatham House Publishers, Inc., 1995. "
2. ^ Beard, Charles Austin: Readings in American Government and Politics, Page 308. Macmillan, 1909. "Sec. 1. That the militia...shall be divided into two classes...the organized militia, to be known as the National Guard...and the remainder to be known as the Reserve Militia."
3. ^ Department of Defense, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, Military compensation background papers, Sixth edition, page 229. Department of Defense, 2005.
4. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, Draft Revision March 2002.
5. ^ Wills, Garry (1999). A Necessary Evil, A History of American Distrust of Government Page 27. New York, NY; Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0684844893
6. ^ Sparks, Jared: "The Life of George Washington", page 70. F. Andrews, 1853.
7. ^ Wills, Garry (1999). A Necessary Evil, A History of American Distrust of Government Page 29. New York, NY; Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0684844893
8. ^ Sparks, Jared: "The Life of George Washington", page 134-135. F. Andrews, 1853.
9. ^ Shepherd, William (1834). A History of the American Revolution Page 67. London, England. Published I.N. Whiting
10. ^ Sparks, Jared:
"The Life of George Washington"'', page 135. F. Andrews, 1853.
11. ^ Adams, John: ''Letters of John Adams, Addressed to His Wife, page 257. C.C. Little and J. Brown, 1841.
12. ^ Wills, Garry (1999). A Necessary Evil: A History of American Distrust of Government, Page 35. New York, NY; Simon & Schuster
13. ^ Wills, Garry (1999). A Necessary Evil: A History of American Distrust of Government, Page 36. New York, NY; Simon & Schuster
14. ^ Sparks, Jared: The Life of Gouverneur Morris, with Selections from His Correspondence and Miscellaneous Papers. Boston, 1832.
15. ^ Weatherup, Roy G.: Standing Armies and the Armed Citizens: An Historical Analysis of the Second Amendment. Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly (Fall 1975), 973
16. ^ Wills, Garry (1999). A Necessary Evil: A History of American Distrust of Government, Page 37-38. New York, NY; Simon & Schuster
17. ^ [1]
18. ^ Wills, Garry (1999). A Necessary Evil, A History of American Distrust of Government. New York, NY; Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0684844893
19. ^ Spitzer, Robert J.: The Politics of Gun Control. Chatham House Publishers, Inc., 1995. ''"
20. ^ Cullum, George and Wood, Eleazer:Campaigns of the War of 1812-1815, Against Great Britain: Sketched and Criticized.. J. Miller, 1879.
21. ^ Sumner, William H.: An Inquiry Into the Importance of the Militia to a Free Commonwealth, Page 23. Cummings and Hillard, 1823.
22. ^ Beckwith, George Cone: The Peace Manual: Or, War and Its Remedies. American Peace Society, 1847.
23. ^ Story, Joseph:
, page 265. A Familiar Exposition of the Constitution of the United States. T. H. Webb & co., 1842.
24. ^ Catton, Bruce (2004). The Civil War, Pages 28-29. Mariner Books. ISBN 0618001875
25. ^ Burgess, John Williams: The Civil War and the Constitution, 1859-1865, Page 173. C. Scribner's Sons, 1901.[2]
26. ^ Catton, Bruce (2004). The Civil War, Page 39. Mariner Books. ISBN 0618001875
27. ^ Singletary, Otis (1957). Negro militia and Reconstruction. Austin: University of Texas Press.
28. ^ Singletary, Otis (1957). Negro militia and Reconstruction. Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-313-24573-8
29. ^ Dickerson, Donna Lee: The Reconstruction Era: Primary Documents on Events from 1865 to 1877 Page 371. Greenwood Press 2003. ISBN 0313320942
30. ^ Singletary, Otis (1957). Negro militia and Reconstruction. Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-313-24573-8
31. ^ Dickerson, Donna Lee: The Reconstruction Era: Primary Documents on Events from 1865 to 1877 Page 372. Greenwood Press 2003. ISBN 0313320942
32. ^ Dixon, Thomas: The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan, Pages 351-352. Doubleday, Page & Company, 1905.
33. ^ Rhodes, James Ford. (1906) History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 Pages 132-133. Macmillan & co., ltd.
34. ^ Singletary, Otis (1957). Negro militia and Reconstruction, page 81. Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-313-24573-8. Quoted from Congressional testimony, S. Rep. 527, 44th Cong., 1st Sess., P. 1801.
35. ^ Singletary, Otis (1957). Negro militia and Reconstruction, page 85. Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-313-24573-8
36. ^ [3]
37. ^ Perry, Ralph Parton: ''The Plattsburg Movement: A Chapter of America's Participation in the World War". E.P. Dutton & Company, 1921
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39. ^ [5]
40. ^ [6]
41. ^ [7]
42. ^ [8]
43. ^ Revised Code of Washington 38.04.030. Accessed via [9]
44. ^ Crothers, Lane: The Cultural Foundations of the Modern Militia Movement. New Political Science, Volume 24, Issue 2 June 2002, pages 221 - 234
45. ^ Mulloy, Darren. American Extremism: History, Politics and the Militia Movement, Routledge, 2004.
46. ^ [10]
47. ^ [11]
48. ^ [12]
49. ^ [13]
50. ^ Pitcavage, Mark; Institute for Intergovernmental Research: Camouflage and Conspiracy. The Militia Movement From Ruby Ridge to Y2K. American Behavioral Scientist, Vol. 44, No. 6, Pages 957-981, SAGE Publications, 2001.
51. ^ [14]
52. ^ [15]
53. ^ [16]
54. ^ Quarles, Chester L.: The Ku Klux Klan and Related American Racialist and Antisemitic Organizations: A History and Analysis Page 135. Published 1999 McFarland & Company. ISBN 078640647X
55. ^ West, Jerry L.: The Reconstruction Ku Klux Klan in York County, South Carolina, 1865 to 1877, Page 57. 2002 McFarland & Company ISBN 0786412585
56. ^ Bolaffi, Guido. Dictionary of Race, Ethnicity and Culture, Page 171.ISBN 0761969004, 2003 Sage Publications Inc.
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"E Pluribus Unum"   ("From Many, One"; Latin, traditional)
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The Militia Act of 1903, also known as the Dick Act, was the result of a program of reform and reorganization in the military establishment initiated by United States Secretary of War Elihu Root following the Spanish-American War of 1898 after the war demonstrated weaknesses
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It should be distinguished from the U.S.
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American Indian and Alaska Native
One race: 2.5 million[1]
In combination with one or more other races: 1.6 million[2]
Regions with significant populations  United States

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Minutemen is a name given to teams of select men from the Massachusetts militia who vowed to be ready for battle (against the British during the American Revolution) in a minute's notice.
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The Continental Army was an army formed after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War by the colonies that became the United States of America. Established by a resolution of the Continental Congress on June 14, 1775, the army was created to coordinate the military
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The General Society of the Cincinnati is a historic association in the United States and France with limited and strict membership requirements.


The concept of the Society of the Cincinnati probably originated with Major General Henry Knox.
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The Militia Act of 1792 was a series of statutes enacted by the second United States Congress in 1792. The act provided for the organization of state militias under the command of the President of the United States.

There were, in fact, two Militia Acts passed by the U.S.
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