Friday, June 17, 2016

What did the founding fathers mean by the word "militia"?

Something different from what we moderns think it means.  In the eighteenth century there were two kinds of armed force.  Regulars,  well drilled, uniformed, paid, and used by the king to suppress his political enemies.  And militia, amateur, not uniformed, little training.  In a standup fight, regulars could beat militia every single time. But, in colonial America, it was the militia that stood to arms in the event of Indian raids, pirate attacks,  French attacks, Spanish attacks, and plain old banditry and cattle rustling.  The militia may not have been as effective as regulars, but in roadless heavily wooded America, the militia were there when they were needed.  Where as it might take a month for a regular force to march up from barracks and engage the enemy.  And, the militia were politically reliable.  You didn't have militia out enforcing the king's taxes, the king's press gangs, arresting smugglers and political enemies.  Being members of the community, the militia wasn't going to oppress their own community like the way regulars were happy to do.
   And so, the founding fathers, setting up a democratic government over a vast territory, decided the militia were the obvious solution to the defense problem.  Militia would not become a Praetorian Guard, making and unmaking presidents and Congresses.  Militia didn't get paid, a great savings on the public purse. And you could have a really big militia, essentially every able bodied man in the country.   Hence the second amendment, "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state...."
  The militia principle was effective as late as 1940 when Japanese admiral Yamamoto said " To invade the United States is impossible.  There would be a rifleman behind every blade of grass."


DCE said...

I think there has also been some confusion about the phrase "well regulated". It doesn't mean what many folks have taken it to mean, which is formally controlled by some higher state authority. Instead, "well regulated" means trained well enough to perform a volley fire cycle in a proficient manner.

Volley fire was more effective than random fire by individual militiamen. The volley fire cycle consisted of: pour powder down the bore of the barrel, place a wad and ball into the end of the barrel, ram the ball and wad down the bore and tamp it, withdraw the ramrod and stow it, prime the pan, close the striker, cock the hammer, take aim, and fire on command. Then repeat. To do this in an efficient manner took practice, particularly if there were to be two or more ranks running through this cycle - one firing while the other(s) were reloading. All the militiamen would practice until everyone could run the cycle in the same amount of time and in the same fashion. That was called "regulation".

A well regulated militia meant it was well trained, though not to the level of regulars, making them a more effective fighting force.

Dstarr said...

Things varied from time to time and place to place. In the 1770's the colonial establishment in Massachusetts saw trouble coming and put a new and renewed emphasis on building up the militia and keeping it trained. By 1774 the Minutemen were trained up to nearly regular infantry standards. At Concord, the militia line stood up to the Redcoats and blazed away with the best of 'em. At Bunker Hill the militia stood it's ground and slaughtered the attacking Redcoats.
On the other hand, one of the greatest American victories, at King's Mountain, in the Carolina's, the militia employed very modern infantry tactics again a first class British force led by the famous Major Ferguson and nearly wiped it out. Instead of forming line, the militiamen crept forward one by one thru heavy cover. When close enough they fired into the British ranks, and then pulled back to reload. By the end of the day they had shot down two thirds of the British force for very small casualties among themselves. At the end, Major Ferguson attempted to break out on horseback. The Americans shot him out of his saddle, dead.