In medieval times it was a matter of law that common folk must purchase at their own expense and keep ready in their homes some basic weapons to serve and protect their king and state. The rulers expected the peasants to have acquired certain skills with their weapons prior to deployment, although they failed to provide any sort of funding for training. The English Assize of Arms (1181), promulgated by Henry II, required that each man keep at his own expense in his home a weapon appropriate to his rank and position.i The American use of militia was, in reality, a return to traditional practices of this earlier age. In medieval Europe the law defined a militia as "the whole body of freemen" between the ages of fifteen and forty years, who were required by law to keep weapons in defense of their nation.ii In the later Middle Ages the militia was the whole body of "citizens, burgesses, free tenants, villeins [serfs] and others from 15 to 60 years of age" who were obliged by the law to be armed.iii
Trained Bands (or Trainbands) are found primarily in Elizabethan and Stuart England. The concept and term may be found as early as the reign of Alfred the Great (849-899). "For greater security, certain men in or near each settlement or City, who volunteered or were selected otherwise, were given, or agreed to procure, arms in advance of any emergency."iv These men became the mainstay of Cromwell's army during the Puritan Revolution and these units developed from the broader militia. The term is occasionally encountered referring to select militia in the American colonies, especially in New England.
Most European nations had abandoned the militia system by the sixteenth century.v Americans chided the English for abandoning the militia system which had worked so well here. The militia, alone, had served as a check on the native aborigine in the colonial period of American history. For instances, when General Braddock was defeated near Pittsburgh, then Fort DuQuesne, the Virginia militia under Colonel George Washington's command stood against the French and Indians. The British army fled to the eastern seaboard. During the colonial period Americans came to trust the militia to a far greater extent than they trusted the regular royal army. The fancy uniforms and European battle formations may have served the British well in wars in the old world, but they were ill suited for backwoods America.
America's colonial citizen-soldier citizens soldier had their counterparts throughout history, as in ancient and medieval times when the peasants were conscripted to fight as foot soldiers. After the wars were over the peasants, too, returned to their fields. Tradesmen, farmers, men in all walks and vocations of life, had one thing in common: they stood as brothers in arms against the enemy as part of the citizen-soldiery.
The citizen-soldier stands in marked contrast to the professional soldier whose vocation is war. The citizen-soldier does not enter war for pay or booty. He goes to war only reluctantly, spurred on by notions of patriotism, nationalism and duty. He deplores war. He fights only as a last recourse when his nation is threatened and not in imperialistic adventures. There is no human institution any where more fundamental than the militia. As we shall show in this and the ensuing four volumes, excepting only religious dissenters, the true, traditional citizens owned firearms, less as a privilege than as a matter of duty. They came to equate firearms ownership with freedom. A free man is armed; a slave is dispossessed of his arms. No man can trust a government that seeks to disarm him. Those who claim the right to bear arms over and against tyrannical government stand arm in arm with his ancestors who refused to give up their arms at Lexington, Concord, and on a thousand other locations.
A recent article concluded that the Second Amendment to the Constitution was adopted "as a declaration that the Federal Government can never fully nationalize all the military forces of this nation" because the masses of men with their own guns constitute "an essentially civilian-manned and oriented set of military forces" who can "inveigh against federal professionalization of the state militia."vi The Preamble to the Declaration of Independence listed as two grievances against King George III that "[h]e has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislatures [and]. . . [h]e has affected to render the military independent of and superior to the Civil power."vii
Reverend Samuel McClintock (1732-1804) was commissioned to deliver a sermon on 3 June 1784, the occasion being the adoption of the newly adopted New Hampshire state constitution. He had served as a militia chaplain in both the French and Indian War and the American Revolution, and was thus well acquainted with the concept, organization and purpose of a militia system. His comments on that portion of the new basic document of the New Hampshire state government read like a passionate and patriotic definition of militia. "An army of freemen, voluntarily assembling at the alarm of danger -- men who had been nurtured in the bosom of liberty, and unused to slavish restraints . . . willing to submit to the severity of military government, for the safety of their country, and patiently endure hardships that would have overcome the fortitude of veterans, following their illustrious leader in the depths of winter, through the cold and snow, in nakedness and perils, when every step they took was marked with the blood that issued from their swollen feet, and when they could not be animated to such patience and perseverance by any mercenary motives . . . ."viii
A recent authorix distinguished among army, trained bands and the various types of militia. An army is any armed land force that is organized and controlled by a clear chain of command. A militia which derived from the Latin miles and the old English and French milice indicated "the obligation of every able bodied Englishman to defend his country." It implies the obligation that all citizens and perhaps resident aliens have to serve in the armed forces of their nation. In the American colonies the transition was made from English common law to the law of the colonies. The federal Constitution made certain that any national obligation did not preclude service to the state which was primary and original. Initially the enrolled militia (or organized militia) included those select or specially trained militia enlisted by the colonies or states. Early select and enrolled militia were occasionally called Trained Bands. The minutemen of New England were select or enrolled militia.
Theoretically, a naval militia may be authorized by letters of marque and reprisal. During the Revolution a few states, notably Pennsylvania, had state navies manned by militia. President Thomas Jefferson toyed with the idea of protecting our shores with large row boats armed with smaller cannon and manned by militia. In 1889 Massachusetts created a naval militia as a counterpart to the regular, land-based state militia, and a very few other states followed.
Partisans are intended to supplement the regular army and even the militia, carrying out such duties as security, reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, scouting, and transportation. Partisans generally operate in wartime, especially when a nation is occupied by hostile forces. They may disrupt a wide variety of enemy activities, including transportation and communications. Parisans may or may not be officially authorized. The Norwegian Home Guard, for example, operated as an authorized partisan band during the nazi occupation and the reign of the collaborationist government of Vikung Quisling. The government, before leaving for exile in England ordered it to prevent or delay enemy transport of men and supplies by operations behind the enemy lines. The guard was instructed to attack enemy transport and supply convoys and offer armed resistance in occupied territories. The Norwegian Home Guard is a part of the regular army and is always prepared to perform its functions any time the nation is invaded. As a legal entity it would function best in occupied areas, but before the nation had surrendered. Theoretically, the Home Guard could be disarmed as a part of a surrender, for surrender ordinarily implies the end of hostilities with, and disarmament of, all armed forces of a nation.x
Most partisan operations may be termed guerrilla. Because guerrilla or partisan forces are not subject to formal government controls, they differ substantially from home guards.xi Another term that applies to "the military organization of the entire nation" is levees en masse. This force "must be recruited from men . . . women, children and the aged." It stands quite a part from the regular army, and even the militia. Its combattants commonly have no uniforms or military discipline or training. These men fight only in their home areas, along ill-defined battle lines. Levees en masse may stage an uprising of all the people, or of a significant portion thereof. Usually, it is called forth by a general call to resist the enemy, rather than a muster call; or it may simply issue forth spontaneously. It never fights abroad. Its weapons are whatever is available from among the people. While it most frequently occurs immediately after the local area is attacked, the term might apply to a popular uprising that occurs after an area is occupied.xii
The United States Supreme Court discussed the meaning of the militia in a 1939 decision which was based on traditional views expressed in state court decisions. "The significance attributed to the term Militia appears from the debates in the Constitutional Convention, the history and legislation of Colonies and States, and the writings of approved commentators. These show plainly enough that the Militia comprised all males physically capable of acting in concert for the common defense. "A body of citizens enrolled for military discipline." And further, that ordinarily when called for service these men were expected bearing arms supplied by themselves and of the kind in common use at the time. . . . In all the colonies, as in England, the militia system was based on the principle of the assize of arms. This implied the general obligation of all adult males inhabitants to possess arms, and, with certain exceptions, to cooperate in the work of defense. The possession of arms also implied the possession of ammunition, and the authorities paid quite as much attention to the latter as to the former."xiii
The sentimental role of the citizen-soldier is found in the parallel to the Roman Cincinnatus who left his plow in the field to answer his country's call.xiv The Supreme Court in one of the very few rulings rendered on the right to keep and bear arms, looked at the historical context in which forces consisting of citizen-soldiers had developed. "It is undoubtedly true that all citizens capable of bearing arms constitute the reserved military force or reserve militia of the United States as well as of the States; and, in view of this prerogative of the general government, as well as of its general powers, the States cannot, even laying the constitutional provision in question out of view, prohibit the people from keeping and bearing arms, so as to deprive the United States of their rightful resource from maintaining the public security, and disable the people from performing their duty to the general government."xv
Most of the political writers of the colonial and federal periods were intimately familiar with the liberal political writings of the Enlightenment. One of the most writers who exercised great influence on the development of the American mind was James Harrington (1611-1677), the philosopher of property rights and economic determinism. Harrington called the militia, "the vast body of citizens in arms, both elders and youth."xvi Harrington also noted that the militia consisted of "Men accustomed to their arms and their liberties."xvii Commenting on Harrington's thought, Sir Henry Vance the Younger wrote that the militia comprised those who "have deserved to be trusted with the keeping or bearing Their own Armes in publick defense."xviii
A more contemporary writer was the first great economic philosopher, Adam Smith (1723-1790), author of the influential treatise, The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776. Smith defined the term militia as, "either all the citizens of military age, or a certain number of them, to join in some measure the trade of a soldier to whatever other trade or profession they may happen to carry on. If this is found to be the policy of a nation, its military force is then said to consist of a militia."xix
A French contemporary of Smith's, Hilliard d'Auberteuil, observed that "a well regulated militia [is] drawn from the body of the people." It is "accustomed to arms" and "is the proper, natural and sure defense of a free state." He cautioned his readers that a standing army, on the other hand, was destructive of liberty.xx French military theorist Comte de Guibert expressed little admiration for militiamen who were not well disciplined. Having witnessed American militiamen in action, he described the citizen-soldier a as "real barbarian" who is
terrible when angered, he will carry flame and fire to the enemy. He will terrify, with his vengeance, any people who may be tempted to trouble his repose. And let no one call barbarous these reprisals based on laws of nature [although] they may be violations of so-called laws of war. . . . He arises, leaves his fireside, he will perish, in the end, if necessary; but he will obtain satisfaction, he will avenge himself, he will assure himself, by the magnificence of this vengeance, of his future tranquility.xxi
Sir James A. H. Murray in his New English Dictionary of Historical Principles, defined the militia as, "a military force, especially the body of soldiers in the service of the sovereign of the state, [who are] the whole body of men amenable to military service, without enlistment, whether drilled or not . . . . A citizen army as distinguished from a body of mercenaries or professional soldiers."xxii
Simeon Howard (1733-1804), writing in Boston in 1773, said that a militia was "the power of defense in the body of the people . . . [that is], a well-regulated and well-disciplined militia. This is placing the sword in hands that will not be likely to betray their trust, and who will have the strongest motives to act their part well, in defence of their country."xxiii
Justice Story in his Commentaries defended the militia system. He wrote, "The militia is the natural defense of a free country against sudden foreign invasions, domestic usurpation of power by rulers. It is against sound policy for a free people to keep up large military establishments and standing armies in time of peace, both from the enormous expense with which they afford ambitious and unprincipled rulers to subvert the government, or trammel upon the rights of the people. The rights of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered as the palladium of the liberties of a republic; since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary powers of rulers; and will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance, enable the people to resist and triumph over them."xxiv
Benjamin Franklin defined the militia as a voluntary association of extra-governmental armed troops acting under their own authority. Franklin wrote that a militia is a "voluntary Assembling of great Bodies of armed Men, from different Parts of the Province, on occasional Alarm, whether true or false, . . . without Call or Authority from the Government, and without due Order and Direction among themselves . . . which cannot be done where compulsive Means are used to force Men into Military Service. . . . "xxv
Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote concerning the minutemen of Massachusetts,
Among the grievous wrongs of which [the Americans] complained in the Declaration of Independence were that the King had subordinated the civil power to the military, that he had quartered troops among them in times of peace, and that through his mercenaries, he had committed other cruelties. Our War of the Revolution was, in good measure, fought as a protest against standing armies. Moreover, it was fought largely with a civilian army, the militia, and its great Commander-in-Chief was a civilian at heart. . . . [Fears of despotism] were uppermost in the minds of the Founding Fathers when they drafted the Constitution. Distrust of a standing army was expressed by many. Recognition of the danger from Indians and foreign nations caused them to authorize a national armed force begrudgingly.xxvi Award winning historian and former Librarian of Congress Daniel Boorstin noted,
Everywhere, Americans relied on an armed citizenry rather than a professional army. The failure to distinguish between the "military man" and every other man was simply another example of the dissolving of the monopolies and distinctions of European life . . . . In a country inhabited by "Minute Men" why keep a standing army? . . . The fear of a standing army which, by European hypotheses was the instrument of tyrants and the enslaver of peoples, reenforced opposition to a professional body of men in arms.xxvii
While the English Parliament and His Majesty's government argued that the colonials ought to bear some part of the cost of the wars with the French and Indians, the colonists disagreed. The colonial legislatures had appropriated money to pay their militias. The British troops were useless in the woods. They had been effective against the French armies in Canada, but that was of little concern to the colonials. Let the English bear the cost of their wars with France. After all, the wars here were only an extension of the greater wars in Europe.
Since the colonists' wars were generally brought on by England's massive conflicts on the Continent the home country could rarely spare many of its professional soldiers to defend the colonies against the French. In peacetime royal troops were more numerous, but they were unpopular. They enforced the hated smuggling laws and, later, Britain's policy against westward expansion for the colonies. Such "tyranny," and the memory of the uses to which Cromwell and the Stuarts had put standing armies, seemed to validate the truisms of classical political philosophy: that an armed populace provides all the security necessary against either foreign invasion or domestic tyranny, while a professional army allows rulers to oppress their unarmed subjects.xxviii
After the Revolution began, the British decided that victory would prevent any future armed conflict with the colonists over the payment of taxes or for any other cause. The British government had planned to disarm the Americans completely, had they won the war of the American Revolution. In 1777 the British cabinet, confident of impending victory, intended to abolish the militia. The cabinet had planned that, "The Militia Laws should be repealed and none suffered to be re-enacted and the Arms of All the People should be taken away . . . . nor should any Foundry or Manufactory of Arms, Gunpowder or Warlike Stores, be ever suffered in America, nor should any Gunpowder, Lead, Arms or Ordnance be imported into it without Licence."xxix
In the late seventeenth century the militiamen, coming from the towns and cities of New England, proved sadly deficient in the firearms skills and discipline necessary to contain even the ragged, ill-clothed and underfed braves of King Philip's army. The southern militia was all but nonexistent. Only in the middle colonies of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, and, to a slightly lesser degree, New York, were they really a formidable force.
During the Revolution George Washington decided that, however useful the militia might be in harassing or quasi-guerrilla warfare, lasting victory could be forged only with a regular army. But the militia concept had appealed to the Founding Fathers because it accorded with their philosophical predispositions and their own experience in warfare. From their inception the American colonies had to rely upon an armed populace for defense. Many times the colonies simply could not afford to maintain a sufficient standing military establishment. It also became a matter of duty. One had to work and to be prepared to defend the colony if he wished to live within its borders. Necessity, popular opinion and abstract philosophy had combined to commit the Founding Fathers to a military system based ultimately on what was then described as the "unorganized militia."
The New England Beginnings It has become popular to say that the militia system developed in the New World because the colonies were too poor to be able to devote a significant portion of the able-bodied manpower to a permanent military establishment. There were constant dangers from all sides, ranging from Britain's various traditional enemies, such as Spain and France, to the native aborigine. Therefore, the colonies reverted to the military organization of an earlier time, the militia system as used at the beginning of modern Europe. While the European militias had atrophied and could, at best, be considered a vestigial organ of the state, the American militias had become vibrant military, social, and fraternal organizations necessary to the very existence of the colonies. No king would attempt to stave off his enemies on the continent, but the French and English kings depended almost exclusively upon their North American colonial militias. Nowhere was the militia system as well organized as in Puritan New England.xxx
When the Puritans landed in New England they wished to found their own city on the hill, secular paradise, or land of the chosen people. Initially, the Pilgrims courted the indigenous Amerindians and became friends with the Wampanoags. The Massachusetts colony was wholly separatist and wanted nothing more than to be left alone. In the earliest years there was virtually no need for a strong military system. The friendship was short-lived, for the Europeans never did quite master the skill of being good neighbors to the Amerindians and leaving them alone. Within ten years the Puritans had come to regard themselves as the new Zion and the Amerindians as Canaanites. They did not regard themselves as interlopers, but as God's chosen people for whom the new land had been prepared, and which they could develop without limitation. Like the Jews of the Exodus, the Puritans did not spare the Canaanites. Within ten years after the Puritans initially landed those at Boston had formed a mighty militia system.
Three separate, and often mutually distrustful, authorities vied for control of the New England militias. First, each colony had its own militia organization which was identical with, or responsible to, the colonial legislature and/or governor. Second, the New England colonies having created a unified military plan known as the New England Confederation, placed their individual militias under this regional authority. At various times the individual colonial authorities refused to cooperate and release militiamen to assist the general authority. Massachusetts refused to assist the other members in the first Narragansett War (1645-50) when it was not especially threatened, but demanded assistance from the other colonies when in 1675 in the second Narragansett War it was sacked and pillaged. Third, the mother country was the ultimate sovereign authority that periodically intervened in local militia affairs. As with most other aspects of colonial policy, England generally neglected the colonies, but on occasion it attempted to impose its will on its dependencies. The colonial militias usually provided for virtually all of their own colonies' defense and this freed the English standing army for larger and, to the mother nation, more important duties. In general, the colonies were delighted to receive money, materials, equipment, and arms from England, but they disliked the brutal discipline and elitist attitude of the professional officer corps and they held the army in disdain for it was essentially useless in frontier warfare against savages who did not follow the rules of European warfare. They especially resented English intrusion into the appointment of militia officers.
The New England Puritans of c.1630 were displeased with the English militia system for a variety of reasons.xxxi Charles I had reorganized the English militia, creating a far more elitist and disciplined organization than his father, James I, had possessed. He brought veteran professional military men, many the veterans of several continental European wars, to train and discipline the raw militia recruits. He also introduced new weapons and required that existing weapons, most long neglected and in a sad state of disrepair, be properly mended. He angered the Puritans by requiring that, following church services on Sundays, the train bands were to engage in such sports as "archery, running, wrestling, leaping, football playing, casting the sledge hammer and playing at cudgels."xxxii The Puritans regarded this as a sacrilegious violation of the Sabbath which they argued was to be a day of rest and not of praying and playing games. Thus, Charles added a religious question to the existing legal and constitutional questions concerning his reorganization of the militia. Charles I bragged that his reorganized train band system was "the perfect militia."xxxiii
The English Puritan brethren had rejected the militia policies of Charles I and in the bitter debate in the parliamentary session of 1628 railed hard against the imposition of tyrannical standards on an essentially civilian body.xxxiv Those Puritans who sailed with John Winthrop in 1630 had an idea of a militia constituted in a way quite different from the Stuart train bands. There was no question that they would create a militia, for they were well aware of the massacre of the ill-prepared Virginians at the hands of the Indians in 1622. But they did not agree with Charles I that his idea of a train band was a perfect militia.xxxv
The Charter of New England of 1620 created a militia primarily as an instrument to contain "Rebellion, Insurrection and Mutiny" against the crown. The militia was also to "encounter, expulse, repel and resist by Force of Arms" by "all ways and meanes" whatever foreign or native forces might be directed against the colony. The charter made the president the militia commander, although the assent of council was needed to deploy the militia. Council was to make appropriate laws for enrollment, training and discipline of the militia. The charter required the president and council to supply arms, ammunition and other goods of war.xxxvi
The New England Puritans first hired professional military men to equip, drill and train the militia, but these men were veteran soldiers who were not Puritans and did not share the religious vision of the city on the hill. They had a particular dislike for the demand the Puritan made that they be allowed to elect officers, an idea inconceivable to professional military men. They were also expensive, both in terms of pay and in terms of the discontent they fostered in the colony. Jost Weillust, a German artillery specialist, left the Massachusetts Bay Colony almost immediately, having acquired no love for the new land and perhaps overcome by homesickness. Daniel Patrick and John Underhill lasted somewhat longer, but they were never comfortable with the spartan life of New England Puritanism. Both were accused of having committed adultery with young women of the community and were asked to leave.xxxvii Underhill and the Puritans parted company on less than friendly terms. He observed with disgust that the Puritans were, at best, "soldiers not accustomed to war" who were "unexpert in the use of their arms." The political authorities of New England decided that henceforth they would hire only Puritans, whether they were military veterans or not.
There were many demands for money to fund various governmental activities and the tax base was small. One of the larger items in the defense budgets was the erection and maintenance of frontier fortifications. To save money the militias were originally all volunteer organizations. Many militiamen objected to their deployment in construction and maintenance of forts and places of refuge. However, when the governments failed to recruit enough volunteers to complete the work, they turned to the draft to fill out the quota of volunteer workmen. The draft depleted the resources of many militia companies.xxxviii
Beginning with the Mayflower Compact of 11 November 1620 the New England colony had been founded upon a social contract. The colonists believed that the only way free men could be brought to obey the law was to base the law upon a contract upon which all agreed. The New England Puritans had a strong sense of democracy and they demanded broad based political participation in all decision making. The social contract had a natural law, Scriptural base. Each man agreed to give up his own interest and benefits voluntarily to the greater community in exchange for protection and congeniality. Among free men no amount of coercion could replace voluntary consent of the governed as the cornerstone of the polity. The congregational churches, election of ministers and magistrates, creation of state and town governments, and organization of the militia were all arranged contractually. Thomas Hooker, one of the most important of the Puritan theorists, argued that a man who desired to live a good life in a Christian polity must "willingly binde and ingage himself to each member of that society . . . or else a member actually he is not."xxxix Each man under contract viewed himself as the author of law and the creator of order.
This contractual model extended to the founding and operation of the militia. The major application of the contractual principle extended to recruiting and training a militia in New England and with the popular election of militia officers. The New England militia was a contractual or covenanted organization, based on the principle of voluntary collectivism. A contractual militia was no threat to civil liberties, freedom or civil rights, especially when tied to Scripture. The contract limited deployment of troops and militiamen argued that no governmental power could force them to serve beyond the boundaries of their own colony, and only rarely beyond their own region.xl
In times of trials and external threats the Puritans frequently called for fasting among the entire community as a means of supporting their militiamen. Fasting served as communal expiation for their un-Christian divisiveness within the ranks of the faithful. It also served to assist in communal re-dedication to their sacred covenant.xli As late as the 1760s, while Boston was under the yoke of British occupation forces who were being quartered in private homes, Governor Bernard called for "a general fast, to be kept the sixth of April next" offered up so that "God would be graciously pleased to continue us, the enjoyment of all our invaluable privileges, of a civil and religious nature."xlii
The British authorities intensely disliked this democratic practice. When Sir Charles Hardy in 1756 was raising troops for his attack on the French fort at Crown Point he complained bitterly about the practice of the militiamen electing their own officers.
Pray, my Lord, where have these men come from? Under the vote for raising the Men . . . the Men have it in their own Choice & are supported in it by a law of the Colony from whence they came, and the Consequence is plain . . . . The present Method is attendant with great Delays . . . . Captains of the Regulars will think it hard to be commanded by Field Officers of the Provincials & the Field Officers will likewise think so in having them on equal foot . . . . All Men raised in the Provinces for his Majesty's Service should be raised by the Commander in Chief who may give blank Commissions in such Numbers he thinks proper, to the several Governors, to fill up with the Names of such Persons as may be qualified . . . .xliii
In the other colonies the officers were appointed by the governors, proprietors or legislature. In practice it made little difference because the New Englanders were generally much persuaded to recruit officers from among the better class, which frequently translated to the religious hierarchy. There was no discernable difference between the military and the social structure of the community.
As early as 1632 Governor Winthrop noted that the people had demanded the right of free men to select their own officers.xliv He was able to delay the grant of this right temporarily, for the Puritans had long since decided that free men who could elect their own ministers and political leaders could certainly be entrusted with the selection of militia officers. Besides, it was their very lives, and not the life of the governor, they were entrusting to their elected officers. The legislature bided its time, waiting to force the governor's hand at the first opportunity. That opportunity came in 1636 as the colony prepared for war with the Pequot Indians. The Massachusetts General Court enacted legislation allowing each regiment and company to nominate its own officers, subject to ratification by the council. In practice, this confirmation was ordinarily automatic. The militia units responded immediately by holding elections and sending in the names for approval. The requirements for becoming an officer, in addition to election, were correct church membership and status as freemen.xlv In a few cases, the militia units would send up more names than were actually needed, or additional names after council had questioned a name, but frequently these additional names were found to be disqualified on some ground.xlvi In 1643 the general court fully yielded its power to appoint militia offices, although it still appointed sergeant major general, the highest office in the New England colonies. However, the company sergeant-majors, were made elective.
As late as the American Revolution the practice of election of officers came under criticism of several experienced military and some legislators from the middle and southern colonies. General George Washington, for example, disliked the practice of electing officers because he believed that it was misplaced democracy, was wholly inappropriate to the martial spirit, and that it subverted attempts to foster military temperament. During the war Washington cashiered several officers because they had fraternized too much with their men. Such fraternal relations, Washington reasoned, would subvert discipline, while doing nothing to create a spirit of command. He argued that the only way to select officers was to test the military prowess and competence and learning in the art of war.xlvii
While the English regarded the Puritans as hopelessly democratic, the colony of Massachusetts Bay still had a rigid class structure, seen nowhere better than in its militia organization. The wealthy citizens who could afford the equipment organized as cavalry, which became the elite units within the militia. The underclass, on the other hand, supplied the foot soldiers. These were men for the most part who could barely afford to buy the most basic weapons that the law required them to supply. The many men who were so poor that they could not otherwise afford arms were provided guns at public expense, but only in exchange for performing public service. John Shy likened their obligation to labor to pay for their arms to the English working class which had to labor in the working-houses to compensate for charitable support.xlviii
The chief military commanders ordinarily held the position of colonial governor, a title well established in England. His military deputies carried the title of councillors. In time of actual war in New England the governors frequently asked for and received the support of various town and city officials, men who often doubled as militia officers. Together, these men constituted the council of war.xlix
By 1641 both the home government and various local authorities in New England had come to the conclusion that a militia was indispensable for the protection of the inhabitants. A publication entitled An Abstract of the Laws of New England as They are Now Establishedl concluded that for the best protection of the county, "First, a law [is] to be made for the training of all the men in the country fit to bear arms, unto the exercise of military discipline. . . ." The only other measure suggested for colonial defense was "and withal, another law to be made for the maintenance of military officers and forts."
The New England Confederation, formed in 1643, was a primarily military organization consisting of New Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay, Connecticut, New Haven, Cornwall [Maine], and King's Province [a disputed area in southern New England]. This was essentially the same area as James II reorganized in 1686-89 as the Dominion of New England. It was devised as for "mutual safety and welfare," a self-defense program based on the colonial militias of these member provinces. Delegates met in Boston and adopted a written constitution which formed The United Colonies of New England. Each colony retained its own system of managing internal affairs. Questions of war and peace were decided by eight commissioners representing Massachusetts, Plymouth, Connecticut and New Haven. Any six commissioners constituted a working majority. The commissioners met at least once a year and more frequently if there were problems brewing within its area of design.
Expenses for the defensive system were borne by the colonies in proportion to the male population between ages 16 and 60, that is, of men of the proper age to serve in the militia. Massachusetts certainly bore the bulk of the expenses and had the vast majority of men subject to militia service, yet its commissioners carried no greater weight than the smaller colonies. The confederation would make, or at least approve, all appointments of officers and designate an overall commander-in-chief. Ordinarily, confederation troops were to be under the command of the ranking officer of the colony in which the troops were presently deployed.li
In 1653 the council met at Boston to consider "what number of soldiers might be requisite, if God called the Collonies to make warr against the Dutch." It named as captain commander John Leverett of Boston and apportioned its force of 500 as follows: Massachusetts Bay, 333; Plymouth, 60; Connecticut, 65; and New Haven, 42.
A major problem occurred for the confederation in 1653 when Massachusetts Bay refused to approve a war against the Dutch. Without its men and monetary contributions the union could not operate effectively. Initially, Massachusetts opposed the admission of Narragansett Bay [Rhode Island] and Cornwall [Maine] because the inhabitants held heterodox religious views. After 1664, when New Haven was annexed to Connecticut, the quotas and representation of the two confederation members was combined. At that point the constitution was amended to allow for meetings once ever three years instead of annually. The federation simultaneously went into a precipitous declined, but it revived briefly after a major threat from the native aborigine appeared. Between 1645 and 1650, and again in 1675, it waged war on the Narragansetts.lii It operated most successfully during King Philip's War (1675-76), coordinating the defense of the region. In 1684 the charter of Massachusetts Bay was withdrawn and the confederation came to an end.
The Confederation had assumed the power to negotiate arms and gunpowder contracts, and to contract for maintenance and repair of the confederation's arms. Arms and supplies were to be stored in several convenient locations, with access to these materials of war granted to all members. It had sought the authority to declare war on Amerindian tribes on behalf of all members and to regulate the Indian trade and license Indian traders. It had sought the power to negotiate alliances with the various Amerindian tribes and to send negotiators to settle inter-tribal disputes. The confederation legally could take no action until at least six members approved, although this was not always the actual case.liii
New England was more than sufficiently rich to sustain its militia. When it deployed men on the frontier it found that a town could feed, house, and otherwise provide for a considerable number of men. Most towns could contribute a company or two of militia to the general effort while retaining sufficient strength to defend themselves. Most towns had one or more fortified buildings that served as a base of operations when the militia was deployed in the area; and as places of refuge if the town came under Amerindian attack.
New England frequently offered its militiamen various incentives for performing their duties well. Although these colonies did not have large blocks of land to donate (as Virginia did) but they did offer occasional bounties in land, notably in Maine. The colonies generally did not have to offer scalp bounties in order to mobilize militiamen, but again, on occasion, they did so. Too, there were possibilities of militiamen obtaining plunder; and others obtained money from the sales of Amerindian captives as slaves.
In 1688 the King James II was expelled, nominally because he kept a standing army in violation of Parliament's orders and for being sympathetic to Roman Catholics and to the French. Parliament passed a Mutiny Act, setting up courts-martial and imposing military law for periods of up to six months. There was no appeal to either the courts or Parliament and we may view this action as the beginning of true, sovereign parliamentary supremacy.
The Glorious Revolution brought a Bill of Rights, that, among other things, provided that the king could not keep a standing army in the time of peace. Parliament would fund the military on an annual basis through the conventional budgetary process. In April 1689 the colonists of New England decided to endorse in the change of government by ousting royalist and reactionary Governor Edmund Andros. The provincial authorities also ordered the arrest of royalist officers serving in Andros's army. Without their leaders, the army dissolved. A popular leader, Jacob Leisler, declared himself to be acting lieutenant-governor, to serve until the pleasure of Parliament become known. Dutch settlers in Albany (who were also under Andros's control) refused to recognize Leisler's dubious claim, choosing to rule themselves through a popularly elected town assembly. Only a militia remained to protect the borders, restrain and pacify the Amerindians and maintain order.
The Dominion of New England "fulfilled the expectations of the Lords of Trade as a solution of the colonial problem of defense." It checked Indian encroachments and strengthened the alliance with the Iroquois. Andros's garrisoning of the frontier and his aggressive military ventures "made New England formidable to its enemies."liv When the Dominion of New England collapsed, the new government in England delayed the formulation of imperial policy for the defense of the colonies. The Lords of Trade were insisting on reestablishing a consolidated government over the northern colonies, which they interpreted to include New England, New York, and New Jersey, under a single governor-general. However, this plan of reconsolidation was left unresolved because of the effective opposition led by the New England agents in London.lv The New England Puritans could claim victory only to the extent that they had succeeded in maintaining their status as a separate colonies. Still, for a variety of good reasons, substantial opinion existed for re-establishing the Dominion. There was general agreement that any new dominion must shed its autocratic features. On 25 January 1691, a group of forty-five of the leading citizens of Massachusetts petitioned the King to appoint "a Governor and Council over us to administer the Government with an elected Assembly . . . and as many of the little provinces as seem good to you may be united under one Governor for mutual defence and security."lvi In July 1691 New York Governor Henry Sloughter, claiming that he had the backing of the council and General Assembly, expressed the same desire.lvii On 14 May 1692 William Phips (1651-1695) arrived at Boston carrying a parliamentary commission naming him as captain-general, governor and commander in chief of the militia for Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, the KIng's Province, Massachusetts and New Hampshire estates. This was a plan the New England colonies opposed with great vigor because these provinces claimed that they alone controlled their own militias. They claimed there was no legal provision for subordinating the provincial militias to any exterior authority.lviii
Meanwhile, the colonists sought to create a military union on their own, prompted by the French and Indian hostilities along the New York and Maine frontiers in 1689. These incursions caught the northern colonies unprepared. To meet the emergency, attempts were made to reinstate a regional military union of much the same sort as the New England Confederation. Mutual military support was the theme of the times. In July 1689 Massachusetts Governor Bradstreet requested that Connecticut authorities to "be ready to yield all necessary assistance when desired according to the rules of our ancient union and confederation."lix But the Confederation was not revitalized. Robert Livingston, writing from Hartford, speaking for many, argued that "it will be very requisite that the united Colonies take Inspection of all affairs with us, since their interest and ours are so inseparable . . . "lx
Connecticut and Rhode Island would not allow Phips to recruit volunteers, let alone draft men, from their militia on grounds that their charters granted them exclusive and inviolable rights to control and deploy their own militias. Phips appealed to the king, arguing that "you will not be soe unmindfull of your old neighbours." This failed to yield any results. The Rhode Island Assembly refused to recognize Phips as commander over the colony's militia and petitioned the crown for recognition of its charter rights. The Attorney General and Committee of Trade agreed to uphold Rhode Island's constitutional stand, but reaffirmed the Attorney General's opinion of 1690 that the crown retained the power to appoint a commander in chief over any part of a colony's militia. Thus, in time of invasion the king or his delegate could take charge of whatever forces required. Phips made no overt move to assume command over the militia of the colonies.lxi
In May 1693, the crown ordered Benjamin Fletcher, governor of Pennsylvania, West Jersey, and New York, to take command of the Connecticut militia for an expedition against Canada. It told Phips to "consult and advise" with Fletcher. East Jersey and Pennsylvania refused to respond to Fletcher's demands for money and troops.lxii In October 1693 Fletcher, accompanied by two members of the New York Council, traveled to Hartford to establish his commission as commander of the Connecticut militia. Having learned of Fletcher's intentions earlier, the Connecticut General Court dispatched Fitz-John Winthrop to England to secure confirmation of the charter. The General Court took the position that Fletcher's commission could not supersede the powers that the Connecticut Charter granted to the colony over its own over the militia. "We are still willing to doe our proportion with our neighbours in such public charge wherein we are equally concerned," the Connecticut General Court informed Fletcher, but other colonies must do their share. Connecticut argued that it had already done more than its part by contributing to the garrisons at Albany and Deerfield.lxiii
Fletcher, in a letter to the Lords of Trade, warned that Connecticut's obstinacy would lead to a French victory in North America. "These People of Connecticut are in a greate fright the noise of a Quo Warranto or A sharp Letter from theire Majesties will reduce Them the wisest and Richest of them Desire to bee under the Kings imediate Government."lxiv Fletcher called a general conference of the governors to obtain pledges of troops and financial aid from each colony. The Board of Trade authorized to Fletcher to issue a call for troops from New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. Moreover, the crown authorized the appointment of a chief commander to order the combined provincial militias in time of war. The crown also ordered the colonies to contribute troops or other assistance upon request of the governor of New York.
Several of the colonies were outraged at this assertion of English power over the colonial militias. The Rhode Island Assembly resolved that "in time of peace, and when the danger is over, the militia within each of the said provinces ought, as we humbly conceive, to be under the government and disposition of the respective Governors of the Colonies, according to their Charters."lxv Another negative provincial reaction was financial. For example, the Maryland House of Delegates only reluctantly voted a small appropriation and elusively talked of the possibility of future free will donations.lxvi The London Board of Trade considered the establishment of a colonial military union to be of paramount importance.
On 30 September 1696 the Board considered various proposals along that line from the colonies. John Nelson, Governor Fletcher of New York and Governor Nicholson of Maryland offered plans that, while intriguing, were also insufficient or unacceptable. The Board concluded that in wartime all provincial militia should be placed under one a single authority who would bear the title of captain general, who would be invested with the powers of a royal governor.
American colonial representatives then appeared before the Board of Trade, but they were unable to agree on a united front that they would present before the board. Edmund Harrison, Henry Ashurst, William Phips, representing New England and Daniel Coxe of New York argued for the creation of a governor general with civil as well as well as military jurisdiction. Fitz-John Winthrop reiterated Connecticut's position based upon the charter rights it held that precluded tampering with its militia. Chidley Brooke and William Nicoll of New York favored a stronger union than any yet proposed. The Board of Trade feared the consequences of voiding the charters of Rhode Island and Connecticut without due legal process. Thus, the Board decided to recommend a military union superimposed by the Crown. In February 1697 an order by the king-in-council directed the establishment of a military union of the four New England colonies, New York, and West New Jersey under a captain-general.lxvii
The first appointment of captain-general went to Richard Coote, first Earl of Bellomont in the Irish peerage. Bellomont had powerful support, for among those backing him were William III, Lord Shrewsbury and Sir Henry Ashurst. It was a good appointment for Bellomont was acceptable to the New England and New York. While his political title was Governor of New York, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, in reality Bellomont received command over all the militia of the northern colonies. That command could be exercised only during wartime. Bellomont did not reach New York until April 1698 and did not take over the reins of the Massachusetts government until May 1699. Unfortunately, his first great commitment was not military but criminal. He arrived just in time to become embroiled in the Captain Kidd affair.lxviii He had no success in gaining recognition of his military powers in Rhode Island. Whatever chance he may have had to succeed there initially was soon lost as he became obsessed with enforcement of the highly unpopular Navigation Acts.lxix More destructive yet, he became entangled in the complex politics, largely of New York, that had also undone his predecessor, Benjamin Fletcher. Bellomont died suddenly in March 1701, and with him died also the plan for military unity.
Renewed call for a central military authority for New England came as the colonies prepared to enter Queen Anne's War. Joseph Dudley had received his commission in 1702 as Governor of Massachusetts and New Hampshire. With this was his appointment as captain general with authority over all the New England militia in time of war. He was also vice-admiral of Rhode Island.lxx Dudley found it impossible to weld together an inter-colonial military system. New England had two objections to his appointment. First, there had objections to his previous service as the first governor of the Dominion of New England. He was also closely tied to the established high church party in England. Rhode Island and Connecticut remained recalcitrant concerning their charter privileges. Connecticut refused to send troops beyond the frontier of the Connecticut Valley during the early phase of Queen Anne's War. Connecticut disbanded its militia in 1704 without Dudley's authorization. When told to obey the orders of the Massachusetts Governor, Connecticut refused. In late 1706 and early 17077 Dudley appealed to Fitz-John Winthrop, begging him to use his powers of persuasion to enlist the support of Connecticut in the combined provincial expedition being assembled to capture Port Royal in Acadia. Winthrop replied that the Connecticut Assembly would not cooperate because there was nothing about that expedition that would benefit the colony. Rhode Island also denied Dudley's military authority over its militia.lxxi
Professor John Shy, a leading critic of the American colonial militia system, observed that, about 1710, "it would be wrong to idealize the New England militia, but it would be equally mistaken not to recognize that there the institution had retained its vitality."lxxii Toward the end of Queen Anne's War (1702-1713) Governor Joseph Dudley could boast that his militia system had achieved two goals. First, it successfully defended its own frontiers and most settlements from French and Amerindian attack. Second, it had supplied significant troop strength to assist the English expeditions against French Canada.