Monday, May 09, 2005

The Unorganized Militia

When the United States was established the founding fathers assumed that the militia would be the backbone of our defense. While it has not worked out that way, the militia clauses are still in the Constitution and law. Many people have a poor understanding what of the militia is, especially the Unorganized Militia. Many assume that the Unorganized Militia is some sort of Common Law structure that exists independent of governmental action, and that consequently citizens can on their own initiative organize themselves as a militia, because they are members of the Unorganized Militia. This understanding has given rise to the so called:”Militia Movement” a series of organizations that have formed themselves to be “militia”. However, this does not agree with the historical record, not is it consistant with intent of the authors of the constitution and laws governing the milita.

To understand the constitution's provisions for providing the common defense, reviewing them is a good place to start.

The US Constitution provides for a Militia. The Congress may establish laws:

Article 2 section 8
Clause 15: To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
Clause 16: To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

These clauses assumes that every one knows what a militia is, thus there was no need to provide a definition.

This is different than the Army and Air Force which Congress established on the authority of

Clause 12: To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

Title 10 Section 311 b) 2) of the US Code is the enabling statute:

(a) 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, [NOTE: members of the regular services] 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. b) 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.

It does not state duties or functions of the Unorganized Milita, which must be determined from the legislative history and case law regarding the Militia.

However state laws sometimes provide for three classes of militia. For example:

9‑8‑102 (c ) The Wyoming code defines the States Militia as:

a) The militia of the state is divided into the organized militia and the unorganized militia.

(b) The organized militia consists of the following:

(i) Such elements of the land and air forces of the national guard of the United States as are allocated to the state by the president, the secretary of defense or the secretary of the army or the air force and accepted by the state, hereinafter to be known as the Wyoming national guard; and

(ii) Wyoming state guard forces, when organized.

(c) The unorganized militia consists of all persons liable to serve in the militia but not commissioned or enlisted in the organized militia.

Twenty-five states have State Guard forces.

The Constitution and Federal and State Law authorize a militia, provides for two types of organized Militia and an Unorganized Militia. But there are no detailed definitions in the constitution or law. To see how we got here and what the founders and Congress intended by the different types of militia, we need to look at their historical development.

The Royal Charters for the first Colonies gave them the right to establish militias. These were a continuation of the English Militia system. They were always organized. For each town a company was established and for each county a regiment. Officers were appointed, usually selected by election by unit members, but the commission was from the Governor. Every able-bodied white male between the ages of 16 and 60 was a member, required to provide himself with a suitable musket and equipment. (In modern terms we could say that the Colony was providing for defense by imposing unfunded mandates on the local government and citizens.). After independence the militia continued on the authorization of the state constitutions. After the US Constitution came into effect Congress passed the Militia Act of 1792 providing a common framework for the militia and calling the militia into Federal service. Under this law the President could call a states militia into the service of the United States for 90 days. But this required the permission of the governor, and the militia could not be deployed outside the US. Except for the 90 day requirement these were considered implicit constitutional requirements. When longer terms of service in wartime were required, the President called for volunteers by state who were mustered into the Army (Clause 12 above) as Volunteers. Volunteer army units were often based on militia units.

The company met for muster four times a year. Sometimes a regimental muster would be substituted. If there was a danger of foreign or indian attack the muster could be monthly or in a few cases weekly. If someone did not attend they had to pay a small fine. If they did not have the proper equipment they paid a fine. Muster day consisted of close order drill, musket drill, and maybe some skirmishing practice in the morning. Target practice was seldom done - the militiaman had to pay for their own ammunition. The afternoons were usually a town picnic paid for by the fines of no shows. Families came, and a good time was had by all. If there was a serious danger of attack the afternoon would also be drill and the fines would pay for target practice.

These local Militia companies served several purposes. They provided a rudiment of training, served as a home guard if the town was attacked, and provided a basis for recruiting volunteer forces to help protect other parts of the colony. When a volunteer force was needed, each company would be assigned a quota. If volunteers could not meet the quota the Captain would select who would be drafted to meet the quota. Theoretically the whole unit could be drafted. The few times militia units were drafted for any thing other than home guard duty were usually a disaster (i.e Bladensburg in 1814 and the burning of Washington.)

As the country became more settled, musters, attendance, and even the collection of fines became infrequent and eventually stopped. By the 1840's states were amending their laws to end the muster requirement. Commissions were granted for a time in these non-drilling regiments as a matter of social prestige, after the Civil War so many community leaders had held war service volunteer commissions that a militia commission provided no prestige and the practice was gradually discontinued.

From colonial times there was a different type of militia unit. Often called "volunteer militia." These were completely volunteer organizations that were first organized to provide the high cost units such as artillery and cavalry, often composed of the more prosperous members of the community who provided their own horses and purchased the cannon out of pocket. Later infantry units were organized. From the 1850’s or earlier these were the only militia units that received training. These units provided the backbone of the units that were called up in major wars and are the ancestors of the current National Guard. But because they were militia they could not be called without the permission of the state governor. If volunteer forces were needed for a major war the unit would vote on whether or not to respond, sometimes they voted no. In some places they were excessively involved in local politics. Training was of varying quality. (To confuse the issue some general militia units over time evolved in to volunteer units.)

This is the status at about 1900. On paper, all adult males were members of the militia, but only a small number actually were part of units that met and trained. The laws governing mobilization assumed the original concept of a universal militia. The militia laws also restricted the militia from any useful deployment. The wartime calling of volunteer units was a partial solution not suited to creating a modern Army in wartime. During the first 20 years the last century there were a number of reforms moving the Army out the 19th century into the 20th, The militia reform was an essential part.

The Dick Act (1903) and the 1916 and 1920 National Defense Acts created the basis for the modern Reserve and National Guard units. National Guard units (state militia) received federal funding if they met federal standards and were available for call up. Reserves for the Army that were not part of the state militia were authorized. All able bodied males who are not in regular services or the organized militia are by default members of the unorganized militia. The part of the organized militia enrolled in the National Guard is funded by the federal government, and administered by the states. States could from other militia units at their own expense.

The 1916 National Defense act established the Unorganized Militia is an inactive administrative category to account for the discrepancy between constitutional provision that assumes all able bodied adult males are members of the militia and the fact that current militia organizations are voluntary and only have a small minority of citizens as members.

The 1920 Act made clear that the National Guard was both a state militia (clause 16 above) so it could be called by the Governor as militia for local emergencies, and a reserve of the Army (clause 12 above) so that the President could order it to active duty as a reserve of the Army without the consent of the state governor.

This basic system still governs the organization of the National Guard and Reserves.

The "Militia Movement" is based on the the assumption that the community based milita units described above were created by the local community as an exercise of the rights of the members of the community. In fact (even though largely self administered) they were created on the authorty by the colonial/state governments on the basis of a Royal/Constitutional grant of authority.


The “Militia Movement” organizations cannot be real militia since they were not established by law, these are at best gun clubs who like to wear camouflage on the weekends, and at worst violations of the neutrality and other laws.

The concept of an Unorganized Militia cannot be a common law right of citizens to establish their own militias. The militia of all sorts was always established as a delegated Royal prerogative and after 1776 as a legislative/constitutional act of the States.

Since statutory law established the Unorganized Militia in 1916, it cannot be a part of the inherited English Common Law from “time immemorial”.

See Unorganized Militia II

Selected references:

This is an article published in 1917 explaining the 1916 National Defence Act. It has a very good historical overview and what intent of Congress in passing the act. It is especially valuable because it was written before the current controversies.

This is a good modern summery of the militia laws. Note the article says the exact opposite of what one would expect from “Solider of Fortune Magazine” and from the expectations of the target demographic of the that magazine.

See also Arms for empire;: A military history of the British colonies in North America, 1607-1763, Douglas Edward Leach
History of the United States Army, Russell Frank Weigley

NOTE: This post started by expanding on comments I made in TM Lutas’s Flit TM (link in side bar) discussing the Unorganized Militia. The post sort of grew and morphed into something rather different.


hank_F_M said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
hank_F_M said...

Original Haloscan comments,

All very nice, but it skirts the central issue that the public has the right to own guns in case that the government is ever overthrown by anyone interested in abolishing the republic. In Europe, we now have European countries following in Hitler's policy of strict gun control, as a prelude to socialism then and now.

So we need to get rid of the socialists in theology as well as those against the death penalty and in favor of gun control. The country was founded as a Protestant refuge from Europe but now has been debased by the left. After Iraq, on to Hollywood!
Bob | 05.13.05 - 10:58 am | #



The right to “keep and bear arms” guaranteed by the second amendment is not dependent on membership in the militia. For example the militia consists (with a exceptions) of all able bodied males 17 to 45, but females still have the right to keep and bear arms.

Hank | Homepage | 05.14.05 - 12:04 am | #


TM Lutas sent an Email messages with several well stated objections. He said he still checking my sources so I will not comment on them for now.

He also sent a link about Secretary Rice’s comments on the Second Amendment. That link has expired. here is another link to that story. The key portion is in the next post. She points out the importance of the Second Amendment for the protection of her family and friends against the KKK. But her father and his friends were acting on the basic human right of self-defense not as members of a militia. This right exists in because one is a human being; it is not dependent on being part of militia. The second Amendment guarantees the ultimate means to defend the right to self defence.
Hank | Homepage | 05.14.05 - 12:22 am | #


Secratary Rice's commnts.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, recalling how her father took up arms to defend fellow blacks from racist whites in the segregated South, said Wednesday the constitutional right of Americans to own guns is as important as their rights to free speech and religion.
In an interview on CNN's "Larry King Live,"

Rice said she came to that view from personal experience. She said her father, a black minister, and his friends armed themselves to defend the black community in Birmingham, Ala., against the White Knight Riders in 1962 and 1963. She said if local authorities had had lists of registered weapons, she did not think her father and other blacks would have been able to defend themselves.
Hank | Homepage | 05.14.05 - 12:23 am | #


The debate seems to be over the meaning of the word "militia." I think that it just means free citizens with the ability to protect themselves against criminals, domestic enemies, and foreign enemies.

Here is what one founding father said:

George Mason, of Virginia:

"[W]hen the resolution of enslaving America was formed in Great Britain, the British Parliament was advised by an artful man, who was governor of Pennsylvania, to disarm the people; that it was the best and most effectual way to enslave them; but that they should not do it openly, but weaken them, and let them sink gradually.". . . I ask, who are the militia? They consist now of the whole people, except a few public officers." -- Virginia`s U.S. Constitution ratification convention, 1788
Bob | 05.14.05 - 3:05 pm | #


Here is a fact sheet from the NRA about what the Founding Fathers said: ID=53
Bob | 05.14.05 - 3:08 pm | #


Hi All

I dunno apart from Mao's most salient point "political power comes out of the barrel of a gun" guns are for cowards.

I've had guns pulled on me twice. The first time was an acid causualty in the early seventies. He remained frozen where he was (I ate more acid than anyone) till I returned with a double bladed ax, He declined a resolution as he had no more viable otions. The second time was at an event involving motorcycles and mayhem, a Satan's Choice field day. The offended party reached into his coat and I remarked "that had better be a sandwitch because you are going to have to eat it" ... the coat was unreached.

If you depend on a cannon (I'll take a 1911A any day) you have already shown you are a coward, afraid to back your mouth with your body.

Do What Now ??? ... Standards and Practices !
PenGun | Homepage | 05.15.05 - 11:33 pm | #



Well if I can’t get an M1A2, I’m kind of partial to an M1911a1 myself. Of course ones with lands and grooves, the ones in our reserve unit were made in “the big war” and had fired so many rounds they were smooth bores. But the M1A2 is supposed to be a smooth bore.

Depending on a cannon is not a good way to do things, but every so often some one comes along who takes Mao’s quip on political power as gospel.

Do What Now ???
Hank | Homepage | 05.16.05 - 9:11 pm | #



That was a great fact sheet.

But right to keep and bare arms exists whether or not there is a milita. And whether or not there is a militia some one wanting to establish an oppressive governemnt would attempt to deny these rights. My third link from the bottom has a quote of the offical statement of the NRA that the right to keep and bare arms is not dependent on the milita.
Hank | Homepage | 05.18.05 - 11:19 pm | #


A long Email from TM Lutas and my response The Unorganized Milita II
Hank | Homepage | 05.19.05 - 12:14 am | #


Hank, I concede the point to you based upon your link. However, I think that the law took a word used by the Founding Fathers and restricted the meaning. In other words, I think that the Founding Fathers used "militia" to mean anyone who could use a gun.
Bob | 05.20.05 - 10:39 am | #

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