Militia Act of 1903

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Charles Dick, for whom the Militia Act of 1903 was named.

The Militia Act of 1903 (32 Stat. 775),[1] also known as the Efficiency in Militia Act of 1903 or the Dick Act, was legislation enacted by the United States Congress to create an early National Guard and which codified the circumstances under which the Guard could be federalized. It also provided federal funds to pay for equipment and training, including annual summer encampments. The new National Guard was to organize units of similar form and quality to those of the regular Army, and intended to achieve the same training, education, and readiness requirements as active duty units.[2]


Governor Martin Chitenden unsuccessfully attempted to recall Vermont Militia from New York during War of 1812.

During the 19th century, the militia in each U.S. state and territory operated under the Militia Acts of 1792, which was extended by the Militia Act of 1795. The 1792 and 1795 acts left the question of state versus federal control of the militia unresolved. In consequence, the federal government could not consistently rely on the militias for national defense. For example, during the War of 1812, members of the New York militia refused to take part in operations against the British in Canada, arguing that their only responsibility was to defend their home state.[3] On another occasion, the Governor of Vermont unsuccessfully attempted to recall his state's militia from the defense of Plattsburgh, claiming that it was illegal for them to operate outside of Vermont.[4]

As a result, starting in 1812, the federal government would create "volunteer" units when it needed to expand the size of the regular Army. These volunteer units were not militia, though often they would consist of whole militia units which had volunteered en masse, nor were they part of the regular Army. This solution was also employed during the Mexican–American War (1846–1848),[5] and in the Union Army during the American Civil War (1861–1865).[6]

During the Spanish–American War (1898) some volunteer units were organized, most notably the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, nicknamed "Rough Riders."[7][8] The federal government also mobilized several National Guard units which volunteered en masse and were accepted as volunteer units.[9][10]

Root reforms and Dick Act[edit]

Secretary of War Elihu Root worked to reform Army after Spanish–American War.

Several problems were identified with the National Guard during the Spanish–American War, such as units suffering from low levels of training and readiness and a lack of standardization in organizational structure, uniforms, equipment, leader qualifications and professional development.[11][12][13] The Secretary of War Elihu Root and other military leaders took steps to reform the Army, including the National Guard. Root's allies included Charles Dick, Congressman (later Senator) from Ohio and Chairman of the House Militia Affairs Committee, who also served as President of the National Guard Association of the United States.[14] Dick was a veteran of the Spanish–American War and a longtime National Guard member who attained the rank of major general as commander of the Ohio National Guard.[15][16]

Dick championed the Militia Act of 1903, which became known as the Dick Act. The 1903 act repealed the Militia Acts of 1795 and designated the militia (per Title 10 of the U.S. Code, Section 311) as two classes: the Reserve Militia, which included all able-bodied men between ages 17 and 45, and the Organized Militia, comprising state militia (National Guard) units receiving federal support.[17][18][19][20]

The Dick Act included $2 million for National Guard units to modernize equipment, and permitted states to use federal funds to pay for National Guard summer training encampments. The National Guard in each state was also required to carry out a uniform schedule of weekend or weeknight drills and annual summer training camps. In addition, the War Department agreed to fund the attendance of Guard officers at Army schools, and active Army officers would serve as inspectors and instructors of National Guard units. The War Department also agreed to organize joint Regular Army-National Guard exercises and training encampments.[21]

In return, the federal government gained greater control over the National Guard. The President of the United States was empowered to call up the National Guard for up to nine months to repel invasion, suppress rebellion, or enforce federal laws. Guardsmen had to answer a presidential call or face court-martial. States had to organize, equip, and train their units in accordance with the policies and procedures of the Regular Army. If Guard units failed to meet Army standards, they would lose federal recognition and federal funding.[22]

The Dick Act helped resolve the issue of when the United States government could mobilize the National Guard, but federal authorities were not permitted to order the National Guard to service outside the United States.[23]


James Parker, first head of Division of Militia Affairs.

The Dick Act was amended several times. The Militia Act of 1908 removed the nine-month limit on federal service, giving the President the authority to set the length of federal service.[24][25] The ban on National Guard units serving outside the United States was also dropped, though subsequently the United States Attorney General offered his opinion that ordering the National Guard to serve outside the United States was unconstitutional.[26] In addition, the 1908 law stated that during a mobilization the National Guard had to be federalized before the Army could organize volunteer units.[27] The 1908 law also included the creation of the Division of Militia Affairs as the Army agency responsible for overseeing federal training and administrative requirements for the National Guard.[28][29][30][31][32]

The National Defense Act of 1916, as part of the mobilization prior to U.S. entry into World War I, increased the number of required drill periods from 24 to 48 and the length of summer training camps from five days to 15.[33] The War Department was authorised to centrally plan for the National Guard's authorized strength, and the number and types of National Guard units in each state,[34] and empowered it to implement uniform enlistment contracts and officer commissioning requirements for the National Guard. Guardsmen were required to take both state and federal enlistment oaths or oaths of office.[35] The law replaced the federal subsidy with an annual budget to cover most Guard expenses, including drill pay. The Division of Militia Affairs was expanded to form the Militia Bureau (now National Guard Bureau).[36][37] The 1916 law resolved the issues of deploying National Guardsmen overseas by stipulating that they would be discharged as members of the militia and then drafted into federal service, thus removing the National Guard from its status as the militia of the states when operating under federal authority.[38] This provision was employed to call up the National Guard during the Pancho Villa Expedition,[39] and again during World War I.[40]

Other amendments were the National Defense Act of 1920, and the National Defense Act Amendments of 1933.[41] The 1933 Act amended the National Defense Act of 1916 to create a separate reserve component of the United States Army called the National Guard of the United States. Since then, all National Guardsmen have been members of both their State National Guard and the National Guard of the United States.[42]


Company A, 1st Arkansas Infantry, near Deming, New Mexico, during Pancho Villa Expedition.
John M. Palmer, advocate of National Guard following World War I.

The improvements to National Guard training and readiness and the resolution of the circumstances under which the National Guard could be federalized led to the call up of National Guard units for service on the Mexico–United States border during the Pancho Villa Expedition.[43][44][45]

In addition, National Guard units were federalized and deployed overseas during World War I.[46]

The improvements to the Army–National Guard relationship, the improvements to National Guard training and readiness, and the National Guard's successful service during the Villa Expedition and the First World War brought about by the Dick Act and subsequent amendments enabled John McAuley Palmer and other National Guard advocates to defeat a 1920 effort to completely replace the National Guard with a federal-only reserve force.[47]

Implementation in the Southern United States[edit]

According to Professor Kelley L. Ross of the Los Angeles Valley College, one aspect of the Militia Act of 1903 was a continuation of Jim Crow-era politics, designed primarily to strengthen racist segregation laws by disarming black U.S. citizens,[48] thus making it easier to oppress and subjugate them.[49][50]

This view is supported by author Roger D. Cunningham in his essay "They are as Proud of their Uniform as any who Serve Virginia: African American Participation in the Virginia Volunteers, 1872–1899", part of the book Brothers to the Buffalo Soldiers: Perspectives on the African American Militia and Volunteers, 1865-1917. According to Cunningham, southern white militia units of the 1890s and early 1900s refused to interact with black units from the north, and the governor refused to allow black militia units from Washington, D.C. to take part in commemorations and ceremonies which were held in Virginia.[51]

African American units continued to serve where permitted, including the District of Columbia, Maryland, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Ohio, Illinois, and New York.[52]

In fiction[edit]

The Militia Act of 1903 is referenced in Jack London's 1908 novel The Iron Heel as "rushed through Congress and the Senate secretly, with practically no discussion" and as introducing the draft for American citizens: "If you refused to go into the militia, or to obey after you were in, you would be tried by drumhead court martial and shot down like dogs."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "TOPN: Militia Act of 1903". Retrieved August 12, 2020.
  2. ^ Barry M. Stentiford, The American Home Guard: The State Militia in the Twentieth Century, 2002, page 12
  3. ^ Jesse Greenspan,, How U.S. Forces Failed to Conquer Canada 200 Years Ago, July 12, 2012
  4. ^ Spencer C. Tucker, The Encyclopedia Of the War Of 1812 (2012), page 132
  5. ^ Public Broadcasting System, A Call to Arms: The American Army in the Mexican War: An Overview, A Conversation With Richard Bruce Winders, Historian and Curator, The Alamo, March 14, 2006
  6. ^ Robert K. Krick, Gary W. Gallagher, The American Civil War: The War in the East, 1863-1865 (2001), page 7
  7. ^ U.S. Army Center of Military History, Spanish–American War: Volunteer Forces, 1899
  8. ^ Texas State Historical Association, Handbook of Texas Online, First United States Volunteer Cavalry, accessed July 3, 2013
  9. ^ Spanish–American War Centennial Website, Unit Profiles, Rosters, and Photos, accessed July 3, 2013
  10. ^ New York Times, The Volunteer Army Call: Further Instructions Issued to the Governors of States by the War Department; MODE OF ENLISTMENT GIVEN System for the Enrollment of the National Guard Organizations Much Simpler Than Had Been Supposed; Replies of the Governors, April 27, 1898
  11. ^ U.S. War Department, Spanish American War, 1898, Government Documents, 1899, pages 94–95
  12. ^ Connecticut Adjutant General, Annual Report, 1899, page xxiv
  13. ^ New York Times, The National Guard, January 1, 1897
  14. ^ Davenport Weekly Republican, Meeting of National Guard, January 28, 1904
  15. ^ Ohio General Assembly, Manual of Legislative Practice in the General Assembly of Ohio, 1912, page 199
  16. ^ Michael Dale Doubler, John W. Listman, Jr., The National Guard: An Illustrated History of America's Citizen-Soldiers, 2007, page 54
  17. ^ New York Times, For "A Well Regulated Militia", January 30, 1902
  18. ^ Spokane Daily Chronicle, Secretary Root Interprets Dick Law, May 15, 1903
  19. ^ Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, Bill Becomes Law: New Law Makes Militia Part of Federal Military Force, January 16, 1903
  20. ^ United States Government Printing Office, Federal Statutes Annotated, Volume 6, 1918, page 433
  21. ^ Jerry M. Cooper, Citizens As Soldiers: A History Of The North Dakota National Guard, 2005, page 118
  22. ^ James A. Drain, Pearson's Magazine, "Getting Ready for Our Next War", April, 1909, page 408
  23. ^ Derek Avery, Mark Lloyd, History of the United States Fighting Forces, 1989, page 74
  24. ^ Republican National Committee, Republican Campaign Text-Book, 1908, page 359
    Official General Conference Proceedings. Washington, DC: National Guard Association of the United States. 1978. p. 36.
  25. ^ United States House Committee on Government Operations, Subcommittee on Intergovernmental Relations (1958). Hearing Record: Federal-State-Local Relations. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office. p. 1418.
    Forte, David F.; Spalding, Matthew (2014). The Heritage Guide to the Constitution: Fully Revised Second Edition. Washington, DC: The Heritage Foundation. p. 184. ISBN 978-1-62157-268-8.
  26. ^ New York Times, The Army-Militia Plan, January 16, 1914
  27. ^ Edward Marshall, New York Times, Making Our Army More Efficient and Always Ready, March 5, 1911
  28. ^ Atlanta Constitution, Dick Militia Law Will be Amended, December 15, 1907
  29. ^ Pittsburgh Press, Discuss Dick Law, July 21, 1907
  30. ^ Providence News-Democrat, Wants Militia Ready for Instant Service, January 15, 1908
  31. ^ Charleston News and Courier, Will Not Quit State Militia, October 28, 1907
  32. ^ Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, General for I.N.G. Is Not Necessary, November 10, 1907
  33. ^ New York Times, Congress Studies the Militia Bill, February 13, 1916
  34. ^ Michael D. Doubler, The National Guard and Reserve: A Reference Handbook, 2008, pages 173-176
  35. ^ New York Times, Old Guardsmen Falter at Oath, June 27, 1916
  36. ^ New York Times, Says Pay for Guard Adds to Efficiency, May 28, 1916
  37. ^ United States War Department, Annual Report of the Secretary of War, Volume 1, 1916, page 191
  38. ^ New York Times, Wilson to Draft Guard, July 10, 1917
  39. ^ Montreal Daily Mail, U.S. Troops Called for Service on Mexican Border, June 19, 1916
  40. ^ Christian Science Monitor, President Drafts the National Guard, August 6, 1917
  41. ^ Official General Conference Proceedings. Washington, DC: National Guard Association of the United States. 1978. p. 36. The Dick Act of 1903 was followed by the Militia Act of 1908, the National Defense Act of 1916, and some important 1920 amendments, and finally, the National Defense Act of 1933.
    United States House Committee on Government Operations, Subcommittee on Intergovernmental Relations (1958). Hearing Record: Federal-State-Local Relations. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office. p. 1418. 1. The relationships between the State militia (National Guard) and the Federal Government has been clearly established in various congressional actions starting with the Dict Act of 1903 and other Federal legislation in 1908, 1916, 1920, and 1933. In 1952 Congress restated these policies and that the strength of the National Guard as an integral part of the first line of defense of the Nation must be at all times maintained and assured.
    Forte, David F.; Spalding, Matthew (2014). The Heritage Guide to the Constitution: Fully Revised Second Edition. Washington, DC: The Heritage Foundation. p. 184. ISBN 978-1-62157-268-8.
  42. ^ New Jersey Adjutant General, Annual Report, 1933, pages 2-25
  43. ^ Boston Globe, Testing the National Guard Law, August 8, 1916
  44. ^ New York Times, Militia Question, February 7, 1916
  45. ^ National Guard Bureau, Report on Mobilization of the Organized Militia and National Guard, 1916, page 4
  46. ^ National Guard Educational Foundation, Brief History of Army National Guard Mobilizations Archived 2013-04-15 at, accessed July 3, 2013
  47. ^ Russell Frank Weigley, The American Way of War, 1977, pages 221–222
  48. ^ Ross, Kelley L. (February 2018). "What Is Called 'Gun Control'". Political Economy. The Proceedings of the Friesian School, Fourth Series. Archived from the original on 2018-02-17. Retrieved February 17, 2018. 1903, when the National Guard was created to prevent black people from owning guns or being able to defend themselves. Since the motive of creating the National Guard and allowing the Constitutionally mandated Militia to lapse was pure racism...
  49. ^ Ross, Kelley L. (August 2000). "I Am A Union Man". Retrieved December 23, 2015.
  50. ^ Ross, Kelley L. (March 18, 2016). "The Kind of Libertarian I Am". Political Economy. The Proceedings of the Friesian School, Fourth Series. Archived from the original on May 22, 2017. Retrieved March 17, 2016. One of the very worst effects of Segregation for the freedom of all Americans is one that I have never even seen mentioned [...] The Dick Act of 1903, which abolished the traditional Militia and instituted the National Guard, is certainly a manifestation of Segregation. No Southern State wanted its black citizens to be trained and armed with military weapons, let alone have them "keep and bear" the arms on their own recognizance. Black people might have actually been able to resist the judicial and extra-judicial Terrorism of the Segregationist regimes in that case.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  51. ^ Glasrud, Bruce A., ed. (2011). Brothers to the Buffalo Soldiers: Perspectives on the African American Militia and Volunteers, 1865–1917. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press. pp. 63–64. ISBN 978-0-8262-1904-6. When the Dick Act increased federal oversight of the National Guard, making it difficult for states to discriminate against black units, some states chose to disband them rather than issuing new arms and equipment.
  52. ^ Scott, Emmett Jay (1919). Scott's Official History of the American Negro in the World War. Chicago, Illinois: Homewood Press. pp. 33–34. national guard negro illinois maryland new york.

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