Militia Act of 1903
The Militia Act of 1903 (32 Stat. 775), also known as "The Efficiency in Militia Act of 1903", also known as the Dick Act,  was legislation enacted by the United States Congress which codified the circumstances under which the National Guard could be federalized. It also provided federal funds to the National Guard to pay for equipment and training, including annual summer encampments. In return, the National Guard began to organize its units along the same lines as the regular Army, and took steps to meet the same training, education and readiness requirements as active duty units.
During the nineteenth century, the militia in each U.S. state and territory operated under the Militia Acts of 1792. Under these laws, the question of state versus federal control of the militia was unresolved. As a result, the federal government could not rely on the militia for national defense. As an 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. In another instance, Martin Chittenden, 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 Vermont's borders.
Because the issue of state versus federal control was not resolved, the federal government resorted to the creation of "volunteer" units when it needed to expand the size of the Army. These units of United States Volunteers were not militia, though often they consisted of militia units which had volunteered en masse, nor were they part of the regular Army. This solution was employed during the Mexican–American War, and in the Union Army during the American Civil War.
During the Spanish–American War some volunteer units were organized, most notably the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, nicknamed "Rough Riders." The federal government also mobilized several National Guard units which volunteered en masse and were accepted as volunteer units.
Several issues with the National Guard became apparent as a result of the Spanish–American War experience, including low levels of individual and unit training and readiness; differences in organizational structure, uniforms and equipment; and lack of standardization in leader qualifications and professional development.
Root reforms and Dick Act
As a result of the problems identified during the Spanish–American War, 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. 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.
Dick championed the Militia Act of 1903, which became known as the Dick Act. This law repealed the Militia Acts of 1792 and organized the militia into two groups: the Reserve Militia, which included all able-bodied men between ages 17 and 45, and the Organized Militia, which included state militia (National Guard) units receiving federal support.
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 Army-National Guard exercises and training encampments.
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.
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.
The Dick Act was amended several times. In 1908, The nine-month limit on federal service was dropped, and the President was empowered to set the length of federal service. 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 enabling the National Guard to serve outside the United States was unconstitutional. In addition, the 1908 law stated that during a mobilization the National Guard had to be federalized before the Army could organize volunteer units. 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.
The National Defense Act of 1916 doubled the number of required drill periods from 24 to 48 and increased the length of summer training camps from five days to 15. In addition, the War Department was enabled to centrally plan for the National Guard's authorized strength, and the number and types of National Guard units in each state.
Under the 1916 law, the War Department was also empowered to implement uniform enlistment contracts and officer commissioning requirements for the National Guard. Guardsmen were also required to take both state and federal enlistment oaths or oaths of office.
The 1916 law also replaced the federal subsidy with an annual budget to cover most Guard expenses, including drill pay, and the Division of Militia Affairs was expanded to form the Militia Bureau (now National Guard Bureau).
In addition, the 1916 law resolved the issues of deploying National Guardsmen overseas by stipulating that they would be drafted into federal service, thus removing the National Guard from its status as the militia of the states when operating under federal authority. This provision was employed to call up the National Guard during the Pancho Villa Expedition, and again during World War I.
In 1933, an amendment to the National Defense Act of 1916 created a separate reserve component of the Army called the Army National Guard of the United States. Since 1933, all National Guardsmen have been members of both their State National Guard (or militia) and the National Guard of the United States.
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.
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.
Connection to segregation
According to collegiate 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, making it easier to oppress and subjugate them:
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. [...] What Congress did in 1903 was create the National Guard, almost certainly to prevent Black people in the South from constituting a Militia to resist the terrorism of Segregation and lynchings.— Kelley L. Ross
This view is confirmed 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.
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.— Roger D. Cunningham, 2011.
African American units continued to serve where permitted, including the District of Columbia, Maryland, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Ohio, Illinois, and New York.
A well-known internet meme cites the Dick Act as an argument against proposed gun control laws and regulations. However, the meme is inaccurate and cannot be relied on as an argument against the regulation of firearms. To cite one example, the meme claims the Dick Act "cannot be repealed." In fact parts of the Dick Act were effectively repealed when it was modified by the Militia Act of 1908, the National Defense Act of 1916, the National Defense Act of 1920, and the National Defense Act Amendments of 1933.
- Act of Jan. 21, 1903, 47th Congress, 2nd session, chapter 196, 32 Stat. 775-780.
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- New York Times, Old Guardsmen Falter at Oath, June 27, 1916
- New York Times, Says Pay for Guard Adds to Efficiency, May 28, 1916
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- Ross, Kelley L. (August 2000). "I Am A Union Man". Retrieved December 23, 2015.
- Ross, Kelley. "Kind of Libertarian". Retrieved March 17, 2016.
- Glasrud, Bruce A., editor (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.
- Scott, Emmett Jay (1919). Scott's Official History of the American Negro in the World War. Chicago, IL: Homewood Press. pp. 33–34.
- David Sterling, Billings Gazette, Letter to the Editor, Dick Act Invalidates So-Called Gun Control, February 7, 2013
- David N. Green, Columbia Daily Tribune, Letter to the Editor, Dick Act Invalidates All Gun Control Laws, April 20, 2013
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- Official General Conference Proceedings. Washington, DC: National Guard Association of the United States. 1978. p. 36.
- 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.
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- William M. Donnelly. "The Root Reforms and the National Guard". United States Army. Retrieved 2009-09-13.