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NEW SERIES, NO. XX.
ART. I.—1. An Inquiry into the Importance of the Militia to a free Commonwealth; in a Letter from WILLIAM H. SUMNER, Adjutant General of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, to JOHN ADAMS, late President of the United States; with his Answer. Svo. pp. 70. Boston. 1823. Cummings & Hilliard.
Observations on National Defence; drawn from Captain Partridge's Lecture on that Subject, and from General Sumner's Letter to the venerable John Adams, on the Importance of the Militia System. 8vo. pp. 46. Boston. 1824. S. Gardner.
GENERAL WASHINGTON Somewhere says, 'that the devising and establishing a well regulated militia would be a genuine. source of legislative honor, and a perfect title to public gratitude.' No man in our nation was more competent to pronounce a decisive opinion on this subject, than this illustrious warrior. He spoke with the experience of the Revolution still fresh on his mind, and he well knew all the defects of this arm of our national defence, as well as the efficacy of which, under proper laws and regulations, it was susceptible. That, during the eventful struggle here alluded to, it was wretchedly inadequate to almost all the purposes for which it was designed, is abundantly proved in most of his letters written at that time. It is difficult to read some of them without the deepest emotions. With the destinies of a
nation dependant on his exertions, and often left without any other support than this broken staff,' as he emphatically terms it, he used to pour out to the continental Congress his profound regrets and apprehensions at the improvident policy, which so frequently left him in such a state of helplessness, when burdened with such responsibilities. Indeed, it is with something like shuddering, that we now look back on some of those gloomy pages of our history, when the cause of liberty and of a whole people appeared to hang on armies, which had scarcely more than an ephemeral existence; and when their immense stakes were saved only by the ignorance or the inactivity of the enemy.
With these solemn lessons on his mind, General Washington often earnestly renewed his recommendations to Congress, in whom the constitutional power of improving and regulating the militia resided, to turn their attention to this important subject. He could have had no exaggerated notion respecting the capabilities of the militia, or believed that, consistently with its civil character, it was susceptible of purposes beyond those pointed out in the constitution, namely, 'to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions.' But even for these purposes, much modification and improvement were necessary. In fact, as a national institution, almost everything was to be done. The Revolution found each state relatively independent in all respects. The voluntary combination for certain measures of general defence, under the first continental Congress, may be said to have left this independence unimpaired. And the articles of confederation, afterwards adopted, surrendered to the general government only a modicum of power over the militia. It may therefore be said to have been, at the adoption of the constitution in 1789, for all purposes of national defence, a disjointed, unregulated, and unwieldy mass.
The new constitution vested in the general government a power over the militia of the several states, which, with adequate legislative provisions, would seem to be sufficient to correct all deficiencies, and give it a prevailing character throughout the union. It embraced the power to organise, arm, and discipline the militia, and to govern such parts as might be called into the service of the United States. Greater latitude would appear to be unnecessary for the
most ample fulfilment of every beneficent national purpose, which could result from the nature of the institution.*
As early as 1789, President Washington, in calling the attention of Congress to this subject, adverted to an inducement to immediate legislation upon it, which was peculiarly impressive. He said he was particularly anxious that they should attend to it as soon as possible, as we might' avail ourselves of the military knowledge disseminated throughout the several states, by means of the many well instructed officers and soldiers of the late army;' adding the solemn admonition, that this resource, from deaths and other causes, was fast diminishing. Nothing, however, was done at this session. The incipient movements of a new government probably presented far more urgent and immediately indispensable measures.
On the ensuing session, General Knox, the Secretary of War, presented a plan to Congress relating to the militia, the main features of which were afterwards reported in the shape of a bill; but this likewise failed. The historian Marshall, in alluding to this subject, remarks, that it was found to be involved in greater difficulties than had been apprehended. To reconcile the public interest with private convenience was a task not easily to be performed. Those provisions, which were required to render this bill competent to the great purposes of national defence, involved a sacrifice of time and money, which the representatives of the people were unwilling to exact from their constituents.' The same causes have probably defeated all subsequent bills of the same comprehensive character; and while we believe, that the great purposes of national defence' may be attained by provisions less energetic and burdensome, we are inclined to ascribe
* The following is the language of the constitution, in regard to the power of Congress and the Executive over the Militia. Congress has power, 'To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions;
To provide for organising, arming, and disciplining the militia, and for governing such parts of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the states, respectively, the appoinment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress. Art. I. Sec. 8.
'The President shall be commander in chief of the army and navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States.' Art. II. Sec. 2.
these defeats to sound policy and republican wisdom. ral Knox, with the independent frankness of a soldier, and prompted perhaps by a lively recollection of revolutionary troubles, may have infused rather more military spirit and efficacy into his plan, than comported with our republican habits and civil institutions. We shall have occasion to speak more fully on this subject, when discussing those plans which have since been under the consideration of Congress.
It was not until 1792, that there was any successful legislation on this subject. On the 8th of May Congress passed an act, more effectually to provide for the national defence, by establishing a uniform militia throughout the United States.' As the provisions of this act still form the basis of our militia system, it may be well to develop its principal features, and examine whether present imperfections result from deficiencies in congressional legislation, or from neglect of executing duties referred by existing laws to the states. However far short this act may have fallen, in the opinion of some, of what was necessary to a complete militia system, it certainly fulfilled, in many respects, the purposes of the power vested in the national legislature by the constitution; and provided, as far perhaps as was practicable, for the organisation, and discipline of the militia, and in some degree for arming it. If this act was deficient, in respect to the last provision, so, we believe, were all the other plans. But we shall have farther remarks to make on this head in another place.
The first section of the act, requiring, with certain exceptions, every free able bodied white male citizen of the respective states,' between the ages of eighteen and forty five, to be enrolled, and prescribing the mode of enrolment, formed a broad and simple outline of organisation, which the cooperation of state laws could easily fulfil. Part of this section, which requires every man so enrolled to provide himself, within six months,' with arms and equipments, was probably adoped from necessity, as the best expedient which the times presented. The finances of the country would not allow the nation to assume the burden of arming the militia, and there was no alternative but to impose it on individuals. It is true, the Revolution had distributed a great number of arms through the community, and the hunting habits of a portion