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The War Department is charged with the responsibility of organizing, training, and maintaining the Army at all times in accordance with conditions defined by Congress, and with certain nonmilitary activities.
Prior to the Revolutionary War governmental policies in America were determined by the mother country. Hence, although every community had to be ever ready to defend itself against local attack by Indians, and each colony developed a militia which at times was employed on campaigns for considerable periods, nevertheless the problem of national organization for common defense did not arise. The British army was their bulwark against a common foe. The military establishment was organized and administered by edict of the king.
Friction with England forced the colonies to unite and organize for common protection. The problem of common defense suddenly became paramount. Yet there was no common assembly to consider it and no plans nor means for securing concerted action.
In 1774 the First Continental Congress, consisting of representatives from colonial assemblies, met in Philadelphia, drew up a declaration of rights and grievances to be sent to the king, and adjourned until the following year. No steps looking toward military action were taken in the hope that armed conflict might be avoided.
When the Second Continental Congress convened the following year all hopes for conciliation were gone. The battle of Lexington had been fought three weeks before. The immediate and pressing problem now was how to raise, equip, and maintain an army for the common defense. There were many difficulties to be The delegates had no authority to act for the colonies which they represented; each delegate was jealous of the power of the others; there was no executive head to Congress; there was no organization for setting up and carrying on a central government; and there was a deep-seated aversion on the part of the people toward standing armies, an aversion dating back to the struggle of the common people of England against the Stuart kings of the seventeenth century, when armies had been used to abuse the people, not to defend them. The English Puritans and the cavaliers of the colonies had always been stubborn in protesting that no army should be quartered upon them, except by the consent of their own Legislatures.
Notwithstanding these and many other difficulties, Congress was compelled. to assume the functions of a civil government and to organize to carry on the war for defense. It appointed committees for war, but it refused to give them any power; it constantly changed the membership of the committees; and it jealously rendered their work ineffectual by passing frequent "resolves" which covered all the business of war.
Under such conditions Washington Sound it almost impossible to keep an army in the feld. Then he was made Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, it numbered about 1000 men, the enlistment of every one of whom would expire before the end of the year. Most men preferred enlisung in the milita where the term was short and the fiscipline was lax to joning the regular Cotinental regiments. Though he impressed upon the soldiers the sercts consequences of leaving the Amy before the new troops told be trained, they left him by hundreds the day the period of enlistment endel
Bounces were fered to encounge enlistments and the amount of money offered was gradually increasel The time came when men wic enlisted for short pemods mder is gustem vere recerming more pay than the officers who were training them. Sercus ruble with the ficers loved Desertions from the Amy were frequent.
Washington repeatedly reminded Congress of his connon that the campaigns failed because me fependence wild be placed in the milita, because there was no define mary poker, and because of the lure to furnish necessary supplies. In a letter to Congress be sali:
"The Esadvantages arenting the Imned enlistment of trees are too apparent to those who are everinesses of them, but to gentlemen at a dis
tance, whose attention is engrossed by a thresand important objects, the case may be otherwise. To bring men to be well acquainted with the duties of a soldier requires time. To bang them under proper iscipline and subordination, not only requires time, but it is a work of gut ferty: and in this Army, where there is so little betreten benveen the fœers and soldiers, requires an uncommon degree of attention. To expect then, the same service from raw and undisciplined recruits as from veteran soldiers is to expect what never did and perhaps never will happen.
At another time he wrote:
"Connecticut wants no Missachusetts men in her ours, Massachusetts thinks there is no necessity for a Rhode Islander to be introduced into hers, and New Hampshire says it is very hard that her valuable and experienced officers, who are willing to serve, should be discarded, because her own regiments under the establishment cannot provide for them.”
Congress failed to heed Washington's advice. It did increase the bounties offered, but the paper money issued was practically worthless, and wholesale desertions followed. The soldiers were half starved and insufficiently clothed. Mutinies were numerous. In the midst of these troubles and successive defeats, Congress persisted in making plans to reduce the size of the Army, but the war did not end. Finally the period of enlistment was extended to "three years" or "during the war" at the discretion of the soldier, and Washington was given complete charge.
These experiences, together with the defeat of General Gates at Camden, brought forth the following expression from Washington in a letter to the President of Congress:
"This event, however, adds itself to many others, to exemplify the necessity of an army, and the fatal consequences of depending on militia. Regular troops alone are equal to the exigencies of modern war, as well for defense as for of
fense, and whenever a substitute is attempted, it must prove illusory and ruinous. No militia will ever acquire the habits necessary to resist a regular force. * The firmness requisite for the real business of fighting is only to be attained by a constant course of discipline and service. It is most earnestly to be wished that the liberties of America may no longer be trusted, in any material degree, to so precarious a dependence."
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At the conclusion of the war Congress decided to dispense with a standing army. It ordered the discharge of the Continental troops, with the exception of about 80 soldiers, who were kept to guard public stores. Constant Indian troubles and civic disorders, however, compelled an increase in this number to make up a force of several hundred men.
In the meantime the war organization had undergone successive changes in the Continental Congress. When the committees for war failed, boards of war had been appointed; yet Congress itself continued to direct all military affairs, until these boards became as powerless and ineffective as the committees which preceded them. At the conclusion of the war, after a long dispute, Congress resolved to create a Department of War whose chairman should be called the Secretary of War.1 Under the leadership of Gen. Henry Knox, the second Secretary of War, the department became well organized. The new Department of War established under the Constitution of the United States was organized on a similar basis and the former Secretary retained. At its beginning, the Department of War included the functions which are now divided among the Departments of War, the Navy, and the Interior.3
Although the Revolutionary War was over, the problem of adequate protection of the new nation was one of the gravest that presented themselves. In his first annual address to Congress, President Washington said:
"Among the many interesting objects that will engage your attention, that of providing for the common defense will merit particular regard. To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace."
In formulating a military policy under the new government, the prejudice of the people against a standing army again came to the surface. Even with the lessons of the past war fresh in their minds, the majority of the people believed that a large army would provoke war. A maxim arose: "A standing army is dangerous to liberty." There was no distinction in the public mind between the army proposed by Washington and the armies of the past, which had been the mercenaries of despots. Congress attempted to solve the problem by passing two
The first act, passed in 1790,4 laid the foundation for the volunteer system. It empowered the President to employ for a short term, "not exceeding six months, * * a corps not exceeding two thousand noncommissioned officers, privates, and musicians, with a suitable number of commissioned officers." The second act, passed in 1792,5 had for its purpose "more effectually to pro
1 Act Aug. 7, 1789 (1 Stat. 49).
2 Act April 30, 1798 (1 Stat. 553).
3 Act March 3, 1849 (9 Stat. 395).
4 Act April 30, 1790 (1 Stat. 119). Act May 8, 1792 (1 Stat. 271).
vide for the national defense, by establishing an uniform militia throughout the United States."
This act was significant by its recognition of common defense as a duty of citizenship and by definitely placing the responsibility on the individual citizen. Though with modifications it remained a law until the National Defense Act of 1916, its terms were never fully carried out. It was the general belief when this act was passed that the militia of the various states could be relied upon for protection in case of an emergency. In 1802 the United States Military Academy was established at West Point as an engineering school, but it was soon taken over by the War Department as a school for preparing young men to become officers for all branches of the Regular Army. Cadetships in the academy are allotted to each district of every state and of every territory in the Union, a certain number to the United States at large, and a certain number to the Regular Army and the National Guard. The students thus represent the whole nation. Beside a rigid training in technique, the institution sets up a high moral standard for the cadets. The rank of second lieutenant in the Regular Army is granted to the student who satisfactorily completes the four-year course. The maximum authorized strength of the Corps of Cadets is 1,334, plus 4 Filipinos.
Not all officers remain in the Army. This training qualifies for leadership in other lines. During the first century of its existence 2,371 of the graduates of West Point returned to civil life, most of them after some years of military experience in the Army. Of this number there were 1 United States President, 1 President of the Confederacy, 5 presidential and vice presidential candidates, 4 members of the Cabinet, 29 diplomatic representatives, 24 members of Congress, 16 Governors of states or territories, 46 presidents of universities or colleges, 37 presidents of railroads and other corporations, 228 civil engineers, many teachers, clergymen, physicians, bankers, and editors. The War of 1812 demonstrated again the weakness of the militia as an effective weapon for the defense of the nation.
When the second war with England became imminent, the Secretary of War called, as authorized by law, upon the Governors of the states for troops. In answer to his second letter to the Governor of Massachusetts, urging immediate compliance with his request because of "the danger of invasion, which increases," Governor Strong replied:
"The people of this state appear to be under no apprehension of an invasion; several towns indeed, on the seacoast, soon after the declaration of war, applied to the Governor and Council for arms and ammunition, * * and in some instances they were supplied accordingly. But they expressed no desire that any part of the militia should be called out for their defense, and in some cases we were assured that such a measure would be disagreeable to them."
Other states replied in like vein. The Governor of Vermont, in a proclamation ordering the militia to return to their homes, declared that "in his opinion the military strength and resources of the state must be reserved for its own defense and protection exclusively."
6 National Defense Act 1916 (39 Stat. 166).
7 Act March 16, 1802, c. 9, § 28, 2 Stat. 137 (Comp. St. § 2222).