Impact of the National Guard Due to the National Defense Act of 1916 Research Proposal

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National Guard and the National Defense Act of 1916

The impact of the reserve component military forces in the United States has been significant over the years, and continues to be a vital part of American defense and homeland security. The reserves also provide valuable support when there are natural disasters and other emergencies in the U.S. that call for the capabilities that the National Guard and other reserve forces provide.

the History of Reserve Military Forces in the U.S.

Barry Stentiford's book, The American Home Guard: The State Militia in the Twentieth Century, is a valuable resource when reviewing how the current National Guard came to exist. Stentiford explains that soon after the first settlers arrived on the shores of North America, as early as 1636, militia companies were formed strictly because the settlers feared attacks by Native Americans (Stentiford, 2002, pp. 4-5). In fact the militiamen were trained to fight and protect the colonies from Indian attack -- "and the French" -- up until the Revolutionary War, Stentiford continues.

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During the Revolutionary War (also called the "War of Independence") the state militia "augmented Washington's Continental Army" and also "enforced revolutionary discipline" in the communities during the war, according to Stentiford (5). What Stentiford means exactly by "stabilizing the homefront" is not clear, but after the colonies won the Revolutionary War, the state militia had the responsibility for protecting the new nation. The citizens did not want a standing army because it would be costly and, Stentiford explains, it would be "…dangerous to the survival of the new republic" -- at least that's what colonial citizens feared (5).

Research Proposal on Impact of the National Guard Due to the National Defense Act of 1916 Assignment

Author Lucia Raatma explains that the militia in colonial times were called "Minutemen" and they could be as young as 16 or as old as 60 years of age. They bought weapons with their own money, and "trained for four hours at a time, usually twice a week" (Raatma, 2005, p. 6). As brave and "clever" as the Minutemen were, Raatma explains, "they were also just ordinary citizens" that struggled to make a living. Clearly though, they played a pivotal part in the Revolutionary War.

Meanwhile, the legal document that spelled out the particulars of government, the Articles of Confederation (effective from March 1, 1781, to March 4, 1789, when the U.S. Constitution became the supreme law of the land), did not address the need for "…the retention or re-creation of the Continental Army" following the Revolutionary War. After the Constitution went into effect in 1789, however, Articles I and II -- and the Second Amendment -- clearly spelled out the need for a "federal standing army" that did not rely on local militia (Stentiford, 6).

The federal government passed the Militia Act of 1792, and that legislation required "most free white males" ages 18-45 to "arm themselves and attend regular muster" in order to be prepared for duty. However, Stentiford explains (7), that law was never firmly enforced. The states however did manage their own militia groups, and the men that came into the groups were there because they had a sense of patriotism or they were afraid of a slave uprising, Stentiford continues (8).

President Thomas Jefferson in 1800, the third president of the U.S., was a strong supporter of the militia, believing it to have one of the "essential principles of our government" (Doubler, et al., 2007, 19). Taking the same position that many citizens espoused, Jefferson's policy as far as the military was concerned was "the supremacy of the civil over the military authority"; indeed, the president believed that "a well-disciplined militia" was America's "best reliance in peace and for the first months of war, till Regulars may relieve them" (Doubler, 20) By 1804, Doubler explains, the War Department of the young nation claimed to have 525,000 men enrolled and organized "…into a hodgepodge of regiments and brigades" -- a situation that was unacceptable to Jefferson because the soldiers were "far from ready to perform as a coherent, national defense force" (20).

Hence, Congress agreed to allocate $200,000 for the "purchase and distribution of weapons" (at $13 per musket) of about 15,000 new muskets annually (Doubler, 20). Moreover, it became very clear that the militiamen were not up to the task of defending the nation, when in 1814, British Redcoats landed near Chesapeake Bay heading to Washington, D.C.. About 5,000 militiamen fought the Redcoats but were "overrun" and retreated while the British entered Washington and "torched the Capitol, the White House, and a number of other public buildings" (Doubler, 21).

On June 3, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Defense Act into law, legislation that expanded the "size and scope" of the National Guard, which had previously been a network of state militias ( The Act brought all those militias under federal control, making it a centralized backup to the regular arm; in other words, the president could call out the National Guard for a number of national or international services as the president saw fit.

President Wilson had been resisting the temptation to inject the U.S. military into World War I -- even though Theodore Roosevelt and other Republicans had been pushing to get American troops on the ground in Europe -- partly because many militia and the U.S. Army were busy battling Mexican bandit Pancho Villa, who was raiding cities in the Southwest. Eventually (on April 6, 1917) Wilson and Congress made the decision to enter WWI, knowing full well that American allies needed the support to fight the aggression by the Germans.

The National Defense Act of 1916 established qualifications for officers serving in the National Guard, authorizing them to receive training at regular Army schools, the site explained. In fact all National Guard personnel would be organized "according to the standards of regular Army units"; and, "for the first time," the Nation Guardsmen would be paid, not just for their active duty during annual training exercises (raised from 5 to 15 days a year), but also for their monthly drills, which were increased from 24 per year to 48 every year (

Moreover, the National Defense Act of 1916 authorized the "Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC)" which began training high school and college students for eventual service in the Regular Army (

Maurice Madloff is the author of the book American Military History, and he writes that the upgrade of the National Defense Act of 1916 was put into legislation by the National Defense Act of June 4, 1920, which fully governed the regulation and the organizing structure of the Army until 1950 (Madloff, 1996, p. 65). What the Act of 1920 accomplished was to establish the United States Army into three components: the professional Regular Army; the civilian National Guard; and the civilian Organized Reserves (composed of Officers and enlisted Reserve Corps), according to Madloff.

The author explains that this 1920 Act actually served as an official acknowledgement that what had been the rule of thumb during the previous two hundred or so years was officially now federal policy. That is, the U.S. had always maintained a "standing peacetime force" that was too small if it needed to be expanded to deal with a major land war, but that same standing army also depended on "a new Army of civilian soldiers" that would be trained and available for large mobilizations (Madloff, 65-66). And now, after the passage of the 1920 Act, there would be a standing army with a maximum of 17,726 officers (three times the strength of the officer corps prior to WWI), Madloff continues (66).

The 1920 Act also authorized the military to expand to three more branches -- the Air Service, the Chemical Warfare Service, and a Finance Department. After WWI General John Pershing reorganized the War Department (now known as the Defense Department) into five divisions,… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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Impact of the National Guard Due to the National Defense Act of 1916.  (2011, November 19).  Retrieved June 5, 2020, from

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"Impact of the National Guard Due to the National Defense Act of 1916."  November 19, 2011.  Accessed June 5, 2020.