Labor History in 2:00

September 29 - Creating a Standing Army

September 29, 2020

On this day in Labor History the year was 1789. 

That was the day that the United States Congress officially created the United States army.

Not everyone agreed that the U.S. should have a standing army. 

Two years earlier, at the meeting that drafted the U.S. Constitution, James Madison warned against a permanent federal army.

He told those at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia “A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty.”

Since Madison was a strong proponent of a centralized federal government, his caution about the army was noteworthy. 

Perhaps these warnings is why it took Congress until the last day of their session to finally approve the measure. 

In fact, President George Washington had to write Congress not once but twice to get them to act on the issue.

Once it was approved, the first standing Army had about 800 members. 

By comparison, in 2015 the Army had just under half a million in active duty soldiers. 

To supplement the small army, Congress also made a provision for the President to call up troops from State militias.

A stated purpose for such call ups, was “protecting the inhabitants of the frontiers of United States from hostile incursions of the Indians.”

While in federal service, the State militias were supposed to receive “the same as the pay and subsistence” as the regular army. 

One time various State militias were used was for the forced removal of the Cherokee people from the Southeast on the Trail of Tears in the 1830s. 

State militias were also deployed to break up labor strikes, such as in the Homestead Strike in Pennsylvania in 1892.

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