Militias - Formation and History


This information was originally on Jo Thiessen's personal website. Prior to her death, she requested that I copy the information and ensure that it would always be available for KY researchers. Since the information does not relate to a single KY county, it has been added to the state site.


A body of citizens enrolled and drilled in military organizations other than the regular military forces, and called out only in emergencies. U.S. Able-bodied male citizens between eighteen and forty-five years of age not members of the regular military forces, and legally subject to call for military duty.
As defined in Funk and Wagnalls Standard College Dictionary. 1966

Prior to the Revolutionary War, each of the 13 colonies required its citizens to enroll and train in the militia, and during the war about half of the Continental Army consisted of militiamen. The tradition of a trained militia goes back many centuries in the western world so it was easily carried into the American colonies. Here its primary function in the early days was dealing with the Indians.

Bacon's Rebellion in Virginia (1676) was an unauthorized use of the militia in "putting down Indian distrubances without waiting for the tardy action of the Governor. Nathaniel Bacon boldly led his neighbors to an attack on these Indians without due authority from Governor Berkeley, who had promised (Bacon) a commission, but had failed in this and other promises of assistance to the distressed colonists. Berkeley forthwith proclaimed Bacon a rebel, and war on a small scale ensued and continued until the latter's sudden death." (p. 135, Footprints of Four Centuries, by Mabie and Bright. Before 1900).

Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence touched on the colonists' objections to being governed from afar and having an army directed by this government which was not responsive to local needs. "He (the present King of Great Britain) has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance. He has kept among us in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures. He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power. He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation: For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us: For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States: . . . He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation. . . . He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions."

United States Constitution

Article 1, Section 8 -
The Congress shall have power:
(15) To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions;
(16) To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

Article 2, Section 2 -
(1) 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;

Amendment 2 -
A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Kentucky's Militia Convention - 1784

Feeling that the state of Virginia was not protecting the citizens of Kentucky, to which state Kentucky belonged, these fiercely independent frontiersmen decided they must establish their own militia, as well as their own state. The primary decision made at the first of ten conventions leading to statehood in 1792 was the establishment of a militia. Later, in 1811, Kentucky's Cornstalk Militia was established in time to supply soldiers for the War of 1812.

U.S. Militia Act of 1792

This act placed every "free able-bodied white male citizen" into the militia at age 18.

Evolution of the National Guard

In 1903 the United States took over partial control of the National Guard from the states. Now guardsmen take an oath of allegiance to their state as well as to the United States government. Prior to 1903 the President had to call up the National Guard by contacting the governors of the states.

In 1916 the National Defense Act provided for drafting the National Guard into United States service, thus removing the operations from the states' command.

Each state, as well as the District of Columbia, has its own National Guard. Guardsmen enlist voluntarily, and are formed into distinctive units in the same way that active military units are. The armories, used for assembling of guardsmen as well as storage of their supplies, are frequently used for emergency shelters for civilians in time of natural disasters. During peacetime National Guardsmen attend 48 weekly drill and training periods in addition to two full weeks of field training every year. For this service the men receive a regular, though small, paycheck.