Legislative Branch

Guide to House Records: Chapter 4

Records of the Armed Services Committee and Its Predecessors

Committee Records discussed in this chapter:

Committee on the Militia, 1835-1911

Jurisdiction and History

4.42 Article I, section 8, of the Constitution of the United States grants Congress the power "to provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions," and to provide for "organizing, arming, and disciplining" the militia. The States retained the power to appoint the officers of the militia and the authority to train the militia according to the congressionally-mandated regimen of discipline. The Constitution (Article II, section 2), designated the President of the United States as the Commander-in-Chief of the aggregate militia forces of the States when they were called upon to support the Regular Army and Navy.

4.43 On May 8, 1792, Congress passed the Militia Act authorizing the States to enroll and organize for military service all able-bodied free white citizens between the ages of 18 and 45. The War of 1812 exposed serious deficiencies in the performance of the militia forces, and in 1815, Richard H. Wilde of Georgia proposed that a standing Committee on the Militia be established. 1 The House rejected his proposal and continued to use select committees to deal with militia affairs on an ad hoc basis for the next 20 years.

4.44 The standing Committee on the Militia was created on December 10, 1815, with jurisdiction over miscellaneous aspects of the militia organization and operation in the several States and the District of Columbia. The Committee's jurisdiction included fostering greater efficiency in the militia units, encouraging rifle practice, reorganizing the militia, and issuing armaments to the militia units and later to the National Guard or voluntary militia units that replaced them.

4.45 The committee was not terminated until 1911 although it had exercised little influence after the passage of the Dick Military Act of January 31, 1903. That law, combined with other concurrent military reforms, integrated the National Guard organizations in the States with the Regular Army, largely eliminating the need for direct congressional supervision of the implementation of the now obsolete 1792 militia law. After 1911, the House Military Affairs committee assumed the functions and powers that had formerly been in the jurisdiction of the Militia Committee.

Records of the Committee on the Militia, 24th-67th Congresses (1835-1911)

Record Type/td> Volume Congresses (Dates)
Minute Books 9 vols. 45th (1877-79), 49th (1885-87), 51st-52d (1889-93), 54th-56th (1895-1901), 60th-61st (1907-11)
Docket Books 11 vols. 39th-41st (1865-71), 44th-46th (1875-81), 49th (1885-87), 51st-52d (1889-93), 54th-56th (1895-1901), 60th-61st (1907-11)
Petitions and Memorials 8 in. 22d (1831-33), 26th-27th (1839-43), 29th (1845-47), 32d (1853-55), 35th (1857-59), 45th-49th 1877-89, 53d-56th (1893-1901), 60th-61st (1907-11)
Committee Papers 11in. 16th (1819-21), 19th (1825-27), 25th-26th (1837-41), 28th-29th (1843-47), 39th-41st (1865-71), 44th-46th (1875-81), 48th-49th (1883-87), 51st-56th (1889-1901), 60th-61st (1907-11)
Bill Files 2 in. 58th (1903-05), 60th (1907-09)
TOTAL: 2 ft. and 20 vols. (1 ft.)  
Committee Records Summary Table


4.46 This committee did not produce an extensive collection of records, primarily because of its limited jurisdiction and the continuing validity of the 1792 Militia Act--a law which underwent only minor revisions from its passage until 1903. The minute books contain the proceedings of a relatively small number of the committee meetings during the Congresses that convened in the 1880's and 1890's because the committee had trouble forming quorums. The committee clerk in 1886 noted, for example, that the absenteeism of committee members contributed to "a dismal failure" at a scheduled meeting. A few of the books contain copies of committee hearings, proposed bills, and newspaper editorials concerning the committee's work. The docket books are also quite incomplete; they give the name of the bill or petition, the action taken, and occasional remarks on legislation.

4.47 Petitions and memorials comprise a large part of the extant records of the committee. They demonstrate the widespread and continuing interest of the committee members, State politicians, members of local military organizations, and concerned citizens in maintaining a strong State militia system to obviate the establishment of a large, standing Regular Army.

4.48 The bulk of the petitions, however, deals with the subject of revising the 1792 Militia Act to improve the organization, training, and equipping of the State militia forces. To many, a particularly objectionable feature of the 1792 law was its provision to enroll all able-bodied citizens between the ages of 18 and 45. Memorialists frequently called for a change in the law. A Connecticut State Militia officers' committee in January 1832 demanded a reduction in the prescribed period of enrollment, pointing out: "The call upon Minors is resented by the avarice of parents and Masters, and the last few years, of the present period of service, is irksome to those, who are military subjects" (22A-G14.1). Another memorial from the 1832 Pennsylvania Military Convention denounced the "burthensome and inefficient" military system created by the 1792 act.

4.49 For the rest of the 19th century, petitions continued to emphasize the need to improve the militia in order to increase the effectiveness of "Citizens-Soldiers" as opposed to "slave mercenary soldiers," as one Vermont State Militia delegation put the matter in 1839 (25A-G12.1). Miscellaneous petitions submitted to the committee include requests from Harper & Brothers, Publishers, of New York, and from a Philadelphia bookseller, to secure a Government contract to publish and issue to the militia copies of Gen. Winfield S. Scott's book, Infantry Tactics (26A-G12.1); prayers from State militia organizations for Government assistance in procuring military equipment and stores (26A-G12.1, 46A-H15.2); and petitions seeking recognition and appropriations for National Guard units (46A- H15.1, 54A-H21.1, 60A-H24.1). In 1881, the National Guard Association of the United States submitted a petition pointing out the absurdity of continued support for the obsolete 1792 militia law which, if enforced, would produce a militia of nearly 7 million men. The Association urged recognition of the volunteer militia organizations comprising the National Guard as the Nation's only militia force (47A- H14.1).

4.50 Committee papers consist mainly of copies of bills, reports, and other documents relating to the committee's jurisdiction as well as resolutions submitted to the committee from State legislatures and military organizations. Also, among the committee papers are scattered files of correspondence among committee members, War Department officials, militia officers, and public servants and private individuals in the States. These include an exchange of letters between various committee members and Samuel Colt, the inventor, concerning the committee's favorable consideration of Colt's waterproof cartridges and its subsequent recommendation of their use (28A-D18.1). Other subjects raised in the correspondence include the settlement of pay claims of Mississippi militia officers (29A-D12.1), the proposed 1867 national militia bill (39A-F16.1), and the 1911 pay bill (61A-F35.1). The committee papers also contain abstracts of the militia force, prepared and submitted to Congress by the Secretary of War, 1875-95 (44A-F21.1, 45A-F22.1, 49A-F22.1, 53A-F28.1). Available, as well, are resolutions from State legislatures--including Vermont, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Illinois--and militia organizations calling upon various State representations in Congress to support passage of bills to improve militia organization (22A-G14.1).

4.51 The relatively few bill files among the committee records include copies of bills providing for the establishment of public rifle ranges across the United States, the establishment and discipline of the District of Columbia militia (58A-D19), and an amendment to the Dick Act of 1903 (60A-D21). Copies of the proceedings of published hearings relating to the Dick Act, featuring testimony by representatives of the National Guard Association, are interspersed throughout the file.


1 Annals of the Congress of the United States, 14th Cong., 1st sess., Dec. 7, 1815, p. 380. 

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