A group of private citizens who train for military duty in order to be ready to defend their state or country in times of emergency. A militia is distinct from regular military forces, which are units of professional soldiers maintained both in war and peace by the federal government.
In the United States, as of the early 2000s, the NATIONAL GUARD serves as the nation's militia. Made up of volunteers, the National Guard acts under the dual authority of both the federal and state governments. According to the Constitution, Congress can call the National Guard into federal service for three purposes: to enforce federal laws, to suppress insurrections, and to defend against invasions. State governors can call upon the National Guard for emergencies that are prescribed by state law.
The American militia system has its roots in ancient English tradition, dating back to the Anglo-Saxon militia that existed centuries before the Norman Conquest in 1066. This militia, known as the fyrd, consisted of every able-bodied male of military age. It was traditionally used for defense only, and the sovereign could call upon the fyrd to fight if the men would be able to return to their homes by nightfall. Fyrd members were required to supply their own weapons, which they could use only in the service of the king.
After 1066 the victorious Normans retained this militia system, and successive English monarchs continued to rely on citizen soldiers for national defense. During the reign of the Tudors (1485?1603), professional forces began to be used in England, but their main task was to train the local militias, which were much less expensive to use than their professional counterparts. The major element of training was the muster, which was a mandatory gathering of all able-bodied free males, age 16 to 60, for the purpose of appraising the participants, their weapons, and their horses. Mustering was an ancient ritual, but during her reign Queen Elizabeth I systematized the practice, requiring musters four times a year and authorizing payment for those attending. Even with this enhanced level of organization, however, musters were as much social occasions as they were military drills. Participants looked forward to musters as an opportunity to eat and drink heavily before engaging in fights and mock battles.
When the English began to establish colonies in North America in the seventeenth century, the colonial governments continued to require all able-bodied free men to possess arms and to participate in the colonial militias. Each colony formed its own militia unit, appointing officers, providing training, and building its own fortifications. The function of each colonial militia was principally to defend the settlers' homes and villages against Indian raids, and at this they were largely successful.
Colonial militias were much less effective when used for offensive purposes on extended campaigns far from the militia members' homes. GEORGE WASHINGTON discovered this when, as a colonel in the Virginia militia, he had great difficulty recruiting enough men to fight the French and Indian War, which lasted from 1754 to 1763. Few men were willing to report for duty. Of those who did, few were well armed, and many quickly deserted the troops and returned home. Some militia officers instituted drafts to recruit more men, but even then, many of the draftees simply paid less-qualified men to report in their places. The British were finally able to win the war when Prime Minister William Pitt made changes in recruiting policies and the military bureaucracy, which made serving in the militia more palatable for the American colonists.
After Great Britain defeated France in the French and Indian War, it was left with a greatly enlarged North American empire to manage and finance. Large numbers of British troops were stationed in America, and the colonists were expected to quarter them and to pay various
taxes and fees, including the well-known Stamp Tax, to finance the troops. These additional taxes were one of the principal grievances that motivated the American colonists to prepare for revolution and to form the select militia units that became known as the...