Why Decentralized Militias Matter, by Chris Calton

“Decentralized Militias” is another name for domestic guerrillas fighting on their home territories, which for centuries have bedeviled invading powers. Ask the Redcoats. From Chris Calton at mises.org:

In 1852, Abraham Lincoln gave a speech in Springfield, Illinois in which he talked about the attempts at required militia training. He described how much of a joke the citizens made of any attempt at mandatory militia training. “No man,” Lincoln said, citing the rules, “is to wear more than five pounds of cod-fish for epaulets, or more than thirty yards of bologna sausages for a sash; and no two men are to dress alike, and if any two should dress alike the one that dresses most alike is to be fined.” He also described the militia figure of “our friend Gordon Abrams” at a militia training, “on horse-back . . . with a pine wood sword, about nine feet long, and a paste-board cocked hat, from front to rear about the length of an ox yoke, and very much the shape of one turned bottom upwards.”1

Lincoln was attempting to ridicule the dismissive attitudes of his fellow Illinoisans toward compulsory militia training. The conventional wisdom in military theory is that, for effective defense, the military must be centralized and continually maintained in the form of a compulsory standing army. Even from supposed “small government” advocates, this notion is never contested. However, the evidence from the time suggests that had it not been for the decentralized and voluntary militia system, Lincoln himself may have had significantly more trouble at the beginning of the Civil War.

RELATED:  “The American Militia and the Origin of Conscription:  A Reassessement” by Jeffrey Rogers Hummel  

During the Jacksonian era, the militia system in the states shifted largely from a compulsory to a voluntary system. Because of this, the Mexican War was first war fought by the United States that did not require a draft (the Civil War drafts are often cited as the first cases of conscription in the United States, but this ignores conscription administered by the states that took place during the Revolutionary War and War of 1812). During the Mexican War, roughly 50,000 troops were raised, all of whom enlisted without any compulsory measures.

When Lincoln started to mobilize troops against the Confederate States, he called 75,000 men. Not only was this number larger than that of the Mexican War, the Southern states had previously provided a disproportionate percentage of the Mexican War veterans. Lincoln’s request was a tall order. Not long after, he would ask for 42,00 more troops, and Congress would finally authorize up to 500,000 volunteers.

RELATED: “Decentralize the Military: Why We Need Independent Militias” by Ryan McMaken

To continue reading: Why Decentralized Militias Matter

 

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