1828_militiamuster_watercolor_bydcjohnston_aas
Depiction of a Militia in 1828.

From the War of 1812 on, for the next few decades, the use of militias would become less and less prominent in America.

The Founding Fathers’ generation, led by Thomas Jefferson, believed generally that there was “great confidence in the militia as an alternative to a standing army that could be used against the liberties of the people it supposedly protected.” Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 491. Militias were organized of “physically fit white males of military age, who would supply their own arms and donate as much of their time as necessary to keep in training and readiness when called upon to deal with insurrection or invasion.” Id.

The Second Amendment to the Constitution, as well as the federal Militia Act of 1792, contemplated a “well regulated militia” with this context. Id.

While the militias were not militarily effective, which George Washington recognized in his day, this would not be the reason that militias ultimately were phased out. Ultimately, the men who comprised the militias did not have a dedication to the militias to sustain them. See id. Militias would fall out of style as white males would increasingly resent their participation in the militias and many would make a mockery of their participation. See id.

By the time the 1840s came, America’s military and volunteers had displaced militias almost entirely. Id. The nature of America’s military power would change in just a few short decades from a relatively primitive conglomeration of militias to a more organized, disciplined military.

In this context, the Second Amendment appears often misconstrued by modern Americans, as they use it to advance their arguments about gun ownership. While the debate should always take place about the role of gun ownership in Americans’ lives, the historical background should also be remembered.

Nonetheless, America’s military was beginning to build a more organized, established presence as the 1800s progressed. This would shape the nature of the Civil War, as the military became more professional than the militias that had been commonplace in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

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