George Washington Papers

[Diary entry: 18 December 1789]

Friday 18th. Read over, and digested my thoughts upon the subject of a National Militia, from the Plans of the Militia of Europe—those of the Secretary at War & the Baron de Steuben.

In Aug. 1789 GW had pointed out to both houses of Congress the “national importance and necessity” of a “uniform and effective system for the Militia of the United States. . . . I am particularly anxious it should receive an early attention as circumstances will admit; because it is now in our power to avail ourselves of the military knowledge disseminated throughout the several States by means of the many well instructed Officers and soldiers of the late Army; a resource which is daily diminishing by death and other causes” (GW to Senate and House of Representatives, 7 Aug. 1789, DLC:GW). On 8 Aug. the House of Representatives appointed a committee to bring in a militia bill (Annals of Congress description begins Joseph Gales, Sr., comp. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature. 42 vols. Washington, D.C., 1834–56. description ends , 1st Cong., 1st sess., 714). In preparation for his notes on the militia system, GW probably examined his own statements drawn up in 1783 after a committee of the Continental Congress had requested his views on a peace establishment (see Alexander Hamilton to GW, 9 April 1783, and GW to Hamilton, 2 May 1783, DLC:GW). GW’s “Sentiments on a Peace Establishment,” 1 May 1783, deals with such matters as a militia system, arsenals, military academies, and provisioning of troops (DLC:GW). Knox’s plans for the militia are undoubtedly those which had been submitted to Congress on 18 Mar. 1786 and later published by printer John Dunlap as A Plan for the General Arrangement of the Militia of the United States (New York, 1786). Baron von Steuben’s plan on the militia, A Letter on the Subject of an Established Militia, was published in 1784. GW also had access to lengthy statements on a peace establishment prepared by Knox, 17 April 1783, and Steuben, 15, 21 April 1783 (DLC:GW), and sent to the commander-in-chief in preparation for his own report of 1 May 1783 to the military committee of Congress. GW’s written comments on the militia and his letter to Knox (see entries for 19 and 21 Dec. 1789) have not been found, but at least some of his suggestions were incorporated by Knox into a Jan. 1790 report to Congress on the militia. On 18 Jan. 1790 Knox wrote GW that “Having submitted to your consideration a plan for the arrangement of the militia of the United States, which I had presented to the late Congress, and you having approved the general principles thereof, with certain exceptions, I now respectfully lay the same before you, modified according to the alterations you were pleased to suggest.” GW transmitted Knox’s letter and report to Congress, 21 Jan. 1790. Both are in ASP, Military Affairs, description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends 1:6–13. “An Act more effectually to provide for the National Defence by establishing an Uniform Militia Throughout the United States” was not finally passed until 8 May 1792 (1 STAT. description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends 271–74).

Index Entries