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Charles Dick, for whom Militia Act of 1903 was named.

The Militia Act of 1903 (32 Stat. 775), also known as the Dick Act, was legislation which codified the circumstances under which the National Guard could be federalized. It also provided federal funds to the National Guard to pay for equipment and training, including annual summer encampments. In return, the National Guard began to organize its units along the same lines as the regular Army, and took steps to meet the same training, education and readiness requirements as active duty units.[1]


Governor Martin Chitenden unsuccessfully attempted to recall Vermont Militia from New York during War of 1812.

During the nineteenth century, the militia in each U.S. state and territory operated under the Militia Acts of 1792. Under these laws, the question of state versus federal control of the militia was unresolved. As a result, the federal government could not rely on the militia for national defense. As an example, during the War of 1812, members of the New York Militia refused to take part in operations against the British in Canada, arguing that their only responsibility was to defend their home state.[2] In another instance, Martin Chittenden, the Governor of Vermont, unsuccessfully attempted to recall his state's militia from the defense of Plattsburgh, claiming that it was illegal for them to operate outside Vermont's borders.[3]

Because the issue of state versus federal control was not resolved, the federal government resorted to the creation of "volunteer" units when it needed to expand the size of the Army. These volunteer units were not militia, nor were they part of the regular Army. This solution was employed during the Mexican-American War,[4] and in the Union Army during the American Civil War.[5]

During the Spanish-American War some volunteer units were organized, most notably the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, nicknamed "Rough Riders."[6][7] The federal government also mobilized several National Guard units which volunteered en masse.[8][9]

Several issues with the National Guard became apparent as a result of the Spanish-American War experience, including low levels of individual and unit training and readiness; differences in organizational structure, uniforms and equipment; and lack of standardization in leader qualifications and professional development.[10][11][12]

Root reforms and Dick Act

Secretary of War Elihu Root worked to reform Army after Spanish-American War.

As a result of the problems identified during the Spanish-American War, Secretary of War Elihu Root and other military leaders took steps to reform the Army, including the National Guard. Root's allies included Charles Dick, Congressman (later Senator) from Ohio and Chairman of the House Militia Affairs Committee, who also served as President of the National Guard Association of the United States.[13] Dick was a veteran of the Spanish-American War and a longtime National Guard member who attained the rank of Major General as commander of the Ohio National Guard.[14][15]

Dick championed the Militia Act of 1903, which became known as the Dick Act. This law repealed the Militia Acts of 1792 and organized the militia into two groups: the Reserve Militia, which included all able-bodied men between 18 and 45, and the Organized Militia, which included state militia (National Guard) units receiving federal support.[16][17][18]

The Dick Act included $2 million for National Guard units to modernize equipment, and permitted states to use federal funds to pay for National Guard summer training encampments. The National Guard in each state was also required to carry out a uniform schedule of weekend or weeknight drills and annual summer training camps. In addition, the War Department agreed to fund the attendance of Guard officers at Army schools, and active Army officers would serve as inspectors and instructors of National Guard units. The War Department also agreed to organize joint Army-National Guard exercises and training encampments.[19]

In return, the federal government gained greater control over the National Guard. The President of the United States was empowered to call up the National Guard for up to nine months to repel invasion, suppress rebellion, or enforce federal laws. Guardsmen had to answer a presidential call or face court-martial. States had to organize, equip, and train their units in accordance with the policies and procedures of the regular Army. If Guard units failed to meet Army standards, they would lose federal recognition and federal funding.[20]

The Dick Act helped resolve the issue of when the United States government could mobilize the National Guard, but federal authorities were not permitted to order the National Guard to service outside the United States.[21]


James Parker, first head of Division of Militia Affairs.

The Dick Act was amended several times. In 1908, The nine-month limit on federal service was dropped, and the President was empowered to set the length of federal service.[22] The ban on National Guard units serving outside the United States was also dropped, though subsequently the United States Attorney General offered his opinion that enabling the National Guard to serve outside the United States was unconstitutional.[23] In addition, the 1908 law stated that during a mobilization the National Guard had to be federalized before the Army could organize volunteer units.[24] The 1908 law also included the creation of the Division of Militia Affairs as the Army agency responsible for overseeing federal training and administrative requirements for the National Guard.[25][26][27][28][29]

The National Defense Act of 1916 doubled the number of required drill periods from 24 to 48 and increased the length of summer training camps from five days to 15.[30] In addition, the War Department was enabled to centrally plan for the National Guard's authorized strength, and the number and types of National Guard units in each state.[31]

Under the 1916 law, the War Department was also empowered to implement uniform enlistment contracts and officer commissioning requirements for the National Guard. Guardsmen were also required to take both state and federal enlistment oaths or oaths of office.[32]

The 1916 law also replaced the federal subsidy with an annual budget to cover most Guard expenses, including drill pay, and the Division of Militia Affairs was expanded to form the Militia Bureau (now National Guard Bureau).[33][34]

In addition, the 1916 law resolved the issues of deploying National Guardsmen overseas by stipulating that they would be drafted into federal service, thus removing the National Guard from its status as the militia of the states when operating under federal authority.[35] This provision was employed to call up the National Guard during the Pancho Villa Expedition,[36] and again during World War I.[37]

In 1933, an amendment to the National Defense Act of 1916 created a separate reserve component of the Army called the Army National Guard of the United States. Since 1933, all National Guardsmen have been members of both their State National Guard (or militia) and the National Guard of the United States.[38]


Company A, 1st Arkansas Infantry, near Deming, New Mexico, during Pancho Villa Expedition.

John M. Palmer, advocate of National Guard following World War I.

The improvements to National Guard training and readiness and the resolution of the circumstances under which the National Guard could be federalized led to the call up of National Guard units for service on the Mexico-United States border during the Pancho Villa Expedition.[39][40][41]

In addition, National Guard units were federalized and deployed overseas during World War I.[42]

The improvements to the Army-National Guard relationship, the improvements to National Guard training and readiness, and the National Guard's successful service during the Villa Expedition and the First World War brought about by the Dick Act and subsequent amendments enabled John McAuley Palmer and other National Guard advocates to defeat a 1920 effort to completely replace the National Guard with a federal-only reserve force.[43]


While some sources cite the passage date of HR 11654 as June 28, 1902, others state January 21, 1903.[44][45]

A well-known internet meme cites the Dick Act as an argument against proposed gun control laws and regulations.[46][47]


  1. Barry M. Stentiford, The American Home Guard: The State Militia in the Twentieth Century, 2002, page 12
  2. Jesse Greenspan,, How U.S. Forces Failed to Conquer Canada 200 Years Ago, July 12, 2012
  3. Spencer C. Tucker, The Encyclopedia Of the War Of 1812, 2012, page 132
  4. Public Broadcasting System, A Call to Arms: The American Army in the Mexican War: An Overview, A Conversation With Richard Bruce Winders, Historian and Curator, The Alamo, March 14, 2006
  5. Robert K. Krick, Gary W. Gallagher, The American Civil War: The War in the East, 1863-1865, 2001, page 7
  6. U.S. Army Center of Military History, Spanish-American War: Volunteer Forces, 1899
  7. Texas State Historical Association, Handbook of Texas Online, First United States Volunteer Cavalry, accessed July 3, 2013
  8. Spanish-American War Centennial Website, Unit Profiles, Rosters, and Photos, accessed July 3, 2013
  9. New York Times, The Volunteer Army Call: Further Instructions Issued to the Governors of States by the War Department; MODE OF ENLISTMENT GIVEN System for the Enrollment of the National Guard Organizations Much Simpler Than Had Been Supposed; Replies of the Governors, April 27, 1898
  10. U.S. War Department, Spanish American War, 1898, Government Documents, 1899, pages 94-95
  11. Connecticut Adjutant General, Annual Report, 1899, page xxiv
  12. New York Times, The National Guard, January 1, 1897
  13. Davenport Weekly Republican, Meeting of National Guard, January 28, 1904
  14. Ohio General Assembly, Manual of Legislative Practice in the General Assembly of Ohio, 1912, page 199
  15. Michael Dale Doubler, John W. Listman, Jr., The National Guard: An Illustrated History of America's Citizen-Soldiers, 2007, page 54
  16. New York Times, For "A Well Regulated Militia", January 30, 1902
  17. Spokane Daily Chronicle, Secretary Root Interprets Dick Law, May 15, 1903
  18. Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, Bill Becomes Law: New Law Makes Militia Part of Federal Military Force, January 16, 1903
  19. Jerry M. Cooper, Citizens As Soldiers: A History Of The North Dakota National Guard, 2005, page 118
  20. James A. Drain, Pearson's Magazine, Getting Ready for Our Next War, April, 1909, page 408
  21. Derek Avery, Mark Lloyd, History of the United States Fighting Forces, 1989, page 74
  22. Republican National Committee, Republican Campaign Text-Book, 1908, page 359
  23. New York Times, The Army-Militia Plan, January 16, 1914
  24. Edward Marshall, New York Times, Making Our Army More Efficient and Always Ready, March 5, 1911
  25. Atlanta Constitution, Dick Militia Law Will be Amended, December 15, 1907
  26. Pittsburgh Press, Discuss Dick Law, July 21, 1907
  27. Providence News-Democrat, Wants Militia Ready for Instant Service, January 15, 1908
  28. Charleston News and Courier, Will Not Quit State Militia, October 28, 1907
  29. Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, General for I.N.G. Is Not Necessary, November 10, 1907
  30. New York Times, Congress Studies the Militia Bill, February 13, 1916
  31. Michael D. Doubler, The National Guard and Reserve: A Reference Handbook, 2008, pages 173-176
  32. New York Times, Old Guardsmen Falter at Oath, June 27, 1916
  33. New York Times, Says Pay for Guard Adds to Efficiency, May 28, 1916
  34. United States War Department, Annual Report of the Secretary of War, Volume 1, 1916, page 191
  35. New York Times, Wilson to Draft Guard, July 10, 1917
  36. Montreal Daily Mail, U.S. Troops Called for Service on Mexican Border, June 19, 1916
  37. Christian Science Monitor, President Drafts the National Guard, August 6, 1917
  38. New Jersey Adjutant General, Annual Report, 1933, pages 2-25
  39. Boston Globe, Testing the National Guard Law, August 8, 1916
  40. New York Times, Militia Question, February 7, 1916
  41. National Guard Bureau, Report on Mobilization of the Organized Militia and National Guard, 1916, page 4
  42. National Guard Educational Foundation, Brief History of Army National Guard Mobilizations, accessed July 3, 2013
  43. Russell Frank Weigley, The American Way of War, 1977, pages 221-222
  44. George Washington Law Review, The Militia Clauses, the National Guard, and Federalism: a Constitutional Tug of War, 1988
  45. Library of Congress, Catalog Record, The "Dick" Bill and Comments, accessed July 3, 2013
  46. David Sterling, Billings Gazette, Letter to the Editor, Dick Act Invalidates So-Called Gun Control, February 7, 2013
  47. David N. Green, Columbia Daily Tribune, Letter to the Editor, Dick Act Invalidates All Gun Control Laws, April 20, 2013

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