Why was America's standing Army so small in the early 20th Century?

Oct 2015
955
Virginia
Yes. And also due to the long standing Anglo-saxon distrust of standing armies; which dates back to Charles I and Cromwell.
 
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Belgarion

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,774
Australia
Because the US had an isolationist policy and did not plan on any large scale overseas expeditions, had no fear of invasion and had no need of a large army.
 
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Oct 2015
955
Virginia
However, in 1899 Elihu Root was appointed Secretary of War. Root was a lawyer brought in to deal with administration of the new colonies gained in the Spanish American War, but he undertook important reforms of the Army. He replaced the "Commanding General" with a "Chief of Staff"and clarified the command relationship between the Chief of Staff and the Secretary, established a War College and a General Staff, reorganized the National Guard, introduced modern weapons and equipment, increased the number of infantry and cavalry regiments and reorganized the artillery and engineers, and improved the service schools. The army still only had about 70,000 men in 1904 but the framework was laid that allowed the expansion in 1917.
 
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johnincornwall

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
7,870
Cornwall
However, in 1899 Elihu Root was appointed Secretary of War. Root was a lawyer brought in to deal with administration of the new colonies gained in the Spanish American War, but he undertook important reforms of the Army. He replaced the "Commanding General" with a "Chief of Staff"and clarified the command relationship between the Chief of Staff and the Secretary, established a War College and a General Staff, reorganized the National Guard, introduced modern weapons and equipment, increased the number of infantry and cavalry regiments and reorganized the artillery and engineers, and improved the service schools. The army still only had about 70,000 men in 1904 but the framework was laid that allowed the expansion in 1917.
I fairly recently read a book on the Spanish American War and I think I'm right in saying that before Cuba came on the horizon there was only an army of about 26-27,000, spread around the US. There was a sudden massive recruitment which led to some pretty shambolic tactics and events during the invasion, when you look into it. Only the even more shambolic behaviour of the Spanish command facilitated a successful US mission. There is a reason Teddy's Rough Riders charge is remembered - it had to be done!
 
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zincwarrior

Ad Honorem
Jun 2012
5,713
Texas
Was it because they didn't have to fear an Invasion and they felt maintaining a large army in peacetime was an unnecessary expense?
Yes indeedy. While the US spent a relatively large amount on its navy, it never historically had a large standing army until post WWII. It never needed to.

Particularly in the period from the ACW to WWI (well to now actually). Prospects for invaders getting through the navy were light and we could mass forces quickly-its a big country. It helps when you have no material enemies...anywhere.

The good old days. Maybe they were smarter than we are.
 
Oct 2015
955
Virginia
By the 20th Century, wasn't the ethnic majority German? And I think the second largest was Irish.
Sure, but most were good Democrats (capital "D") and retained the Jeffersonian political traditions.

Even the Navy went thru lean times until the 1880's.
 
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Jun 2015
1,257
Scotland
It was also a throwback to the English Civil War. The Anglo Saxon world developed an antipathy towards large standing armies that could be used for oppression.
 
Apr 2015
283
San Jose CA
Who could or would attack the U.S. in the late 1800s ? Britain and Mexico are the only two possibilities as the only neighbors. Following the War of 1812, Britain seemed to have concluded that war with the U.S. had no upside and a possible large downside, the loss of part or all of British North America. Mexico may have wanted to reclaim territories lost to the U.S. but was far weaker than the U.S.

There was little credible threat that necessitated an army. A decent navy was needed which America had but large armies were thousands of miles away. The professional army needed to be large enough to deal with the conflicts with the native Americans and also as a cadre for quick expansion of the volunteer forces should a war arise such as the Spanish American war.