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

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
4,331
Sydney
#21
There was no industrial complex geared to fat government contracts
civil economy was where money could be made
armament industry was naval shipyards , firearms were for civilian use
Hiram Maxim had to sell his superlative machine guns to Europeans , nobody at home was interested
the Wright brothers castrated the development of planes by their stubborn insistence on defending their patents
when WW1 came , there was no American plane industry
US artillery was miserable , the Army was using the National guard as a training and recruiting resource

maybe that was the Southerners congressmen taking revenge ?
 
Last edited:
May 2011
13,846
Navan, Ireland
#23
One factor ,and its only one, was there was an opinion that America could be defend by a milita of stout hearted local heroes. That afterall was what ,by tradition, had defeated Crown Forces. I seem to remember that USN ships were so few in the war of 1812 because the policy was to spend the $ on many small gunboats crewed by local crews. Also to rely on Privateers.
 

Rodger

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
5,837
US
#24
One factor ,and its only one, was there was an opinion that America could be defend by a milita of stout hearted local heroes. That afterall was what ,by tradition, had defeated Crown Forces. I seem to remember that USN ships were so few in the war of 1812 because the policy was to spend the $ on many small gunboats crewed by local crews. Also to rely on Privateers.
Good point. During the ACW and the Spanish-American War, volunteer troops, in the forms of companies, were deployed and fought well. Typically, if a call to arms was made, men responded. Many had knowledge and proficiency with firearms. Being with relatives, friends and neighbors formed a cohesiveness as well.
 
May 2011
13,846
Navan, Ireland
#25
Good point. During the ACW and the Spanish-American War, volunteer troops, in the forms of companies, were deployed and fought well. Typically, if a call to arms was made, men responded. Many had knowledge and proficiency with firearms. Being with relatives, friends and neighbors formed a cohesiveness as well.

And there is an element of truth but sort of ignores the role played by the French and Continental troops as well as the failures of Militias in both the ARW and subsquently in 1812-14.

It did however fit in political theory, traditional fear of standing armies and of course was cheaper so beloved by the Treasury.
 
Likes: Rodger

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
4,331
Sydney
#26
the Spanish American war in Cuba was fought largely by volunteers with amateur officers
notably the Rough riders of Teddy Roosevelt , and the 71th new York volunteers
the senior commanders were from civil war vintage and were showing their age

It must be noted than in the US a bit of military glory is doing a lot of good for civilians going into politics
it started with Washington and was followed by a great number of presidents congressmen and state politicians
military tittles could be obtain from the state militia and kept as honorific
the most notorious being the legendary Colonel Sanders , great slaughterer of chicken
 

Rodger

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
5,837
US
#27
And there is an element of truth but sort of ignores the role played by the French and Continental troops as well as the failures of Militias in both the ARW and subsquently in 1812-14.

It did however fit in political theory, traditional fear of standing armies and of course was cheaper so beloved by the Treasury.
Yes. I didn't mean to imply that the volunteer troops were solely responsible for the fighting. But, they tended to hold their own, and, as you stated, at a much cheaper cost.
 

Code Blue

Ad Honorem
Feb 2015
3,790
Caribbean
#28
"Why was America's standing Army so small in the early 20th Century?"

Why is America's standing army so huge now?

Because it takes fewer forces to defend an isolated land mass than it does to leave an isolated land mass and militarily occupy much of the world?
 

MAGolding

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
2,753
Chalfont, Pennsylvania
#29
There was also the National Guard and Reserves. These could be called up in the event of war. There was no need of a large standing army, as it was almost impossible for the US to be invaded without a long warning period. The US had maybe the number 2 or 3 navy at that time. The size of the army led foreign power to underestimate the military power of the US.
The British colonies in North America originally had a militia system, in which every single free man was legally required to own a musket and ammunition, and to periodically drill with the other men of his locality. In time of war, the militiamen would be required to fight. Every British colony, and every state and territory in the United States, had its own separate militia system. And the Federal government of the USA could cal on the states to furnish militia for a war. But during the early days of the USA the militia laws began to be less and less enforced and fewer and fewer men would show up for drills which took places less and less regularly. The militia was still used in wars up until the US Civil War but became much less militarily efficient and significant.

The Militia Act of 1903 reorganized the militia and more or less created the National Guard, a system of joint State and Federal control and support of the militia. The USA has separate National Guards for all 50 states and 4 territories, which are also part of the federal National Guard of the United States created in 1933. Some states have Air or Navy National Guards in addition to Army National Guard. Members of the National Guard are civilians with civilian jobs who can be called up by their state government when needed in the state or by the federal governments when needed, including outside the state and outside the USA.

Many National Guard units were formed as militia units before the Militia Act of 1903, in the 19th, 18th, or 17th centuries, the oldest units being formed in 1638.

Almost every state has laws authorizing a state defense force, and 22 states currently have active state defense forces separate from the National Guard.

The Continental Line During the Revolutionary War was more or less a standing army but was demobilized in 1783, and the standing army of the USA was founded in 1784, 5 years before the federal government under the present constitution. The standing army of full time professional soldiers is called the regular army or the United States Army. Up until about 1900 the main jobs of the regular army were policing the Indian frontier - fighting Indian Wars when they happened - and manning coastal defense forts. During the 18th and 19th centuries the regular army was always too small for the tasks it was given.

During 19th century wars when the federal government needed a lot more soldiers, it would expand the regular army, use state militia units whenever possible, and formed units of United States Volunteers, full time soldiers in units that lasted for the duration of the war. Men who volunteered would be organized into units by their state or territorial governments and company and field level officers would be appointed by the state or territorial governments. It was possible for a state government to pay for a volunteer unit but most volunteer units were mustered into federal service and paid and supplied and equipped by the federal government. Volunteer units were usually designated by their state or territory and by number, but were collectively called the United States Volunteers.

The majority of United States Volunteers were volunteers. During the Civil War a small percentage of the soldiers were drafted, and there was no more conscription until World War I. During World War I the regular army, mobilized National Guard units, and millions of drafted men were combined into The National Army, which was disbanded in 1920. In World war II the Army of the United States was formed, combining regular army, National Guard, conscripted soldiers, and Reserve forces. The Army of the United States still legally exists but has been inactive since the suspension of the draft and switch to all volunteer forces in 1973.

The United States Army Reserve was created in 1920 in the National Defense Act that organized the US land forces, into the Regular Army, the National Guard, and the Organized Reserve. Reserve soldiers are civilians like the National guard with civilian jobs but are periodically called to full time duty.

This site gives numbers of US armed forces members from 1789 to 1997. I think that army figures include regular army (United States army), United States Volunteers, Reserve units on active duty, National Army, and Army of the United States, but not militia, or National guard not on active duty or Reserve units not on active duty.

U.S. Military Manpower - 1789 to 1997
 
Jun 2017
2,773
Connecticut
#30
Was it because they didn't have to fear an Invasion and they felt maintaining a large army in peacetime was an unnecessary expense?
Yeah geographically one doesn't make much sense. Navy is where the importance always lied. We'd also had a surprisingly successful history of throwing armies together when need be and just using the West Point people as the officer corps.
 

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