American Militias

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Criminal Justice

First Advisor

Lisa S. Nored

Advisor Department

Criminal Justice


This work is an examination of the word "militia" in American history and of the issues raised by the interpretation of the word today. The concept of militia or citizen-soldiers pre-dates American independence; it has roots in the philosophy of social authority and obligation that underlies political society itself and constitutes a vital duty of the citizen throughout history. Colonial America's domestic law enforcement and defense against the transgressions of external enemies depended in the concept of militia. Washington's army was largely composed of militia. The founding fathers of the United States recognized militia in the Second Amendment to the Constitution and their aversion to large standing armies contemplated the availability of a "well-regulated militia". The early battles of the Republic were waged by the militia. The West was won by militia, by humble citizens fulfilling their civic duty on the ancient principle of posse comitatus . Yet the concept of militia was undermined by statute in the early years of the twentieth century and the word has come to connote something negative, even sinister, in contemporary usage presenting a perplexing dilemma for both statesmen and jurists alike. This work examines that phenomenon, drawing on historical and legal sources, and surveying the contemporary debate.