The expansion and strengthening of the US military

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Through Allen C. Guelzo, Ph.D., Gettysburg College

In 1787, when the Philadelphia Convention authorized Congress to “raise and support armies” and “supply and maintain a navy,” what Congress actually raised and supported was not much of an improvement over the version of the Confederation of an army and a navy. It was not until March 1792 that Congress finally decided to expand the army.

The War Ministry was established on August 7, 1789. (Image: Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock)

Indian tribes of the Iroquois Federation

On the northern and northwestern border, the powerful Indian tribes of the Iroquois Federation, the Six Nations of the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, Senecas and Tuscaroras, as well as their western dependents, the Shawnee, Wyandot, Chippewa and Delaware were willing to admit that their allies, the British, had been defeated in the War of Independence, but they were much less willing to admit that they had been defeated.

So when the American commissioners and the Iroquois chiefs met at Fort. Stanwix in the fall of 1784 to create a peace settlement, the Iroquois balked at being treated like a conquered people who lost title to their territories along the Great Lakes. In the end, corn farmer Seneca sachem negotiated land in New York and Ohio in order to secure peace and secure title to what was left. Similar treaties with the western allies of the Iroquois followed in 1785 at Fort. McIntosh and in 1786 at Fort. Finney, while to the south the Cherokees and Creeks made similar deals in the Treaties of Augusta and Hopewell.

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Dissenters fight back

The agreements angered dissidents among the tribes — Joseph Brant among the Iroquois, Alexander MacGillivray among the Creeks, and Dragging Canoe among the Cherokee — who viewed the agreements with suspicion.

In 1785, a low-intensity war broke out in the land of Ohio and Kentucky as the Shawnee and Cherokee war parties repelled the encroachment of the white colonies.

When the Confederacy proved unable to respond, the extensive colonies of North Carolina, now the state of Tennessee, made disturbing moves to proclaim themselves the state of Franklin and began to lead. clandestine negotiations with the Spaniards, with Don Diego de Gardoqui, in order to put himself under the sovereignty – and the protection – of Spain.

Despite this, Americans remained fascinated by the reputation of citizen-soldier militias like those they believed to have won in the Revolution.

Learn more about post-revolutionary America.

The war department

A portrait of Henry Knox.
Henry Knox was appointed head of the War Department. (Image: Gilbert Stuart / Public domain)

The War Department was created on August 7, 1789, and former Washington Artillery Chief Henry Knox was appointed as its head as he had done for the Confederation War Department. But when Knox presented Washington’s plan for a 2,000-man “legionary corps” whose cadres would absorb state militias in an emergency, the new Congress stiffened; when Congress finally approved a plan on September 29, 1789, it provided for only one regular regiment of 840 men divided into eight companies of infantry and four companies of artillery.

A year later, Congress reluctantly authorized a modest expansion to 1,200 men in 12 companies. They might have saved themselves this little problem.

Army and Indian regiments

In 1790, three companies of the First Regiment, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Josiah Harmer, along with 1,500 militiamen from Pennsylvania and Virginia, attempted to track down the Shawnee and Miami Indians marauding along the Maumee River in western Ohio. Instead, the Indians turned to Harmer’s force, sending the militia to flee in panic and allowing the regulars to stand up and be slaughtered.

Congress was galvanized by authorizing a second regiment of regulars. But when the Governor of the Northwest Territories, Arthur St. Clair, attempted to lead them on a second expedition, St. Clair was ambushed by India at the source of the Wabash River and they were almost wiped out.

Learn more about Articles of Confederation.

Army expansion

Finally, in March 1792, Congress voted to reconstitute the two existing infantry regiments and to recruit three other infantry regiments and four mounted infantry or dragoons.

Armed with the independent financial powers conferred by the Constitution, Congress did not have to ask the states for the money of these troops; in fact, Congress passed a National Militia Bill in May 1792 which spelled out the federal government’s authority over state militias in explicit terms.

With those resources at last in effect, revolutionary veteran Anthony Wayne put the Shawnee and Miami at bay in the Battle of Fallen Timbers on August 20, 1794, and at least put an end to that threat – for now.

Common questions about expanding and strengthening the U.S. military

Q: When was the War Ministry created and who was its leader?

The War Department was established on August 7, 1789, and former Washington artillery chief Henry Knox was named as its head.

Q: Who were all in the first regiment that attempted to find the marauding Shawnee and Miami Indians in 1790?

In 1790, three companies of the first regiment, under the command of Lt. Col. Josiah Harmer, along with 1,500 militiamen from Pennsylvania and Virginia, attempted to find the Shawnee and Miami Indians marauding along the Maumee River in western Ohio.

Q: What major changes occurred in 1792 regarding the US military?

In March 1792, Congress voted to replenish the two existing infantry regiments and recruit three more infantry regiments and four mounted infantry or dragoons. In May 1792, Congress passed a National Militia Bill which explicitly set out the authority of the federal government over state militias.

Keep reading
Civil War: Reactions and Consequences of Army Policy Plans
How Native Americans Adjusted To Assimilation And Attribution
How the Confederation funded its army during the Civil War

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