The U.S. Military Establishment, between the end of the Revolutionary War and the beginning of the War of 1812, consisted of a small Regular Army that was supplemented, when necessary, with State and Territorial militia units that were called into the service of the National Government. Volunteers, raised by individual states, territories, or the National Government to meet specific emergencies, also constituted a part of the Military Establishment.
By the time of the signing of the Treaty of Paris, September 3, 1783, the American Army of the Revolutionary War was already in the process of dissolution. On January 29, 1784, a committee reported to the Congress that the American Army had been disbanded except for one infantry regiment, commanded by Col. Henry Jackson, and a small detachment of artillery. The committee recommended that Jackson's regiment be fully officered and consist of 500 rank and file formed from those soldiers "whose times of service do not expire until the year 1785." On June 2, 1784, the Congress directed that all U.S. troops be discharged with the exception of an artillery company of 80 privates and the appropriate number of officers necessary to guard the military stores at West Point, Fort Pitt, and other depots.
On June 3, however, the Congress resolved that the States of Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania furnish from their militia units a force of 700 men for a period of 12 months. Pennsylvania was directed to contribute the greatest number of troops, and the Congress directed that the commander of this regiment be furnished by that state. Lt. Col. Josiah Harmar became commander of this First Regiment of Infantry. The artillery company that had been retained in the service formed part of this new infantry regiment. The following April, an act of Congress authorized the raising of 700 men to replace those previously enlisted in the First Regiment of Infantry whose enlistments would soon expire. The final authorization for raising troops under the Articles of Confederation came October 3, 1787, when the Congress enacted legislation to continue the strength of the First Regiment at 700 men.
The Constitution of the United States empowered the Congress to "provide for the common Defence." To carry out this provision, the Constitution specifically authorized the Congress to declare war, raise and support armies, provide and maintain a navy, provide for the calling up of the militia, and establish rules for the regulation of land and naval forces as well as for the organizing, arming, and disciplining of the militia. The Constitution placed the executive authority of the government in the Office of the President and invested the holder of that office with the role of "Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States."
Exercising its constitutional powers, the Congress took under consideration the matter of defining the nature of the Military Establishment. On August 7, 1789, an act (1 Stat. 49) was adopted that set up an executive department, to be known as the Department of War, and directed the Secretary for the Department of War to carry out the duties assigned to him by the President. Soon after taking office, President Washington sought from the Congress a statutory basis for the existing military forces of the Nation, and on September 29, 1789, the Congress enacted legislation (1 Stat. 95) to recognize and retain the organization of troops that had been raised by the Confederation Congress in its resolution of October 3, 1787.
Subsequent congressional action increased the size and altered the composition of the Military Establishment. On April 30, 1790, the Congress passed an act (1 Stat. 119) to enlist a maximum number of 1,216 regular troops. As a consequence of the legislation of September 1789 and that of April 1790, the earlier units mentioned (Jackson's First American Regiment, Harmar's First U.S. Regiment, and the Battalion of Artillery) became the nucleus of the Regular Army of the United States.
Legislation enacted on March 3, 1791 (1 Stat. 222), gave the President the authority to enlist as many as 2,000 levies in addition to or in place of militia. These levies, whose period of service was limited to 6 months, were raised and maintained by the Federal Government, and thus were distinguishable from State militia that were called into Federal service.
The Congress also enacted a basic militia law on May 8, 1792 (1 Stat. 271), that called for the enrollment of "every able-bodied white male citizen between the ages of 18 and 45." The law further directed that each citizen enrolled provide himself with a "good musket, or firelock, and a sufficient bayonet and belt." The Congress prescribed a system of discipline for the militia based on the rules of discipline and field exercises of Maj. Gen. Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, as amended by General Washington.
In addition to state militia units, the Congress provided for the organization of militia units in the territories of the United States (1 Stat. 271). When a government was formally constituted for a territory, the Congress recognized the organization of a territorial militia and made the Governor of the territory its commander in chief. Territorial militia units were organized in the same manner and operated under the same regulations as the state units.