Wilson’s National Guard - 6/3/1916

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What we know of the National Guard today, we can thank President Woodrow Wilson for. On June 3, 1916, United States President Woodrow Wilson signed into U.S. law the National Defense Act. The act would expand the scope and size of the National Guard, and would guarantee its status as the country’s permanent reserve force. The National Guard, is the network of states’ militias that had been steadily progressing since the Colonial Era. 

During World War I, Theodore Roosevelt along with other Republicans were avidly pushing for the United States to intervene in the war. But 1912-elected-president Wilson wished to remain neutral on the matter, and did so throughout the first several years of the war. However, amid the first half of 1916, forces from the National Guard and the United States Army called out Mexican rebel leader Pancho Villa, during his raids on states in the U.S. American Southwest. Wilson, along with Congress, then saw the need to reinforce the nation's armed forces and increase the preparation of the U.S. military.

The National Defense Act, passed by Congress in May of 1916 and signed by President Wilson on June 3, gave the president authority, in case of a national emergency, to assemble the National Guard for the entire time of said emergency. It also mandated that the term National Guard would be referred to the partnership network of states’ militias that had become the primary reserve force for the United States Army. The term had been coined by New York’s militia before the Civil War, in honor of the Marquis de Lafayette. Lafayette was a French hero of the American Revolution who led the Garde Nationale during the early days of the 1789, French Revolution.

The National Defense Act also set standards for National Guard officials, which allowed them to attend Army Schools. And now all National Guard units would be organized in accordance to the standards of regular Army units. And so for the first time in history, National Guardsmen received payment from the government for their annual training and drills. Training was increased from 5 to 15 days and drills were increased from 24 to 48 per year. Lastly, the act formally created the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) which would prepare and train high school and college students for Army duty. 

In June 1916, Wilson set out to create a United States Navy equal Britain’s, which at the time was the world’s most powerful. In November of that year, Wilson was re-elected as president with his campaign slogan “He kept us out of the war.” By the following spring, Wilson moved the United States to the edge of war after repeated German attacks on United States interests at sea. On April 2, 1917, he would go to Congress to ask for a declaration of war. And only four days later, the United States officially entered World War I. Thus, rendering his campaign slogan null and void. Which is a testament to the campaigns of any and every U.S. American president thereafter. 

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